The 2014 Six Nations are soon to be consigned to the memory banks, so we thought we'd cast a final, if slightly tongue-in-cheek, look at the tournament
Award for ‘angering millions of teenage girls’: Mike Phillips
Mike Phillips has had an interesting year. Sacked from Bayonne for allegedly turning up to training under the influence, he switched to Racing Metro mid-season but the fun and games continued into the Six Nations. Phillips’ campaign hit a nadir when he was yellow carded at the end a humiliating drubbing at the hands of Ireland which led to him being dropped for the next Test. His bete noire, Niall Horan of One Direction, tweeted that Phillips was an ‘arrogant idiot’ to his 17.7 million followers. The scrum-half’s riposte was classic Phillips, inviting Horan down to Wales training and inviting him to bring the Beatles along with him. It even led arch-opportunists, Paddy Power to offer £50,000 to charity to get the warring Celts in the ring. Sadly, it never happened.
The ‘three weetabix for breakfast’ award: Mike Brown
To those casual rugby watchers, Mike Brown will seem like an overnight star. He is nothing of the sort. Granted, at 28, he is enjoying plaudits later than most but it’s all down to hard-graft and a burning desire to be the best he can be. In this year’s Six Nations tournament he’s been nothing short of sensational. He carried more metres than anyone else, beat the most defenders and made more linebreaks than anyone else. He also scored four tries of the highest order. He has made the No. 15 shirt his own and opposition kickers know if they kick deep, it will be at their peril. His ‘Schmeichel save’ against Brian O’Driscoll was simply extraordinary.
The ‘to the manor born award’: Joe Schmidt
Eddie O’Sullivan and Declan Kidney were organized, had a fine eye-for-detail and tactically astute but even their most one-eyed supporters could claim they made Ireland easy on the eye. Step forward Joe Schmidt. Indeed, his transition from provincial coach to national coach has been seamless – no doubt helped by picking a Leinster-heavy contingent – but he has outthought and outfought Warren Gatland, gone within a score of winning at Twickenham and generally coaxed a side missing Sean O’Brien, Simon Zebo, Donncha Ryan and Tommy Bowe to play an aesthetically-pleasing, and ultimately winning brand of rugby. Bravo.
The ‘no regard to your personal safety’ award: Leigh Halfpenny
When you’re not blessed with natural size, it’s easy to walk in the opposite direction from a sport that favours men for whom High & Mighty was invented. Leigh Halfpenny is made of sterner stuff. The Wales full-back, as well as being the world’s best kicker, is also one of the bravest. With England on the attack and looking to extend their 29-18 lead, through a sweeping move, Luther Burrell had only to bulldoze his way to the line from a few metres. Halfpenny hared across the field, and despite giving away five inches and three stone, drove into the tackle with such power that Burrell put a foot in touch, missing a chance to give Burrell a brace. He was rewarded with a dislocated shoulder but no one can ever accuse Halfpenny of lacking heart.
The ‘sometimes it’s best to say nothing at all’ award: Scott Johnson
The long-haired larrakin from Western Australia had many ardent admirers within the game but you’d be hard pressed to find many north of the border at present. Too much joviality, long-winded riddles and not enough straight-talking and savvy selections, the Murrayfield masses cry. Picking Kelly Brown as captain and dropping him for the next two games, and dropping an in-form David Denton was one of many befuddling selections that enraged Scotland fans. Johnson will now be moving ‘upstairs’ as Scotland’s Director of Rugby while Vern Cotter swings in. He will surely be close under scrutiny.
The ‘error of judgement’ award: Louis Picamoles
Louis Picamoles is roundly considered to be one of the finest No 8s in the Northern Hemisphere, a go-to man for France and Man of the Match against Italy. However, against Wales, he crossed the line by sarcastically clapping referee Alain Rolland for sending him to the sin-bin for infringing at the ruck. Respect for the referee is bedrock of rugby and Philippe Saint Andre rightly dropped him for the following game against Scotland. An honourable mention for Stuart Hogg, who was red carded for a shameful late shoulder blow to the face of Dan Biggar.
Award for ‘breaking mould of deep-seated stereotype’: England
While not exactly turning into rugby’s equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters, Stuart Lancaster’s England are not conforming to the assumption that England are just a humungous pack who will bore sides to death until they submit. Some of their offensive play was sublime. Again Ireland, Danny Care’s try had a dash of brilliance that brought Twickenham to its feet and against Wales they played with a verve from their 22 that seemed to unsettle their opponents. A near-try from Luther Burrell at the end of the game would have been a strong contender for try of the tournament. In Rome, admittedly against limited opposition, the floodgates opened and they ran in seven tries to double their tally from last year. The new Great Entertainers?
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Free ‘Pint of Guinness for Life’ award: Vincent O’Debaty
So picture the scene. Ireland are on the cusp of only a second Six Nations championship this century and are 22-20 up with less than 90 on the clock. France make a break on the right hand side of the field and with numbers on their left, Vincent Debaty has a chance to make himself a hero. Sadly his handling skills are exposed under pressure from an onrushing Dave Kearney and he passes marginally forward to cancel out Damien Chouly’s triumphant crash over the whitewash. The TMO confirms his error and Ireland win the Championship. Oh Vincent!