There is no shirt number more synonymous with the Guinness Six Nations than the iconic No.10 jersey – and with good reason.
With just 10 days to go until the start of the 2023 Championship, we are profiling the fly-halves who have etched their name into the fabric of the Championship, starting at the very beginning with a man who needs no introduction.
‘The Perfect 10’ was the name of the short film documenting the life of Jonny Wilkinson and though a bold claim it was arguably an accurate one.
Wilkinson steered England to three of the first four Six Nations titles, including a Grand Slam in 2003, finishing as the top-points scorer in each campaign.
England would have to wait eight years for another title and though Wilkinson was deployed as an impact player by former teammate Martin Johnson, he would kick vital late points in tense wins against Wales and Scotland, in what would be his final Championship hurrah.
Remembered most fondly for his spectacular goal-kicking exploits, Diego Dominguez played an integral role in two of Italy’s greatest Six Nations victories.
In the Azzurri’s first ever Championship match, Dominguez kicked 29 points as the new kids on the block stunned reigning champions Scotland.
He had hoped to retire in 2000 shortly after his heroics against the Scots but was persuaded to stay on with no heir apparent.
Before he was finally allowed to hang up his boots in 2003, having accumulated a whopping 1,010 Test points from just 76 Test matches, he kicked 15 points in Italy’s first ever win against Wales.
Sat atop the list of all-time Six Nations points scorers is Ronan O’Gara.
He amassed 557 Championship points but secured his place in Irish rugby folklore with one single swing of the boot on a sodden but very super Saturday in 2009.
His late drop-goal against Wales earned Ireland a first Grand Slam for 61 years, the high point in a remarkable 13-year career at the top.
Reducing Freddie Michalak’s achievements to statistics removes the essence of what made him so special.
If there was ever a player who made rugby an art form, it was the mercurial French playmaker.
But if honours are your thing, then four Championship titles, three Grand Slams and one World Player of the Year nominee should do it.
Perhaps less adventurous than some of the names on this list, Stephen Jones was no less effective.
Despite facing stiff competition for Wales’ No.10 shirt in the form of Neil Jenkins and James Hook, Jones wracked up over a century of appearances in red, finishing his career as his country’s most capped player.
You would be hard placed to find a fly-half who relishes the contact battle more than Dan Biggar.
Arguably the biggest compliment you could pay the Wales veteran is that he would not look out of place across the back line, with an excellence under the high ball any back-three player would be proud of and a defensive game to rival the most imposing of centres.
The steely Swansea-born man is set to pass Jones’ tally of 104 caps this spring and if he can secure a fourth Championship crown of his career, he may be remembered as Wales’ greatest out-half of the professional era.
Ice-cool under pressure, if there is just one moment that encapsulates the genius of Johnny Sexton, it is his last-gasp drop goal against France in 2018.
Sexton had been marshalling his troops for some 41 phases but to no avail, as Les Bleus held firm, desperate to hold on to their 13-12 lead at the Stade de France.
And had any other player been lining up for a shot from 45-metres out, the hosts might have considered the game won.
But Sexton, as he always does, found a way, sending Ireland on their way to a third title in five years and first Grand Slam since the other iconic Irish drop-goal of the Six Nations era.
Big-match temperament, dead-eyed goal-kicking, unflinching defence – but perhaps the most encompassing quality of Owen Farrell is his era-defining leadership of this England team.
Since bursting onto the scene in 2012, Farrell had long been ear-marked for the England captaincy and finally got his chance ahead of the 2019 Championship.
The Saracens playmaker has three Guinness Six Nations crowns, the Grand Slam in 2016, five English Premiership titles, three European Cups, and is a two-time Lions tourist – but the best could still be to come.
The second half of Scotland’s epic 38-all draw with England in 2019 saw Finn Russell at his brilliant best.
Fittingly, the maverick magician tied the scores at 31-apiece with an interception score from halfway but prior to that his fingerprints were all over Scotland’s comeback, with every pass in his repertoire transfixing England’s defenders.
He was at his mercurial best in the 2022 Autumn Nations Series and looks set to dazzle once more the latest instalment of Rugby’s Greatest Championship.
George Ford missed just 17 minutes of the 2016 Six Nations as England secured a first Grand Slam since 2003.
In fact, his partnership with childhood friend Owen Farrell was paramount to England’s 18 game winning run as they equalled New Zealand’s tier-one unbeaten record.
The 29-year-old has been ruled out of the start of the 2019 Championship through injury but with former Leicester Tigers boss Steve Borthwick at the helm, it would come as no surprise to see Ford pulling the strings upon his return to fitness.