Thursday, 25 March 2010

Belatedly...a review of the 2010 Six Nations

Time marches on and another another Six Nations has come and gone.

Congratulations of course go to France on their deserved Grand Slam. It wasn't quite the final flourish we expected but you survived your squeaky bum moments to triumph at the end.

Well done also to Scotland for their long overdue victory in Dublin last weekend, to Wales for managing to play two halves of rugby in the same match and to England for finally looking like a team rather than a bunch of individuals shuffling around waiting to be introduced.

So, a little belatedly and in a move of stunning originality, I have once again pieced together my best XV from the last seven weeks' activity as I name the TOTAL FLANKER TEAM OF THE 2010 SIX NATIONS:

15. I'm kicking off with the fullback shirt and acknowledge that this really should be a shoe-in for France's Clement Poitrenaud who, all the experts agree, had a sublime tournament. Or did he? Despite his evident skill and ability there's something about Poitrenaud that, if I were a French rugby supporter, would scare me s***less as he always seems to be one fumble, missed tackle or misjudgement away from utter catastrophe. That said, Messrs Byrne, Kearney and Armitage all had disappointing tournaments and no one else really put their hand up. Except, of course, one man - and in a brazen move designed to shoe-horn one English player into the team I'm plucking someone from left-field and handing the shirt to BEN FODEN who made the absolute maximum of his limited time on the field.

14. Despite the doom-mongering this wasn't a bad Six Nations for wingers and on the right wing Marc Andreu in particular looked a real find for France (despite making Ickle Shane Williams look like a giant). Mirco Bergamasco had his moments for Italy (usually involving a fight) and, with next to no ball to speak of, Mark Cueto was one of England's better players. Admittedly that's not saying a lot but credit where it's due. You'll be happy to know however that I'm not trying to squeeze another Englishman into the team as one player was a cut above the rest - step forward TOMMY BOWE, one of the very few Lions who enhanced his reputation this winter.

13. The outside centre position looked as if it would be sewn up by Mathieu Bastareaud after the first two rounds but he once again ended up in Mike Tindall's back pocket and is yet to convince that he has the temperament for the big time. Brian O'Driscoll was his usual energetic self and Nick de Luca finally looked the part for the Scots, while the undoubtedly talented Mathew Tait struggled in a moribund English backline. The standout player for me, however, was JAMES HOOK. Despite playing out of position and being far from perfect in his execution he did manage to look like scoring every time he touched the ball and was the best Welsh player by a country mile.

12. I can only surmise that the inside centre position is one of the toughest to play because very few players shone in this role. Graeme Morrison had his moments, as did Gordon d'Arcy whilst the Italian Ginger Ninja, Gonzalo Garcia, was typically robust and direct, but it was the old stager YANNICK JAUZION who stole the show, his return to form glueing the talented French backline together.

11. The lazy choice for the number 11 shirt would be Ickle Shane Williams but it would only be justified if wearing bright red-tinted specs as, unless I'm missing something here, his performances were patchy at best. Thom Evans looked the part until his horrible injury and Chris Ashton looks like one for the future but I thought that KEITH EARLS came of age in this tournament and was a threat throughout.

10. Not the greatest tournament for fly-halves, but François Trinh-Duc achieved the incredible feat of playing 5 games in a row for France, a luxury not afforded to many French no. 10s over the last few years. He's certainly improved substantially and was an important factor in the French Grand Slam. However, the pivot that impressed me most was JONATHAN SEXTON. OK, so his goal kicking sucked, but the rest of his game was mightily impressive, especially so given his relative inexperience. Let's be honest though, if he was English he'd be labelled the new messiah and would spend the next two seasons struggling to get into the Saxons starting XV.

9. With Mike Phillips only playing the final game against Italy, there were two credible contenders for the scrum half shirt. Ireland's Tomás O'Leary was superb throughout and in any other year would get the nod. MORGAN PARRA was however, head and shoulders above the rest (although not literally, of course).

1. For the loose head berth it was very much a one-horse race. The shirt therefore goes to France's 2nd choice loosehead (behind Fabian Barcella, apparently) - THOMAS DOMINGO who pretty much single-handedly laid waste to every scrum he faced. Amazing given that only 2 short years ago the French scrummage was in tatters.

2. The hooking position was again dominated by the French. Rory Best can be happy with his shift for Ireland and Ross Ford was as muscular a presence as ever, while Leonardo Ghiraldini led Italy from the front. The final choice, though, is a toss up between two Frenchmen. William Servat was superb, and certainly looks the part, but I thought that replacement DIMITRI SZARZEWSKI had a huge impact each time he entered the fray and, besides, his hair is much nicer.

3. On the tighthead side, England new boy Dan Cole pretty much had this sewn up until he was Domingoed in Paris. Adam Jones was his usual solid self as was Scotland's Euan Murray when he could be bothered to turn up. Nicolas Mas is most pundits' favourite but I give the no 3 shirt to Italy’s perpetual warrior MARTIN CASTROGIOVANNI who not only starred for Italy but also flew back to play man-of-the-match roles for Leicester in between internationals.

4 & 5. It was hardly a vintage year in terms of performances from the second row forwards. In Simon Shaw's absence England chose to go with anti-lock locks whilst refusing to blood new boy Courtney Lawes, Wales struggled in this department all tournament, Ireland's O'Connell and O'Callaghan didn't quite hit their usual heights and Italy were no more than solid. Only France and Scotland really impressed, with the likes of Pape, Pierre and Kellock all having good tournaments. My choices however are the warrior-like LIONEL NALLET (again, for the hair) and a lump of a man who has never previously troubled the awards radar - I'm talking of course about BIG JIM HAMILTON.

6. At blindside there were times when the star of Ireland's Stephen Ferris shone brightly during the 6 Nations, especially against England at Twickenham when he had the entire English backrow for breakfast. Likewise Scotland's Killer B (#1) Kelly Brown was omni-present throughout, making a right old nuisance of himself at the breakdown. The standout performer for me, though, was French skipper THIERRY DUSUTOIR who, even when all around him were panicking in the Slam decider in Paris, pretty much single-handedly kept France in the game in the second half.

7. For the openside berth it's a straight fight between 2 contenders, based on the fact that England and France didn't really select a true openside specialist (although Julian Bonnaire's performances were nothing to be sniffed at) while Martyn Williams was well off the pace and Mauro Bergamasco was as much of a liability as an inspiration for Italy. Although Ireland's David Wallace was excellent once again this year the shirt goes to Killer B (#2) JOHN BARCLAY who was just everywhere, winning ball, making yards and even getting on the scoresheet.

8. Conventional wisdom dictates that I should hand the 8 shirt to Imanol Harinordoquy. Admittedly he had a fine tournament overall and was often the standout forward on the field, but there's something of the flat-track bully about him that I just don't like. Playing at the back of such a ferocious pack really can't be that difficult and it was noticeable that, when put under pressure by England, he more or less went missing. Ireland's Jamie Heaslip had a good tournament, although was outshone by Scotland's Killer B (#3) Johnnie Beattie (who looks like a future superstar) in the final game. For me though the most impressive contribution was made by Italy's ALESSANDRO ZANNI who played fantastically well in adversity and demonstrated that the Italians have an embarrassment of riches in this position.

There, that's it. I doubt my team will meet with universal approval but ultimately you know I'm right. What is also certain is that the end of hostilities leaves me bereft of anything to moan or whinge about for some considerable time - at least until England's ritual humiliation in June. What's more, I guess I'm going to have to find something a little more productive to occupy my weekends, heaven forbid.

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