Cloud 9: the best scrum-halves of the Six Nations

Cloud 9: the best scrum-halves of the Six Nations

As the year draws to a close, the knocks of a particularly bruising series of autumn internationals have faded (for most, if not all). For the rugby fan, thoughts now turn to February.

The Six Nations is that most magical of sporting events: an unpredictable contest. Will France be magnificent or barely show up? Can Scotland capitalise on the thrilling potential they showed last year, and again against the All-Blacks in November? Will Wayne Barnes add five minutes of random extra time, just for funsies?

While no one’s expecting Italy to pull off a miracle, it would be unwise to assume favourites England will have an easy route to a win.

As the Bramall looks forward to welcoming England’s World Cup legend Matt Dawson in January, here’s a rundown of all six nations’ finest number 9s.

Wales – Gareth Edwards

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Rhys Webb’s bright assertive play this year has been a treat, and unless new international rules scupper it, he’s the likely starting pick for Gatland over Gareth Davies or the Scarlets’ Aled Davies – especially with Wales so beleagured by injury. But when we talk about Welsh rugby, about the best, it’s hard not to look past the professional era and back to the 70s.

Gareth Edwards might not be just the best Welsh scrum-half, but the best ever.

Ireland – Peter Stringer

Munster’s Conor Murray brings physicality, game smarts and a brilliant partnership with Sexton; it’s no surprise his 2013 Lions debut was followed up by two wins for Ireland in the Six Nations, including the glorious Super Saturday finale of March 2014, when the dominoes lined up to make every match matter. But Stringer’s decade-long presence in the squad was characterised by laser precision in his passing, sniping runs and some dazzling tackles. Add in four Six Nations wins, including a Grand Slam, and he snatches the crown.

Check out this beautiful tap.

Scotland – Greig Laidlaw

What a time for a player to be injured. Laidlaw was an integral part of the 2015 World Cup squad who were robbed of a quarter-final win over Australia by one point (and a little help from Craig Joubert). This year he was out of the 2017 Six Nations after two matches, only to miss this year’s internationals too through a broken fibula playing for Clermont – all at the most exciting time for Scottish rugby in decades.

As capable with the boot as he is at the back of the scrum, Vern Cotter will be glad to know he’s expected to be fit for February.

France – Morgan Parra

With Jean-Baptiste Elissalde and Dimitri Yachvili battling for the selection in the 2000s, France have often been spoilt for choice at scrum-half – and this year Serin and Machenaud may present a similar challenge. Easing a fraction ahead is the petit general Morgan Parra, for his joyously productive partnership with Francois Trinh-Duc – most notably against Ireland to take the 2010 Grand Slam.

Behold this moment of brilliance.

Italy – Alessandro Troncon

It’s fair to say Italy have not achieved all they might have hoped for since entering the tourament in 2000. Languishing at 14 in the world rankings, the game development and physicality shown by other northerm hemisphere nations over the last decade hasn’t quite set their game alight. But a team which suffers from a lack of coherence has still given us some gobsmacking star players: Parisse, of course; Bergamasco; the mighty Castrogiovanni. Troncon deserves a space on that list too.

The first Italian to gain 100 caps, he scored the final try in the Azzuri’s first ever Six Nations away win in 2007.

England – Matt Dawson

Ben Youngs is the likely candidate to run out in white in 2018: a persistent threat and consistent try-scorer. But Dawson has to take the top spot for England. Though he may now be as well known to the public for his turn as A Question of Sport captain, or for appearing on Celebrity Masterchef (another win) and Strictly Come Dancing (runner up), his sporting career is crammed with successes: captain of the winning World Cup 2003 squad, a winning Lions tour, and a Heineken cup win.

Here’s a moment of pure class from the Lions tour, 1997.

Do you agree with the list? Let us know if we’ve failed to mention your favourite. (And yes, of course, a non-Six Nations list would include Joost van der Westhuizen, George Gregan, Will Genia, Justin Marshall…)

If all this rugby talk has fired you up for the Six Nations, join us at the Bramall on Wednesday 25th of January at An Audience with Matt Dawson. Matt will be sharing reminiscences of his years on the pitch, through his retirement from sport, and his current role as an ambassador for many health and sporting charities. Buy your ticket today!

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