Breakthrough players in the 2023 Guinness Six Nations

A spellbinding and stirring seven weeks of Guinness Six Nations action has drawn to a close which saw us raise a glass to old faces and say hello to some new names.

A spellbinding and stirring seven weeks of Guinness Six Nations action has drawn to a close which saw us raise a glass to old faces and say hello to some new names.

We may not have a new name on the trophy but Andy Farrell became the latest head coach to win a Championship after his Ireland side completed just a fourth Grand Slam in their history.

Across the board, there were a host of relatively unfamiliar names who caught the eye.

Here, we have picked out six players who seized their opportunity with both hands, and who will no doubt be back next year in a bid to raise their game even further. These players are a mix of total newcomers, and others who have changed their status by virtue of their performances over the course of the Championship.

Ryan Baird (Ireland)

Breaking into a side as dominant as Ireland is no easy task but Ryan Baird has done so seamlessly this spring.

Of course, Baird has been around for a while now – this was his third Championship – but he amassed more minutes in this year’s campaign than he did in either of the previous two.

That said, he had to wait for his chance this time round and it was not until the Round 3 victory over Italy that we were reminded of his awesome athleticism.

The lock made an instant impact at Stadio Olimpico, winning a telling turnover within minutes of taking to the field as a second-half replacement, one which helped Ireland into a 27-20 lead.

Baird was introduced much earlier at BT Murrayfield after an injury to Iain Henderson but you would not have known that Ireland had lost one of their most experienced stars.

He more than held his own in a full-blooded Test match, chipping in with a couple of calm and composed restart wins as well as a few big carries.

A dream Championship for Baird then concluded with another composed showing in the Grand Slam decider against England, as he became a Guinness Six Nations winner for the first time.

Ethan Dumortier (France)

Nobody scored more tries than Gabin Villière in last year’s campaign so it came as a blow when the France winger was ruled out on the eve of the Championship.

Step forward Ethan Dumortier, who prior to Round 1 was the top try-scorer in this year’s Top 14.

He carried that fine club form into his international debut in Round 1, scoring from a perfectly weighted cross-field kick from fly-half Romain Ntamack.

Like many of his teammates, he found the going a little tougher in Dublin the following week, though there were a couple of eye-catching moments including a crucial breakout in the second half which eased the pressure on his side at a time when they were under the pump.

He then notched his second Test score in Round 3, making the most of some quick hands for a simple touchdown against Scotland.

And he played his part in France’s historic win over England too, with a perfectly timed pass to set Thomas Ramos away for the opening score of the afternoon.

Villière will have a tough time wrestling that shirt back off the 22-year-old.

Ben White (Scotland)

Ben White made an immediate impact on his Guinness Six Nations debut with a try on the opening day last year but minutes were hard to come by for the Scot thereafter.

The scrum-half’s record against England now stands two from two – for tries per game and for wins after another decisive Calcutta Cup contribution this year.

He took his try superbly well at Twickenham, evading Ben Curry and Freddie Steward with a neat bit of foot work before stretching over for Scotland’s third and momentum-changing score.

Only a few months ago there were huge questions over Scotland’s half-back positions and the best possible partnership.

That debate has been laid to rest with White and Finn Russell now the undisputed combination and one which led Scotland to a first top three finish since 2018.

Lewis Ludlam (England)

With a new head coach there were plenty of positions up for grabs in the England side.

Lewis Ludlam was in and out of the team under Eddie Jones but now looks to be a vital cog in Steve Borthwick’s side, having started all five matches in the 2023 Guinness Six Nations.

He performed well throughout but his best performance came when England ended a six-year wait for a win in Wales.

His tally of 16 tackles at Principality Stadium, three of which were dominant, underlines his defensive excellence and he and fellow flanker Jack Willis have been two of the shining lights in a difficult campaign for England.

Borthwick laid down the gauntlet prior to the Championship, asking Ludlam to show grit and determination in the absence of Tom Curry and he did just that.

Dafydd Jenkins (Wales)

Alun Wyn Jones has not left the stage for good just yet but in Dafydd Jenkins, the Welsh engine room has a solid operator on standby.

Pre-Championship, the clamour was for Christ Tshiunza to partner Adam Beard in the second row, but Jenkins emerged top of the class from a talented school of young locks, with his Chiefs colleague used in the back row instead.

He looked bright on the opening day against Ireland from the replacements bench with one storming run and was rewarded with a start in Edinburgh, though his inexperience showed a little against Scotland old-timer Richie Gray.

At just 20 there are bound to be a few more tough days ahead but his showing in Rome was promising, making an impact in clear-outs while also looking solid at the set-piece.

Nicknamed ‘Baby Horse’ as the son of a former player nicknamed Crazy Horse, Jenkins has all the makings of a Test animal.

Tommaso Menoncello (Italy)

Tommaso Menoncello’s maiden Guinness Six Nations was cruelly cut short by injury and so there was much excitement on the continent ahead of his second run at the Championship.

The biggest question was where Menoncello would play in the back line, having previously starred on the wing and in the centres for club side Benetton.

After starting on the wing, a reshuffle saw Italy boss Kieran Crowley hand the 20-year-old the keys to the midfield.

Menoncello was kept relatively quiet by Ireland and Wales, his first two Test starts in the No.12 shirt, but he did have some excellent moments with ball in hand.

Such is the threat he poses, a lot of defences have sought to shut him down quickly, something France did to great effect in Round 1.

As he matures, he will inevitably find a way to outsmart the opposition and he is sure to have learnt a great deal during his four starts before an injury kept him out of Round 5.

Honourable mentions

Ollie Chessum was another English forward who impressed, and the second row looks set to be a key figure during the Steve Borthwick era, while Ollie Lawrence also seized his opportunity in the midfield.

From a Welsh perspective, Joe Hawkins and Rio Dyer both started on four occasions for a team that was heavily rotated throughout the campaign, which suggests that both will feature on a regular basis during Warren Gatland’s second reign.

Dan Sheehan’s first Championship as Ireland’s undisputed first-choice hooker was a roaring success, capped off with two tries in the Grand Slam decider.

Elsewhere, Scotland’s Jack Dempsey impressed during his first Guinness Six Nations, while Pierre Bruno capped a solid campaign for Italy with a nomination for Try of the Championship, and teammate Lorenzo Cannone looks to have nailed down the No.8 jersey for the immediate future.