Super Saturday saw this year’s Guinness Six Nations come to a scintillating end, with Italy pushing France close, Wales dismantling Ireland to claim the Grand Slam before England and Scotland played out an epic 76-point draw at HQ. Taking all that and the previous rounds of action into consideration, here is my Team of the Tournament for 2019.
15. Liam Williams, Wales
This bow-legged ex-scaffolder turned rugby supremo has taken his game up another notch during this campaign. As equally assured under the high-ball in the wet and dry, and capable of creating something out of nothing in attack, Williams is fast becoming the complete package at 15. To draw a cricketing metaphor, he combines the metronomic consistency of a Glenn McGrath with the pace and unpredictability of a Shoaib Akhtar.
Honourable mention: Elliot Daly – some lovely hip-swerving breaks and plenty of threat in attack, but was ultimately found wanting when his side really needed him in Cardiff before completely forgetting how to tackle against Scotland.
14. Damian Penaud, France
The young French flyer really caught my eye with his searing pace and dazzling finishing in his debut championship. One of maybe three French players to leave this tournament with any shred of dignity left intact, Penaud’s finish against England was simply sensational and he almost single-handedly saved Les Blues blushes on Saturday in Rome, with a miraculous last-gasp tackle followed by a score of his own at the death a few minutes later.
Honourable mention: Josh Adams – the Worcester whippet notched some key tries and looked assured in both attack and defence. Will only get better with more international experience.
13. Jonathan Davies, Wales
He was at the heart of everything Wales did well in attack and masterfully marshalled the meanest defense in the tournament. Davies’s powerful, straight running fixes the defence, freeing up the more elusive speedsters outside him to wreak havoc in the wide channels. A Lions legend who is only getting better with age.
Honourable mention: Henry Slade, England – as graceful on the ball as a Bolshoi ballerina and is armed a skill set that many All Blacks three-quarters would envy. Had a strong tournament overall but still has a tendency to go missing when the heat is on in the big games.
12. Hadleigh Parkes, Wales
Mr. Consistent provides the glue for his compatriot Mr. Reliable in the midfield, forming a centre partnership that rivals any in the world right now. Whilst Parkes may not possess the pace or running ability of his international teammate, he seemingly never has a bad game and possesses the lung-busting work-rate of an open-side flanker. That gargantuan tackle on Stockdale with the score at 7-0 sent Wales on their way to victory.
Honourable mention: Manu Tuilagi – looked back to his bullocking best and formed a slick understanding with Slade. Wrap in cotton wool and get him on that plane to Japan.
11. Jonny May, England
Six tries in five games; commanding under the high ball both in defence and attack, and ridiculous ground speed all ensure that Jonny May takes the left-wing spot this time. He now looks at home in the international arena and his poacher’s instincts are only getting deadlier. Bagged himself a stunning first-half hat-trick against the French too, which always goes down well.
Honourable mention: Darcy Graham – thrust into the fold following injuries to more experienced regulars, Graham looked a real livewire and showed that he knows his way to the line. Much promise for the future.
10. Gareth Anscombe, Wales
Showed terrific character (as Brendan Rogers would say) in shaking off a rank opening half v France to end up orchestrating the final day thumping of Ireland. There are more skillful and rounded 10s out there but Anscombe can hold his own when it comes to the size of his stones. A nice selection quandary for Gatland with Biggar playing so well too.
Honourable mention: Finn Russell – rugby's own Ronaldinho, a natural talent with more flair than a Balkan footy hooligan. Still frustratingly laissez-faire at times, he must drive his coaches suitably bananas. Showed what he is capable of with a world-class second half showing at Twickenham.
9. Tito Tebaldi, Italy
The Italian maestro outkicked and outplayed many of his more established contemporaries this year, including Conor Murray when Italy pushed Ireland close. Tebaldi organised an enthusiastic if somewhat motley Italian pack into a competitive and cohesive cohort that proved a match for everyone, bar England.
Honourable mention: Ben Youngs – looked back to his best at times, particularly in the opening rounds v Ireland and France. Was rarely substituted and seems to have made the England 9 shirt his own now.
8. Sergio Parisse, Italy
At the age of 35, Italy’s iconic captain once again oozed class and intelligence with his consistently inspiring performances throughout the tournament. As well as now having captained his side in a record-breaking 50 Six Nations matches, Sergio has 138 caps to his name and stands 4th in the list of all-time international appearances behind Richie McCaw, BOD and George Gregan. What a legend.
Honourable mention: Billy Vunipola – great to see Big Bill back fit and firing again after a nightmare run of injuries. Looked lean and hungry and will get better with more game time under his belt.
7. Tom Curry, England
Arguably England’s standout performer of the tournament, packing all the punch of a ruddy big vindaloo. Quick and strong, his work-rate is colossal. He ended up the competition’s top tackler, with a barely believable 86 hits in 5 matches and showed razor sharp instincts in taking his try v Wales. At just 20 years of age, it’s quite scary to think how good he could be in a few years’ time.
Honourable mention: Braam Steyn – The Azzurri’s openside topped the charts for lineout steals and had the second-most gain line successes of the tournament. Looks a real find.
6. Josh Navidi, Wales
The dreadlocked destroyer was second behind Curry in the tackle count and showed once again how invaluable his link play is to Wales. Remarkably, Sam Warburton's retirement has not been felt one jot. The Richard Hill of this current Welsh crop, much of the dirty work he does goes unnoticed to the public, though not to his coaches.
Honourable mention: Mark Wilson – the no-nonsense northern hardman was the final piece of the puzzle in a powerful English backrow, making regular hits and generally being a nuisance. Still a good bet for the no. 6 shirt in Japan later this year.
5. George Kruis, England
Brought oodles of physicality in open play and ran an effective lineout for England, as well as scoring a nice try along the way v Italy. There’s plenty of competition at second row but Kruis has taken his chance and firmly stamped his mark on a starting berth.
Honourable mention: James Ryan – plenty of huff and puff and no shortage of skill in the lineout. Still but a wean, he’ll be a top player very soon.
4. Alun Wyn Jones, Wales
How many more superlatives can you throw at this man? The embodiment of a leader, a physical specimen and an outright legend of the game, AWJ’s performances this year have once again defied sporting logic. At the age of 33, rugby players are supposed to slip blissfully into retirement; Jones, on the other hand, is like a decent Bordeaux Grand Cru and is only maturing further with age. With a Webb Ellis-sized hole in his bursting trophy cabinet, the AWJ vintage clearly isn’t ready to be drunk dry just yet.
Honourable Mention: Félix Lambey – a rare shining light in a French pack that was too often blown away, Lambey showed athleticism and a physical edge in all the games he played in.
3. Kyle Sinckler, England
The human cannonball carried and tackled like a man possessed this term, regularly beating defenders and showing a mean turn of pace for a prop forward. His scrummaging was solid and he relished the fight, albeit a little too much on occasions. If he can reign in his off-the-ball misdemeanours without dousing that fiery passion, he will be one of the greats.
Honourable mention: Tadgh Furlong, Ireland – showed glimpses of what he is capable of and is still a world-class operator on his day. A sobering tournament for him and his compatriots, but they will be back.
2. Ken Owens, Wales
Barring the odd wobbly dart, Owens barely put a foot wrong all tournament and is a pivotal member of this record-breaking Welsh side. The Sherriff commands the respect of those around him and is as industrious as any of his fellow front row forwards in the loose.
Honourable mention: Jamie George, England – a class act with ball in hand, the Saracens hooker has firmly laid down the gauntlet to Dylan Hartley. His try assist miss-pass v Italy was a real highlight.
1. Cian Healy, Ireland
Healey scrapes in ahead of Rob Evans (see below) on the basis of his superior carrying throughout the tournament, but there wasn’t much in it. A rampaging Cian Healey is still a sight to behold, and the Leinster man had his moments in what was otherwise a campaign to forget for the men in green.
Honourable mention: Rob Evans – almost nothing to separate him and Healey after a brilliantly consistent tournament from the Welsh loose head. Expect him to replace Cian after 50 minutes.
Win a free Guinness in the final round of the Six Nations? You've got until 11pm Friday to redeem it. Don't miss out.