CJ Stander leads the list of breakout stars from the 2016 Six Nations
Published 20/03/2016 | 13:32
The 2016 RBS 6 Nations concluded on Saturday with England claiming a first Grand Slam since 2003.
But besides Eddie Jones' men winning the ultimate prize, there was also a host of players who took a huge leap forward in the 2016 championship. Here are five that we thought excelled throughout this year's tournament.
Fans had been counting down the days until Munster's South African back row became Irish eligible and the ball-carrying behemoth didn't disappoint on his first cap against Wales. From belting out the anthem to thundering into Welsh tacklers, Stander showed that he is able to flourish at international level just as he does with his province.
He found it tough to replicate his debut in subsequent fixtures but closed out his first Six Nations with a powerful display - and an NFL-style try - in the finale against Scotland.
It is probably best to keep this entry as short as possible because the world doesn't need another flowery piece pumping up this young Saracens forward. But let's be honest - the hype is justified. Jones teased us early on by keeping Itoje in reserve but since unleashing him on England's opponents, they haven't looked back.
Itoje is comfortable in all aspects of the game in the loose and the tight and is just as destructive at blindside flanker as he is in the second row. There is nothing else to say - he is the real deal.
Italy finished the tournament with two heavy defeats but they were very competitive in the first game and a half against France and England. A big reason for that was Canna, who was a firecracker at ten. Italy haven't had a good out-half since Diego Dominguez's retirement but Canna's ball skills are a huge asset and the devastating centre partnership of Gonzalo Garcia and Michele Campagnaro thrived off his service.
Hardie made his Scottish debut just before the World Cup but he really kicked on from last autumn, proving to be a nuisance at the breakdown and a real out-and-out number seven. Given how prevalent a poacher he was, it is no surprise that people are already talking about possible Lions recognition next summer.
He was restricted to just three cameo appearances off the bench but they were enough to suggest that the Connacht second row deserves more screen time this summer against South Africa. Second rows who carry like Dillane are tough to come by, and the pace and handling he showed in that big break and offload against England highlighted a range of skills that few tight forwards have. The thought of partnering him with Iain Henderson is, well, mouth-watering.