Updated: Tuesday, 18 Mar 2014 17:51 | Comments
By Tadhg Peavoy
Ireland and England dominate the team of the championship with seven and five players respectively; the consistency of the championship’s top two teams meaning they make up the bulk of the squad.
Two Welshman make the team, and one Frenchman completes the XV.
The Italians and the Scots miss out altogether, although David Denton wasn’t too far away from making the back row.
Let me know if you agree or disagree with the selection with your rants, raves and missives in the comments section below and on Twitter.
Fullback: Mike Brown (England)
Mike Brown was without question the best fullback in the tournament and most likely will be awarded the player of the tournament gong. Superb pace, lines of running, ability to both evade and break tackles, defensive solidity, and good field kicking. Brown was simply sensational from round one to round five.
The fact that he made more line breaks (10), beat more defenders (25) and made more metres (543) than any other player comes comes as no surprise. To boot he finished as joint top try-scorer with four.
Right wing: Yoann Huget (France)
Yoann Huget was everything one could ask for in a winger over the five rounds: solid in defence, both when tackling and fielding, and immense going forward. His pace and vision with ball-in-hand was a pure joy to watch.
He lived off scraps for much of the tournament and the fact that he still scored three tries in a team that that finished fourth overall says much about his instinct to get over the whitewash.
Second centre: Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland)
A position where no one player was head and shoulders above the rest. Mathieu Bastareaud showed what he was capable of in flashes, and had one game – against Ireland – where he was world class. But overall he drifted in and out of games.
England’s Luther Burrell was direct and aggressive and showed superb pace as well as solidity in the tackle.
Alex Dunbar was an unexpected source of tries for Scotland and was one of the championship’s finds.
However, in terms of defensive brilliance, allied to leadership, and creating space for those around him, there was still one man who did it better than everyone else: Brian O’Driscoll.
First centre: Billy Twelvetrees (England)
Perhaps the hardest position to call. Wesley Fofana was immense for France against England and Italy, looking like the best centre in the world, not just Europe. However, he was anonymous against Wales, before injury ended his tournament.
Ireland’s Gordon D’Arcy was solid throughout, but lacked the influence some of his rivals displayed.
Wales’ Jamie Roberts carried forward with aplomb and did his usual bish, bash, bosh with regularity, making space for those outside him to do damage.
But the surprise of the tournament in the centre was Billy Twelvetrees. Incredibly good in defence, where he rarely put a foot wrong, he also had fantastic awareness alongside England team-mate Owen Farrell. In addition, his experience was crucial to Burrell outside him. Add in his deft kicking, especially against Wales, and we have a winner.
Left wing: George North (Wales)
Despite Wales’s poor showing this year, when they finished a lowly third by their own high standards, there was still one man who shone consistently for Warren Gatland’s side: George North.
The winger showed all his usual ability in bringing the ball to the gainline and damaging with every ball carry. Like Huget for France, he largely lived off scraps, but when he got the ball, bar two poor calls to kick away possession when threatening Englands try-line, he was a solid performer. The stats back up just how good he was: three tries, 326m made and 16 defenders beaten.
Out-half: Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
Like Brown at fullback, Sexton is the clear choice for this position. Superb in defence, as Bastareaud found out, and has a vision in attack, from both boot and hand, that the other No 10s in the tournament simply cannot match.
He isn’t the second-highest paid rugby player in the world for nothing.
However, the missed place kicks against France were worrying; he needs to overcome missing very kickable shots at goal in pressure situations.
However, with 66 points scored, more than any other player in the championship, he proved in many instances that his kicking is not all bad.
Scrum-half: Danny Care (England)
Danny Care edges out Conor Murray to partner Sexton at halfback. The Englishman’s sniping runs from the base of the scrum, breakdown, and tap-and-goes were deadly, either resulting in tries or yardage gains.
His pass was vastly improved this season, as was his box kicking.
He’ll get a serious test of his credentials on England’s summer tour to New Zealand, but it looks as though Stuart Lancaster has found his scrum-half for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Conor Murray deserves an honourable mention: excellent in terms of decision making and spreading the ball, and his physicality is always a bonus. However, Care’s threat with ball-in-hand means he gets the nod.
Number eight: Jamie Heaslip (Ireland)
Jamie Heaslip’s consistency means he gets the nod in a position of real strength in the championship.
Rarely does he put a foot wrong in any facet of the game, and his naturally athletic prowess means that he covers a huge amount of ground both in attack and defence. His 65 carries, more than any other player, are testament to that.
True, he isn’t as pivotal as a ball-carrier as he was in his early career, but like O’Driscoll did, Heaslip has adapted his game from one of high-impact to being a selfless player that creates space and time for his team-mates to shine.
Italy’s Sergio Parisse seemed the likely choice for the position pre-tournament, but he failed to perform to his own high standards, and was played out of the game by Ben Morgan in the last round.
Likewise, Wales’ Toby Faletau looked tired from a long season and in need of a break this summer.
Louis Picamoles – superb in 2013 – blew hot and cold, as did his French team, and failed to have the same impact on the loose.
England’s Billy Vunipola was looking like the tournament’s best No 8 until an ankle injury sustained against Ireland ended his participation.
In fact, the man that pushed Heaslip closest was Scotland’s David Denton. His strength and ball-carrying ability was one of few plus points for Scotland, and his control of the ball at the base of the scrum was the best of all the No 8s in the tournament.
Openside flanker: Sam Warburton (Wales)
It’s one of three at number seven. Chris Henry stepped into Sean O’Brien’s boots manfully, using his strength as a force of reckoning at the breakdown for Ireland. However, he lacked the nous and groundhog abilities of England captain Chris Robshaw and Wales’ Sam Warburton on the deck and in distribution of the ball.
And while England might have got the better of Wales at Twickenham, Warburton’s ability to continually trouble the English pack’s presentation of the ball makes him, by a whisker, the best seven in the championship.
Blindside flanker: Peter O’Mahony (Ireland)
Peter O’Mahony, like England’s Joe Launchbury, had a career-changing tournament. Prior to the spring he was highly rated, but now he has to be regarded as one of the most aggressive, combative, and physically dominating back-rows in the world.
His ability to win ball at the breakdown is invaluable, and his disruption of the opposition is a superb needle to put in their side.
The fact he managed to subdue Louis Picamoles in Paris signals him out as the rightful heir to Paul O’Connell’s throne as the king of Munster Rugby.
Second row: Courtney Lawes (England)
Courtney Lawes has long looked like becoming a player that will lock down the England number five shirt, and this spring he did it.
A natural leader who wins ball at will in the loose and also at the breakdown.
His set-piece performances were better than ever, stealing six lineouts throughout the championship, and only Paul O’Connell can rival the Northampton player for power in the engine room.
Second row: Joe Launchbury (England)
Joe Launchbury was rated before this tournament, but his all-action, total rugby performances this spring have elevated him into the category of one of the world’s leading second rows.
He can carry, he can lineout jump, he does more than his fair share at the breakdown, and his tackling is sensational.
The tap tackle to stop Dave Kearney in the end game of the England-Ireland clash at Twickenham was one of the most fantastic pieces of skill the tournament saw.
At 22 years old, the Wasps man also youth on his side in what could be an incredible career ahead.
Tighthead prop: Mike Ross (Ireland)
The tournament was devoid of a tighthead that stood out as a star. France’s Nicolas Mas was extremely poor by his standards, and Adam Jones blew hot and cold, as the Welshman struggled to adapt to the scrum laws.
There was just one number three who fronted up to the scrum consistently and was rarely found wanting: Mike Ross.
Hooker: Rory Best (Ireland)
Ulster’s Rory Best was much maligned after the Lions tour Down Under, where he failed to deliver in a lineout that he simply could not get to grips with.
He banished memories of that failure with his best ever series of performances in an Irish shirt.
His darts in the lineout were exceptional, and like team-mate Cian Healy, he added a dynamism in the loose that is invaluable in the modern game from a front-row forward.
Looshead prop: Cian Healy (Ireland)
Cian Healy is arguably the best prop in the world on current form.
The new scrum laws have helped his game no end as it is more about technique than impact, and he has the former in bucket loads.
His lifting in the lineout was as solid as ever throughout, and his presence in the loose at times gave Ireland a fourth back-row.
At just 26 years old he can only get better.