It has been one week since we finally had our answer as to who was going to lift the Six Nations trophy, and it’s safe to say that this year’s tournament was one of the closest at the top that we have seen in a little while. There were numerous players who stood out, but we have narrowed it down to a list of eight players, all of whom showed good form in all of their team’s games this year. This tactical analysis will look at all eight players, analysing what they brought to their teams’ play this year in the form of a mini scout report for each one.
Italy started with good early promise in this year’s tournament, but that very quickly petered out as they settled back into the error-strewn performances which we have become used to seeing from them. However, Montanna Ioane, or “Monty” as he is known, was one player who stood out for them. In defence, he showed good pace and an ability to reach for the try line in tight spaces, just as a winger needs to have, and was involved in all of Italy’s good forward play. In defence, he made some big tackles, getting up to opponents early to catch them off guard, maximising the impact of the collision, as well as preventing them making decisions and moving the ball into dangerous areas quickly. Not many of the Italian players would have made this list, but Ioane was their most consistent player.
Today voted the player of the tournament, Hamish Watson generally goes under the radar on the pitch. He does the unseen things like tackling opposing attackers in close-quarter contests, as well as driving through opposing defenders and carving open gaps in their ranks, and formed one of the strongest back rows in this year’s Six Nations, along with Jamie Ritchie and Matt Fagerson. Scotland’s excellent form and performances throughout were largely down to the hard work Watson did with and without the ball, and they have made him a shoe-in for the British and Irish Lions squad later this year.
Wales looked an entirely different team last year, because they were missing Josh Navidi. It is not often that one player missing makes such an enormous difference, but Navidi is that type of player. He makes the runs through defences, drives opponents backwards, and is always the first to a breakdown situation, either jackling the ball for his team or preventing opponents coming in and winning it. Therefore, he is an essential part of their tactics and general play. This year, with him on the pitch after his return from injury, Wales had more power and more drive in their game, helping them to create more problems in defence and attack for the other teams in the competition.
George North is naturally a winger, with his pace allowing him to get forward and ask questions of opposing defences. However, Wales coach Wayne Pivac sees him more as a centre, able to drive forwards and force opponents back from the midfield, allowing Josh Adams and Louis Rees-Zammit to do the hard work on the wings. This has led to a renaissance of sorts for North, as he looked outstanding at outside centre throughout the tournament, and was one of the standouts in a team full of brilliant players. It is very possible that his future in the Wales side and potentially at club level too could be at 13, instead of in the wide channels. This gives Wales options, and flexibility with how to set up at the back, which is always useful to have, and this also might help North gain a place in the British and Irish Lions squad when it is named later this year.
POSITION: Second row
England had a tournament to forget in 2021, but Maro Itoje has consistently been one of their best players over the years, with many selecting him as part of their teams of the tournament for this year. This shows how important he is in all areas of the pitch for them, involved in set-pieces, tackling, driving forwards and scoring tries. His height means he has a good reach with the ball, as demonstrated by the try he scored against France, and the fact that this won the game for England shows how he is the one who keeps England going, both with the ball but also verbally, and so he is a visible leader on the pitch for the team. Whenever England gain a penalty in a scrum, Itoje is often the one who has done the hard work to win it. Not many in the England squad stood out, but he did.
There is not much to say about Antoine Dupont that hasn’t already been said, but what was really interesting to see this year was how the France scrum-half would do without Romain Ntamack alongside him in the middle of the pitch, as those two are one of the best half-back pairings in world rugby at the moment, if not the best. However, he did not disappoint, combining well with teammates all around the pitch, just as a good scrum-half needs to be able to do. He was central to all of France’s good attacking play, with a good mix of short and long passes in his locker, allowing him to locate spaces and gaps around the pitch and move the ball into them, taking opposing defenders by surprise at times. He was the best nine in the tournament, without a doubt.
POSITION: Second row/flanker
Ireland have been a little shaky and unpredictable under Andy Farrell in his two Six Nations tournaments so far, but one player who has really thrived under him has been Tadgh Beirne. The versatile forward, who can feature as a second row or a flanker, is the one who adds the pace to the forward drives, often finding himself with the ball when his team are pushing forwards together, and he scored a fair amount of tries this year as a result. He is also excellent at tackling, and his importance to the team, bringing the quality needed at key moments, was reflected by his player of the match awards throughout the tournament. There is no doubting that he is another who has to be in the British and Irish Lions squad.
Ireland’s team have plenty of players who bring quality to the team, but Robbie Henshaw tends to be the one making the runs and clever movements that help push opponents backwards. He is excellent at the back for his team, but in attack is where we see him feature a lot, often being the first one available in the line when Ireland are moving the ball up and down the pitch. He spots gaps in opposing defences too, getting into them and breaking forward with pace and momentum. Ireland have plenty of options at centre, but Henshaw always has to play when fit, because he brings so much to the team in all areas of their play. He is another who should definitely be on the list for the British and Irish Lions squad.