Andy Nicol: My Greatest XV

It has now been two decades since Italy joined the Guinness Six Nations and the Championship has provided countless memorable moments in that time.

It has now been two decades since Italy joined the Guinness Six Nations and the Championship has provided countless memorable moments in that time.

As we reflect on the past 20 years, we are asking some of the great players who have played a part to select their Greatest XV.

And today we have former Scotland scrum-half Andy Nicol, who won 23 caps between 1992-2002 and today works on the Guinness Six Nations as a pundit for BBC Sport.

You can join in too on the Guinness Six Nations app where you can pick your own ultimate team and compare it to Nicol’s Greatest XV below.

15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

I need to get a Scotsman in here, don’t I! And so Stuart is my full-back and I think justifiably. Scotland have not been brilliant through his international career – although they have certainly had their moments – but he’s scored a bucket of tries, and some really special ones to boot. There is a sense of excitement when he touches the ball, just like there was for Jason Robinson in his day. Both did special things with it, and for that individualism I’m going for Hoggy.

14. Shane Williams (Wales)

Shane contrasts sharply with my other winger, George North, but they both share an incredible instinct for scoring tries. Shane is a small guy but he made the most of what he had and became the Championship’s best winger for a while – and maybe Wales’ best ever. What a player.

13. Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland)

One of the all-time greats, a Lions captain and the Championship’s all-time leading try-scorer. Need I say more?

12. Yannick Jauzion (France)

Yannick was a Rolls-Royce of a centre and I always thought he and Brian would fit to well together. They have everything ticked off, for me. Yannick was a smooth player and very classy.

11. George North (Wales)

It’s amazing to think George is still only 28! He’s been around for a decade and that’s a great testament to how much of an impact he made as a teenager. He really hit the ground running and has managed to maintain a great try record. He’s got more years ahead of him, and a lot more tries.

10. Jonny Wilkinson (England)

Jonny is the obvious choice but I also considered Johnny Sexton because of the influence he has had for so long with Ireland. But Jonny was so good so young, and managed to keep producing it at the top for more than a decade. He also won a World Cup in the last minute, so that deserves to get him in too!

9. Rob Howley (Wales)

Conor Murray and Mike Phillips were both close here, but I am going back to my generation a bit with Rob Howley. At his pomp, he was just class. I played against him at school and he was the best player on the pitch. He had a great international career too and then excelled as a coach. An all-round top player.

1. Gethin Jenkins (Wales)

I think he’s the stand-out loosehead. His career started in the early 2000s but he was such a modern prop and was so much more than just a good scrummager. There are a number of French props I could have gone for and then Scotland’s Tom Smith as well, he was just phenomenal and is of course fighting the good fight right [against cancer] now. There are a lot of contenders here but Gethin stands out for me.

2. Keith Wood (Ireland)

Keith retired in 2003 and was perhaps more of a Five Nations player but he was so good, he just has to get in. I have got to know Keith very well, through our work covering the Guinness Six Nations on the BBC and he is a great guy. In lockdown, I have seen a lot of the older matches and it’s really reminded me just how good he was. If it came to trophies, Rory Best would probably be in ahead of Keith, but I have erred towards players from my generation.

3. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)

This is perhaps my most modern choice but what a player he is. He’s a powerful scrummager, dangerous in the loose and then also great in defence. It’s a position that has changed greatly in the last 20 years but Tadhg is the outstanding one for me. Martin Castrogiovanni needs a mention here and is unlucky to miss out.

4. Martin Johnson (England)

Where do you start with lock? Alun Wyn Jones and Fabien Pelous deserves honourable mentions here but my first man has to be Martin Johnson. I played Scottish schools stuff against Johnno in 1987 and he was a tough guy to play against then – and he didn’t change a bit. A Grand Slam-winning captain, two-time Lions skipper and a World Cup winner – just incredible.

5. Paul O’Connell (Ireland)

I thought about some of the current players, like Maro Itoje and James Ryan, here but Paul O’Connell was a titan in the second row. His longevity and consistency make him one of Ireland’s best ever I think and he also won a few Championships to boot.

6. Richard Hill (England)

There are some blindsides who it may look like did more in their careers or had bigger impacts, but Richard Hill was consistently excellent in everything he did. It didn’t matter where a match was, or if England were playing well or losing, he would never ever let you down. An understated player, but a great one nonetheless.

7. Thierry Dusautoir (France)

Sam Warburton was so so close here, as was Sean O’Brien. But Thierry was just a machine. France have had some magnificent flankers, such as Serge Betsen and Olivier Magne, but for me Thierry is the king. Amazing over the ball, so strong, a powerful runner…just a superb all-round player.

8. Sergio Parisse (Italy)

He’s probably Italy’s best-ever player but I still think Sergio Parisse is underrated. Lawrence Dallaglio and Billy Vunipola came into my thinking here, as did Simon Taylor, but Sergio is the cream of the crop. He’s one of the best ever, he’s that good. He has that rare ability to lift an entire team and he’s been a great servant to Italian rugby.

Check out other players’ Greatest XVs below:

Tommy Bowe

Lee Byrne

Mark Cueto

Gordon D’Arcy

David Flatman and Tom Shanklin

Jamie Heaslip

Kenny Logan

Andrea Masi

Mike Phillips

Tim Visser