Six Nations 2014: Team of the Final Weekend

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistMarch 17, 2014

Six Nations 2014: Team of the Final Weekend

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    Christophe Ena/Associated Press

    So, after all the thrills and spills of a superb Six Nations Saturday finale, Ireland have been crowned 2014 champions, with England only just finishing as runners-up on points difference.

    However, there was more to this weekend's drama than just a fine performance from the Boys in Green, with figures from each outfit impressing in their final tournament outings.

    Regardless of their side's result or where in the standings they now lie, we've compiled a line-up of those most impressive individuals from Week 5's action.

Front Five

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    1. Mako Vunipola, England

    Cian Healy's work against France shouldn't go unnoticed, but Mako Vunipola just made those extra contributions in the loose against Italy to warrant his inclusion in this week's line-up.

    In for Joe Marler at the Stadio Olimpico, Vunipola's carrying made a big difference for the visitors, and he was eventually rewarded, barrelling over for England's fifth try in Rome, as well as helping his side win all five of their scrums.

    2. Rory Best, Ireland

    Ireland's Mr. Consistent was unsurprisingly one of those figures that Joe Schmidt was able to lean upon for a stern performance in Paris; his 13 tackles were good enough for the third-highest tally at the Stade de France.

    Ireland won 13 of their own line-outs against Philippe Saint-Andre's side, the vast majority of which Best was responsible for, and while Dylan Hartley deserves a mention for his outing against the Italians, Best's success in delivering against high-profile opposition gets the nod this week.

    3. Mike Ross, Ireland

    The second Irish cog in this week's front row is Mike Ross, whose scrummaging gave Thomas Domingo such a torrid time in the French capital that Saint-Andre was forced to whip his loosehead off after 40 minutes.

    Ross was spotless in defence, making seven tackles and not missing any of his attempts, and while he didn't manage to get ball in hand very often, his frame at tighthead helped pave the way to Six Nations glory in a big way.

    4. Paul O'Connell, Ireland

    They say it's the mark of a true leader when a man is able to rise to the occasion when it matters most, and when the stakes were at their highest in Paris this weekend, Paul O'Connell certainly did just that.

    Only Chris Henry managed more than the lock's 15-tackle total, showing that size isn't always a factor in getting about the pitch. O'Connell's pristine work at the line-out helped the Irish claim a crucial set-piece victory, too. 

    5. Alun-Wyn Jones, Wales

    O'Connell's Welsh counterpart Alun-Wyn Jones had a standout display of equal impression against the 14 men of Scotland, albeit with nowhere near as much on the line.

    Warren Gatland's men claimed their highest-ever points margin against Scotland with a 51-3 win at the Millennium Stadium, Jones adding 15 tackles to the mix, carrying for 22 metres and also helping his outfit rule at the line-out.

Back Row

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    6. Chris Robshaw, England

    Shifting into his club delegation at blindside, Chris Robshaw is beginning to make a habit of this whole try-scoring business, dotting down for England's seventh and final score in Italy to round off an emphatic win for the Red Rose.

    Stuart Lancaster's captain made 11 tackles against the Azzurri, the most of any English player on the day, marshalling his troops into almost registering a score high enough to topple Ireland in the points difference. 

    7. Chris Henry, Ireland

    Sean O'Brien's injury isn't much of a talking topic anymore, as Chris Henry has established himself as a genuine threat to Schmidt's No. 7 jersey in his own right over the course of this Six Nations.

    The flanker finished his most prominent Six Nations with a bang in Paris, making 16 tackles—the highest of any player in the French capital on Saturday—not to mention setting up Jonny Sexton for his first try.

    8. David Denton, Scotland

    The sole Scottish inclusion in this week's XV, if Scott Johnson were to be proud of just one performance from Saturday, it would be that of the ever-improving David Denton.

    To the very end, the No. 8 was a source of some inspiration for the Scots, constantly striving to make ground up in Cardiff and finishing with 69 carrying metres to his name, beating three defenders, making two offloads and two turnovers in the process.


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    9. Conor Murray, Ireland

    Had it not been the occasion that it was, Conor Murray may have beaten a certain No. 13 to man of the match plaudits in Paris, but his unselfish nature is part of the reason why the half-back had such a fine match against Les Bleus.

    Murray set up tries for Jonny Sexton and Andrew Trimble as a result of his quick-ball production, beating that which French counterparts Maxime Machenaud and Jean-Marc Doussain had to offer from the base of the ruck and maul.

    The Munster man was also more than willing to take the direct route when applicable, and it was a couple of Murray's darting runs with ball in hand that ended up setting the tone for several tries.

    10. Jonny Sexton, Ireland

    Owen Farrell's fine work against Jacques Brunel's Italy was impressive, to say the least, but it was Sexton's brace of tries that laid the foundations for an Irish victory at the Stade de France, and thus the Six Nations, meaning his display can't go ignored.

    The Irishman scored 17 of his team's 22 overall points in high-pressure conditions, coming to the fore precisely when his outfit needed him the most, with a special emphasis on his running-support game this time around.


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    12. Jamie Roberts, Wales

    Luther Burrell's display against Italy was close to getting him a place in this week's team, with his cute offload for a Mike Brown try particularly impressive in Rome. But Jamie Roberts' two-try haul against the Scottish just about edges the inside-centre race.

    In classic Roberts form, the Racing Metro man was direct and straightened up a lot of slow-moving, lateral Welsh ball before bringing the likes of Dan Biggar, Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams into the mix.

    By the end, Roberts had a fairly underwhelming 38 carrying metres, but considering that tally came from just nine runs, it shows that the Welshman simply refuses to go anywhere but forward with the ball in his possession.

    13. Brian O'Driscoll, Ireland

    Who else was it going to be?

    Brian O'Driscoll's 141st Test cap was suitably rounded off with man of the match plaudits at the Stade de France, and Dublin welcomed home its hero, who for one last time, made all the difference in the most heated of cauldrons.

    Defensively, the centre could have been more impressive as Mathieu Bastareaud actually succeeded in getting the better of his man on several occasions, but BO'D's contributions in attack were again what counted in Paris.

    Incisive, creative and as hard-working as ever as the clock ticked into its final seconds, these were 80 from O'Driscoll that no Irish fan will forget in a hurry.

Back Three

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    11. George North, Wales

    There was a slew of impressive performances from wingers and full-backs alike this weekend, but George North gets the nod at No. 11, despite benefiting from a Scottish defence that was one man short for three-quarters of their Cardiff collision.

    It took the Northampton Saint a while to find his stride in the Welsh capital, but once he did, there was little stopping him. In total, North carried for 128 metres, grabbing two tries, beating six defenders and failing to miss a tackle on the day. 

    14. Andrew Trimble, Ireland

    Trimble is another of those who would be up there in the man of the match mentions were it not for the occasion surrounding O'Driscoll's send-off, and the winger's rise back to prominence under Schmidt was capped off with another fine display.

    Against Les Bleus, Trimble made 82 metres with ball in hand, just four metres shy of Rob Kearney's match-high tally, and it was his try that ultimately helped make the two-point winning margin all the more significant.

    The Ulster flyer was also terrific in defence and failed to miss a tackle in Paris, making two clean breaks and beating three defenders, as well. 

    15. Mike Brown, England

    Mike Brown did no harm to his bid for Player of the Series plaudits, winning his third man of the match award, in the space of just four games, against Italy.

    His Welsh counterpart Liam Williams also had an impressive show against the Scottish, but one might agree that Brown's brace of tries (and one assist) against a side consisting of a full XV is better off rewarded here.

    England had a points difference deficit in need of being clawed down and Brown was on hand to provide. When England needed that piercing injection of pace down the touchline or slicing through the middle, there he was to deliver, beating five defenders, forcing three clean breaks and clocking up 133 metres with ball in hand, too.