Check out our pick of this year’s performers below.
- Liam Williams, Wales
Mr Consistent for Wales in the 15 jersey this year, Williams was a reliable last line of defence and competitor in the aerial contests, as well as a skilful and ambitious spark plug in attack and, particularly, counter-attack. He complemented the skill sets of George North and Josh Adams outside of him and the return of Leigh Halfpenny will create an intriguing dilemma for Warren Gatland.
- Darcy Graham, Scotland
Thrust into the limelight following injuries to the likes of Stuart Hogg, Blair Kinghorn and Tommy Seymour, Graham did not let Gregor Townsend down. The diminutive wing finished the tournament strongly against Wales and England, after answering his country’s call against France. His work rate, footwork and ability to sniff out space were a welcome silver lining to a poor Six Nations for Scotland.
- Jonathan Davies, Wales
It is not the most glamorous of areas to excel as an outside centre, but the communication, organisation and decision-making of Davies defensively was such a critical part of Wales’ Grand Slam. His ability to blitz restricted the width for opposing sides, whilst he was consistently able to drift and buy the Welsh defence time to reset and fan out when opposing sides had potential numerical advantages. He brought his trademark physical running style to the mix, too.
- Hadleigh Parkes, Wales
Parkes showed up well as the glue in the heart of the Welsh midfield and his chemistry with Davies and Gareth Anscombe had all the hallmarks of a trio that have been playing together for years. Whether carrying, passing or kicking, Parkes was able to get Wales moving forward and his defence was energetic and efficient throughout the championship.
- Jonny May, England
The work of May in the air was enough alone to warrant his place here, where he ruled the skies, fielding contested kicks flawlessly inside his own territory and chasing kicks into the opposition half and, almost without fail, winning or tapping the ball back for his side. His potent finishing on top of that then takes him passed the honourable mentions of Adams and Jacob Stockdale.
- Gareth Anscombe, Wales
Anscombe saved his best till last in the tournament, putting on a creative and controlling masterclass against Ireland to help Wales seal the Grand Slam. He brought an element of guile to Wales over the last seven weeks and he was clinical in his execution as both a playmaker and a goal-kicker. Owen Farrell pushed him close, but the Englishman’s struggles in Cardiff and the second half of his game against Scotland just see this spot go to Anscombe.
- Conor Murray, Ireland
The variation that Murray keeps bringing to the nine jersey continues to set himself apart in the northern hemisphere. His box-kicking and sniping runs added to that variety, but it was the range of passing he brought to the base of the ruck that really hurt opposition teams. His whipped passes off both hands to different carrying options made him a nightmare to defend close to the try line.
- Cian Healy, Ireland
Ireland’s scrum was once again in fine shape during the championship and Healy helped lockdown the loosehead side, which gave Murray a solid platform from which to launch attacks. He carried well, too, and that was probably the decisive factor which saw him nudge ahead of Rob Evans, who was also very effective for Wales. Unfortunately for Healy, he seemed to get on the wrong side of referee Angus Gardener in the Cardiff encounter in Round 5.
- Guilhem Guirado, France
Aside from meeting a fired-up Courtney Lawes at Twickenham, the lineout was one area of France’s game that functioned reasonably well, and Guirado was a significant part of that. He picked up the slack, too, as a carrier and defender leading the line close the ruck, particularly later in games when France appeared to struggle with their conditioning. There really wasn’t much between Guirado and Jamie George, but the Frenchman takes the spot on the virtue of having performed in a team with far less firepower or chemistry than one George enjoys.
- Kyle Sinckler, England
The fact that Sinckler has become a more than adept scrummager has allowed him to legitimately challenge Tadhg Furlong for this spot. Furlong had a good tournament and he still sets the standard in international rugby, but Sinckler has closed the gap and shaded the battle with him over the course of the last month and a half. The Harlequins tighthead was a crucial component in England’s physical style, leading the way with ball in hand, but also as a tackler capable of driving opposing ball-carriers backwards.
- Alun Wyn Jones, Wales
An honourable mention for Italy’s Federico Ruzza, who had a fine tournament and match Jones in terms of the physical and technical contributions he made on the pitch, but the Welshman takes it based on the leadership he brought to the Grand Slam-winners. Jones continued to defy father time over the last seven weeks and his form, alongside that of his teammates, should give Wales plenty of confidence heading towards the Rugby World Cup.
- James Ryan, Ireland
George Kruis was incredibly consistent over the tournament and turned in a showpiece game in the defeat of Italy, but Ryan had an x factor to him. The Leinster lock shaded him in terms of the carrying ability he brought to the Irish pack, whilst continuing to be a valuable contributor at the lineout and in the defensive line. His 34 gain-line successes were over double his nearest second row rival, Ruzza, who had 15.
- Peter O’Mahony, Ireland
Even with Ireland’s dip in form and confidence during the championship, O’Mahony still maintained his sky-high standards, although he was pushed all the way by the duo of Josh Navidi and Mark Wilson. He was a wrecking ball at defensive lineouts and complemented that by being an ultra-efficient target for Rory Best, Sean Cronin and Niall Scannell. He was productive at the breakdown, too, and whilst not one of Ireland’s primary carriers, he enjoyed success with the ball in hand when the opportunity presented itself.
- Braam Steyn, Italy
Italy’s openside was their standout performer in the tournament by far, with the flanker leading the Six Nations in lineout steals and second gain-line successes, as well as chipping in with turnovers at the breakdown. Steyn was a valuable target on Italy’s lineout ball, too, and brought both line-speed and efficiency in the tackle in his defensive duties. It was the kind of high-level consistency that Sergio Parisse brought to the Azzurri for so many years, albeit in the slightly less flashy facets of the game.
- Billy Vunipola, England
It was a strong tournament for Vunipola, who will be as happy with the fact he made it through it unscathed, as he will be with his level of play. It wasn’t necessarily the most domineering we have seen Vunipola, breaking the gain-line for big breaks and stupendous offloads, but he delivered what his team needed in front-foot ball. He was the top carrier in the championship in terms of volume, led England in gain-line successes and if you couple that with his work at the breakdown, linking play and shifting contact and receiving the ball deep from kicks, he was the standout number eight this year.
Watch: The Rugby Pod discuss the proposed Nations Championship
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