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Grand Slam - the verdict: Seven of our writers look back on a memorable Six Nations

Our team give their choices for the best game, the best player and the best try from the championship

Gerry Thornley

Best match: Ireland v France

As was the case last year, this effectively looked like the title decider between the best two sides in the world, never mind the championship, and so it proved, particularly in that breathless first half. Damian Penaud scored one of the tries of the tournament but Ireland were merely stirred, not shaken, and immediately responded through James Lowe’s wonderful finish before outlasting France 32-19 in a titanic contest with over 46 minutes’ playing time.

Best try: Garry Ringrose v France

Either of Duhan van der Merwe’s brace in Scotland’s opening win over England would be obvious contenders, but with a green-tinged perspective, Ireland’s 72nd minute try against France when it was still a one-score game was the most decisive of the championship. Beginning with Mack Hansen’s counter from halfway, 19 phases later Caelan Doris fended Gael Fickou and threw that wonderful pass to Garry Ringrose, who fended Mathieu Jalibert before brushing through Romain Taofifenua to score, fully two minutes and ten seconds later. It typified this team’s inner resolve, and also its ability to execute when fatigued.


Best Player: Antoine Dupont

As much as it’s tempting to also view this with green-tinged glasses, it’s impossible to overlook the freakishly brilliant Antoine Dupont. That feint to kick with his right, then switch to his left to nail a 50/22 at Twickenham was one of another lengthy highlights reel. Four try assists, seven offloads, that try-saving wrestling of Mack Hansen . . . he’s ridiculous really.

Gordon D’Arcy

Best match: Ireland v France

For me, the best match was undeniably when the number one-ranked team in world rugby hosted the unofficial number one team. With 65 minutes on the clock, there were a mere six points separating the teams, even though Ireland had outscored the French three tries to one. It was an incredibly physical, high-paced game with sensational tries at both ends of the field. It was also a very tense encounter where either team could have scored a match-defining try in the final 10 minutes. Ireland’s composure on the day shone through and Garry Ringrose scored a superb team try to seal the win.

Best try: Duhan van der Merwe v England

At roughly 28 minutes of this meeting at Twickenham, England had just won a turnover after a reasonably promising attack from Scotland. They rushed a long kick to Scotland and it looked like the energy had been taken out of that attack for the visitors. But the English kick chase was slightly disjointed, and the big winger ghosted between Owen Farrell, Joe Merchant and another four would-be defenders to score a breathtaking try.

Best player: Johnny Sexton

It is very easy to opt for Antoine Dupont, the all-singing, all-dancing French scrumhalf, but he does not have a trophy in his hands this week. For me Johnny Sexton was the most important player for Ireland, the Grand Slam champions. The consistent presence in the half backs, the cool(ish) head on the field when it mattered and the player that everyone looked to when things got tense against England.

John O’Sullivan

Best match: Scotland v Ireland

A toss of the coin between two matches that might have a psychological resonance for pool games in the World Cup. The manner of Ireland’s dominant victory over the reigning Grand Slam champions France was exceptional but, given the injury context, the win over Scotland is difficult to look past. Losing your starting number eight, a Lions secondrow, two hookers, having your openside flanker Josh van der Flier throw in and a replacement prop, Cian Healy, reprise his schooldays at hooker and manage to recalibrate at the interval in a tight game to pull away in the second half against an in-form team was outstanding.

Best try: Hugo Keenan v France

If a team gets one over on a Shaun Edwards-coached defence, it’s worth noting the date and the time. Hugo Keenan’s try against France was executed with training ground precision in the maelstrom of a match. The animation, the timing of runs and passes, was exquisite as Ireland turned Romain Ntamack’s goal-line dropout into a seven-point windfall. Caelan Doris and Finlay Bealham play the pivotal roles, the number eight punching the initial hole which Uini Atonio doesn’t fill while Bealham discharges his role of pivot perfectly that allowed Hugo Keenan to gallop through the gap and accelerate between two French players to touch down.

Best player: Josh van der Flier

It’s hardly a punt to go for the World Player of the Year but his consistent excellence through the tournament is reflected both in the statistical nuts and bolts and a visual appreciation of his work. He was indefatigable on behalf of the team. Team-mates certainly had better one-off matches or, in Hugo Keenan’s case, several super games, but Van der Flier’s work ethic in all aspects and consistency was immense. He made some big plays when his team needed them most, perhaps none more so than his work as an emergency hooker in the victory over the Scots.

Matt Williams

Best match: Ireland v France

When the fixtures list for the 2023 Six Nations was revealed one match immediately stood out from all the rest. France coming to the Aviva was always going to be the match of the tournament. It was clear that the winner of that match would go on to win the championship. The hype was valid. The match will go into the history books as a classic. Full of end-to-end tries, high skill, passion and desperation. Creativity was delivered in buckets, by both teams. It was rugby played at its zenith and made for pure entertainment.

Best try: Hugo Keenan v France

Hugo Keenan’s try in the same match was executed with staggering accuracy. Its origins came from a play that Leinster had used for years. However, Ireland’s twist was to pull the trigger on the play after receiving a goalline dropout. Finlay Bealham was used as the unlikely playmaker and supplied the inside pass for a flying Keenan. It was planned with such detail, with multiple decoys in motion, that it even had Peter O’Mahony blocking Cyril Ballie on the far side of the ruck to ensure the French cover did not fill the gap that the Irish deception had created for Keenan. It was a thing of great beauty.

Best player: Andrew Porter

Across that match and the entire tournament, Andrew Porter was toiling away, doing what we call the ‘dirty work’. The inglorious grunt work, not recognised by many but deeply appreciated by his team-mates. Porter played for huge amounts of game time across all five matches. He displayed his skill and courage magnificently in scrums, lineouts mauls and rucks while making several memorable try-saving tackles. Without Porter’s exceptional talents, bravery and work ethic, the Grand Slam would not have been won.

Johnny Watterson

Best match: Scotland v Ireland

For a number of reasons Ireland’s patched-up game against Scotland will be spoken about for many years to come. Why? Because the game in Murrayfield exemplified qualities that coach Andy Farrell had been talking about but those outside the Irish squad had yet to see in real time practice. The art of making running repairs and thriving on them was put to the test and the Irish team responded. Prop Cian Healy goes to hooker, flanker Josh van der Flier lands three from four lineout throws and the bench stand up and finish. Adaptation, learning on the pitch.

Best try: Duhan van der Merwe v England

Scottish winger, Duhan van der Merwe’s run from 10 metres inside his own half was the mic-drop moment of the championship. Van der Merwe cuts through the first line of England, defence including outside centre Joe Marchant, just at the halfway line before steaming towards the English goal. Five missed tackles in which they feel the fabric of his shirt and thread of his socks – including fullback Freddie Steward and number eight Alex Dumbrandt – leaves an embarrassed-looking England defence and an elated Scottish winger touching down.

Best player: Hugo Keenan

Impressive without being flash. Largely error-free, a fumbled catch at the beginning of the match against Scotland a rare glimpse of his mortality, although he still held the ball. Superb under high kicks, his tackling has been excellent, his lines of running ambitious and expertly-timed and his work rate second to nobody. A number of obvious qualities too; pace to finish, spatial awareness, a sense of timing and an ability to pass and bring other players into the game if his own avenues are closed. Has his temperament been mentioned? Even when flaming bright it’s always boardroom-chilled.

Owen Doyle

Best match: Scotland v Ireland

“One for all, and all for one,” has never been played out with such steely determination. In Murrayfield, Ireland faced the toughest of challenges and overcame all the adversity which was thrown their way. Heck, Cian Healy at hooker, Josh van der Flier throwing to the lineout, five players going off injured, and all of that without breaking stride. But it did break Scotland, and the magnificent Irish third-quarter performance was as responsible for delivering the Slam as anything else along the breathtaking way.

Best try: James Lowe v France

A wonderful team effort, the essence of rugby. When Mack Hansen semi-blocked a clearing kick, Ireland went through about five error-free breakdowns. Changing the point of attack, they went wide to the right, before spinning the ball to the far left touchline. Ten players handled the ball and all were involved in one way or another, before Lowe’s acrobatics into the corner. Serious doubt about its validity emerged on video replays later, but Wayne Barnes awarded the score so it definitely counts. Honourable mention in this category for France’s Damien Penaud, in the same match; and for Duhan van der Merwe’s wonderful solo try for Scotland against England.

Best Player: Johnny Sexton

Indisputably, well nearly. France’s Antoine Dupont was marvellous, but my vote goes to the Grand Slam captain, a truly inspirational player and leader. Taking a leaf from General George Patton’s playlist, Sexton has never asked others to do something he’s not prepared to do himself, never shirking the hard stuff. His innate, instinctive sense of when to kick, when to pass, when to run, when to take a risk, makes him the most valued player of his generation. His game management skills come second to no-one across the whole of Test rugby.

Nathan Johns

Best match: Wales v Ireland

Quality-wise, Ireland vs France. In terms of setting the tone for the ‘thriving in adversity’ mantra of Andy Farrell’s side, the tournament-opening win over Wales. Jamison Gibson-Park and Cian Healy were both late scratches to the matchday 23 due to hamstring injuries. Tadhg Furlong was also ruled out earlier in the week. We know now that pre-tournament talk of a Warren Gatland revival for this Welsh outfit was misguided, but to deal with such late disruption and so comprehensively beat a potential banana skin side foreshadowed a greater ability to deal with bigger setbacks.

Best try: Hugo Keenan v France

A strike play but not off a set-piece, instead worked into open play off kick return. Brilliant moving parts all around, from Peter O’Mahony and Josh van der Flier subtly/cynically taking defenders out at a ruck, to Conor Murray, Garry Ringrose and Rob Herring’s decoys, to Finlay Bealham’s decision-making on the ball. It was all somewhat scripted, but Keenan still needed to react to unplanned chaos in front of him, dodging an offside Uini Atonio and referee Wayne Barnes on his way to hitting the gap.

Best player: James Ryan

Caelan Doris will probably be player of the tournament. Deservedly so, but he has played to a high level throughout his young Ireland career. In terms of the importance of an individual return to form, it’s hard to look past James Ryan. Few players are as critical to Ireland’s ruck speed, and consequently their attack, as the vice-captain. Add in good ball-carrying work and a stellar handling of lineout duties and he looks back to his breakout 2018 best. It’s an easy narrative, but it certainly looks that working behind the scenes with Paul O’Connell has done wonders.