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The Oldest Six Nations 2021 XV

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

It’s said that rugby is in increasingly no country for old men, but the talent contained in The Oldest Six Nations XV 2021 by position is nothing to be sniffed at given the calibre of some of the veterans the line-up includes.

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What is instructive, though, is the dominance that two countries wield on the Oldest Six Nations XV selection, Wales taking seven positions, Ireland accounting for five picks with Scotland, England and France taking up one space each.

All positions bar tighthead are occupied by Six Nations players aged 30 or older, Tomas Francis being the sole 20-something edging into an XV where the turnover in personnel at blindside is especially striking as a whopping 13 different players will have worn a No6 shirt by the close of business on Saturday.

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Nigel Owens guests on the latest RugbyPass Offload with Simon Zebo and Ryan Wilson

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Nigel Owens guests on the latest RugbyPass Offload with Simon Zebo and Ryan Wilson

Here, RugbyPass goes through the selections from the eight Six Nations matches so far, highlighting the oldest player in each position and assessing how they have fared so far in the tournament:

15. LEIGH HALFPENNY (Wales) – Age 32
The Welsh full-back will be marked absent for Saturday’s game in Cardiff versus England due to return to play protocols limiting his training time, but he has had a significant role to play in Wayne Pivac’s side winning their opening two matches, kicking 14 points off the tee and being, for the most part, a dependable defender apart for his sliding mishap for a Scotland try. Liam Williams’ selection in place of Halfpenny on Saturday will mean seven different players have worn the No15 shirt, with France’s Brice Dulin the next oldest at 30.

14. KEITH EARLS (Ireland) – Age 33
After starting in the opening two rounds in matches where the aerial contest was essential, Earls won’t be seen wearing the Ireland No14 shirt on Saturday in Rome as he has been demoted to the bench for Jordan Larmour, a player ten years younger than him. Larmour becomes the ninth different player to wear a No14 in the 2021 championship, with Scotland’s Seam Maitland the next oldest at 32.

13. CHRIS HARRIS (Scotland) – Age 30
Whereas age equals multiple caps in the cases of 99-cap Halfpenny (includes four with the Lions) and 90-cap Earls, this isn’t mirrored by the No13 in the Oldest Six Nations XV 2021. Harris has just 30 caps for Scotland but he has become a vital midfield cog in recent times, starting at outside centre in his country’s last nine games. Eight players have worn a No13 jersey in the 2021 championship with new Wales centurion George North the next oldest at 28, just weeks before his next birthday on April 13.

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12. JONATHAN DAVIES (Wales) – Age 32
Owen Farrell was the oldest inside centre in the 2021 Oldest Six Nations XV until Jonathan Davies gained selection for Wales in round three where he will be taking on the England skipper head-to-head on Saturday. Davies missed the guts of a year following the 2019 World Cup but whatever glimpses he showed on his last appearance in December versus Italy were enough to convince Welsh boss Pivac to position him at No12, one place in from his more familiar positioning at No13. His selection sees him become the eleventh No12 in this year’s tournament.

11. JONNY MAY (England) – Age 30
The acrobatics of the English winger made round two headlines when he scored with an unorthodox finish at Twickenham and he will be closely watched on Cardiff on Saturday to see how his head-to-head duel with Gloucester clubmate Louis Rees-Zammit unfolds. Just seven players have been selected at No11 in the championship, Wales’ Liam Williams the next oldest at 29.

10. JOHNNY SEXTON (Ireland) – Age 35
The Ireland veteran would like you to think of him as potentially the Tom Brady of rugby. Sexton has designs of making the 2023 World Cup, by which stage he will have turned 38, but there have been questions about his form and his durability as he was unable to exert sufficient influence against the 14-man Welsh earlier this month before he shipped the head knock that sidelined him against France. There have been eight No10s in total in 2021, with Dan Biggar the next oldest at 31.

9. CONOR MURRAY (Ireland) – Age 31
There are many who think the Sexton-Murray combination at half-back is over the hill for Ireland and needs replacing, but Murray is considerably younger than Sexton and should be cut some slack in any ageist conversation about the pair. He still checks in, though, as the 2021 championship’s oldest of nine No9s, 138 days older than England’s Ben Youngs. A starter in round one, a hamstring injury now has Murray sidelined.

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1. CIAN HEALY (Ireland) – Age 33
The veteran Irish has paid a price for relatively anonymous displays against Wales and France, dropping to the round three bench in Rome to accommodate a rare selection at No1 for Dave Kilcoyne, who at 32 is the next oldest of the nine starting looseheads in this year’s tournament.

2. KEN OWENS (Wales) – Age 34
The self-styled sheriff is set for his third start this month on Saturday having impressed against Scotland after some issues at the lineout in round one versus the Irish. He showed at Murrayfield he still has much to offer. Eight players have been chosen at No2 in this Six Nations with Ireland’s Rob Herring the next oldest at 30, 176 days older than Jamie George who has been recalled by England to start against Owens in Cardiff.

3. TOMAS FRANCIS (Wales) – Age 28
The 20-something tighthead is the one exception in this Oldest Six Nations 2021 XV of 30-somethings. His tournament got off to a painful start when his face took an elbow from the red-carded Peter O’Mahony, a 31-year-old blindside who doesn’t make this team due to someone being older than him in that position. The Welsh tighthead’s grittiness has been important for his rejuvenated side. Of the eight No3s in the tournament this month, Tadhg Furlong is the second oldest at 201 days younger than Francis. Of course, this tighthead selection would be very different if 34-year-old WP Nel had managed to start this weekend in the absence of the suspended Zander Fagerson but Scotland’s game versus France was postponed before their XV was announced.

4. BERNARD LE ROUX (France) – Age 31
It’s a sign of the changing times in France that the second row is the only player to get a look-in with this Oldest Six Nations 2021 XV. Whereas the French went to Japan 2019 with a vastly experienced team, they have since undergone a huge change with Fabien Galthie building a young team for the 2023 World Cup. Le Roux was fortunate his cynical yellow-carded trip on Earls didn’t cost his team in Dublin and he was luckier still a second Valentine’s Day trip was missed by the officials. Seven players have worn a No4 this month, with Tadhg Beirne the next oldest thanks to being 44 days older than fellow Irishman Iain Henderson.

5. ALUN WYN JONES (Wales) – Age 35
The beating heart of the Welsh pack has come in for some scrutiny in the media thanks to trademark Eddie Jones commentary this week calling out the 2019 Grand Slam skipper about his canny ability in winding up opposition players. There have been seven No5s this month, with Ireland’s Henderson being the second oldest in this particular position.

6. DAN LYDIATE (Wales) – Age 33
The blindside’s first Test appearance since November 2018 was short-lived against Ireland as he cruelly did his ACL when chasing up an early kick in Cardiff. His serious injury is one reason why this particular position has been the standout battleground of the 2021 Six Nations as a remarkable 13 players have been handed a No6 jersey. England’s Courtney Lawes – at 32 – is the next oldest and injury has also ended his tournament.

7. JUSTIN TIPURIC (Wales) – Age 31
Whereas blindside has been a merry-go-round, openside has been a serene position in contrast as just seven players have been picked at No7. Tipuric has been in good nick in Wales’ revival, with Scotland’s Hamish Watson next oldest at 29.

8. CJ STANDER (Ireland) – Age 30
The Irish back row is the second South African – after France’s Le Roux – to edge his way in here. He has wracked up some decent ball-carrying numbers but his influence hasn’t at all been enough to prevent Ireland from getting off to their worst start in a championship since 1998. The No8 position hasn’t seen any change this month as just six players have played in that shirt. Wales’ Taulupe Faletau is second on the list, being 221 days younger than Stander.

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Shaylen 2 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

These guys will be utility players Nick it cannot be helped because coaches cannot help themselves. Rassie looks at players like these and sees the ability to cover multiple positions without losing much. It allows the 6-2 or 7-1. He wont change his coaching style or strategy for one player. At provincial level players like these are indispensable. If there is an injury to your starting 12 but your back up 12 is a bit iffy then a coach is going to go with the back up 10 who is gold and who can play a good 12. Damian Willemse for the Springboks is an obvious case, for the Stormers its the same. Dobson plays him at 12 or 15, with Gelant in the team he plays 12 but if Gelant goes down he doesnt go for his back up 15, he just puts Willemse there. With Frawley its the same at international and provincial level. He just slots in wherever. Frans Steyn made a career out of it. He was much maligned though as a youngster as he never fully developed into any role. He then went to Japan and France to decide for himself what kind of player he was, put on muscle and retained his big boot, ran over players and booted the ball long and came back into the Springboks after about 3 years away and was then certain about how he wanted to play the game no matter what position. Coaches cannot help themselves because they only want what is best for their teams and that means putting your most talented players on even if it means you cause them some discomfort. Sometimes players need to decide how they want to play the game and then adapt that to every position and let the coach decide how they want to use them.

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J
Jon 8 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

I think the main problem here is the structure of both countries make up. They are going to have very similar.. obstacles(not problems). It will just be part of the evolution of their rugby and they’ll need to find a way to make this versatility more advantageous than specialization. I think South Africa are well on the way to that end already, but Ireland are more likely to have a hierarchical approach and move players around the provinces. Sopoaga is going to be more than good enough to look up one of those available positions for more than a few years I believe though. Morgan would definitely be a more long term outlook. Sacha to me has the natural footwork of a second five. Not everything is about winning, if a team has 3 players that want to play 10s just give them all a good go even if its to the detriment of everyone, this is also about dreams of the players, not just the fans. This is exactly how it would be in an amateur club setting. Ultimately some players just aren’t suited to any one position. The example was of a guy that had size and speed, enough pace to burn, power to drive, and speed to kick and pass long, but just not much else when it came to actual rugby (that matched it). New Zealand has it’s own example with Jordie Barrett and probably shows what Reece Hodge could have been if the game in Australia had any administration. Despite the bigger abundance of talent in NZ, Jordie was provided with consistent time as a fullback, before being ushered in as a second five. Possibly this was due to his blood, and another might not have been as fortunate, but it is what it was, a complete contrast to how Hodge was used in Australia, were he could have had any position he wanted. When it comes down to it though, much like these young fellas, it will be about what they want, and I think you’ll find they’ll be like Hodge and just want to be as valuable to the team as they can and play wherever. It’s not like 63 International Cap is a hard thing to live with as a result of that decision!

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