Six Nations 2012: Team of the Tournament

So the Six Nations is over and for the third time in eight years, the Welsh have picked up the Grand Slam. Their 16-9 victory over the French was not pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but Wales held on to seal a sensational triumph. As far as the other teams are concerned, England and Stuart Lancaster can be delighted with their efforts and the Italians reasonably pleased. France and Ireland though had Six Nations to forget while the wooden spoon for Scotland will surely see Andy Robinson lose his job. Here is the team of the Six Nations:

15. Leigh Halfpenny – Having spent the last couple of seasons stuck on the wing, or playing in Lee Byrne’s shadow, Halfpenny finally made the full back slot his own with some solid displays as the last line of defence. His kicking was also exceptional, holding his nerve to slot that late goal against Ireland on the opening weekend.

14. Alex Cuthbert – The newest of the bruising Welsh backs, but Cuthbert announced himself on the international scene in some style. He scored the crucial try against the French and also bagged other scores against Scotland and Italy.

13. Jonathan Davies – Only one real option here, as the outside centres hardly excelled for the other countries. Manu Tuilagi shone against the French, but was subdued in his other two games, while others, like Aurelien Rougerie never really stepped up to the mark. Davies ran hard, tackled hard and kicked harder. His two try salvo against the Irish set Wales up for the Grand Slam run and he held off the challenge of Scott Williams for his shirt. Job well done.

12. Wesley Fofana – The one real plus point to come out of this season for the French. Fofana made his debut in the opening game against Italy and never looked out of place, showing his class with four tries, putting some of his more experienced team mates to shame in the process. Deserves a long stint at inside centre, not on the wing where Saint-Andre inexplicably moved him for the Welsh game.

11. Tommy Bowe – ForgetIreland’s miserable display at Twickenham, Tommy Bowe impressed in a green jersey during this year’s Championships and picked up the Top Try Scorer with five to his name. Consistently world class.

10. Owen Farrell – A toss up between him and Jonathan Sexton, but the fact Farrell slotted in to England’s team with no international experience and coolly kicked his side to four victories out of five swings the decision his way. A metronomic kicking machine with a big defence to boot. Did anyone mention Jonny Wilkinson?

9. Mike Phillips – It wasn’t quite the tournament for scrum halves, indeed no one really caught the eye. Edoardo Gori toiled manfully behind the Italian pack, but Phillips provided the quick service for the Welsh backs that got them over the game line. Another nailed on certainty for the Lions, especially given his physically.

8. David Denton – Controversial considering the wide choices available at Number 8. Toby Faletau was tremendous for Wales, Ben Morgan barged his way into contention thanks to some superb displays for England while Imanol Harinordoquy and Sergio Parisse performed to their usual high standards. Denton though, was possibly the only plus point for Scotland all tournament, wonderful with ball in hand and in the tackle. Best player on the pitch against England, just look at the try-saving tackle on David Strettle.

7. Sam Warburton (Capt) – May have missed a game through injury, but this young man deserves all the plaudits coming his way. Has the breakdown skills of a McCaw or a Pocock, while his defence is first rate as well. He even managed to avoid the tip tackling. Full marks for his leadership too, marshalled his troops all the way to the end and deserved to lift the trophy.

6. Dan Lydiate – Quite possibly the player of the tournament as well. Lydiate was sensational in defence, winning man of the match in the decider against France, even out-tackling Thierry Dusautoir himself. Tom Croft reproduced some of his Lions form, especially in Paris, but cannot oust Lydiate. Nothing short of sensational, forming one third of what could be the best back row in the world at the moment.

5. Geoff Parling – Didn’t even start the first two games, but it’s no coincidence that England’s best three performances came after Parling was instated to the side. Lineout machine in the mould of Steve Borthwick, but with an all-round game in the loose as well. Recognition for the Leicester man who deserves to keep his place for the foreseeable future.

4. Richie Gray – Grows in stature everytime he plays. The Scottish man mountain was solid in lineout, brutal in defence and nothing short of amazing carrying the ball. And that’s even before considering the try he scored, breaking the line before selling Rob Kearney an outrageous dummy. The cornerstone of Scotland’s pack for years to come.

3. Dan Cole – The English tighthead had a decent tournament all round, holding his own against more experienced prop forwards and producing some good work in the loose, but his place in this team comes after his demolition of the Irish scrum on the final weekend. Andrew Sheridan, eat your heart out.

2. Rory Best – Lead Ireland from the front effectively in Paul O’Connell’s absence and was a threat in the loose during the side’s early games. Scored a decent try as well against Scotland before England shunted him and his front row partners off the field at Twickenham. One minor blot on a very good copybook.

1. Gethin Jenkins – Absolutely outstanding in everything he does. Led the side against Italy and is a crucial cog in Wales’s Grand Slam winning side. Nailed on certainty for a Lions shirt baring any injuries.

Coach: Stuart Lancaster – Warren Gatland was an absolute shoe-in for this position until 7pm Saturday evening given that he had just sealed his second Grand Slam. But what can you say about Lancaster? Given where England were after the World Cup, his brave decisions in selection and approach has put the spark back into English rugby and got the country excited again. RFU, give him the job. Now.

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