With the World Cup only nine months away, the Six Nations provides the Northern Hemisphere’s elite with their last chance to shine on the International stage and push for a place in their respective squads for the main event in New Zealand.
There is plenty of time for individuals on the fringe to put forward their case for selection. However, there are a number of stand-out players from each nation who, no matter how they perform during the 2011 Six Nations, will be on the plane and have a huge role to play in New Zealand.
These are players who have already proven their worth on the highest stage and bought the proverbial t-shirt. They are players who carry the hopes of their nations, not only for the Six Nations, but for glory at the World Cup.
Thus, were such a team to be selected, the following players would make it into a Northern Hemisphere XV. Selection is based on recent form, and reputations are therefore not taken into account. In some positions, there is a plethora of talent and experience whilst in others there are few, if any, strong candidates.
In the pack, the cornerstone of the English front-row Andrew Sheridan begins at loosehead, following his excellent Autumn International performances. The long-locked Leicester legend Martin Castrogiovanni starts on the tighthead side, narrowly edging out the powerful Nicolas Mas. Hooker was a close call between William Servat and Wales’ Matthew Rees. The Frenchman has been in great form at the head of Toulouse’s pack of late and deserves his inclusion.
Courtney Lawes was a candidate for player of the Autumn Internationals and has continued to excel on his return to the Saints. Nathan Hines, the engine of the Scottish pack, squeezes in ahead of Paul O’Connell, who has played very little rugby following his return from the Lions’ tour to South Africa. Hines has been in good form for Leinster, and at 34 years of age he continues to mix it with the best in the business.
The blindside flanker spot is filled by Stephen Ferris. The Ulsterman was cruelly denied a Lions Test cap by injury, but since recovering he has gone from strength to strength and been influential in both Ulster’s and Ireland’s success. France’s captain Thierry Dusautoir narrowly edges out England’s skipper Lewis Moody on the openside. Dusautoir has been in sensational form for Toulouse and will be crucial to France’s chances of retaining its Six Nations title.
Italy’s Sergio Parise starts at No. 8, although many would be happy to see Imanol Harinordoquy in the side. However, Parise deserves credit for his continued excellence in an otherwise weak Italian side.
There are a multitude of talented scrum-halves in the Northern Hemisphere currently, including Mike Blair, Dwayne Peel, Ben Youngs, Morgan Parra and Tomas O’Leary. However, Mike Phillips brings a more physical threat to the position, as well as a range of excellent technical skills, and for this reason edges out his competitors. He has suffered a number of injuries recently, but is getting back to the standard he reached during the Lions’ South African tour.
Since Jonny Wilkinson’s injury ravaged decline from the pinnacle of world rugby, there has not been a fly-half of his calibre since in the Northern Hemisphere. Currently, Dan Parks deserves his selection due to his fantastic place kicking and consistency of performance for Cardiff Blues. He ended last year’s Six Nations in fantastic form and due to Scotland’s large inability to cross the try-line, his kicking becomes all the more important to their success.
Similarly, there is a shortage of world class inside centres in the Northern Hemisphere. Although he has been quiet of late, playing in a Stade Français side, which is struggling in the Top 14 and not participating in this season’s Heineken Cup, Mathieu Bastareaud claims the 12 shirt for his dynamic performances in last year’s Six Nations.
The Irish wizard Brian O’Driscoll joins him in the centres. At 31 years of age, BOD may not possess the pace he once had but he is still as sharp in mind as ever. His intelligence on the pitch gives him the edge over his opponents and he will be crucial to Ireland’s chances of a second Grand-Slam in three years.
In the back three, Shane Williams and Chris Ashton start off the wings. Williams is struggling to be fit for Wales’ showdown with England in Cardiff, but before his injury he was in sparkling form for the Ospreys, scoring a wonder try against London Irish in the Heineken Cup. Every Welsh fan will be hoping he recovers in time for the beginning of their Six Nations campaign.
Ashton, meanwhile, has burst onto the scene following his move from rugby league. He was the Guinness Premiership’s top try scorer last season with 16 tries and he has already scored two wonder tries for England against Australia in the past year.
Ben Foden completes the back three and, like his Northampton teammate Ashton, has had a huge impact on the English attack since breaking into the side. He is a very exciting prospect and has the crowd on the edge of their seats whenever he has the ball in hand.
So, with a makeup of four Englishmen, three Frenchmen, two Irishmen, two Welshmen, two Scotsmen and two Italians, each country is well-represented in our Northern Hemisphere XV. It will be very interesting to see if they warrant their selection during this year’s Six Nations.
1. Andrew Sheridan (England)
2. William Servat (France)
3. Martin Castrogiovanni (Italy)
4. Courtney Lawes (England)
5. Nathan Hines (Scotland)
6. Stephen Ferris (Ireland)
7. Thierry Dusautoir (France)
8. Sergio Parise (Italy)
9. Mike Phillips (Wales)
10. Dan Parks (Scotland)
11. Shane Williams (Wales)
12. Mathieu Bastareaud (France)
13. Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland)
14. Chris Ashton (England)
15. Ben Foden (England)