Predicting the 6 Nations Team of the Tournament
The turbulence surrounding the future of the club game in Europe has been unedifying for the fans and, no doubt, distracting for many of the players.
But over the coming two months they can let that melt away as they go at it hammer and tongs in the Six Nations. We have plenty to look forward to with a galaxy of star talent on show.
These are the 15 names I expect to shine brightest in this year’s championship.
15. Leigh Halfpenny
The star of the Lions series has been less spectacular back in the blue of, er, the Blues, but he comes alive in the Six Nations. He’ll claim this spot by knocking over a hatful of points, scoring a try or two and never missing a tackle.
14. Yoann Huget
The big, bearded, burly Toulouse man would not look out of place emerging from the shadows in a gangster flick. He can be equally menacing when he comes slicing in off his wing to crash the ball up.
A wing who goes looking for work and does that work well. Remember when Chris Ashton used to do that? Ashton was once a dangerous proposition for defences but his dip in form has edged him close to the precipice of de-selection, while Huget has been a real threat for France and Toulouse so far this season.
11. George North
North, more than any other wing in the Six Nations, has the capacity to produce a devastating try from anywhere on the field.
If any coach in the competition could pluck a player from one of their opponents’ squads, North would be high on their wish list, if not top of it.
12. Wesley Fofana
Possibly the easiest player to pick in this side. Fofana is so good he could play half of each game and still be the most accomplished player on the pitch. He has speed, a ramrod hand off, lovely hands and brutish power on the run.
13. Scott Williams
Apologies to the disciples of BO’D. O'Driscoll will no doubt have a stormer, but he isn’t quite as box office as he used to be.
In Scott Williams, Welsh fans have found a reason not to be so down in the mouth about the injury to Lions hero Jonathan Davies. Williams has a big future ahead of him and will show what he is made of in this tournament.
9. Mike Phillips
Phillips on song is a bigger threat than the other No. 9s in the competition.
Whatever his off-field issues that saw him dumped by Bayonne, in the red of Wales, Phillips is a world class scrum-half with the size to play as an extra back row and the skills to unlock defences.
10. Jonny Sexton
It’s been a miserable time for Sexton in Paris as Racing Metro have gone about doing a passable impression of not knowing each other’s names.
But in the more familiar surroundings of the Irish set-up, with a side straining at the leash to pick up where they left off against New Zealand, Sexton will shine.
8. Jamie Heaslip
Heaslip must feel the extra pressure to be Ireland’s primary carrier in the absence of the injured Sean O’Brien.
The Leinster man has yet to truly cement himself as Ireland’s captain, but he has too much quality for that to be anything but a passing teething problem. Heaslip will step up to the plate this term.
7. Sam Warburton
Warburton seems to have shaken off his latest injury in time for the Six Nations, per Duncan Bech of The Independent.
He is due some big performances and needs to deliver them for a side who struggled against the big boys in the autumn. With Wales gunning for three straight championships, their skipper will step up to the plate.
6. Peter O’Mahony
The Munster blindside is becoming Mr Consistent for the Irish province. He has taken on the captaincy from Paul O’Connell and has grown into the role well this season.
O’Mahony’s work at the breakdown is tireless and he is also proving an excellent link man around the field.
5. Alun-Wyn Jones
Having put the questions about his future to bed by re-signing with the Ospreys, per BBC Sport, Jones should have a spring in his step as he comes into the tournament. His work rate is phenomenal.
4. Paul O’Connell
The Irish legend hit another purple patch of form as the Heineken Cup reached the end of the pool stages and should carry that in to the Six Nations. O’Connell at his best is still the best second row in Europe.
3. Adam Jones
The Osprey might be getting a little long in the tooth, but he is still the best tight head in the competition.
Jones brings destructive scrummaging, strong ball carrying and an astonishing tackle count for a front row forward.
2. Richard Hibbard
Hibbard’s lineout throwing is excellent and his work in ball-carrying and tackling set him apart from the other hookers.
Dylan Hartley at his best runs the Welshman close.
1. Cian Healy
Healy has just returned from injury and looked in good nick when he came off the bench for Leinster against Castres in the Heineken Cup.
He adds a huge amount to the Ireland side, not only as a scrummager and lineout lifter but as one of their best ball-carriers.