The Six Nations Review

Ben Fox
Ben Fox

Player of the tournament

Conor Murray (Ireland): I know there are arguments for Aaron Smith to be rated the best 9 in world rugby – valid ones – but I must vote Murray.

The sheer control of Murray was extraordinary in every department of the scrum half game, in every match he played. If you want tempo he is at every breakdown ready to deliver, if you want to slow it down and control he is at every breakdown controlling and commanding. Kicking game, goal kicking, defence, vision. Supremely talented.

Johnny Sexton could be seen as the obvious choice but Murray continued his imperious, composed form for the Lions. The Munster man’s consistency and physicality were key to Ireland remaining unbeaten and his masterful performance in Twickenham was one which laid down the marker for all scrum-halves.

Coach of the tournament

Schmidt has to win. Ireland have petri dish precision in everything they do and under the most severe pressure in a Grand Slam showdown at Twickenham Ireland delivered again.

Floyd Mayweather-style control of a rugby match orchestrated off-field by this awesome rugby man. Warren Gatland will be quietly pleased with what he has seen. Conor O’Shea knows he has unearthed some gems. Gregor Townsend is close, but has to find away form. Jacques Brunel may just be on to something. Eddie Jones will just want to move on.

Best match

France 13 – Ireland 15: Sport is about crescendos, glorious finishes, drama, brilliance, hope, despair, ecstasy. Ireland set sail that night in Paris and it had a 26-year-old Exeter lad jumping up and down at the TV celebrating brilliance.

Biggest surprise

England’s decline, from rooster to feather-duster in just three matches. It was as much the manner of their demise as the fact of it that caused most surprise, with England leaden-footed and slow-witted in Edinburgh and Paris.

Biggest let down

England. It was always going to be supremely difficult to win a third title on the trot – no excuses offered, though there were many contributors – a horrible 21 days from Edinburgh to London. Eddie Jones’ inability to see that selecting a lock at blindside, a half-fit No 8 and a blindside at openside might hamper his team’s prospects at the breakdown still amazes me.

Best try

Sean Maitland (Scotland) v England: In itself, the actual touchdown was not that exceptional but for the bravado and execution of Finn Russell’s pass to Huw Jones in the build-up, the try sequence itself will be played time and again down the years.

One hope for next year

That Italy play with the same spirit and gumption throughout the 2019 tournament that they showed at the Stadio Olimpico against Scotland in the final game and silence those critics who would have them relegated from the championship.

2019 winner

It is hard to see past Ireland winning it again. Seems unlikely that they’ll be falling off the cliff like England so strangely have.

However, England could repeat their 2003 and 2011 exploits of winning the Six Nations title in the year of the Rugby World Cup.