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“The diminutive wing wizard [Shane Williams] starred as Wales secured two Grand Slams in 2005 and 2008.” —Matt Dawson
“The diminutive wing wizard [Shane Williams] starred as Wales secured two Grand Slams in 2005 and 2008.” —Matt Dawson

Matt Dawson’s Six Nations Top Picks: The Greatest Players

Picking favourite players is always controversial, but with these Six Nations selections, I think very few would disagree with my reasoning. They all ooze class, experience and have the ability to consistently perform on the big stage, and in huge Championship games. These six players never shied away from fierce contests and, more often than not, they changed the course of matches with moments of sheer brilliance.

 

Richard Hill

The only forward on my list, but what an addition! For me, Hilly is the most impressive performer England has ever had, and I was lucky enough to play alongside him for so long. The 6ft.2in. backrower played 35 times in the Championship and won 77 percent of his games, also scoring on six occasions. He actually made his international debut in the Five Nations, when England defeated Scotland 41-10 at Twickenham and scored his first try against Wales later that Championship. And against France in 2001, he had a stormer. We won 48-19 and he somehow scored after nicking the ball and sprinting to the try line. Tellingly, he was the only England player never to be dropped by Sir Clive Woodward. 

 

Jonny Wilkinson

While this fly-half will always be linked with England’s World Cup win in 2003, Wilkinson was an impressive performer in the Six Nations, too, and is second on the all-time points list with 546, nine behind Ronan O’Gara. The Toulon captain, who lifted the Heineken Cup last May, still holds the record for most points in a Championship game: 35, achieved in England’s 80-23 win over Italy in 2001. That season he managed 89 points in all — also a record — and in 2007 (his first game since the famous night in Sydney) he scored a ‘full house’ in the 42-20 success over Scotland. He scored a try, knocked over two conversions, five penalties and a drop-goal for good measure — his total of 27 points was a Calcutta Cup record. And alongside that haul, he also collected 14 stitches in his lip.

 

Ronan O’Gara

The Irish fly-half was — until he hung up his playing boots at the conclusion of last season — the only player to have featured in all 14 editions of the Six Nations since its inception in 2000. He is also the leading points scorer in the competition, having registered 557 in all. The former Munster No.10 also holds the record for the most appearances in the Championship, having won 63 caps. His countryman Brian O’Driscoll, currently placed second with three fewer matches, could overtake that figure this season in his final Championship.

 

Brian O’Driscoll

Regarded as the best centre in the professional era, the 35-year-old Irish hero — captain of his country for a decade until last season’s Six Nations campaign — has chalked up the most tries in the Championship’s history. His 26 scores is two above Scottish winger Ian Smith, who featured for his country between 1924 and 1933 when the tournament had only five teams. This season will be BOD’s last and, if he stays fit, he should overtake long-time teammate Ronan O’Gara as the competition’s leading appearance maker. O’Driscoll was named Player of the Tournament in the 2006, 2007 and 2009 Six Nations Championships and he skippered his country to a memorable Grand Slam in that final year.

 

Shane Williams

The diminutive wing wizard starred as Wales secured two Grand Slams in 2005 and 2008, and retired from international duty in 2011. He remains third in the all-time Five/Six Nations try-scorers list with 22, having made his first start for his country in the 2000 campaign against Italy — a game which he marked with a try. In 2005, Williams scored further tries against Italy, Scotland, and England — a five pointer that helped the Welsh achieve a famous 11–9 victory. Three years later he crossed against Scotland (twice), Italy (twice), Ireland, and France in the Championship decider. A three-time tourist with the British and Irish Lions, Williams scored 290 points in his 87 appearances for his country before retiring in 2011, and he managed 22 tries in the Six Nations. 

 

Leigh Halfpenny 

Already a two-time British and Irish Lion tourist, the 25-year-old fullback was named  Player of the Six Nations Championship last year, as Wales secured their third title in the past six seasons. Aged 20, he was chosen for the wing in the 2009 campaign against Scotland and rivals England. He scored a try in each match and kicked a penalty against England to add to that, with his points proving to be the crucial difference between the two teams. In the 2012 season, in which Wales won the Grand Slam, he cemented his position at fullback for his country and was the leading point scorer in that Championship with 66 — a feat he managed last season, too, with 74 points.

 

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