Trying to predict the player of the Six Nations is a difficult task. You can examine a players form at club level and their impact at test level, but this only really removes those who have no chance at winning player of the tournament and still leaves a number of candidates that can claim the status. There is also the potential for players being completely under fans and pundits’ radars and snatching the award. For example, despite his team getting the wooden spoon, Andrea Masi was voted for player of the championship in 2011. Although deserved, this was a left-field choice and Masi was not on many of the minds of pundits and fans before the tournament started. The same could be said for Jacob Stockdale last year who won the accolade in his first Six Nations appearance along with claiming the record for the most tries scored in a single championship. Nevertheless, it’s more often than not a player that has been showing world class form for a while, that takes the title for player of the tournament e.g. Brian O’Driscoll, Shane Williams, Stuart Hogg etc. With that being said, there’s no harm in taking an educated guess at the five most likely players to take home the accolade.
Ryan after making his professional debut just over a year ago, has been described as a “Paul O’Connell 2.0”. You would normally see him carrying two meters from the ruck against three forwards and still making the gain-line. Along with making the toughest of yards, you can also see him in a pod of forwards using his slick hands to pass the ball out the back. For someone of his height, it amazes me how low he can put himself over the ball and make him a nuisance to clear out of rucks. That’s just not raw strength, that’s incredible technique. It can’t be forgotten that Ryan won a Grand Slam, the European Champions Cup and the Pro 14 before losing his first test match against Australia last June. Oh.. and this all happened before his 22nd birthday. I believe a player of the Six Nations award for Ryan will be a stepping stone to a World Player of the Year in the future.
Hogg isn’t only Scotland’s best attacking threat, he is their best player. Since his debut in 2012, Hogg’s devastating speed and counter attack game has terrorised every team inside and outside of the Six Nations. There are plenty of clips on YouTube of him doing damage against the likes of France, Ireland and Wales, but even more impressive is his performance against the All Blacks in the Autumn series in 2017. Against a team with the likes of Beauden Barrett, Damian Mckenzie, Sonny Bill Williams and Rieko Ioane, Stuart Hogg was the best player on the pitch. Townsend has built his game plan around Hogg’s ability to exploit defences in the wider channels. This is evident with having two playmakers in Finn Russell and Peter Horne at 10 and 12 who can distribute the ball out to the wider channels at pace for Hogg and co to exploit. There is no question that Hogg is the best full-back entering this year’s Six Nations and I would not be surprised if he matched Brian O’Driscoll’s record of three Player of the Six Nations awards.
Speaking of Brian O’Driscoll, I believe his successor in the number 13 jersey for Ireland could be a very possible candidate for the accolade in discussion. Ringrose is an extremely consistent player, constantly playing at a high standard. For example, just coming off an injury, Ringrose started against Scotland and was still able to display an incredible performance for a full 80 minutes. With an ability to slip through gaps that many can’t and being a formidable defender in the 13 channel, Ringrose is a guaranteed starter in the centre for Ireland. You must remember that there is serious competition for the 13 jersey within the Ireland camp with the likes of Chris Farrell, Robbie Henshaw, Will Addison and Bundee Aki being able to play in that position. I firmly believe that if he remains fit throughout the tournament, Ringrose will surely be one of the stand out players of the tournament.
From one 13 to another, I believe Michele Campagnaro is Italy’s best player and a good prospect for Player of the Six Nations. Campagnaro has showed potential from the start with his excellent performance against Wales back in 2014. Since then, he has had many notable performances in the Italian jersey and similar to the rest of the players on this list, he is consistent in these displays. One that stands out was his performance against Ireland in Chicago in the autumn. Although Italy were bested by Ireland’s third-string team, Campagnaro led by example and scored Italy’s only try in the game. A good player does stand at more in a poor team but Campagnaro seems to create moments of magic in big games against tough opposition. For example, his try against England in 2016 is probably one of my favourite tries ever scored in the tournament as he had no right to score it (I highly recommend watching that clip). With Matteo Mazzoni out injured, I believe that Campagnaro will be Italy’s stand out player for the tournament. The question is will he stand out enough to be considered Player of the Tournament.
Jonny May is my left-field choice for the award. He was England’s most impressive player in their summer series loss in South Africa last summer, scoring a try in every test and scoring more tries than World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year, Aphiwe Dyanti. He continued this good form in the Autumn Series against the All Blacks and Australia. Furthermore, he has also been performing at club level for Leicester Tigers in the premiership where he is tied with Charlie Sharples for most tries scored this season. If England can sort out their woes in the centre positions, we may see more May’s blistering pace within this Six Nations.
As stated before, these are only my educated guesses. There are many players that I have left out that can easily take home the award. There is also the case that the award favours certain positions. For example, out of the 15 awards that have been handed out throughout the years, only three of them have been awarded to forwards. Furthermore, out of the 12 backs awarded, none of them have been half-backs. I hope this explains the exclusions of Owen Farrell, Conor Murray and of course the World Rugby Player of the Year, Jonathan Sexton. That being said, there is a first for everything, and one player might arise from my notable mentions to add the award to their trophy cabinet.
Tadhg Furlong – Ireland
Josh Navidi – Wales
Stuart McNally – Scotland
Yacouba Camara – France
Mathieu Bastareaud – France
Sebastian Negri – Italy
Billy Vunipola – England
Tom Curry – England
Wesley Fofana – France
Owen Farrell – England
Jonathan Sexton – Ireland
Conor Murray – Ireland
Written By James O’Connor