Six Nations: The greatest line-up in the history of the Championship
With the 2023 Six Nations looming large, it’s time to celebrate the players that have made the Championship rock over the past 23 years.
Who are the greatest contributors to the unique culture of the tournament? Who are the 15 men that set the bar for others to aspire to?
Planet Rugby writer James While picks his XV, based solely on Six Nations performances, so have a read and let us know your thoughts.
The Greatest Six Nations Team
15 Stuart Hogg (Scotland): Still flying at the fine age of 31, Hogg’s consistency in attack has been a feature of Scottish rugby for almost 10 years, burning through defences and hitting howitzer clearing kicks. A born entertainer, something that Six Nations crowds always welcome.
Honourable mentions: Leigh Halfpenny (Wales), Chris Paterson (Scotland)
14 Jason Robinson (England): Surely one of England‘s finest players, ‘Billy Whizz’ was one of our easier picks and was a Grand Slam champion in 2003. 24 Six Nations matches netted the great man 14 tries as he entertained all who saw him. His try in Paris in 2002 showed just how easily he could unlock the very best Test defences and we could have picked him anywhere in the back three.
Honourable mentions: Tommy Bowe (Ireland), Damian Penaud (France)
13 Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland): Like Robinson, an easy selection, ‘BOD’ is absolute shoo-in at 13 as the mercurial Leinsterman amassed 26 tries in 65 thrilling appearances. O’Driscoll‘s win rate of 70% showed just how much he revived Irish fortunes in a 15-year period when arguably he was the best centre in the world.
Honourable mentions: Jonathan Davies (Wales), Gael Fickou (France)
12 Yannick Jauzion (France): A number of leading contenders made this a tough call, but Jauzion’s 45 matches featured nine tries and a sensational win rate of 75%. A master of offloading, his sizable frame showed a fine turn of pace supported by rock-like defence in Les Bleus midfield.
Honourable mentions: Jamie Roberts (Wales), Gordon D’Arcy (Ireland)
11 Shane Williams (Wales): ‘Billy Whizz’ on one wing, little Shane on the other – the pace in our team is remarkable with Williams’ brilliance putting him just behind O’Driscoll on the all-time try list. An entertainer par excellence.
Honourable mentions: George North (Wales), Keith Earls (Ireland)
What a team try!! 👌#TBT to this @WelshRugbyUnion effort as @ShaneWilliams11 dotted down against Ireland in 2008!
Wales would go on to lift the Grand Slam in Cardiff! #ThorwbackThursday pic.twitter.com/wp48dVllel
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) April 26, 2018
10 Jonny Wilkinson (England): Whichever 10 we picked his first name was going to be Jonny. It boils down to win rate and at 75% Wilkinson is on a level of his own.
Honourable mentions: Stephen Jones (Wales), Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
9 Antoine Dupont (France): Okay he’s only played 21 Six Nations Tests, but his impact in that time has been so astounding that he could very well end up the greatest rugby player the tournament has ever seen. Make no mistake, he has the lot and will get better and better.
Honourable mentions: Mike Phillips (Wales), Conor Murray (Ireland)
8 Sergio Parisse (Italy): It’s ironic that we publish this team on the day the great man retires, but rugby has rarely seen a gladiatorial presence such as the number eight from Italy. Supremely gifted, he played a record 69 Tests in the Six Nations, scoring seven tries and a drop goal. Peerless and arguably the greatest Six Nations player, a man who embodied the spirit of the tournament.
Honourable mentions: Taulupe Faletau (Wales), Imanol Harinordoquy (France)
7 Sam Warburton (Wales): So many choices at openside but Warburton’s intellect and leadership gets him the nod over France’s Thierry Dusautoir. A Grand Slam winner twice and champion three times, the former Lions skipper was the epitome of a modern openside.
Honourable mentions: Justin Tipuric (Wales), Thierry Dusautoir (France)
6 Richard Hill (England): An insane 81% win rate in the Six Nations from 25 appearances with three tries, the Saracen is a consistent feature in any given all-time greatest team and, with a complete flanker’s skillset, arguably England’s finest player.
Honourable mentions: Peter O’Mahony (Ireland), Dan Lydiate (Wales)
5 Alun Wyn Jones (Wales): Word in Wales is that when Alun Wyn retires, Max Boyce already has a triple album recorded and waiting in his honour. 64 Six Nations Tests with five more this season will take him level with Parisse as the tournament’s most capped player. Warrior.
Honourable mentions: Devin Toner (Ireland), Courtney Lawes (England)
4 Paul O’Connell (Ireland): Big Pauly completes the engine room as a lineout force to be reckoned with alongside Jones, a man he partnered on two Lions tours. A massive presence on and off the field, his 13-year career saw a win rate of 68%.
Honourable mentions: Fabien Pelous (France), Martin Johnson (England)
Have started watching the 2009 game back – as you do.
Paul O’Connell in the lineouts that day; it’s actually mad re-living how good he was. Ruled the skies. pic.twitter.com/kC3mxoSdPs
— EK Rugby Analysis (@ek_rugby) January 30, 2023
3 Martin Castrogiovanni (Italy): Castro’s wild hair and bandaged arms, with the names of his wife and kids scrawled on them is an endearing memory for most in rugby. He had the lot – eccentricity, charisma and of course, power. And an Italian restaurant, naturally.
Honourable mentions: Adam Jones (Wales), Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)
2 Keith Wood (Ireland): ‘Uncle Fester’ or the ‘Raging potato’ – take your pick, but whatever you call him you’ll be rewarded with skill, passion and charisma. An iconic man in the green of Ireland and a player that embodies the spirit of the competition.
Honourable mentions: Leonardo Ghiraldini (Italy), Rory Best (Ireland)
1 Sylvain Marconnet (France): A curve ball selection but with a 72% win rate from 36 Tests in the Six Nations, any tighthead of that era will tell you that a fit Marconnet was the hardest scrummager they ever faced. An absolute animal in the tight and surprisingly mobile in the loose – underrated, but nevertheless world class.
Honourable mentions: Gethin Jenkins (Wales), Cian Healy (Ireland)
READ MORE: Six Nations: The player head-to-heads to watch out for in this year’s Championship