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Gerry Thornley’s Six Nations Team of the Tournament (and more)

Five Irish players included, nine from the winning French team, and Maro Itoje

More than anything the Six Nations is about the players, although with crowds making a more than welcome return, they were suitably inspired. Established internationals delivered but after a venerable Welsh side won the title last season this tournament saw a host of younger players really announce themselves on the Test stage.

There's no doubt that the French system is delivering a golden generation, Les Bleus' first Grand Slam in a dozen years. Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack have now won two French Championships, a Heineken Champions Cup and a Grand Slam (as well as an Under-20 World Cup in the case of the latter).

What is exciting for both France and Ireland is that they have not only winning sides, but young ones as well, and this tournament confirmed the international quality of Hugo Keenan and Jamison Gibson-Park, as well as the emergence of Dan Sheehan and Mack Hansen, while even Italy can feel buoyed by the arrival of a potential new superstar in Ange Capuozzo.

But given the daylight between the top two and the rest, accordingly France and Ireland have to dominate any Team of the Championship.

Six Nations Team of the Tournament

15 Hugo Keenan (Ireland)

A quality operator, virtually error free in all he does. Exceptional under the high ball, he took his try sharply against England and the delayed pass to Garry Ringrose in the build-up to Jack Conan's clinching try at Twickenham was class.

14 Damian Penaud (France)

Joint top try scorer with three despite missing the Welsh game with Covid, his rangy, elusive running was a constant menace to the opposition. Came in off his wing to telling effect too and defended strongly. Probably the best winger in Europe.

13 Garry Ringrose (Ireland)

A relatively unsung hero of the Irish team, Ringrose has been back to his best. As well as his strong carrying (only two players had more in this Championship) he passed well and he is a key cog in the defence with his reads.

12 Gaël Fickou (France)

Vastly experienced (71 caps) 27-year-old, powerful and athletic, important tries against Scotland and England, and a hatload of huge moments in their Grand Slam coronation. The leader of the French defensive system masterminded by Shaun Edwards.

11 Gabin Villière (France)

Outstanding in the wins over Ireland and England with innumerable involvements. Quick with good footwork, he's strong too, not least over the ball (four turnovers augmenting his three tries). James Lowe and Monty Ioane had good tournaments too.

10 Johnny Sexton (Ireland)

The Tom Brady of the Irish team is still the man who makes them tick. Missed in Paris, he outshone the three Lions outhalves picked ahead of him and unlike Romain Ntamack, who came good against England, and other '10s' Sexton doesn't shirk the physical stuff.

9 Antoine Dupont (France)

Captaincy hasn’t weighed on the great one, leading Les Bleus to eight successive wins. Opened the try-scoring against Ireland and closed it against England, engineered one against Scotland with that stunning counter, he had eight offloads and he tackles and kicks superbly too.

1 Cyril Baille (France)

Looked off his normal self in Cardiff but otherwise delivered big in the other four games. Backed up his powerful scrummaging with his strength on both sides of the ball and, ridiculously for a prop, also had eight offloads.

2 Julien Marchand (France)

The complete hooker. As well as his accurate throwing, Marchand was a constant source of energy and industry, with his footwork and strength over the ball marking him apart. That said, Dan Sheehan looks cut from similar stuff.

3 Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)

Mathieu Raynal’s interpretations of what constitutes a wheeled scrum may have made for a frustrating day in the scrums at Twickenham but even then retained his influence as a playmaking tighthead. Some shifts too, amounting to 325 minutes in total.

4 Paul Willemse (France)

A powerful, tighthead scrummaging lock which accommodates Cameron Woki in the secondrow. Looks fitter too. The first forward on hand to score from Dupont's counter in Murrayfield. Huge tackles against Ireland and 13 in an 80 minute shift in Cardiff.

5 Maro Itoje (England)

Started the tournament poorly, conceding two costly late penalties in opening Murrayfield defeat, but kept on improving and you wonder where England would be without him. Quality line-out operator and constant nuisance, winning six turnovers. Edges out Tadhg Beirne.

6 Francois Cros (France)

Surprisingly used off the bench against Italy, the Toulouse flanker then put in four big shifts. Ferocious in contact, not least against Ireland, Cros made 58 tackles and along with Anthony Jelonch enforces their defence. Key try on Grand Slam night too.

7 Josh van der Flier (Ireland)

His indefatigable engine has never been in doubt (he played all 400 minutes), but now he's developed his carrying game as well (two more tries against France and Scotland) and passing. A strong position, given Italian captain Michael Lamaro, Jelonch and Hamish Watson.

8 Grégory Alldritt (France)

He played the most minutes of any French forward, made the most carries (65) of any player in the Championship, was a menace at the breakdown (his six turnovers were joint highest) and fittingly his seventh offload set up Dupont’s Slam-clinching try.

Try and Moment of the Championship.

Edoardo Padovani - Italy v Wales

Given the circumstances, it has to be the try which ended Italy’s 36-match Six Nations losing streak. When Padovani gathered Kieran Hardy’s clearance five metres inside his own half, the clock read 78.14 with Italy trailing 21-15. He passed inside to Ange Capuozzo, with the entire home team between the 22-year-old and the Welsh tryline 65 metres away.

Feinting to pass left to Monty Ioane, he stepped to his right and away from four defenders, veered past Taulupe Faletau and broke Josh Adams' tackle to race over half-way. Cauozzo then did Hardy like a kipper when stepping to his right and as Dan Biggar came across passed beautifully inside for the supporting Padovani to round the posts, thus simplifying Paolo Garbisi's match-winning conversion.

How on earth did Kieran Crowley remain so stone-faced in the coaches' box?

Player of the tournament

Antoine Dupont. Maybe not quite as brilliant as in 2020 or 2021 but, wow, when he comes alive there’s no-one in European rugby quite like him.

Villain of the Tournament

Eddie Jones. The game is physical enough without Jones upping the ante in the build-up to matches and the constant references to the World Cup - after declaring the Six Nations the best annual international tournament in the world - are tiresome.

Match of the Tournament

France 30 Ireland 24

The match-up between the two sides to beat the All Blacks last November didn’t disappoint in the Stade de France cauldron. France exploded into life and no other side in this competition could have come back at them like Ireland did. As it felt at the time, the title decider too.

Daftest moment

Italy being reduced to 13 men against Ireland for incurring a legitimate injury and a red card.

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