As the Six Nations enters its second decade with Italy among the ranks, Hugh Farrelly counts down the most influential players from the last 10 years
1 BRIAN O’DRISCOLL
Caps: 96 Six Nations: 2000-
Ten years after announcing his extraordinary talent with those three tries in Paris, Ireland’s captain remains at the pinnacle of the game.
Leading Ireland to their first Grand Slam in 61 years last March was a fitting way for the Six Nations’ most dominant personality to end the decade.
2 MARTYN WILLIAMS
Caps: 91 Six Nations: 2000-
When Warren Gatland took over as Wales coach in November 2007, his first priority was to coax Williams out of retirement; four months later, the Welsh were Grand Slam champions. The Cardiff openside was just as influential when Wales achieved the same feat in 2005 and remains a crucial factor in their 2010 challenge – an outstanding beacon of Six Nations consistency.
3 MARTIN JOHNSON
Caps: 84 Six Nations: 2000-03
The finest No 4 to have played the game, Johnson’s influence is best demonstrated by the extent to which England fell away after his retirement. Led England to the title in 2000, 2001 and 2003 when they also picked up the Slam – an achievement that set Johnson’s men up for the World Cup later that year.
4 JONNY WILKINSON
Caps: 73 Six Nations: 2000-
If Johnson was the inspirational leader, Wilkinson was the points harvester in chief and for three years at the start of the last decade was the best out-half in world rugby by some distance. His subsequent career has been blighted by injury, but, at just 30, is not done with the tournament just yet.
5 RICHARD HILL
Caps: 71 Six Nations: 2000-04
Understated excellence. Hill will be remembered as one of the finest back-rows to have played the game. A totemic figure in the England side that dominated the early part of the last decade, Hill’s presence filled team-mates with confidence – as evidenced by an international win ratio of 71pc.
6 FABIEN PELOUS
Caps: 118 Six Nations: 2000-07
A rallying figure for France for over 10 years, Pelous led Les Bleus to the Grand Slam in 2004 and the title in 2006. A ferocious competitor, the Toulouse man’s lantern-jawed excellence saw him become France’s most capped international.
7 STEPHEN JONES
Caps: 83 Six Nations: 2000-
The central figure in Wales’ two Grand Slams of 2005 and 2008. With excellent place-kicking, superb passing and an effective break, Jones’s impact has been such that he is destined for top five Welsh outhalves list alongside Barry John, Phil Bennett, Clem Thomas and Jonathan Davies.
8 PAUL O’CONNELL
Caps: 65 Six Nations: 2002 -
Marked his debut with a try in the facile win over Wales in 2002 and, after Johnson retired in 2003, the Limerickman quickly forged a reputation as the most formidable second-row in the championship and was central to Ireland’s Triple Crown wins in 2004, 06 and 07 and Grand Slam last year.
9 VINCENT CLERC
Caps: 39 Six Nations: 2002-
One of the deadliest finishers in the game, Clerc was lethally productive on the wing for France in their 2004 and ’07 successes and particularly destructive to Irish ambitions with seven tries from five matches, including that famous Grand Slamdenying score in Croke Park in 2007.
10 RONAN O’GARA
Caps:93 Six Nations:2000-
The tournament’s record pointsscorer and, together with O’Driscoll and O’Connell, a totemic figure for Ireland throughout decade. The drop goal to win the Grand Slam at the Millennium Stadium last year will be his defining moment in a career packed with contenders and he still has plenty to offer.
11 SHANE WILLIAMS
Caps: 68. Six Nations: 2000-
The most entertaining player in the Six Nations, a World player of the Year and a massively influential figure in Wales’ double Grand Slams.
12 RAPHAEL IBANEZ
Caps: 98 Six Nations: 2000-07
The best hooker in the tournament once Keith Wood hung up his boots, Ibanez was in the middle of the frontrow for the 2002 Grand Slam and captained France to the title in 2007.
13 LAWRENCE DALLAGLIO
Caps: 85 Six Nations: 2000-07
Formed the world’s best back-row with Hill and Neil Back in the early part of the last decade as England dominated proceedings.
14 DAVID WALLACE
Caps: 57 Six Nations: 2001 -
Has never played badly for his country. One of the top ballcarriers in the game, a must-pick in the Irish backrow for years and for the Lions last summer.
15 JASON ROBINSON
Caps: 51 Six Nations: 2000-07
The only unqualified success among a plethora of rugby league converts, lethal on England’s left wing at a time when both he and the team were in their prime.
16 SERGIO PARISSE
Caps: 67 Six Nations: 2002-
The class act in a struggling Italian team, world class footballer destined to pass the 100-cap mark.
17 NEIL BACK
Caps:66 Six Nations:2000-03
Supreme on England’s open-side flank once he nailed down his place in the late 1990s. As tough as they came and packed mighty power for a man of small stature.
18 MARTIN CASTROGIOVANNI
Caps: 62 Six Nations: 2002-
The scrum destroyer for a team who have struggled since their initial entry into the competition. Along with Parisse, however, Castrogiovanni would walk onto any other Six Nations side.
19 FABIEN GALTHIE
Caps: 64 Six Nations: 2000-03
Inspirational figure at the base of the French scrum for years and the key man in their 2002 Grand Slam.
20 JOHN HAYES
Caps: 97 Six Nations: 2000-
Remarkably durable on the tight-head side of the Irish scrum and practically an everpresent for the past 10 years. Peerless as a line-out lifter.
21 SERGE BETSEN
Caps: 63 Six Nations: 2000-07
The only player to have Wilkinson in his pocket when the English fly-half was in his pomp – supremely effective in 2002.
22 OLIVIER MAGNE
Caps: 89 Six Nations: 2000-06
Made up the tournament’s best back-row with Betsen and Imanol Harinordoquy in 2002, a wonderful athlete.
23 JASON WHITE
Caps: 77 Six Nations: 2000-
Scotland have a torrid Six Nations record with 35 defeats from 50 outings, but White, whether in the second or back rows, has been their most consistent performer in a difficult period.
24 PETER STRINGER
Caps:91 Six Nations: 2000 -
The best passing scrum-half in the game, Stringer was untouchable at nine for Ireland until the emergence of Tomas O’Leary. Gives the Irish backline extra time to make a difference.
25 GARETH THOMAS
Caps:100 Six Nations: 2000-07
Inspirational figure behind the 2005 Grand Slam success, a heart-onthe-sleeve player for Wales for more than a decade and good enough to captain the Lions in O’Driscoll’s absence in 2005.
26 Phil Vickery
Caps: 78 Six Nations: 2000-
A hunk of West Country beef in the great English team of the early 2000s and a rallying point in the grim years post 2003.
27 DONNCHA O’CALLAGHAN
Caps: 58. Six Nations: 2003-
O’CONNELL gets the greater attention but his Munster second-row partner has been an essential factor in Ireland’s recent successes. O’Callaghan’s work rate, energy and athleticism should have been rewarded with a LionsTest place last summer.
28 SYLVAIN MARCONNET
Caps: 79 Six Nations: 2001-
Top-quality scrummager who gave France’s mesmerising backline the platform to perform in their championship successes of 2004, 2006 and 2007.
29 MATT DAWSON
Caps: 77 Six Nations: 2000-06
Inherent arrogance makes him hard to warm to, but Dawson’s self-belief and cockiness was central to his scrumhalf play for England, who have yet to locate a worthy replacement.
30 RYAN JONES
Caps: 39 Six Nations: 2005-
Made his name as Wales’ main ballcarrier in their 2005 Grand Slam and led his country to similar glory three years later.
31 DIEGO DOMINGUEZ
Caps: 76 Six Nations: 2000-03
One of the primary reasons behind Italy’s inclusion in the tournament in the first place, the out-half’s metronomic place kicking and football ability made the Italians competitive.
32 ADAM JONES
Caps: 58 Six Nations: 2004-
Unsung hero of the Welsh front-row with a Hayes-like capacity for toil which has been central to the surprising success of the Welsh through the years.
33 KEITH WOOD
Caps: 58 Six Nations: 2000-02
A short Six Nations career, but Wood’s professionalism and Roy Keaneesque attitude was major factor in developing Irish selfbelief that would be rewarded with trophies later in the decade. And then there was that try against England at Lansdowne Road in 2001.
34 WILL GREENWOOD
Caps: 57 Six Nations: 2001-04
As in the case of Dawson, England have struggled to find a comparable replacement for Greenwood in midfield since their heydey in the early part of the last decade. A centre who was defined by his intelligence and quick hands, and whose pace was better than he was given credit for.
35 IMANOL HARINORDOQUY
Caps: 57. Six Nations: 2002-
Not yet 30, the Biarritz number eight was a key figure in France’s triumphs of 2002, ’04 and ’07. Carries a Parisselike combination of physicality and footballing ability which can be used to devestating effect.
36 TOM SHANKLIN
Caps: 65 Six Nations: 2002-
A ‘what you see is what you get’ back who has been one of Wales’ most consistent performers of the past eight years, whether on the wing or in the centre. Played his part in both Grand Slams.
37 SHANE HORGAN
Caps: 65 Six Nations: 2000-
Playing as well as ever 10 years after his first cap, Horgan’s bulk and nous have made him one of the most effective wingers in the game with his Triple Crown-clinching try against England in Twickenham in 2006 the stand-out moment in a glittering career. The Gaelic football-style catch to round off the first victory against England at Croke Park was also a memorable moment.
38 TONY MARSH
Caps: 21 Six Nations: 2002
The New Zealander only won five Six Nations caps for France, but they were gained on the way to the 2002 Grand Slam – Marsh was the go-to man in midfield and massively influential in his short time in the team.
39 CHRIS PATERSON
Caps: 98 Six Nations: 2000-
Like White, Paterson has been one of the few class acts in a horrendous period for Scottish rugby. Best known for his place-kicking but Paterson is also excellent with ball in hand and a player who deserves to join the 100-cap club.
40 GORDON D’ARCY
Caps: 43 Six Nations: 2004-
Player of the tournament in 2004, the Wexford man is the perfect compliment to O’Driscoll in the centre and will continue to be as Declan Kidney’s team head towards the World Cup with what, at the moment, is justified optimism.
41 MIKE TINDALL
Caps: 60 Six Nations: 2000-
Won his first cap in England’s first Six Nations outing – against Ireland in 2000-1 – and formed a quality midfield partnership with Greenwood. Brutally direct which permitted those around him to exert their influence, but also with a deceptive turn of pace, which allowed him to make crucial impacts at important moments.
42 ALESSANDRO TRONCON
Caps: 101 Six Nations: 2000-07
An Italian centurion who was a constant in the Azzurri’s best Six Nations days – the wins over Wales in ’03 and ’07 and Scotland in 2000 and ’07. A no-nonsense scrum-half with a knack for making the right calls.
43 DENIS HICKIE
Caps: 62 Six Nations: 2000-07
Ireland’s paceman on the left who scorched over for 29 international tries with three Triple Crowns on his CV.
44 MARTIN CORRY
Caps: 64 Six Nations: 2000-07
An excellent back-row who was unfortunate to have his career coincide with those of Dallaglio, Hill and Back. Corry was the man charged with dragging England out of the post- World Cup fallow years and though he experienced more defeats that wins as England captain, his commitment and ability could never be questioned.
45 GORDON BULLOCH
Caps: 77 Six Nations: 2000-05
Fine hooker in a poor team, Bulloch scored two tries in the win in Cardiff in 2002 and is up with Colin Deans and Kenny Milne as the best No 2s to have played for Scotland.
46 JP ELISSALDE
Caps: 35 Six Nations: 2000-
A class act who would have many more caps if born in a different country. Lovely kicker with pace to burn, the scrum-half was pivotal in France’s successes of ’04 and ’07.
47 AUSTIN HEALEY
Caps: 53 Six Nations: 2000-02
Controversial character, but a fine footballer who had a serious impact on the tournament. Played in 15 Six Nations matches in a variety of positions and won 12.
48 PIETER DE VILLIERS
Caps: 69 Six Nations: 2000-07
In tandem with Marconnet, he provided France with the most fearsome scrum in the tournament.
49 MICK GALWEY
Caps: 41 Six Nations: 2000-02
Like Wood, Galwey’s Six Nations exposure was short, but, in terms of bringing Irish rugby forward, it was hugely influential.
50 SIMON TAYLOR
Caps: 66 Six Nations: 2001-
Injuries have dominated his career, but Taylor’s ability was never in question and, when fit, the No 8 measured up to some of the best.