Best player, match, coach - ESPN's 2017 Six Nations Championship Awards

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Now that the curtain has come down on the 2017 Six Nations Championship, it's time for ESPN's end-of-tournament awards. Rugby writers Tom Hamilton and Martyn Thomas have their say on the moments that have left an indelible mark over the past seven weeks.


Wales 16-21 England: For so long it looked like Wales were going to end Eddie Jones' unbeaten start as England coach. They were wonderful, Dan Biggar -- an injury doubt in the build up -- played beautifully at fly-half while Alun Wyn Jones and Sam Warburton were as inspirational as ever. But then came the wayward kick from Jonathan Davies, a loose ball fielded, Owen Farrell's pinpoint pass and Elliot Daly darted down the wing to score the try that broke Welsh hearts. It was northern hemisphere rugby at its best: unpredictable, passionate and frenetic. -- TH

Scotland 27-22 Ireland: Set the tone for what was an unpredictable and entertaining championship. It was difficult to predict how Scotland would fare in Vern Cotter's final Six Nations, but any notion that the dark blues would merely go through the motions were dispelled inside the opening 28 minutes as two tries from Stuart Hogg, and one from Alex Dunbar put the hosts in control. Ireland responded with three tries of their own to lead going into the final 10 minutes, but two nerveless penalties from Greig Laidlaw settled the outcome and left Ireland's hopes in tatters. -- MT


Courtney Lawes: Without the brilliant George Kruis, England's locks were under huge scrutiny this Six Nations. But Joe Launchbury and Lawes were sensational in England's engine room. Both played brilliantly but Lawes just edges the tireless Launchbury as player of the tournament. -- TH

Owen Farrell: Launchbury and Lawes were both immense in the England second row, while Elliot Daly made himself undroppable, but the team's Six Nations would have looked very different had it not been for the brilliance of Farrell. It was his passes that freed both Ben Te'o against France and Daly against Wales to put England on course for another title. -- MT


Vern Cotter: Eddie Jones is the best coach in the championship, but Cotter deserves praise for everything he has done with Scotland. We're in that uneasy no-man's land spell with Scotland now as they bid farewell to Cotter, who has done so much to revitilise Scottish rugby, and prepare to welcome in Gregor Townsend. Apart from their injury-laden capitulation at Twickenham, this was a sterner Scotland than we have seen in recent years and credit should be laid at Cotter's door. -- TH


France vs. Wales goes on and on. And on: Perhaps for all the wrong reasons, but long after the dust has settled on the 2017 Six Nations, and the minutiae of a thrilling tournament have been forgotten, people will talk about the day a game of international rugby union lasted longer than a football match. You may not want to relive those 20 minutes, but they had everything; French gamesmanship, a player serving a whole sin-binning in time added on, countless cutaways to an anguished Rob Howley, and scrum after scrum after reset scrum. Maybe in future, though, organisers will give the referee power to quietly shoot the game in the back of the head and put everyone out of their misery. -- MT

The Italy ruckless tactic: Daly's try is up there, but the confusion and bewilderment inside Twickenham when Italy first used their anti-ruck tactic was a strange, unique experience. Jones swiped it aside as being against the spirit of the game, but Italy deserve credit for trying something different. Twickenham was incandescent as the majority shouted claims of offside at Romain Poite, but he kept a level head and refereed well. -- TH

Breakthrough Player:

Garry Ringrose: The Ireland centre will forever live in the shadow of Brian O'Driscoll, but he has taken the first steps in the green jersey to cementing his spot for the next decade. He was fantastic against England and has a chance of being on the British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand. -- TH


Scotland: From their pulsating opening win over Ireland in the championship's opening fixture, Cotter's side highlighted their supreme potential. Built on a ferocious defence and ability to capitalise on attacking opportunities, Scotland made light of injuries to key personnel. The real shame being that they faltered when it mattered most, at Twickenham. -- MT


Italy: Conor O'Shea's first ever half-time team talk as a Six Nations coach arrived with his side deservedly leading Wales, but from there the wheels quickly came off. Aside from their first half antics at Twickenham, little else went their way. O'Shea has admitted results this year mean little as he builds towards the next World Cup, but they have not been encouraging, with the Azzurri the only team to fail to pick a single bonus point. -- MT

Lions captain in waiting:

Sam Warburton: Warren Gatland says there are as many as six contenders to captain the Lions against New Zealand but Warburton is my front-runner. He did a superb job in 2013 and though he is playing better without the burden with Wales, he should captain the tourists against the All Blacks. He is the level headed presence they need and will do a fine job. -- TH

The "Ruckless tactic" award for best tactic:

Brendan Venter: The canny South African asked O'Shea to trust him, when he offered this anti-ruck tactic as one way to confuse England. Jones hated it, but Venter brought something different to the championship. -- TH

Best atmosphere:

Wales vs. Ireland: The Welsh Rugby Union served notice last week that it was no longer prepared to host Friday night Six Nations fixtures, and that is a huge shame. Cardiff will not win any awards for its infrastructure, and it can be a laborious process getting in and out of the city for a Friday night kick off, but once you're there the experience is hard to beat. The Principality Stadium's location in the heart of town ensures a carnival atmosphere hours before kick off, and when the roof is closed and the hymns arias are being belted out, goosebumps are never far away. -- MT


Gael Fickou, Italy vs. France: Guy Noves' side rolled back the years with a stunning counter-attacking try. A move that started with fullback Brice Dulin receiving possession virtually on his own line, and featured telling contributions from Virimi Vakatawa and Guilhem Guirado, ended with a sublime dummy and dart for the line from Fickou. C'est magnifique. Liam Williams score against England, and Anthony Watson's try against Scotland are both highly commended. -- MT

Bonus point award:

The cold hard stats would suggest that the decision to introduce bonus points to the Six Nations has had little impact. Sixty-six tries were scored this year, compared to 71, 62 and 61 in the three years previously. However, stats do not always tell the whole story and there has been a palpable sense that this tournament has been more open and attacking than many before. Take Scotland's second-half performance against England at Twickenham. Despite losing comfortably, the lure of a bonus point meant that they had something to play for right up until the final whistle, and ensured an otherwise one-sided contest remained a viable spectacle. -- MT

Best innovation:

Live streaming of the women's Six Nations: This was a great idea, and well received. It brought the tournament into the millennials' consciousness and should be grown and improved next year. -- TH

Hopes for next year:

Italy were left with the wooden spoon, again, and the tournament needs them to be more competitive next year. They should improve under O'Shea but relegation-promotion should also be introduced. That's not a dig at Italy, as any team can finish at the foot of the table but crowds of 55,000 in Georgia cannot be ignored. The officiating was also superb, and the standard must be maintained for next year. -- TH

Key change:

England should have been given the trophy in Twickenham. Dylan Hartley, who deserves a huge amount of credit for the way he captained England, should not have been subjected to booing as he collected the gong in Dublin. -- TH

Banging of the tier two drum:

John Feehan would be in a close-run contest with himself if there was an award for short-sighted comments relating to the future of the Six Nations. At a time when World Rugby is making great effort to improve the standards of Tier Two nations it seems arrogant for Six Nations organisers to speak so flippantly about the idea of promotion and relegation. Videos of 55,000 Georgian fans crammed into the Dinamo Arena again went viral last week, and it is not only the Lelos who are pressing their case. Romania dethroned Georgia as Rugby European Championship winners following a hard-fought 8-7 win on Sunday, proving that there is more to European rugby union that the accepted elite. -- MT