Flats and Shanks: Our Greatest Six Nations XV

It’s been 20 years since Italy joined the Five Nations to create the Six Nations we know and love today, with many players etching their name into Championship folklore in that time.

It’s been 20 years since Italy joined the Five Nations to create the Six Nations we know and love today, with many players etching their name into Championship folklore in that time.

And with this year’s Championship kicking off this weekend, David Flatman and Tom Shanklin have been busy picking their greatest Guinness Six Nations team from the past 20 years.

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

The legendary England full-back, who played 24 games in the Championship, gets the first nod from both Flats and Shanks after causing defenders numerous headaches over the years.

Shanks: “Leigh Halfpenny’s been great, Mike Brown, Rob Kearney, but you don’t get a better natural attacker, more of a threat then Jason Robinson. Just unbelievable, unplayable.”


Flats: “Geordan Murphy was a hell of a player mind but I reckon if it was a world XV from the last 20 years [Robinson] would be in that as well, so he’s probably got to be in this.”

France’s explosive winger beats a whole list of illustrious names to earn his place in the team after making 30 Championship appearances – including 29 starts – over more than a decade at wing and centre.

Shanks: “Big, physical, played for many years for France. I’ve gone on a lot of players, give or take one or two that have played for a consistent amount of time, but I thought he was just phenomenal.

“Tommy Bowe came close, no doubt about that, George North, Jonny May but in terms of what he could offer I think he has to go down as one of the greats of the Guinness Six Nations.”

Not being allowed to pick themselves, former Wales centre Shanklin gracefully opts for Ireland hero Brian O’Driscoll, who holds the record for the most tries scored in the Guinness Six Nations (26).

Shanks: “Jonathan Davies at the moment is probably the best 13 in the world with [Virimi] Vakatawa and both of those came very close – Vakatawa is the best in the world.

Flats: “Brian O’Driscoll walks in doesn’t he?”

Shanks: “Has everything doesn’t he when he was playing. He could create, fast, very good in the tackle, very good jackler, great kicker, drop kicks as well. So, he has to be at 13.”

Inside centre prompted more debate for Flats and Shanks with a number of names thrown into the mix before they ultimately landed on Les Bleus centre Yannick Jauzion.

Shanks: “Gavin Henson flitted in and out but if you look probably at his campaign over the last 20 years there were moments where he was the best and moments when he didn’t want to play rugby.

“Gordon D’Arcy is another one. You’ve also got Mike Tindall, Will Greenwood, Mike Catt, quality players as well but I had to go for Yannick Jauzion.”

Flats: “Oh yeah, great shout!”

Shanks: “A farmer’s son, a farmer himself, farmer strength. I thought that he could offer everything at 12, he was slick, he could glide through tackles and just a rock in defence as well.”

Another no-brainer for the duo on the left wing as Wales sensation Shane Williams, who made 41 Championship appearances and scored 22 tries, is selected for his clinical, attacking threat.

Shanks: “I mean how can you not pick a Guinness Six Nations team of the last 20 years without including him? Him and Jason Robinson, who would be the best on the wing?”

“Luckily there is room for the two of them as Jason can play 15. You think about all the tries Shane scored because he had free rein, he could pop up anywhere.”

Johnny Sexton, Stephen Jones, Ronan O’Gara all receive honourable mentions but there is only one man who can occupy the No.10 shirt for Flats and Shanks – England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson.

Flats: “Ten is obvious, skip that.”

Shanks: “Ten, yep, obvious is…”

Flats: “Jonny Wilkinson.”

A longer debate surrounded the scrum-half position as Matt Dawson, Peter Stringer, Conor Murray, Mike Blair and Dimitri Yachvili were ultimately edged out by Mike Phillips.

Shanks: “You wanted Dimitri Yachvili and I wanted Mike Phillips. I’m picking the backs and I’ve overruled you. I think Mike Phillips was that good he could play in a different position.

“He finished I think the third Test for the Lions in the centre, that’s how versatile he was, that’s how physical, that’s his skill-range. On his day, I don’t think there’s a better scrum-half over the last 20 years than our Mike.”

Flats: “I know he’s a scrum-half and quite a big one, but a scrum-half nonetheless and he was the second strongest in the squad at one point in the Welsh squad.”

Cian Healy gets an honourable mention from Flats, as does Scotland’s Tom Smith, but Wales’ Gethin Jenkins is awarded the No.1 jersey by the pair for his all-round ability.

Flats: “There were quite a few in the running, Cian Healy was right up there, a top of the range player. If it was the last ten years I think Cian Healy would get it, but it’s not.

“In the last 20 years I think all-round, even though he wasn’t always completely dominant at scrum, but as an all-round player and an asset you cannot not pick Gethin Jenkins.”

The hardest decision came at hooker for Flats, who praised the contribution of Ireland’s Keith Wood and Rory Best before opting for France legend Guilhem Guirado.

Flats: “Hooker was the most difficult one for me. I want to put Keith Wood in but he didn’t play that many games in the Six Nations compared to some of the others.

“We love Rory Best don’t we, we love Ken Owens and Dylan Hartley, ton of caps. Luke Cowan-Dickie’s still my favourite hooker in the Six Nations, but hasn’t played that many games.

“Jamie George is one of the world’s best, but I’m going to go with Guilhem Guirado, the recently retired French captain. I think overall he has been the best hooker in the Six Nations of the last 20 years.”

Shanks: “He was a breezeblock wasn’t he in attack and defence.”

Flats put aside his national allegiance to one side after deliberating whether to select England prop Phil Vickery to instead pick Ireland’s Tadhg Furlong in the No.2 jersey.

Flats: “I should probably pick Phil Vickery because he’s great, he won the World Cup, he did everything, the Grand Slam, World Cups, just the man.

“But I feel like the guy who’s taken it to a new level is Tadhg Furlong. So I’m actually going to pick Tadhg Furlong at three. I changed my mind but it was really close.”

Who else but Alun Wyn Jones? Having guided Wales to the Grand Slam title in last year’s Guinness Six Nations, Flats awards captain fantastic a spot in the pair’s combined XV.

Flats: “Second row is easy, a piece of cake.”

Shanks: “Steve Borthwick?”

Flats: “No, I’m not going Steve Borthwick in this time because he’s my friend and I don’t want to seem biased, so Alun Wyn Jones.”

Shanks: “He sings the anthem better than anyone else, swallows the crowd when he sings it. There’s no better person to stand next to. Him and Ken Owen just dominate anthems.”

Alongside Jones, and given the captaincy by Flats, is England man mountain Martin Johnson, who made 37 Championship appearances and guided the Red Rose to the Grand Slam in 2003.

Flats: “I think you’ll agree that Martin Johnson is captain of this team isn’t he?”

Shanks: “I think with his credentials he has to be.”

Flats: “He’s captain of the team.”

Nicknamed the ‘silent assassin’, the England flanker gets the call up from Flats despite Shanks throwing up Sam Warburton, Scotland’s Jason White as other contenders for the shirt.

Flats: “I know what you are going to say but you can’t deny that I’m right, Richard Hill goes 6. It’s between him and Brian O’Driscoll for who are the best players in this team for me.”

Shanks: “The problem we’ve got now is that the modern day back row plays six and seven as well so you could look at different players who play six.”

Flats: “Hilly did both.”

Shanks: “Hilly did do both.”

The second toughest decision for Flats behind hooker came at No. 7, where the duo debated a whole cast of names before landing on 61-cap Ireland international Sean O’Brien.

Flats: “It’s the most congested position, however I feel confident that my guy was bullish, great work rate, really aggressive defender, really good jackler and made line breaks, bruising ball carrier.

“Sean O’Brien.”

Shanks: “I feel that.”

Another decision which caused Flats consternation – but while Italy heavyweight Sergio Parisse was part of the discussion, he controversially doesn’t get the nod at No.8.

Flats: “There’s so many contenders and a lot of people will instantly say Sergio Parisse. One of the players I hated playing against the most was Scott Quinnell.

“Billy Vunipola, [Jamie] Heaslip just a mega player, Taulupe Faletau and a lot of people say Sergio Parisse, but in my opinion he is a very good player but not as standout as everyone thinks.”

Shanks: “So who are you going with?”

Flats: “Lawrence Dallaglio. I would have Lawrence in my team eight days a week ahead of Sergio Parisse.”

Shanks: “Cool, I agree with you.”

Flats: “I’ve seen Lawrence in the great games playing a starring role. I’ve also seen him when it gets really mucky, horrible games and there just ain’t many blokes like Lawrence.”

Shanks: “That is a great Guinness Six Nations 20-year team.”

Flats: “That’s our team”.

Shanks: “You won’t beat it.”

If you think you can beat Flats and Shanks’ Greatest XV of the Six Nations era, download the app and pick your ultimate team