Another Six Nations tournament is behind us as England have finally won the holy grail, which is the Grand Slam for the first time in 13 years. Here are my awards for this year’s championship.
Player of the tournament- Stuart Hogg
This was probably the hardest category as there were many players in contention such as Billy Vunipola and George North, however the Scotsman just pipped them to the line with his effervescent displays from full-back that dazzled many fans and critics alike. With rugby union increasingly becoming a more tactical kicking game, it was refreshing to see free-flowing, expansive play and Hogg was at the forefront of that throughout the championship.
Two personal highlights for me was his quick reaction flick pass to Tim Visser that virtually sealed Scotland’s win over France and his 55 metre try on Saturday against Ireland, which he initiated with a dummy pass that bamboozled the Irish defence. If the Glasgow Warriors man maintains this form he is a serious contender to start at no.15 for the British and Irish Lions next year against New Zealand.
Breakthrough of the tournament- Maro Itoje
Maro Itoje has taken to international rugby like a duck to water with his imperious displays for England. Although he has been held in high regard for sometime, not many could have predicted the Saracen’s meteoric rise with his dominant displays whether it be at the breakdown, ball in hand or winning line-outs. It’s no wonder that he has been given the moniker “the chosen one” by his team mates.
Try of the tournament- George North
Although Jamie Heaslip’s try is doing the rounds (and rightly so) I’ve gone for the alternative option and opted for George North’s try against Italy. The move started from the line-out that was collected by Alun Wyn-Jones and passed to scrum-half Rhys Webb who passed to fellow half-back Dan Biggar who saw the imposing figure of North running from deep as he saw a gap in the leaky Italian defence and took advantage. With still quite a lot to do North showed excellent balance as he sidestepped and fooled both Luke McLean and David Odiete in the process and to finish with aplomb.
Reneissance of the tournament- Chris Robshaw and Dylan Hartley
For this category I have chosen England’s ex-captain and his successor as they both came under scrutiny prior to the tournament. Robshaw was vilified by the media as one of the major reasons for England’s failure last year and Hartley was criticised when new head coach Eddie Jones appointed him as the new captain in February, considering his disciplinary history. Both proved their critics wrong as Robshaw seemed to play more freely without the title of captain, while Hartley seemed to thrive on becoming captain with a sense of authority with Jones’ maverick decision paying off.
Coach of the tournament- Eddie Jones
A rather easy choice as he not only guided England to the title, but also to the Grand Slam at the first opportunity too. Jones’ mind-games seemed to ruffle a few feathers along the way however you can not discredit how much of an effect the Australian had on his players although he tried to diffuse his influence.
Best match of the tournament- England v Wales
This game was widely anticipated as many thought that this was the championship decider. The match had everything you could ask for in a game with some added controversy along the way. Another sub-plot to the game was that Wales defeated England at Twickenham six months ago in the World Cup and how would they respond? They started emphatically as England raced to a 16-0 lead at half-time. With 10 minutes remaining and the score at 25-7, England were still in cruise control until prop Dan Cole was sin-binned for collapsing the drive and then the wheels fell off as Wales scored two converted tries courtesy of George North and Taulupe Faletau. Wales nearly completed the smash and grab as North was closing in on the try line but was put into touch by Manu Tuilagi as England held on and won 25-21.
Worst match of the tournament: France v Ireland
Both these sides had disappointing campaigns by their lofty expectations and it was evident on the rain-soaked pitch as the Stade de France as both teams never really got going and it was not helped by the French resorting to uber-physical tactics to nullify Ireland. It did eventually work as Maxime Medard scored a late try for Les Bleus in a forgettable encounter.