As we enter the 20th season of the Guinness Six Nations, since it expanded from the old quintuple format in 2000, we have seen all the modern-day northern hemisphere legends compete in Rugby’s Greatest Championship.
To the start of this year’s tournament 1,001 players have taken their place either in the team or on bench in the 285 matches played so far in the prestigious event.
Of those, Italy’s Sergio Parisse stands on the cusp of setting an iconic record – currently he is level with Brian O’Driscoll with 65 appearances in the Guinness Six Nations and just one more game will take him to the top of the appearance charts.
In the days of squad rotation, a measure of both players’ value to their respective nations is that each actually started all 65 matches and were never even named on the bench during their Guinness Six Nations careers. Furthermore, Parisse has still been on the field when the final whistle has blown in 57 of those 65 appearances, missing only 59 possible minutes of playing time in the matches he has started.
Italy’s number 8 jersey must be indelibly stamped into his body, because the only time that he has worn a different shirt was number 6 in two games in 2006. To put Sergio’s achievement into some further historical context, if you look at all the Number 8s to have played in the Championship since it began in 1882, he is already 19 starts ahead of anyone else in that shirt – Jamie Heaslip being second with 44 in the middle of the back-row.
Taking a look at player performance categories then once again Parisse achieves superstar status – he’s carried the ball on 733 occasions, almost 250 clear of second placed Brian O’Driscoll.
He’s the only player to have run for over 3km with ball in hand, incredible for a forward (full-back Rob Kearney is 2nd with 2.7km). Sergio has even found time whilst attacking to beat 78 defenders, again the most of any pack member. In defence, only he and Alun Wyn Jones have racked up over 500 tackles in the history of the Guinness Six Nations.
To further emphasise his all-round attributes to Italy, his 35 turnovers are the best by a forward, and his 162 lineout wins place him in 5th spot in that particular category, just behind the gold star phalanx of specialist second rows that is Scott Murray, Marco Bortolami, Paul O’Connell and Malcolm O’Kelly.
Sergio is also a leader and should achieve a half century of appearances as Italy skipper during the 2019 Championship. He currently stands on a record 47 captaincies, six more than Brian O’Driscoll achieved for Ireland.
BREAKABLE AND UNBREAKABLE
Looking at the myriad of other Guinness Six Nations records, it would be interesting to speculate which of those could be within the sights of the class of 2019, and what others to all intents and purposes, are classed as almost unbreakable.
You would probably think that with improved defences Jonny Wilkinson’s 35 points in a single match (against Italy at Twickenham in 2001) is safe from ever being surpassed, as is Wilkinson’s 11 career drop-goals in the Championship, as that method of scoring seems to have quite literally dropped out of favour in recent years.
Greig Laidlaw starts the 2019 Championship on a run of 20 successive penalty goals kicked and it will be interesting to see if the deadshot kicker can keep banging over three-pointers towards fellow countryman Chris Paterson’s incredible mark of 36 penalty goals in a row between 2008-2011.
Brian O’Driscoll’s mark of 26 Guinness Six Nations tries appears to be safe at least for now – George North is still nine behind from the current crop of players, although Jacob Stockdale began his Championship career in a blaze of glory last year running in seven tries in his debut campaign, a tally that has only been exceeded in a debut season in the 137 year history of the Championship by England speedster Cyril Lowe way back in 1914, and surpassed Chris Ashton’s previous such best in the Guinness Six Nations with six tries in his first appearance in the championship in 2011. So if Stockdale stays fit, who knows?
Jacob has run in tries in each of his last four appearances and another would equal the Guinness Six Nations record shared by three different players – Philippe Bernat-Salles (in 2001), Shane Williams (in 2008) and George North (in 2016).
Bernat-Salles record remains unique as he scored a try in each of the five games of a single championship. Another who scored tries in each of his last four appearances in 2018 was Matteo Minozzi, but Italy will be rueing the fact that he is unfortunately one of their long-term injured as he has not played for Zebre since August.