The curtain came down on a gripping 2014 Six Nations tournament, as Ireland hung on to take the title.
They survived a late onslaught from France in Paris to lift the trophy, triumphing 22-20 on the night. In doing so, they gave retiring Irish rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll the perfect end to a phenomenal career. Just a couple of days ahead of St. Patrick’s Day no less!
Whilst O’Driscoll’s farewell has naturally been the big storyline, here we’re looking to examine the best and worst players of this year’s competition.
Despite losing out on the title in heartbreaking circumstances, England had a marvellous tournament and their young squad is rife with contenders for best player of the competition.
Their boss Stuart Lancaster paid tribute to his players, preferring to take the positives from what was a great effort from his side, per Sky Sports:
You've got to take the positives. It's obviously hugely disappointing to have lost it in in the matter in which we did.
Overall, seven tries in Italy, the experience that we've gained, the quality of the attack and how we've developed our game. The young players getting opportunities, which 18 months after a World Cup can only be a good thing for us.
So did any of Lancaster’s young lions make it into our selections?
Let’s look at who’s made key contributions at crucial times, who’s galvanised their team when they needed it and on the flip-side, which player has been downright disappointing in this year’s competition?
England’s standout man was full-back Mike Brown, who has improved beyond imagination in this tournament.
Used as a winger for England in this competition last year, he struggled to make any kind of impression. But since he’s been shifted to his natural position of full-back, he’s not put a foot wrong. Brown’s handling is outstanding, his decision-making is first-class and his turn of pace is absolutely electric. Former England hooker Brian Moore think Brown’s performances should see him win player of the tournament:
Plaudits to Stuart Lancaster, his coaches, Chris Robshaw and squad for a good tournament. Mike Brown player of the series.— Brian Moore (@brianmoore666) March 15, 2014
Brown’s two tries in the final game against Italy were the latest crucial segments of play in a tournament which was been littered with magnificence by the England man. It’s a step up that Brown always thought he could make, per Oliver Brown in the Telegraph:
I always knew I could step up to this level if I got an opportunity in the full-back jersey that I wear for Harlequins.
I feel I’m a high performer for Quins and I wanted to replicate that for England. The strides we have made in attack have really helped my game, and Stuart and the other coaches are challenging me to be more involved in phase play and as an outside wide receiver. I’m enjoying getting my hands on the ball.
With a home World Cup just around the corner, Lancaster will be looking for 28-year-old Brown to inspire this group of young players to great things. If the Harlequins man continues to develop his game and improve further ahead of the 2015 World Cup, England could have one of the tournament’s best players on their hands.
Whilst it may seem strange to single out two Englishmen as the best two players in a tournament where Ireland won, the performances of the aforementioned Brown and lock Courtney Lawes warrant massive recognition.
Lawes and his partner in the second row Joe Launchbury were both outstanding, but the former just shades it. A rock in the scrum and a master in the line-out, Lawes has been crucial to England doing the basics right in this tournament. But this YouTube clip shows what his game is really all about: pace, power and huge hits:
The Northampton man brings a dynamism to the England line, with his burst of pace and dominant physical presence crucial to their efforts in attack and defence. His man-of-the-match performance against Wales was as good an all-round showing as you’ll see from a second row.
Previously regarded as something of an inconsistent, unfulfilled talent, Lawes finally looks to be bringing a consistency to his game that complements his physicality. If he can keep it up and continue maturing, the second row partnership with Launchbury will flourish, as will England.
The French back has always been a player that divides opinion. His physical presence is indisputable and subsequently he can produce some stunning bits of play. But there is a school of thought that often Bastareaud is more of a hindrance than a help to Les Bleus.
That proved to be the case in this tournament, as the centre endured a frustrating time of it. He was caught dallying on the ball often and regularly turned down good passing options, preferring to go it alone.
The aforementioned Brian Moore certainly doesn’t think the Toulon man is quite ready for international rugby yet:
I don't care how big Bastareaud is, he isn't international class; poor hands and immobile.— Brian Moore (@brianmoore666) February 21, 2014
At 25-years-old, there is still time for Bastareaud to develop his game. Whilst he wasn’t at his best in this Six Nations, there is plenty he can learn from the five games he played against mainly high calibre opponents. A good season with Toulon and he can still nail down a place in the France XV in next year’s World Cup.