Europe’s international rugby sides didn’t quite deliver in 2015, with some dismal performances in the World Cup exemplifying this.
But, with new talent coming through the ranks and the mix of new and old managerial teams, Europe has a bright future. So, without further adieu, here is our pre-Six Nations best XV, with Italy being the only country not represented.
The front row should be experienced, with an element of youth. This writer’s gone with Leinster stalwart Cian Healy, French captain Guilhem Guirado and the Welshman Samson Lee.
The second row is the core of the pack. The line out winners, yard makers, big hitters and solid scrummagers. This writer’s choice is an easy one, with Alun Wyn Jones the go-to guy in Welsh rugby. The youthful Joe Launchbury is next to be selected – a player who can pass and offload as well as being a pest around the breakdown.
The back-row is now considered one of the most important positions in rugby. With the breakdown being the main feature, we need a turnover man as well as players good with the ball in hand and at the set-piece. At blindside flanker, with the injury to Peter O’Mahony and the retirement of Thierry Dusautoir, Dan Lydiate, the work horse, is this writer’s choice.
Openside flankers are rare within England, but in Europe we are blessed with one of the best in Wales captain and top tackler/stealer Sam Warbutton. At Number 8 we want to see a line breaker who can offer in the set-piece and have good handling. This position can only go to Bath-bound Taulupe Faletau, who is explosive and strong with ball in hand.
At halfback, we need good kickers, creative players and try-making machines. The scrum half needs to be lively and can throw a flat pass as well as possessing a good box kick. Who better than Ben Youngs. He had a bad World Cup but his European Champions Cup form has shown he will be a big threat in the Six Nations with his attacking pedigree.
The fly half needs to be an all round kicker and a clever player. Nobody fits the bill better than rugby player/Macarena dancer Dan Biggar. His kicking and attacking game is the best in Europe currently and he has to make the team.
At centre, a range of speed, skill and creativity is needed. At inside centre, the wrecking ball that is Cambridge student Jamie Roberts will start thanks to his gainline success. Outside him is his Welsh counterpart Jon Davies, who’s returning back to Wales next season. Davies is fast and a good passer of the ball, and notably the 13 has an eye for a try.
In the back three speed, strength and being solid under the high ball are the qualities needed. At fullback, without the definite starter Halfpenny, I’ve chosen the only Scotsman in my team, Stuart Hogg. Hogg’s has a great kicking game and he’s lightning quick. The wingers are George North and Anthony Watson. They both have speed as well as strength and have scored plenty of tries in their youthful careers.
The Pre-Six Nations XV:
1. Cian Healy
2. Guilhem Guirado
3. Samson Lee
4. Alun Wyn Jones
5. Joe Launchbury
6. Dan Lydiate
7. Sam Warbutton
8. Taulupe Faletau
9. Ben Youngs
10. Dan Biggar
11. George North
12. Jamie Roberts
13. Jon Davies
14. Anthony Watson
15. Stuart Hogg
Patrick Perry, Pundit Arena