15 Hugo Keenan (Ireland)
This is the most fiendishly difficult of the many Irish-French choices. Both Thomas Ramos and Keenan are rightly on the six-man shortlist for player of the tournament. Ramos was the championship’s leading points scorer (84) by a distance, including three tries, and was central to France’s routs of England and Wales. But Keenan eclipsed his French counterpart in the round two classic, defended brilliantly (an area he is better at than any other fullback). That shocked intake of breath for a sliced kick last Saturday was a tribute to his near perfection.
14 Damian Penaud (France)
Missed some tackles but, likewise, it’s impossible to leave out the world’s best right winger. Among his five joyously celebrated tries was a contender for try of the championship against Ireland and in his 28 carries (for 400 metres) he beat 25 opponents. Rumoured to like a drink and a cigarette too. Makes you like him even more.
13 Gael Fickou (France)
Garry Ringrose scaled greater heights but ultimately, through no fault of his own, he only played three games. Huw Jones was also the championship’s leading try scorer, but in playing every minute Fickou scored two tries, had one assist, beat 18 tackles and was again France’s defensive leader, making 67 tackles out of 70.
12 Sione Tuipulotu (Scotland)
The Tongan with a Scottish grandmother just shades it over Bundee Aki (one try and two assists), an ever-present in the 2018 Grand Slam, who adapted to an impact role against Wales and France, and being out of position in Rome before big games against Scotland and especially England. Their overall stats are very similar, but Tuipulotu played a lot more minutes, was a reference point for the Scottish attack, and the three try assists displayed his clever passing and kicking game.
11 Mack Hansen (Ireland)
This pick is a bit of a cheat, as Hansen played all five games on the right wing, but he can play on the left wing too. Besides, the number on his back is notional, as he pops up everywhere, and usually to telling effect. His big plays, charge downs, high takes and passes, had an uncanny habit of contributing to tries. Four turnovers won, six offloads. He smells the game brilliantly and is an even better square-on passer and playmaker than we realised.
10 Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
Captained Ireland to a first Grand Slam (and second with him as talisman) and first title (and fourth overall) in Dublin in his fairytale finale, eclipsing Ronan O’Gara as the championship’s all-time leading points scorer. Pulled the strings, especially at key moments – witness that crosskick against England. Honourable mention to Finn Russell, whose highlights reel of four try assists, one try, carrying, range of passes and kicks would rival even Dupont’s.
9 Antoine Dupont (France)
Once again, the heartbeat of Les Bleus in all five games, playing all but 16 minutes. Only the one try in this tournament, but joint highest try assists (four), seven offloads and a faintly ridiculous array of kicks off both feet, including that 50/22 off his weaker left in Twickenham. Not to mention ‘that’ tackle on Mack Hansen. Or last Saturday’s 35-metre pass for Penaud’s first try. He’s not human.
1 Andrew Porter (Ireland)
A close call between Porter and Cyril Baille, the Irish loosehead shading it not least for five big shifts, totalling 363 minutes. He conceded his fair share of penalties in truth (13 to be precise) but this is more than outweighed by his scrummaging, carrying, skill set and tackling. A top effort.
2 Dan Sheehan (Ireland)
Yet another Irish-French toss-up, Sheehan shades it for his performance against England in clinching the Grand Slam – 11 carries for 84 metres (the most of any player in the match, beating five players and scoring two tries. Big games require big performances from big players and the turbo-charged, quick-footed Sheehan provided them.
3 Xander Fagerson (Scotland)
Not a vintage position this year, with both Finlay Bealham and Tadhg Furlong restricted in game time by injuries, while Kyle Sinckler was not his forceful self. The Scottish scrum improved when he returned in round two, and disimproved when he was replaced. Also put in good shifts around the park.
4 Thibauld Flament (France)
What a tournament for the rangy French lock. Aside from his lineout work (only two players won more than his 17 takes), Flament played every single minute and only Matt Fagerson made more than his 81 tackles (with just three missed). And, of course, he also chipped in with three tries.
5 James Ryan (Ireland)
Under Paul O’Connell’s influence, Ryan has matured into a brilliant all-round lock. In addition to his athleticism and skill in the air (his five lineout steals were comfortably the most), Ryan played every minute, tackled ferociously and effectively (making 66 of 68 tackles) and brought his ball-carrying to another level. A huge tournament.
6 Peter O’Mahony (Ireland)
Sebastian Negri was a continuous go-to man for Italy, Charles Ollivon finished brilliantly after a slowish start and Jamie Ritchie had a strong tournament, but O’Mahony is the glue in the Irish pack. His leadership shone through, especially with that big performance in Scotland, and in again being a superb lineout operator (15 won) he often set the Irish tone in all he did.
7 Josh van der Flier (Ireland)
The World Player of the Year actually maintained his incredible standards. Played every minute, his 67 tackles were only bettered by two players, continued to explode on to the ball and punch above his weight. But for his outstanding performance in the Stadio Olimpico, Ireland might well have been in big trouble. And, hey, we never knew this uber professional could also act as an emergency lineout thrower for 40 minutes.
8 Caelan Doris (Ireland)
Relatively subdued until reverting to number eight in Rome and changing the tenor of the game in tandem with Conor Murray, and perhaps hindered by that hip injury he picked up in Murrayfield for last Saturday’s game. He was in outstanding in the first two games, setting Ireland in motion with his try less than two minutes into the championship and also grabbed the French game by the horns with his carries and that pass to Ringrose.