Six Nations XV of the Tournament

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FOLLOWING over two months of international rugby action, our Sports Editor Illtud Dafydd picks his teams of the tournament.

In my mind, it was a great tournament, the final weekend showing not only rugby, but Northern Hemisphere in the best light possible, only national defence coaches could be unhappy with the feast of tries seen in Rome, Edinburgh and London. Wales’ second half set the tone, mainly due to Liam and Scott Williams, Paul O’Connell led Ireland to a 30-point victory and despite Jack Nowell’s best efforts, England couldn’t keep score enough points with allowing France to cross their line. This team includes mainly players who featured in all of their teams fixtures, but some individuals, who stepped up to fill injury voids too, so here is my XV of the 2015 Six Nations:

Full-Back: Stuart Hogg – One of the rare Scottish players who performed well throughout the 5 rounds. His 86 metres ran against Ireland shows his attacking intent whilst hi ability to stop Mike Brown and to keep England out a week before highlighted both his defensive aptitude and speed. An unused goal-kicking option.

Right-Wing: Liam Williams – Featured in every game for Gatland’s team and gained a starting berth for the Scottish fixture as George North was out through concussion. His performance in Edinburgh claimed the wing jersey away from poor Alex Cuthbert. Attacking intent and solid under the high ball performed better when at full-back.

Outside Centre: Jonathan Joseph – His inclusion is obligatory as the Championship’s top try scorer (4 Tries), his debut Six Nations started superbly with tries against every team apart from France in Round 5. Ran through the Italian defence like a hot knife through butter, his club form translated onto the international stage.

Inside Centre: Luca Morisi – Zebre centre featured in each game for Jacques Brunel’s men, crossed the whitewash twice in Twickenham. The 24 years old filled the attacking void left by Michele Campagnaro but worked well with experienced Andrea Masi. A centre partnership of Morisi and Campagnaro could be long term.

Left-Wing: Gio Venditti – Another 24-year old Zebre Italian three-quarter, who also appeared in all of Italy’s fixtures. His firs half try versus Wales kept things interesting, his touchdown against Scotland proved to be crucial, already has 27 caps to his name, that left-wing Azzuri shirt is his for the long term.

Outside-Half: Dan Biggar – A three-way shootout between Biggar, Jonathan Sexton and George Ford, but the Osprey’s consistency throughout prevailed. Reliable under the high ball as he adopted the one-tone Welsh game plan well and opened up play comfortably in Rome. He also filled in as an international goal-kicker in Rome, it’s tough to argue any other Welshman’s case for the red fly-half jersey.

Scrum-Half – Rhys Webb – The Ospreys number nine added needed pace to the Welsh game, both off the floor from set-plays and his ability to snipe and find a whole. Came into his own against Italy, but his try against England in round 1 set the tone for his Championship. Biggar and Webb have transferred their regional performances to their national performances after a bedding in Autumn Series period.

Openside Flanker: Sam Warburton – Had a slow start and doubts over his place in the team existed, but outplayed Thierry Dusautoir in France, made 23 tackles against Ireland and gained 81 metres against Italy. In the past, he has been criticised for his inability to link play, as Justin Tipuric or the afore-mentioned Dusautoir does, but Warburton proved his worth by the end of the tournament. Has a big European Welsh derby quarter-final ahead of him in two weeks too.

Number Eight: Billy Vunipola – Only started for England as Ben Morgan was injured and Nick Easter breathing down his neck for a starting berth but Millfield-educated Vunipola showed his power as he came up against big forward packs, especially against Italy, he made 55 metres and 17 tackles. 17 caps to his name and tripled his try scoring recorSamula Vunisad during the Championship.

Blindside Flanker: Samuela Vunisa – Born in Suva Fiji, following in Manu Vosawai’s voyage from Fiji to Italy, he featured four times in the Six Nations and did not feature in the opening loss to Ireland. Had to content with two appearances off the bench but started against France and deputed for Sergio Parisse at number eight for Round 5. Cannot threaten Parisse for the starting 8 jumper, but is a useful ball-carrier at 6 or off the bench. Has signed for Saracens from next season onwards.

Second-Row: Paul O’Connell – Reached his century of caps, long overdue. Leads by example, from the front, no more can be asked of him. He could well have played his final 6 Nations game, turns 36 in October.

Second-Row: Alun-Wyn Jones – The first name down on this team sheet, and probably any other team he’s involved in. Great in the lineout, even with Richard Hibbard’s inconsistent throwing and plays like a back-rower as he gets over the ball in the rucks. Developed a good offload game which keeps the ball alive and got Wales over the gain line many a time.

Tighthead Prop: Rabah Slimani – The only Frenchmen in the line-up as he was a rare example of an evergreen presence in the French matchday squads. Took over from Nicolas Mas for the opening fixtures, but Mas reclaimed the jersey later on. At 25 Slimani, has a while to go in international rugby, Samson Lee was a close second.

Hooker: Rory Best – A common superlative Ulster sporting surname and Rory plays like a second blindside flanker an average of 7 tackles made per game, the highest of any front rower. Lineout throwing has improved and another member of the leaders group within the Irish forward pack.

Loosehead Prop: Joe Marler – Never takes a step back and got the better of Samson Lee in Cardiff during round one. Only 24 years old and has won over 30 caps in under 3 years. Like many of the above players, had made the national jersey his.