Six Nations awards: Antoine Dupont and Mack Hansen dominate
As Six Nations go, the 2023 edition deserves to hit on the top shelf as one of the best we've witnessed. Here were some highlights.
Starting off with an easy one... unsurprisingly there are so many strong contenders from Ireland's all-conquering side. Caelan Doris felt nailed on to win this until injury forced him off against Scotland, and he wasn't quite as effective against England but would still be a frontrunner. Then there's Mack Hansen and Hugo Keenan, brilliant out wide and in the air. James Ryan played his best rugby and Josh van der Flier hasn't missed a beat, while Andrew Porter and Dan Sheehan have been excellent.
But then France had Thomas Ramos, now nailed on at full-back and goalkicker, Damian Penaud's finishing, Romain Ntamack quietly controlling things. Charles Ollivon was tireless, Thibauld Flament is some athlete at lock, Julien Marchand brilliant at the breakdown. It's important too that the efforts of Duhan Van der Merwe and Huw Jones for Scotland are not forgotten, while Matt Fagerson was relentless. Freddie Steward, excellent even with his red card in Dublin, continues to thrive.
And yet it all comes back to Antoine Dupont. No one in the world can touch him at the moment - shining in the demolitions of England and Wales, his incredible defence against Ireland. Doris was superb, but Dupont edges it.
Delightful to have so many strong contenders to pick from - remember when the Six Nations was a little dull?
Both of Van der Merwe's tries against England make the shortlist, as does his acrobatic finish against Italy. Damian Penaud's first score against Wales concluded a great attack started by Romain Ntamack's break. And then Penaud's first try against England, made by Ntamack's incredible offload before Gael Fickou's cross-field kick, has to be in the mix. Not forgetting Blair Kinghorn's effort from 95 metres out to finish Scotland's campaign against Italy.
But how about Penaud's try in Dublin. Starting within their own 22, Penaud's break followed by sensational support work by Anthony Jelonch, somehow offloading back to Penaud to finish a long-range attack. Very, very special.
Well, this one's easy. Dupont somehow defied physics to deny Hansen a try when France faced Ireland, the scrum-half with superhuman strength producing a brilliant bit of defence. Hansen scooped up the ball two metres from the try line when there was Dupont, pumping the legs and driving Hansen towards the touchline. It honestly defied belief. Garry Ringrose's hit on Dan Biggar was tasty as well.
Best post-match interviewee
Hansen pops up again here for better reasons, particularly swearing on live television but in the best way possible: by trying to do a good thing. Hansen's 'oh f---' as he went to rescue a falling microphone, followed immediately by 'oh no!', was rather endearing. Followed up with after sealing the Grand Slam by "I was taking some tablets before the game so I didn't s--- myself", he's a dream for everyone aside from PR teams. He's also inadvertently created a legacy based on James Lowe's post-match interview after facing England when he said: "Pretty fu... oh I almost Mack Hansen'd it!"
Best facial hair
Hansen again, because the handlebar moustache is particularly difficult to pull off and yet on the Ireland wing it looks like a perfectly normal thing to do. Honourable mentions: Simone Ferrari, Kyle Sinckler, Ntamack.
More of Fun Finn than Bad Finn in this Six Nations and his offload out the back to set up Kyle Steyn in Scotland's win against Wales was a delight. Jelonch's work in the Penaud try of course deserves consideration, as does Dupont's amazing pass for Penaud's first score against Wales.
Wales certainly gave everyone a go. Back rows and midfields were chopped and changed freely as Warren Gatland ran his eye over the talent available, blooded new caps and used a tough Six Nations to work out which players would be of value at the Rugby World Cup, and which would not. In total Gatland made 26 changes, which almost feels like a personal challenge to the kit staff and team sheet writers.
Italy's alternative strip, and by some way too. A throwback to the mid-90s with the tricolore on each sleeve, if we don't get to see it at the Rugby World Cup then what's the point of even having the tournament.
Not an especially pleasant tournament for England but the performances of Ollie Chessum at lock certainly helped, before the Leicester lock cruelly dislocated his ankle in training ahead of facing Ireland to rule him out for several months. Having him back in time for the Rugby World Cup would be some bonus.
Ben White was around last year but starting all five Tests at scrum-half for Scotland was a step up, while Lorenzo Cannone for Italy was the pick of a very strong youthful bunch.
France's rout of England was the first time French supporters had travelled en masse to Twickenham since 2019, and for those who made the trip it was absolutely worth the wait. You'll never hear louder renditions of La Marseillaise away from home - even some England supporters might have enjoyed it. Then again, maybe not.