05292017

Who wins our Six Nations awards – and who will be Lions?

Owen Farrell, CJ Stander, Stuart Hogg, Rhys Webb and Louis Picamoles

After seven weeks, 15 matches, 653 points and many more hours of discussion, the Six Nations is done for another year.

It was a tournament full of intrigue.

England retained the title, but ended on a flat note as a repeat Grand Slam proved out of reach in Dublin.

Ireland’s rousing final-day performance hid disappointments on the road and a failure to fulfil their favourites’ tag.

Scotland won three matches for the first time since 2006, but suffered a record-equalling defeat by the Auld Enemy.

Wales finished fifth, but were just a few minutes and seconds respectively from victories over England and France. That would have given the table a very different look.

But what does it all mean? Fortunately, former Wales scrum-half Mike Phillips, ex-England centre Jeremy Guscott and Ireland legend Keith Wood are here to help unpick it.

The trio have handed out their Six Nations awards before trying to get their head around who should follow in their footsteps and represent the British and Irish Lions on the summer tour of New Zealand.

The final 2017 Six Nations table<!–

Player of the tournament

Mike Phillips: For me, it has to go to a guy who has won the tournament, and Owen Farrell has been outstanding. His distribution skills at inside centre have given England an extra dimension, his kicking has been immaculate and defensively he is never going to let you down.

Jeremy Guscott: Joe Launchbury might not have been one of England’s first-choice second rows at the start of the season, with Saracens pair George Kruis and Maro Itoje in harness, but he has pushed his way in. He is just 100% commitment, there is no halt to his work-rate. He is an all-action, in-your-face player, making a tackle one moment and a carry the next. It takes a huge amount of fitness for a man that size to soak up the hits, get off the floor and keep getting through the work.

Joe Launchbury<!–

Launchbury was England’s top tackler in the wins over Wales, Scotland and France, making 23, 22, and 15 respectively

Keith Wood: Notwithstanding the final-round defeat against Ireland, where it was difficult for any of the England backs to get going, Owen Farrell has been excellent.

Breakthrough of the tournament

Mike Phillips: Elliot Daly only made his first England start in November but has really taken the chance to make himself a first-choice pick on the wing. He has backed up every great performance with another.

Jeremy Guscott: All I want as a back is for my scrum-half to provide whip-fast service and Baptiste Serin has come in and delivered that for France to get their backline moving. He focuses on that part of his game, but can make a break as well.

Keith Wood: There has been a sense of joy every time Serin has got his hands on the ball. That is something that has been missing from French rugby for a while.

baptiste Serin<!–

Baptiste Serin only made his France debut in June

Try of the tournament

Mike Phillips: I think you have to look at the opposition and the way Wales cut through a strong Ireland team with Scott Williams barrelling through midfield, Rhys Webb and Leigh Halfpenny linking up and then George North finishing out wide was sensational.

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George North gives Wales the lead with the first try of the game

Jeremy Guscott: England wing Elliot Daly’s decisive try at the death against Wales was just so well executed. The passes from George Ford to Owen Farrell and then Farrell to Daly were pinpoint. Daly still had to burn off Alex Cuthbert and the whole thing came together in a magical 10 seconds or so.

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Elliot Daly scores the winning try

Keith Wood: The same for me. It was not so much Daly’s involvement but the two passes beforehand were perfection. And you very rarely get anything in rugby that is perfect.

Match of the tournament

Mike Phillips: Wales’ 22-9 win over Ireland was a great way to bounce back from the defeats by England and Scotland in the previous two weeks. There was a lot of pressure on the lads and, as a Welshman, it was great to see the guts they showed.

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George North scores two tries as Wales defeat Ireland

Jeremy Guscott: That Wales win over Ireland was the most gladiatorial, intense game of rugby that I have seen live and up close in a long time. It was bruising, brutal and brilliant. It reminded me of the battle scene that was the British and Irish Lions’ second Test defeat by South Africa in 2009.

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Six Nations 2017: Ireland 13-9 England highlights

Keith Wood: Ireland’s win over England was the first Six Nations match I have attended as a fan rather than for work – either as a player or in another role – since 1992. I went with my wife and children and to have that victory out of the dirt and murk of Dublin was the perfect family day out.

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Moment of the tournament

Mike Phillips: When I switched on the television midway though the match, expecting to find England 30 or 40 points up against Italy at Twickenham. Instead, Italy were leading, with their ‘no-ruck’tactics creating chaos. It was so unexpected, so innovative and such a talking point. I thought we would be spending the next week at Sale trying to work out how to counter it!

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Six Nations 2017: How Italy baffled England at the breakdown?

Jeremy Guscott: When England captain Dylan Hartley and team-mate James Haskell asked for clarification about Italy’s tactics and referee Romain Poite delivered that brilliant line: “I am a referee, not a coach.” To deliver that in the middle of the hurly-burly was exquisite. It showed the game’s human side.

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Six Nations Remix: England don’t know the rules

Keith Wood: The fact the clock stopped at 99 minutes and 55 seconds, after very nearly 20 minutes of added time, in that France v Wales game was just odd on every single level. I was at the Aviva and just couldn’t understand what was happening in Paris. With the allowance that the organisers make to ensure that the games don’t overlap, it just didn’t make sense to me.

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Six Nations 2017: The chaotic finale to France v Wales in two minutes

Tweak to the tournament

Mike Phillips: Some form of relegation has got to come in for me. Italy have improved since their introduction in 2000, but the prospect of dropping out would spur them on again. They are too comfortable, knowing their place in the tournament is assured ever year. The prospect of Georgia potentially coming in would be exciting as well.

Italy losses<!–

The Azzurri’s last victory in the competition was a 22-19 win against Scotland at Murrayfield in 2015

Jeremy Guscott: It was an excellent tournament – I think the performance has stepped up from where it has been in previous years. There is nothing that I would especially change.

Keith Wood: I have not been a fan of how replacements are used for a long time. If there were fewer of them, I think you would get lighter weight guys with more stamina who could last 80 minutes. You wouldn’t get that situation where a team have worked hard to get on top over their opposite numbers only to see them replaced by fresh legs.

I understand you have to have cover for safety reasons in the front row but perhaps you could limit the replacements to a front row, a utility back and a utility forward.

And now for the Lions…

Mike Phillips: It was tough on the wing, but I think the Scots need to be rewarded for their campaign and that edged Tommy Seymour ahead of Elliot Daly. Sam Warburton might well go as captain and first choice under Warren Gatland, but, for me,Justin Tipuric just edges it at open-side flanker. It is very close, though.

Mike Phillips Lions Xv<!–

Jeremy Guscott: My selection is based purely on form. If we had to play the All Blacks this week, and everyone was fit, this is what I would go for. Justin Tipuric gets very close to earning a spot in the back row, but is just edged out by the combined excellence of team-mate Sam Warburton and Ireland’s CJ Stander.

Jeremy Guscott's Lions XV<!–

Keith Wood: At this moment I just can’t pick a Lions XV. We are in the middle of March and the first Test is not for more than three months. There are so many factors to consider.

You have the alchemy of how different combinations work together, how players have done against New Zealand in the past and there will always be a bolter. There is always a player who comes on the tour and is expected to be a bit-part player but makes a huge leap in performance surrounded by great players.

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Who’s in Shane Williams’ Lions XV?

What Next?

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