Six standout players from the Six Nations

rugby17 March 2024 15:53| © AFP
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Jamison Gibson-Park © Gallo Images

One of the most competitive Six Nations rugby championships of recent times ended with Ireland retaining their title after a hard-fought victory over Scotland on Saturday.

Below AFP Sport looks at some of the players who lit up the tournament:

Jamison Gibson-Park (Ireland)

The 32-year-old scrum-half deservedly won man-of-the-match for his role in Ireland's gritty title-clinching 17-13 win over Scotland in Dublin. His quickfire passing provided the launchpad for many an Ireland attack, with that handling speed missed when he was moved to the wing after halftime in a 23-22 defeat by England at Twickenham that cost Ireland a Grand Slam after Ciaran Frawley went off injured and the slower Conor Murray took over at scrum-half. Former Ireland full-back Hugo MacNeill was in no doubt of Gibson-Park's worth to the current side. "He sets the tempo," MacNeill told AFP. "He is a very good player, who has stepped up as a leader in his own way. You never see him shouting but leading the pace and rhythm of the Irish game which is vital."

Ollie Lawrence (England)

Fielding a settled midfield partnership has been an issue for England ever since the end of the celebrated 2003 World Cup-winning duo of Mike Tindall and Will Greenwood. More recently, England coaches have hoped the powerful but injury-prone Manu Tuilagi has been fit and looked to find someone else to line up alongside him. But it appeared the torch was being passed on Saturday as 24-year-old Bath centre Ollie Lawrence scored two tries either side of halftime in an agonising 33-31 loss to France in Lyon in a match where his boyhood hero Tuilagi, 32, came off the bench for what could be a final test before a likely move to a French club next season. Lawrence's potent combination of power, pace and handling ability was also on show when he scored a key try in the fourth-round win over Ireland.

Nolann Le Garrec (France)

The 21-year-old scrum-half started the campaign as second-choice behind the experinced Maxime Lucu with Antoine Dupont away with the France Sevens set-up. Fleet-footed Le Garrec showed great potential off the bench in France's three opening games before a man-of-the-match performance against Wales in his first test start. Le Garrec scored in Cardiff and added a second try to his tally against England, bringing much-needed energy to the French attack. Replacing the influential Dupont is an almost impossible job but Le Garrec offers France coach Fabien Galthie a more than worthy alternative and his goal-kicking adds a feather to his cap.

Michele Lamaro (Italy)

Italy's 24-21 victory away over Wales capped their best Six Nations return of two wins and a draw, with the Azzurri also defeating Scotland and unlucky to be held 13-13 by France. No one symbolised better their revival and the end of a run of eight successive last-place finishes in the tournament than Italy captain Michele Lamaro, with the flanker playing a key link role in attack while making a remarkable 103 tackles over the course of five games. "We want to achieve more than just not getting the 'wooden spoon', we have had a good tournament but know we can do better than this," Lamaro said after Italy's triumph in Cardiff.

Andy Christie (Scotland)

Another back-row forward who had an excellent tournament, Andy Christie appears to have settled the longstanding debate over the identity of Scotland's first-choice blindside flanker. The Saracens back-row's increasing influence at test level was evident by the way he starred in a colossal defensive effort against Ireland, with Scotland making 140 tackles in the first-half alone in Dublin.

Cameron Winnett (Wales)

Trying to find positives from a Wales campaign where they lost all five matches to finish bottom of the Six Nations table for the first time in 21 years may seem like an impossible task, but the form of 21-year-old full-back Cameron Winnett was a rare highlight for Warren Gatland's beleaguered team. A slight figure by modern international standards, he showed there was still a place for speed and footwork, with Winnett's form belying the fact he had made just 15 professional appearances for Cardiff before the championship started.