The 2017 RBS Six Nations is over and we look at the players who helped to turn it into best test match tournament in the world, as they do every year.
No regard was paid to how many players were chosen from each country, nor did we try to squeeze the best 15 players into the team by giving them a jersey number they didn’t usually wear in the series.
Nor were we choosing a team to play the Rest of the World, which would have needed balance—we just picked the best players in the positions they played in so long as they played in a majority of the games – at least three.
Stuart Hogg – deceptive at high pace
15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)
The best player of 2016 had the 2017 fullback position stitched up by the end of Week 3 with two brilliant matches and a good third. His mazy running, quick decision making and deception at high pace fixed opponents. This compounded their problems because he was just as likely to let his team mates profit by it as himself.
He was injured early in Round 4 against England and maybe was less effective against Italy in the last round because of it.
14. George North (Wales)
This was a tight call. North had two top appearances playing in only four games, but his two-try rousing performance against Ireland in Round 4 for a significant victory, was one of the best of any winger in the 2017 Championship.
Virimi Vakatawa (France) was also on song on two weekends. A big stepper like North, he did not have the same impact when tackled.
13. Garry Ringrose (Ireland)
Rookie of the year. (see below)
Owen Farrell – part of the glue that held England together
12. Owen Farrell (England)
With Launchbury up front, he was the glue that kept England together when they weren’t at their best, which was in most games. This was through no fault of his. He released his outside players expertly yet his ability to be the second ball player took pressure off flyhalf Ford. When he switched to 10 against France late in the game he helped to ice the result.
As always he was not shy to tackle: his big hit on Picamoles in Rd. 1 was a key moment.
11. Elliot Daly (England)
Had his first start in Six Nations this year and was one of the finds of the Championship to some. Others would not have been surprised that his general skill would have would made him noteworthy in the tournament, whether it was on the wing, or even at fullback where his future may be.
He is one of those players who can make the right decisions, lightning quick—and incidentally has a good left-foot kick from hand, and long-range from the tee.
Johnny Sexton – always a target
10. Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
He missed the first two games but was like a rock when he returned to the team. He was not fazed at being a target especially in the fierce win against England in the last match. He just got up again and went on with business, taking the punishment away from his outside players with true grit – and he kicked his goals.
He gave direction to the backline when his team was under pressure, and was not shy of instructing his forwards either.
9. Rhys Webb (Wales)
He annoyed other people on the field including the referees and probably some of his team mates, but he was the most effective scrumhalf over five rounds.
He was notable with the run and the pass in the close loss to England and the stunning win in Dublin in Round 4 when his pass to winger North for the opening try against Ireland was a beauty. That incident also put paid to the demise of Murray as a scrumhalf candidate for this Championship team. He was injured tackling North and played hurt for too long, then missed the final game against France.
Baptiste Serin (France) deserves a shout also for finishing the tournament strongly against Italy and Wales.
Louis Picamoles – hard to stop even though they know he is coming
8. Louis Picamoles (France)
He nearly won the losing opening test against England by himself. Was also influential against Italy and in the heroic win in Week 5 against Wales. Opponents knew he was the one player to stop on the run but it didn’t seem to help them bring him down.
He was the best player for France in the tournament and the one most responsible for Les Blues finishing in the top three for the first time in seven years.
7. Justin Tipuric (Wales)
When coach Howley made the big call to drop Warburton from the captaincy he also switched him to the blindside flank. This gave Tipuric a good run in the 7 shirt and he took full advantage. Well-known for his Hooper-like running with the ball he was also an accurate defender, scarcely missing a tackle in the series. He was also a ring leader in choke tackles.
Kevin Gourdon (France) was also high quality. Interestingly, like Dusatoir before him, he packed down on the left-hand side of the scrum exclusively; so that could make him a six-and-a-half.
CJ Stander – carried the ball incessantly
6. CJ Stander (Ireland)
Carried the ball incessantly with outstanding success and was just as effective playing no. 8 when Heaslip was injured before the Grand Slam-spoiling game against England. He scored the first hat-trick by a forward in the Championship for 55 years and was no wallflower on defence either.
Sam Warburton (Wales) resurrected his career in this different position after losing the captaincy of Wales, and deserves a mention.
5. Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)
Wrongly overlooked as Wales’ captain for Warburton years ago, he now has the helm, but it’s hard to say how much of his value to Wales in Six Nations in 2017 was for his general play and how much for his generalship.
In any case he was confrontational as always and for a 31 year-old played with high energy. Specifically he swarmed through opposing mauls like a virus, and on other occasions always knew where the ball was going to cause havoc.
Courtney Lawes (England) played some of the best rugby in his career and finished the season strongly with high counts of tackles and runs.
4. Joe Launchbury (England)
Player of the year. (See below).
Tadgh Furlong – best Ireland tight head prop for years
3. Tadgh Furlong (Ireland)
The best Ireland tight head prop for years. Was imperious in scrummaging most games though notably in the loss to Scotland in the opening match. Was a regular damaging ball-runner also, though he showed his other side—the ability to dominate tackles—especially in the win that denied England the Grand Slam.
2. Ken Owens (Wales)
This was another difficult position to pick as there was nobody that stood out from their opponents over five tests. But for his accurate lineout throwing and cannonball running, the 2 jersey is given to Owens, who has been the regular starting Wales hooker only since the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Rory Best (Ireland) had a commanding game against England, when his leadership was key, and Guilhem Guirado (France) was also a good candidate especially playing injured to lift his team, against the likes of Owens of Scotland, in the infamous 100-minute game.
Joe Marler – kept Mako Vunipola out of the team
1. Joe Marler (England)
Marler was another selected with a close call, which would have been a surprising possibility before the Championship because he recovered from a cracked fibula suffered just four weeks before it began. He made the starting team in Week 1 because Mako Vunipola was injured, but so well did he scrummage and play generally, that he held his place even though Mako was fit to play from Week 3.
Jack McGrath (Ireland) who was just pipped, was consistent and strong in general play – getting off the tackle-line quickly and knocking people over. Was benched for the Italy game, just to give Healey a start, it seemed. Who would have thought that would happen not long ago?
Garry Ringrose – rookie of 2017 Six Nations
Rookie of the year – Garry Ringrose (Ireland)
It’s ironic that had Jared Payne not been injured Ringrose would likely have played the Championship from the Ireland bench and not been the Six Nations’ rookie of the tournament.
With undertones of another Leinster outside centre in his play (the occasionally useful Brian O’Driscoll), he had the ability to deceive defenders before and after he got the ball and was hard to stop when held. He was canny defending also.
22 year-old scrumhalf Baptiste Serin (France) was another promising 6N rookie, especially in the last two rounds.
Joe Launchbury – Player of the 2017 Six Nations Championship
Player of the Championship – Joe Launchbury (England)
Truth be told, Launchbury may not have been in the England starting team had Kruis been available. He took his chance and was a phenomenon in the first four rounds although, like every other England forward, he could not make an impression against Ireland, who put on one the best performances of the 2017 RBS Six Nations in Week 5.
He is a coach’s dream player: he backs up his natural ability with the engine of an Iron Man competitor and the work rate of a beaver. He always has a high count of runs and tackles because he spends little time on the ground and makes himself available to do so – every game.