Tuesday 18 September 2018

No bias but Irish Grand Slam heroes dominate Six Nations Team of the Tournament

Dan Leavy, left, and James Ryan of Ireland celebrate following the NatWest Six Nations Rugby Championship match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium in London, England. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Dan Leavy, left, and James Ryan of Ireland celebrate following the NatWest Six Nations Rugby Championship match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium in London, England. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Picking 11 Irish players in an Irish newspaper's Six Nations team of the tournament invites accusations of bias, but in fact it is a conservative assessment.

Joe Schmidt's team didn't just win the tournament, they dominated it and left their rivals in the shade.

Everyone else had a moment, but the Irish players were consistent throughout the tournament, combining brilliantly to create Johnny Sexton's drop-goal in Paris and then dominating the rest of the field in Dublin before beating England soundly in Twickenham on the final day.

It was hugely impressive stuff and it is hard to argue against the stars of their success when assessing selection for an overall team of the Championship.

15 - Rob Kearney

Many pundits have gone for Matteo Minozzi who lit up the Italian backline, but Kearney contributed brilliantly to Ireland's cause and grew in influence as the tournament went on. A run of fitness led to superb form and his aerial work against Scotland and England got big results for the team. Never died with the ball and nobody beat more defenders.

Ruaidhri O'Connor's Team of the Tournament
Ruaidhri O'Connor's Team of the Tournament

14 - Keith Earls

The Moyross flier finally got his hands on a Six Nations medal and he was one of Ireland's players of the tournament. With the ball, he brimmed with threat and always asked questions of the defenders while without it he matched bravery with good decisions and showed example with his chase-down late on against Italy. His catch in the Paris end-game was something to behold.

13 - Mathieu Bastareaud

Ireland used three outside centres who all played well, but this one was between Huw Jones, who ripped England to shreds, and Bastareaud who came in from the cold and helped turn France around. Ultimately, Jones' performance against Ireland when he was outplayed by Garry Ringrose costs him as Bastareaud put in some fine performances.

12 - Bundee Aki

Gave Ireland go-forward at every turn, relentless physicality and good hands got the champions on the front-foot. Fellow New Zealander Hadleigh Parkes the main rival, but Aki was streets ahead.

11 - Jacob Stockdale

Seven tries in five games brooks no argument. The breakout star of the tournament who kept delivering until the final game.

10 - Johnny Sexton

The player of the Six Nations. His drop-goal goes down as the tournament's defining moment, but he was superb throughout the five games despite carrying an injury as it went on.

9 - Conor Murray

Imperious throughout, always takes the right option and remains calm when the pressure comes on. Along with Sexton, he is the best player in his position in Europe with Maxime Machenaud and Gareth Davies next in line.

1 - Cian Healy

No other loosehead made as big an impact as the Leinster man whose scrummaging was exemplary, while his power game was crucial to Ireland.

2 - Guilhem Guirado

The France skipper's effort against Ireland was phenomenal and he was a warrior in every game as France proved they still can be a force. Scotland's Stuart McInally rivalled his displays.

3 - Tadhg Furlong

Injured for two days, but you can't look past the Campile colossus when it comes to his impact and skills. Never takes a backwards step.

4 - James Ryan

Amazing to think that he's still in his first senior season. He made a huge impact in every game he played and dominated far more senior opponents.

5 - Alun Wyn Jones

The Wales skipper was consistently strong throughout the tournament and continues to set standards for his team. Iain Henderson might have pipped him had he not missed two games.

6 - John Barclay

The Scottish skipper was a dominant figure in his side's win over England, while his back-row caused Ireland more problems than any others. Just edges Peter O'Mahony.

7 - Dan Leavy

Came off the bench against France and never looked back. His performance in Twickenham was phenomenal as he finished on a high. Scotland's Hamish Watson also impressed.

8 - CJ Stander

Once again topped the carrying stats and drove Ireland forward relentlessly, finishing strong with his try in Twickenham and delivering constant energy.

Irish Independent

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