Sunday, 20 March 2011
6 Nations 2011 - Champs
It's a selection with which, I'm quietly confident, not everyone will agree. Moreover the selection is made in the cold light of day, having sobered up but having not really recovered from yesterday's mauling at the hands of the Irish. Why I should still be so disappointed I don't know, especially when the majority of the England squad still looked so appallingly smug (as well as incredibly scruffy) when picking up the trophy last night. What I do know is that yesterday's match probably affected this selection (along with the '6N Chumps' selection to follow) more than it should:
15. I wouldn’t say there have been too many stellar performances from fullbacks during this 6 Nations but one man does stand out. Although Ben Foden was a model of consistency and reliability and Scotland’s Chris Patterson deserves an honourable mention, the standout performance was that of Italy’s Andrea Masi against France.
14. Many so-called experts in the press were telling us that England's Chris Ashton was "re-defining wing play" after 2 rounds. My arse. The truth is that he still has a lot to learn if he's going to get anywhere near the performance level of Tommy Bowe yesterday.
13. I’m not entirely sure what has happened to centre play. Even the French appear to have decided that centres can only be big, straight running behemoths. That’s why my choice, largely for nostalgic reasons, would have been Ireland’s Brian O’Driscoll in any event, but his display yesterday just served to underline what a fantastic player he still is.
12. So, of all the inside centres boshing the ball up the centre this tournament, who has been the most effective? Until yesterday (and this may come as a surprise to many) I had the best all round inside centre as being Shontayne Hape (despite his daft name and the fact that he is not even close to being English). The wheels came spinning off in Dublin, however, and I've therefore turned to Scotland's Sean Lamont.
11. The other wing position is a tough one to call. Mark Cueto has had a good tournament, and the sentimental vote would be for the retiring Ickle Shane Williams. Keith Earls has had his moments, as have both Maxime Medard and Vincent Clerc for France. For me though, Scotland’s most effective player, Max Evans, gets the nod.
10. With Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Italy apparently each unable to decide on who their no.1 fly half should be and with Francois Trinh-Duc suffering from the chaotic selections inside and outside him, England’s Toby Flood gets the shirt, despite never really firing following his achilles injury against France. The stick he's getting from a certain Sunday Times journalist is just ignorant nonsense.
9. Early in the tournament I thought Morgan Parra would walk this one but, like many of his countrymen, he was utterly undermined by his coach. Scotland chopped and changed, as did Ireland, and Mike Phillips had a tournament to forget for Wales. With England's Ben Youngs also out of sorts, my vote therefore goes to Italian rookie Fabio Semanzato.
1. France and England both produced scrummaging masterclasses on occasions and Tomas Domingo was his usual destructive force at loosehead for France. The most impressive displays, however, came from England rookie Alex Corbisiero who was chucked in at the deep end against the fearsome Italian and French front rows and most definitely swam. Even in the eye of the storm yesterday he kept his composure and scrummaged well and, again, the flak he's taking from certain quarters is utterly unwarranted.
2. Very good tournaments from England's Dylan Hartley and from Matthew Rees of Wales. However the one area of the French game that held up well was the scrummage, in no small part down to the ever durable William Servat.
3. For exactly the same reasons I'm going for Nicolas Mas at tighthead. That's a harsh call on Dan Cole in particular who had a great championship. Martin Castrogiavanni might also count himself unlucky, but he was undone by his failure to impose himself against England or France.
4. & 5. While the rugby press have been singing the praises of Scotland’s Richie Gray, I'm afraid I remain unconvinced. Yes, he’s a good athlete and gallops around the paddock getting his dyed blonde mop noticed, but he was also part of a Scottish tight five who were marched back at nearly every scrum. No, for me the choices are Bradley Davies for constantly dragging Wales onto the front foot and Paul O'Connell for winding back the clock yesterday to remind us of his excellence. England's Louis Deacon and Tom Palmer are unlucky to miss out but they had no answer to the Irish maelstrom.
6. Again, many have lauded the performances of Irishman Sean O’Brien, and it’s true that he’s a bull of a man and shows promise for the future. He does, however, have a way to go before being in the same league as countryman Stephen Ferris, for instance, and will need to add rugby nous and more of an end product to his game. Italy's Alessandro Zanni was consistently impressive throughout and Dan Lydiate looks the real deal for Wales. However, for an international newbie, Tom Wood was unfussily excellent (even yesterday) and therefore gets my vote.
7. It's a shame that there were no genuine "fetchers" on view this year, with teams electing to field a '6½' rather than a genuine '7' at openside. Until yesterday I though that David Wallace looked ready for the knacker's yard (shows what I know) but he was excellent against the English, while James Haskell was one of the few English forwards to stand up and be counted (rounding off a series of much improved performances for the Brand). The prize, however, goes to Sam Warburton who impressed throughout.
8. Despite a rather massive wobble against England, Sergio Parisse was his usual brilliant self and I can't really see beyond him. Honourable mentions also for Jamie Heaslip, Imanol Harinordiquy and Nick Easter.
There you go. Before yesterday there would almost certainly have been a few more Englishmen in the mix which just goes to show that it really ain't over until Adam Jones sings...