Friday, February 5, 2016

Composite XV

This weekend the Six Nations kicks off and, as always, it's got people speculating over who would make a select XV.

So, here is the hat being firmly throwing into the ring (completely straight and with no feeding obviously). The team has been picked on a mixture of club and international form.

The only rule is any players picked must be involved in the Six Nations squads.

The XV
The Back Line
There are plenty of players missing who would usually be competing for a starting spot. Tommy Bowe and Leigh Halfpenny are probably the biggest absentees in the back three whilst Liam Williams and Rob Kearney attempt to make a full recovery from their injuries. Chris Ashton's return to an England shirt has been halted by a ten week ban.
Ashton's English compatriot Mike Brown does make the fifteen at fullback. Brown has consistently performed with the red rose on his chest. The Quins back was one of the few positives during England's dismal World Cup campaign, with his ability to eat up yards like a fat kid at a cake eating contest. His Achilles heel remains his temperament and his interview technique.
On the wings, Scotland's Tommy Seymour gets the nod instead of George North with his four tries in as many World Cup games cementing his place. Seymour is coming back from injury, but his work in the blue of his nation is enough. On the other wing Dave Kearney and Antony Watson narrowly miss out - poor club form costing the Bath man. That paves the way for Blues winger Tom James, whose club form is enough earn a starting spot. The boy from Rhymney has rediscovered his mojo when it comes to try scoring and his impressive kick chase may come in handy throughout the tournament.

The inside centre berth is commanded by Jamie Roberts. The Welsh juggernaut found his form whilst at Racing Metro and it hasn't slipped since. In fact, it's difficult to remember Roberts' last bad game in a Wales shirt. Alongside Roberts is Scotland and Glasgow centre Mark Bennett. Despite only making his Scotland debut in November 2014, Bennett is already an integral part of the team. Strong and creative, Bennett only missed out on World Rugby's Breakthrough Player award because of the incredible first season Nene Milner-Skudder enjoyed.

It would have been hard to consider anyone bar Jonny Sexton just a couple of years ago. However, the Irish fly half has taken more knocks to the head than Wile E Coyote. Meanwhile, Dan Biggar has continued to rise through the ranks to become among the more reliable 10s in the business. There are no shortage of scrum halves to choose from, even with Rhys Webb still on the injury list. Conor Murray, Danny Care and Sabastien Bezy are all top quality players, while Gareth Davies keeps scoring tries for fun. However, Greig Laidlaw has been exceptional as the fulcrum Scotland's back play.

Front Row
The weakness of Scotland's scrum was no secret for some time, but South African convert WP Nel has shored it up fantastically. Alongside him Ireland skipper Rory Best fills the hooker role with his fellow countryman Jack McGrath at loose head.

Second Row
Paul O'Connell was one of the Six Nations finest players, but his retirement will leave a huge hole for Ireland to fill. Plenty of locks to choose from else where though. For Wales, Alun Wyn Jones has become a talisman. With a work rate like Casey Jones and more than a tinge of aggression. Alongside the Osprey, will be towering Scotsman Jonny Gray. Often Richie Gray has been Scotland’s outstanding performer, but the introduction of his younger brother to the boiler room has upped the bar even further.

Back Row
Where modern games are often won or lost. The openside an area of particular influence. Wales captain Sam Warburton is among the world’s greatest at the breakdown and doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his carrying and all round game play. He starts at 7 ahead of Tipuric, Hardie, Barclay, O’Brien and Lauret. The tournament boasts many great ball carrying eights, but Sergio Parisse has carried the hopes of an entire nation at times; For that reason he starts at the back of the pack. At blindside, perhaps the most controversial pick. With a his fantastic work rate and excellent tackle rate – and now relieved of his captaincy – expect a big year from Chris Robshaw. Treated harshly by the press and even his own fans, this year Robshaw will answer his critics and prove just what a great back row player he is.

So, there we have it. Our starting Composite XV containing 5 Welshmen, 5 Scots, 2 Irishmen, 2 Englishmen, 1 Italian and not a single Frenchman.
Now cue the complaints.