Oval Talk

Six Nations review

Oval Talk

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Player of the tournament: Imanol Harinordoquy (FRA)

It has not always been easy to warm to the fiercely patriotic Basque player, but after a series of stellar performances in this year's Six Nations, OT has nothing but admiration and praise for the Biarritz genius. With Italy's Sergio Parisse absent through injury, Harinordoquy (pictured) was head and shoulders above any other number eight in the championship and must now be vying with Richie McCaw for the world's best forward. Only one word for him: superb. France's Morgan Parra, Clement Poitrenaud, Nicolas Mas, William Servat and Thomas Domingo also deserve recognition, while Tommy Bowe, Shane Williams, Mark Cueto and Dan Parks were also mostly outstanding for their countries.

Try of the tournament: David Marty (FRA) v Italy

Although it may not have been the best championship in terms of quality, it had more than its fair share of decent tries, with Welsh wizard Shane Williams impressing again, especially with his solo effort in the defeat to France. But OT has opted for David Marty's second touch-down against Italy as the try of the tournament, because it started in France's half and was a real team effort. Clement Poitrenaud launched a typical counter-attack from his own 22, a neat exchange between Yannick Jauzion and Imanol Harinordoquy allowed the number eight to carry play deep into Italian territory, before Marty took the scoring pass to touch down in the corner. Typically French and proof that there is an alternative to aerial ping pong.

Match of the tournament: Wales v Scotland

Of course it depends on how you like your rugby served, but for sheer entertainment and nail-shredding excitement, Wales' remarkable come-from-behind victory over a Scotland team wracked by injury and yellow cards will last longest in the memory. As was their way throughout the tournament, Wales started slowly while the Scots produced some excellent rugby to open an 18-9 half-time lead. The Wales fight-back was a long time coming and when Dan Parks landed a monster drop goal in the 68th minute to put the visitors 24-14 ahead, it looked all over for Wales. But Warren Gatland's side proved the old adage that you are never beaten until the final whistle by landing a penalty and scoring two tries in the last two minutes, with Shane Williams's winner coming off the last play of the game.

Stinker of the tournament: Scotland v England

It is hard to remember a worse Test match than the snore-fest at Murrayfield that ended in a totally unsatisfactory 15-15 draw. Rugby has never needed a galore of tries and points to be exciting and enthralling, but it helps if there are two sides committed to attacking, as well as a referee with the ability to allow that to happen. Scotland, to their credit, tried to play, but England - for whatever reason - were truly dreadful and dragged the game into an unedifying arm-wrestle regularly punctuated by scrums that just refused to set. Needless to say there were no tries. Awful, awful, awful.

Inexplicable substitution of the tournament: Mike Tindall (ENG) v France

England were going well against the French and the return of Mike Tindall at outside centre had clearly given their back-line some much-needed direction and leadership, not to mention a bit more muscle. Tindall had been involved in most of England's good work, not least the cracking try for Ben Foden after just five minutes. Why then swap him for Mathew Tait with less than an hour played? The World Cup winner wasn't injured and still appeared to have some gas in the tank, despite a lack of game-time in recent months. Only Martin Johnson knows why Tindall was hauled off, but it merely added to the number of managerial and selection decisions that have baffled England fans of late.

Lip-reading moment of the tournament: John Wells (ENG) v France

What better way to throw a team's management off their collective stride than by sticking a belligerent, knowledgeable and vocal female fan in a seat right in front of them. Martin Johnson, John Wells and Brian Smith really should have been spared the opinions of Raphael Ibanez's mother-in-law while trying to concentrate on their team's performance - that goes without saying - but it produced a comical sub-plot that could only have happened in France. As for what Wells said to the patriotic madam is unclear, but one can assume that it did not start with "bonjour" and end with a bisous. But Mme Maryse Dourthe, a grandmother from Dax, has rugby heritage on her side: her husband Claude was only 18 when he first played for France, their son Richard was also a France international, and sons-in-law Ibanez and Olivier Magne also played for Les Bleus with great distinction. No wonder she gave Johnno and co hell!

Ill-advised mode of transport choice of the tournament: Andy Powell (WAL)

Golf buggies have been responsible for no end of high-jinks over the years and almost by design are made for mischief. However, what they are not designed for is motorway travel and flanker Andy Powell lived to regret his decision to take an early-morning trip to a nearby service station in the team hotel's buggy when he was dropped by Wales for their last three games of the championship. Wales manager Warren Gatland has a reputation as a disciplinarian, but even the no-nonsense Kiwi must have had difficulty keeping a straight face when laying down the law to his exuberant flanker.

Lazarus award of the tournament: Mathieu Bastareaud (FRA)

Mathieu Bastareaud almost caused a diplomatic incident when he claimed to have been mugged after a Test in New Zealand last year. CCTV put paid to any notion that the giant back was the victim of an assault and while the truth has never been confirmed, rumour has it he was involved in a fracas with a team-mate over a woman. The French federation, meanwhile, were more than happy to accept his excuse that he fell in the shower after drinking too much. Whatever the reason for his beat up face, Bastareaud clearly was not flavour of the month in French rugby circles and was dropped for their autumn series. But what a difference a few months can make. The powerful centre returned to the French ranks clearly chastened by his experience and went on to produce several outstanding performances that set Les Bleus on course for their Grand Slam.

Kick of the tournament: Dan Parks (SCO) v Ireland

Jonny Wilkinson's monster penalty from just inside France's half was sheer genius and what we have come to expect from the World Cup winner, but Dan Park's last-minute touchline effort against Ireland gets the nod because it secured the win and helped Scotland avoid the wooden spoon. Parks deserves further praise for taking what seemed an eternity lining up the kick, so much so that there was no time left for Ireland to force an equalising penalty. Admirable sportsmanship from the much-maligned fly-half at such a clutch moment.

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