The Six Nations is almost upon us, and with just one week to go, excitement is reaching fever pitch.
This week, a lot of discussion focused on what is the best XV of the Six Nations era, since Italy joined in 2000. Here at Pundit Arena HQ, we are never ones to shy away from a debate, so have drawn up what we believe to be the greatest.
As always, it is just one opinion, and we would love to hear yours. Feel free to get in touch on our Facebook page.
15. Jason Robinson
Although we would ideally have the former rugby league star on the wing, we have put him at fullback to make room elsewhere. Gareth Thomas does make a case for inclusion, but Robinson’s speed and finishing make it impossible to omit him.
14. Christophe Dominici
Was Dominici the greatest finisher the Six Nations has ever seen? He broke the hearts of oppositions on many an occasion. The 5 ft 7 in flyer could hurt a team out of nowhere, and was revered as one of the classiest wingers in the world.
13. Brian O’Driscoll
This is a non-issue. The Leinster and Ireland centre was one of the best players in the world for over a decade, and led Ireland to many famous victories. His performances throughout the 2009 Grand Slam will go down as one of the best by any player.
12. Yannick Jauzion
This was a tough call, with Jamie Roberts and Will Greenwood also making strong cases. However, we haven given the former French star the nod. The Toulouse centre was a key part of the Grand Slam-winning sides in 2002 and 2004, and led the charge to the 2007 championship having missed 2006 through injury. He was an all-round footballer, and a dynamic presence in the midfield.
11. Shane Williams
The former IRB Player of the Year was a menace to opposition defences even when Wales were struggling at the foot of the table. Like O’Driscoll, it would be hard to make a case against his inclusion.
10. Jonny Wilkinson
This was the toughest call to make. Ronan O’Gara produced the goods over a longer period of time, and has made a greater impact on the tournament as a whole. However, Wilkinson was unrivalled at his best. In 2003, he was unplayable as the Red Rose marched to a Grand Slam title.
9. Mike Phillips
The giant scrum-half was central to Wales’ upturn in fortunes, and paved the way for a new style of 9 in rugby union. His strength at the base forced defences to think differently, and he featured on two Lions tours as a result.
1. Gethin Jenkins
Wales’ most capped player has been a rock in the scrum throughout the Six Nations, and featured on three Lions tours. He remains one of the few Welsh players to collect three Grand Slams, and produced the goods consistently over a longer period than any other suitors to this jersey.
2. Keith Wood
Wood was prominent in the first four seasons of the Six Nations, and was respected all over the world as the finest hooker in the game. Indeed, he was awarded the IRB Player of the Year award in 2001.
3. Adam Jones
The question of the Six Nations’ greatest tighthead only has one answer. Jones is a shoo-in due his consistency over the years. Wales never struggled at the scrum with him, and like Jenkins, has won three Grand Slams.
4. Martin Johnson
The fact that a player of the caliber of Fabien Pelous is not in this side is a testament to the high quality available. Johnson was a true leader for England as they dominated the early years of the Six Nations.
5. Paul O’Connell
The Munster colossus has bowed out, and will be sorely missed by Ireland this year. He was named Player of the Tournament last year, and few would begrudge him that honour. O’Connell was a leader throughout his Ireland career.
6. Sean O’Brien
The ‘Tullow Tank’ has been a revelation since breaking into the Ireland side. The 2011 European Player of the Year offers impact in spades, and is always likely to barrel over a defender to break the gain-line. He sneaks ahead of Thierry Dusautoir for us.
7. Serge Betsen
Betson was one of the finest flankers around for the first few years after Italy’s inception into the tournament. He fitted the bill as a traditional French openside, putting in an incredible shift around the park. The fact that he was playing in the Premiership up until the age of 37 speaks for itself.
8. Sergio Parisse
Sorry, Lawrence Dallaglio and Imanol Harinordoquy, but this is not up for debate. Parisse is the complete number 8, and is fully deserving of his place on this team. While Italy have constantly struggled in the competition, Parisse has proven time and time again to be world-class.
Do you agree/disagree? As always, we would love to know your thoughts, so head on over to our rugby Facebook page to join the debate.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena