6 Nations Team of the Tournament

Now the dust has settled on an exciting but not vintage tournament, it’s time for me to put my formidable rugby knowledge to the test and choose my team of the tournament.

15. Full Back: Mike Brown (England)

After a pretty horrible 2013 Six Nations, Brown was possibly the player of the tournament this time around.  His support running was a joy to behold and he has the indispensable ability to almost always make the correct decision.  Looks so much more at home as a full-back than on the wing.  Rock solid in defence and also the joint-leading try-scorer.

14. Right Wing: Andrew Trimble (Ireland)

Yoann Huget was a rare bright spark in an otherwise average French side, but for his consistency, the Ulsterman gets my vote.  An unheralded player but someone who does all the basics very well and, like Brown, supports play excellently.  Kept his cool in Paris to score a crucial try.  Has inherited a great finishers instinct.  On this evidence, Tommy Bowe has more chance of replacing Brian O’Driscoll that ousting Trimble.

13. Outside Centre: Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland)

Who else?  While Luther Burrell had a superb debut tournament for England, the retiring veteran showed the world what they will be missing with some all-round displays of class, elegance and ingenuity.  The beauty of O’Driscoll is that he never seems to be rushed on the rugby field.  He has that Henson-like ability to make time stand still and pick a pass no-one else sees, yet the defence hardly lays a finger on him.  Again, he was a rock in defence.  The great man will be sorely missed

12. Inside Centre: Jamie Roberts (Wales)

As much as I do have a rather large man-crush on Wesley Fofana (you’re lying if you claim you don’t), Dr Roberts had an excellent Championships.  As always he broke the gain line and tackled with energy and verve, but he has matured with age into more than just a battering ram.  He runs more intelligent line these days and often pops up as a support runner.  Two tries against Scotland capped an impressive tournament.

11. Left Wing: George North (Wales)

Despite playing at the unfamiliar position of Outside Centre for a couple of games, the giant Welshman looked much more at home on the wing.  Scored three tries and caused general havoc with ball in hand.  He still needs to work on his finishing in my opinion but he has the potential to be one of the game’s greats.

10. Fly-Half: Jonathan Sexton (Ireland)

A quite brilliant tournament for the Racing Metro outside-half.  He was by far the most effective player in his position because he offers and equally potent kicking and running game, highlighted by his four tries.  Kept a cool head in the cauldron-like atmosphere of the Championship decider in Paris.  Made Wales’ Rhys Priestland look even more shit that he actually is, which is difficult.

9. Scrum Half: Danny Care (England)

The England number 9 has finally come of age.  His darting runs are reminiscent of Rob Howley and Matt Dawson at their best.  By far the best scrum-half in the northern-hemisphere, his high-tempo delivery set the foundations for England’s impressive attacking displays.  A joy to watch.

1. Loose-Head: Cian Healy (Ireland)

What a player.  An animal in the loose but also a formidable scrummager.  When he carries the ball he resembles a charging rhino and is (probably) almost as difficult to bring down without tranquiliser.  Healy has also curbed his ill-discipline which has blighted his career to date.

2. Hooker: Rory Best (Ireland)

Having originally been overlooked by Warren Gatland for Lions selection supposedly because of his lacklustre throwing, the Ulsterman showed the Welsh coach why he had been wrong to omit him with a brilliant tournament in which he was almost flawless at the line-out.  Edges out Dylan Hartley because of his superior tackling ability and energy in the loose.

3. Tight-Head: Nicolas Mas (France)

There was no outstanding candidate for the number 3 shirt so I chose the Frenchman more for his commitment in that brutal final encounter with Ireland in Paris.  The French scrum was pretty tidy in that game against an Ireland pack that had dominated up front against Wales, Scotland and Italy and that was in no small part due to Mas.  I have no idea what he’s like in the loose but let’s assume he was average-to-good.  Basically, he was less bad than all the other tight-heads.

4. Lock: Paul O’Connell (Ireland)

The Ireland captain is like the postman; he keeps delivering top-class performances year after year.  His display in Paris was one of the great performances.  He seemed to be everywhere: at the breakdown, tackling, ball-carrying, taking line-outs  – all in the face of some ferocious French resistance (there’s a first for everything).  The Emerald Isle will be hoping that he continues for at least a couple more seasons.

5. Lock: Courtney Lawes (England)

Another coming-of-age tournament for an Englishman, this time the giant Northampton second-row.  His all-round brilliance was exemplified by a man-of-the match display against Wales.  Rather like O’Connell, he is an all-action player with the addition of impressive pace.  Always near the top of the tackle count.  Looks a certainty for the World Cup.

6. Blindside Flanker: Peter O’Mahony (Ireland)

This very blog had tipped Ireland to have a disaster tournament precisely because they were without their star flankers in Sean O’Brien and Stephen Ferris.  Well I am currently eating mountains of humble pie because the Munsterman was an absolute tour-de-force.  He was a permanent fixture at the breakdown and won man-of-the-match in the forward masterclass against Wales.  Excellent.

7. Openside Flanker: Chris Robshaw (England)

By far the outstanding open-side in this year’s tournament.  Not only was he a tireless in defence and excellent at the breakdown, he also showed an impressive fleet-of-hand to release Mike Brown for Danny Care’s try against Ireland.  Deserved his try against Italy and led England flawlessly after much criticism in past years.  Looks to have benefited from a summer’s rest.

8. Number 8: Billy Vunipola (England)

A controversial choice.  I know he only played three games and Jamie Heaslip excelled throughout the tournament, but Vunipola (like his cousin Taulupe Falateau) is a complete rugby-footballer, in the mould of Sergio Parisse, Nick Easter or Bobby Skinstad.  Not only does he always break the gain-line, he has brilliant awareness and is constantly looking to off-load the ball.  This results in a far more dynamic attacking platform which defined England’s matches.  He is vital if the red-rose are to be successful in the World Cup.

 

As regular readers (apparently there’s at least one) will know, thealternativesportsblog is based purely on facts and is almost never wrong, so if you disagree with any of my choices, you are severely misinformed.

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F1 2014 Season Preview

In years gone by, the dawn of a new Formula One season used to be a time of excitement and anticipation.  The thought of great drivers going head to head in the most powerful and expensive machines on the planet brought water even to the mouths of camels.  The season’s traditional Melbourne curtain-raiser this Sunday has come in slightly under the radar however, not least because of some damaging bribery stories in the off-season concerning the world’s shortest man, Bernie Ecclestone.  Some say Formula One has become boring.  To a certain extent, I can agree. If I’m totally honest, over the past few years, I tend to watch the first few laps of a race, have a nap, then wake up in time to see Sebastian Vettel spraying champagne over scantily clad women to the music from Carmen – often the most exciting point (for me at least) of the weekend.  But this year, all is set to change with a raft of new regulations in the sport.  Pre-season testing has suggested that the dominance of Red Bull, which has brought them the driver and constructor championship double for the past four years, may well be over.

Of the many new changes introduced, there are two of great significance. Firstly, the front nose and wings have been lowered and narrowed, as has the rear wing. The exhaust now has a single, central exit point which means it cannot be used for aerodynamic advantage. These changes combine to make it harder for the teams to create downforce, and thus grip, for the cars. Red Bull have been the masters of this over the past four years.

The other significant change will be more likely heard than seen, by the viewers/listeners at least, as the high pitched wail of the V8 engines synonymous with F1 has been replaced by the low growl of a highly turbo charged hybrid V6 motor. This grumble will be punctuated by whines and whistles from the turbo and new ERS (energy recovery systems). The ERS systems utilise complicated hybrid technology to put at the disposal of the drivers large boosts of horsepower which they can unleash for large periods of each lap, a big step up from the KERS systems of last year.  Many will mourn the loss of the epic V8 sound, which certainly added to the atmosphere of F1.  But in this age of austerity and economy, F1 must retain some relevance, and development in hybrid engine technology will doubtless ripple down to the commercial vehicles of today and tomorrow.  This year’s challenges therefore will prove to be about reliability and fuel management, where last year was all about tyre wear, which are still made by Pirelli, but with stronger compounds to avoid the punctures and blow outs which at times ruined last year’s racing.

So let’s have a look at the contenders:

RED BULL: simply put, Renault, who supply their engines are extremely behind in their engine development this year, meaning Red Bull have had a torrid pre-season. They failed to complete more than 20 or so ‘hot laps’ all winter and suffered from major reliability issues. However, with their experience and money, don’t be surprised to see them come good as the season progresses, but will it be too late?  Fingers crossed then we don’t see that smug twat Vettel on the podium any time soon.

FERRARI: The team from Monza have had a quietly impressive, if not spectacular winter testing. In Fernando Alonso and the world’s coolest man – Kimi Raikkonen they have arguable the best driver combination. They look set for one of their strongest seasons for a while.

MCLAREN: After having one of, if not the worst season in their history last year, McLaren will be looking to bounce back. Powered by the formidable Mercedes engine, they have been very good in pre-season. We know all about former world champion Jensen Button’s credentials, but his new team mate, Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen has caught the eye with some serious pace.  Ron Dennis’ re-appointment as Team Principal is also a significant move.

MERCEDES: Look to be the pace setters this year and Lewis Hamilton’s eye brow raising decision to join them from McLaren is looking justified as Mercedes appear streets ahead of many teams in terms of car development. They were fastest in 11 out of 12 testing sessions this winter, and with an increasingly maturing Hamilton behind the wheel, they look to be the team to beat.

BEST OF THE REST:

F1 heavyweights WILLIAMS have not had the best of times in recent years, but have looked very sharp so far this winter, especially with the experienced Felipe Massa behind the wheel. The top teams may be seeing a lot more of them in their wing mirrors this season.

As previous years have shown, it’s difficult to predict too much from pre-season testing. But one thing seems certain: as reliability has been such an issue for every team managing these regulation changes and complex new engines, it won’t be surprising to see only half the field finish the first race this weekend in Melbourne. As far as I’m concerned, it’s about time the field was blown wide open and I’m very excited about the forthcoming season, which promises much entertainment. You never know, I may even manage to stay awake for a whole race…..

Alex Sprague (Guest blogger and part-time F1 expert)