Team of the Championship
March 18, 2012
Wales' Dan Lydiate is a leading contender for the 'Player of the Championship' honour © PA Photos
The latest battle for the northern hemisphere crown served up the usual mix of quality rugby, not-so-thrilling action and controversy - but which players rose above their rivals to claim a place in our Team of the Championship?
Our selection features eight players from Wales' Grand Slam-winning squad and two from Scotland despite a season that ended with the wooden spoon. There are also two survivors from last year's team - but who made the grade?
15. Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
Ireland's Rob Kearney may be considered the form fullback by many but Halfpenny's all-round endeavour in Wales' Grand Slam campaign ensures he gets the nod in our line-up. Despite his tries and prolific boot, it is his defensive work in particular stands him out - most notably his effort to deny England's David Strettle a try in the dying embers of the game at Twickenham.
14. Tommy Bowe (Ireland)
Ireland's challenge may have ended badly against England at the weekend, but not even that poor showing could completely overshadow Bowe's return to form. Five tries is an outstanding return and Ireland will need him to retain that scoring touch with the All Blacks looming large in the summer.
13. Jonathan Davies (Wales)
One of the rising stars of Welsh rugby, the 23-year-old Davies set Wales on their way with two tries against Ireland in their opener and was a stand-out performer in an arm-wrestle of a clash in Cardiff as his side wrapped up their 11th Grand Slam. A key figure in the much-respected Wales back division, don't be surprised if he is also plays a central role for the Lions in 2013.
12. Wesley Fofana (France)
The Clermont Auvergne centre announced himself on the international stage with a try on debut against Italy and repeated the feat against Scotland, Ireland and England to write his name into the record books. Switched to the wing for his side's last outing in Cardiff, he could not make it a clean sweep but is an exciting talent and a welcome addition to the Six Nations stage.
11. George North (Wales)
The giant Welsh winger may have only crossed the whitewash once but his impact stretched far beyond those five points. But for a couple of desperate tackles he could easily have registered at least a couple more while rampaging his way through the Championship with an enviable blend of power and pace.
10. Owen Farrell (England)
Farrell may have only made three appearances in the England No.10 shirt - having switched from the midfield following an injury to Charlie Hodgson - but he has still shown enough class and composure to edge out his rivals. He oozes confidence with ball in hand, is nerve-less and assured with the boot and shows a general maturity way beyond his 20-years. The England team - and their hopes - are sure to be moulded around him in the years to come.
9. Mike Phillips (Wales)
It may not have been a vintage year for scrum-halves, but Phillips' consistency ensures his place. He may have his critics but he was his usual physical self and ensured plenty of ammo for a formidable Welsh back division.
1. Gethin Jenkins (Wales)
Jenkins missed the opening round but returned to bolster Wales' title challenge with his usual exemplary work at scrum time and his constantly-amazing stamina and work-rate. A truly world-class player, he has now featured in three Grand Slam-winning sides. A modern great.
2. Rory Best (Ireland)
Best has put his rivals for the No.2 in the shade throughout an eventful Six Nations that has seen him assume the captaincy of his country, become Ireland most-capped hooker - eclipsing the mark of Keith Wood - and notch two tries. The Irish scrum's capitulation against England will be a concern but his throwing is not.
3. Adam Jones (Wales)
An ever-present in Wales' run to the title and the Grand Slam, Jones is one of the rocks that his side's recent dominance has been built upon. Another member of the triple Grand Slam-winners club alongside Jenkins, flanker Ryan Jones and their 1970s predecessors Gareth Edwards, JPR Williams and Gerald Davies.
4. Richie Gray (Scotland)
One of the shining lights in an otherwise hugely disappointing Scotland campaign. At 6ft 10in and with a mop of wild blond hair, it is not easy to miss the lock but it is more often that his endeavour that catches the eye at the lineout or in the loose with his superb try against the Irish in Dublin - his first in Test rugby - a clear reminder that he is a real talent.
5. Ian Evans (Wales)
The Welsh lock appeared in every minute of every game and is yet to taste defeat in the Six Nations. Plagued by injury in recent years and denied a role in Wales' recent Rugby World Cup run, he returned to top form and was a pivotal figure throughout a gruelling campaign.
6. Dan Lydiate (Wales)
Wales coach Warren Gatland recently hailed Lydiate as the 'unsung hero' of his squad and he duly went out an stole the show against France with a typically lung-busting effort punctuated with tackle after tackle. His efforts were rewarded with the Man of the Match award - the second time he has picked up that honour in this year's Championship. He may have missed the opener against Ireland but surely the Player of the Championship?
7. Ross Rennie (Scotland)
Like his compatriots Gray and David Denton, he has been model of consistency and with such core strength you wonder how the Scots have repeatedly mis-fired. He celebrated his first Six Nations start against England with the Man of the Match honour and if the Scots are to drag themselves out of the mire then he will surely be at the heart of the effort.
8. Ben Morgan (England)
Morgan began the year by committing his international future to England - rather than Wales - and wasted little time in cementing his place in their ranks. A bit-part player in the early stages of the contest, he grabbed his opportunites with both hands when they came his way. Arguably England's 'Player of the Championship', the 23-year-old lit up the Six Nations stage with a series of barnstorming runs and power-packed performances.
© ESPN EMEA Ltd
"If there was a cross breed of canine called an Underdogdoodle it would win best in show at Crufts." Mark Durden-Smith looks at the Aviva Premiership Final
With the Lions' tour to Australia fast-approaching, ESPN's Austin Healey and Mark Durden-Smith sat down to share their memories of the 2001 trip Down Under
Ask John answers questions on the Leopards' tour to Italy in 1974, brotherly Test sides, Pat McGrath, England's games against the Barbarians and Jacques Brunel
"We were only five metres away in the last Test of getting that try and with Jonny's inevitable conversion, we'd have won it." Tom Hamilton talks to Lions fullback Matt Perry