50 Days To Go: The ultimate Guinness Six Nations half-century XV

The Guinness Six Nations kicks off in exactly 50 days with the opening game pitting the returning Warren Gatland and Wales against the world’s number one side Ireland.

The Guinness Six Nations kicks off in exactly 50 days with the opening game pitting the returning Warren Gatland and Wales against the world’s number one side Ireland.

The 2023 Championship should be an absolute cracker, with a World Cup just around the corner to add extra spice.

So to celebrate the opening weekend being 50 days away, we have put together a XV of the best players to have made 50 appearances in the Championship.

And even in an era of increased international rugby, that is a landmark that requires playing every Championship match for a decade, so this list is really a collection of the elite both in terms of performance and longevity.

In all, 25 men have achieved this feat, and that list has been whittled down to a formidable XV.

15 Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

A two-time Guinness Six Nations Player of the Championship, Stuart Hogg somehow already has 51 Championship appearances to his name while still only 30. Scotland’s all-time record try-scorer has been a virtual ever-present since his debut in 2012 and will be as important as ever for Gregor Townsend’s side going into 2023. Hogg looks a strong contender to end his career as the Championship’s all-time appearance leader.

14 Chris Paterson (Scotland)

When putting together a dream XV, having a player like Chris Paterson, who shone on the biggest stage in three different positions, is very welcome. One of the game’s very best goal-kickers, Paterson was ahead of his time in some ways, capable of playing across the back three before also getting a chance at fly-half. Over the course of a 12-year international career, he wrote his name into Scottish rugby history and is still their all-time record points scorer.

13 Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland)

Who else but the Championship’s all-time record try-scorer in the No.13 jersey? Brian O’Driscoll announced himself on the world stage with a hat-trick in Paris and it was all uphill from there. Arguably Ireland’s greatest-ever player, he finally got the title his career deserved when leading his country to a Grand Slam in 2009 – their first in 61 years. As well as everything else he achieved, O’Driscoll also won Player of the Championship on three occasions – a record.

12 Philippe Sella (France)

Slight positional cheating, as Philippe Sella was probably more of a 13 – and even played on the wing for France – but he was so good, he could have started anywhere. The first man to play 100 Tests, Sella is one of two players in this team who played his career entirely in the Five Nations era. That makes his 50 Championship appearances all the more remarkable, playing every game from 1983 to 1995. In that time he won a Grand Slam in 1987, as well as five further titles, including in 1986 when he also scored a try in every game.

11 Rory Underwood (England)

Like Sella, Rory Underwood only featured in the Five Nations, and England’s all-time record try-scorer was a constant threat for more than a decade. Underwood won a hat-trick of Grand Slams in the early 1990s, and his 18 Championship tries are the most of any English player in the competition’s history. In this team, you can be sure that he would be on the end of plenty of chances.

10 Johnny Sexton (Ireland)

One of the toughest calls, with predecessor Ronan O’Gara and Wales legend Stephen Jones also eligible for inclusion. In the end though, we cannot leave out the current Ireland skipper Johnny Sexton who is starting to rival O’Driscoll as Ireland’s greatest of all time. The 2023 edition should see Sexton overtake Jonny Wilkinson and O’Gara at the top of the all-time points tally, trailing his compatriot who leads the way by 26 points. At 37, Sexton just seems to be getting better and better, although this will be his final campaign, so we should enjoy him while we can.

9 Ben Youngs (England)

Ben Youngs has already started one Test alongside Sexton – for the British & Irish Lions in Australia in 2013. He slots into this team as England’s record appearance holder and the only scrum-half with 50 Championship appearances. Considering how physically demanding it is to play No.9 – and not just on the vocal chords – it is a remarkable achievement for Youngs, who was part of the England side that won the Grand Slam in 2016.

1 Gethin Jenkins (Wales)

A flanker in a prop’s body, Gethin Jenkins was a cheat code for Warren Gatland, who was effectively able to field four back-rowers by starting the loosehead prop. One of a very select group of Welshmen to have won three Grand Slams, Jenkins was Wales’ most-capped player when he retired and also went on three British & Irish Lions Tours. His try in Ireland in 2005 was one of the abiding memories of Wales’ first Grand Slam of the 21st century.

2 Rory Best (Ireland)

Over the course of 15 years at the highest level, Rory Best went from battling with Jerry Flannery for the Ireland No.2 jersey to captaining his country to a Grand Slam. A four-time Six Nations winner, Best had taken the top job as he led the side to a clean sweep in 2018, capping it off with a victory against England at Twickenham in the snow.

3 Martin Castrogiovanni (Italy)

A big man and an even bigger personality, Martin Castrogiovanni was instantly recognisable with his bushy beard and flowing locks. But make no mistake, he was not just a colourful character, Castro was among the very best tightheads in the world for more than a decade at the highest level with Italy. Between 2003 and 2016, Castrogiovanni made at least one appearance in every edition of the Six Nations and notched five tries over that time.

4 Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)

The most capped rugby player of all time, Alun Wyn Jones has done it all for Wales since breaking into the side in 2006. A three-time Grand Slam champion, he was one late Brice Dulin try away from joining Jason Leonard, Fabien Pelous and Olivier Magne in the even more select four-Grand Slam club since World War II. Still going strong, Jones could equal the great Sergio Parisse at the top of the Championship appearance list if he features in every game in 2023.

5 Paul O’Connell (Ireland)

The heartbeat of the Ireland pack while O’Driscoll pulled the strings in the backs, everything good about Ireland in the 2000s tended to stem from Paul O’Connell’s intensity. A lineout expert with relentless work-rate, he was a natural leader who was effectively a captain even on those occasions when he did not officially have the armband. A three-time Championship winner, including the Grand Slam in 2009, his finest moment may have come in 2015 when he inspired Ireland to the title on the most super of Super Saturdays.

6 Alessandro Zanni (Italy)

Less heralded than some of his Italian teammates, but few players were more influential than Alessandro Zanni. He broke into the side in 2005 and was still going in 2020, swapping the back row for the second row. But it was on the flank that he was most effective, the perfect foil for Sergio Parisse, while still having little touches of magic.

7 Martyn Williams (Wales)

For one half of rugby alone, Martyn Williams had to make this team. In 2005 in Paris, he helped Wales turn a game on its head with two tries that were probably the most crucial of all in the first Grand Slam in 37 years. The ultimate link-up man, Williams was always on the shoulder and his ginger hair was conspicuous by how often he would pop up.

8 Sergio Parisse (Italy)

No one has played more Guinness Six Nations matches than Sergio Parisse – a remarkable achievement considering he has not even featured since the 2019 World Cup. With 69 caps – all starts – Parisse has been the face of Italian rugby for almost their entire existence in the Championship. As gifted as any player to have picked up a rugby ball, Parisse played at No.8 but had the skillset to play any position on the park.