Great No.8s of the Six Nations era

Over the 20 years since Italy joined the Championship, the Guinness Six Nations has provided countless magical moments, stunning tries and special players.

Over the 20 years since Italy joined the Championship, the Guinness Six Nations has provided countless magical moments, stunning tries and special players.

And as we head into the 2020 Guinness Six Nations, it feels like the perfect time to reflect on those players who have had the biggest impact on the last two decades.

In the build-up to the opening match between Grand Slam champions Wales and Italy, we are counting down some of the best players to have graced the Championship.

Today it’s the turn of rugby’s powerhouses as we look at the players who have shone at No8.

In alphabetical order:

Sébastien Chabal (FRANCE)

A veteran of seven Championships and a 2010 Grand Slam winner, Sébastien Chabal is a worthy name to get this list started.

Seven of his 21 Championship outings came at No.8 and he impressed most in the role during France’s 2007 triumph.

That campaign saw Chabal, who also operated as a lock or flanker, play three games at the back of the pack and impress throughout.

He made his mark in France’s opening game, scoring two tries as they thrashed Italy 39-3 to get their campaign off to a flying start.

From his debut back in 2000 as a clean-cut 22-year-old, to his more hirsute caveman look, there were few bigger characters than Chabal in the late 2000s.

Lawrence Dallaglio (ENGLAND)

With a Five Nations and then three Guinness Six Nations victories to his name, it is fair to say Wasps legend Lawrence Dallaglio has enjoyed playing in the Championship.

Dallaglio was a key member of the England side which dominated between 2000 and 2003 as they won three out of the first four titles up for grabs.

The triumph in 2003 will go down as his sweetest, as England won the Grand Slam in the same year they would go on to taste World Cup glory.

But Dallaglio’s exploits did not stop there. The former England skipper, who could also play on the flank, played 88 times for his country until 2007, including 39 Championship appearances

Taulupe Faletau (WALES)

Taulupe Faletau was twice chosen for The British & Irish Lions and is the first name on our list still to be playing at international level.

Having made his Championship bow in 2012, Faletau has gone on to amass 31 appearances in the competition.

His arrival heralded the start of a two-year period of dominance for the Welsh as they were crowned 2012 and 2013 champions.

He won a Grand Slam at his first attempt, and immediately established himself as a fixture in the Wales back row under Warren Gatland.

The good news for Wales heading into the 2020 Guinness Six Nations is that Faletau is fit to reclaim that spot and build on his legacy.

Anthony Foley (IRELAND)

While a Triple Crown success proved to be the only silverware of his Guinness Six Nations career, Anthony Foley’s impact on Irish rugby is undoubted.

A one-club man who spent his entire professional career at Munster before going on to coach the side, Foley captained his country on three occasions.

He filled the No.8 role 30 times in the Championship and scored in the defeat of Wales as Ireland beat all three home nations in 2004.

His unexpected death in 2016 saw the Irish rugby community come together and Foley, who was just 46 when he passed away, was honoured before Ireland’s first-ever win over New Zealand.

Imanol Harinordoquy (FRANCE)

A long-term teammate of Chabal and more often than not the man who would start at No.8 across his ten-year international career.

Once again, Harinordoquy’s trophy cabinet is full to the brim and the three-time Grand Slam winner, who won four overall titles, was a mammoth of a man for France.

Only Fabien Pelous and Olivier Magne can lay claim to enjoying more success in the competition for Les Bleus, and Harinordoquy was a key figure as France won three titles between 2004 and 2007.

A dynamic, gifted ball player, Harinordoquy was also an inspirational leader even though he only captained his country once.

Jamie Heaslip (IRELAND)

Only one man, who we will get to later in this list, has played at No.8 more times than Ireland’s Jamie Heaslip in the Guinness Six Nations.

The now 36-year-old hung up his boots in 2017 after an international career which featured 95 Ireland caps and 45 appearances in the Championship.

Having made his debut in 2008, Heaslip tasted Guinness Six Nations success for the first time a year later as he helped his side win the Grand Slam.

That success was Ireland’s first since Italy joined the competition in 2000 and a first Slam in 61 years. Heaslip did not stop there, he went on to lift the trophy twice more in 2014 and 2015.

Ryan Jones (WALES)

A central figure in two of Wales’ Grand Slams, Ryan Jones wore the No.8 shirt throughout their unblemished 2008 campaign.

A second Grand Slam of his career followed in 2012 – with Jones playing as a flanker and lock as well – and he became one of the key men in Warren Gatland’s side.

Jones captained Wales on three occasions the following year as they defended their title to secure his third Championship crown.

Sergio Parisse (ITALY)

No man has played more games in the Championship than Sergio Parisse and the great Italian was for so long the glue which held his side together.

He will bring the curtain down on his international career later this year and, despite not being named in Italy’s initial Guinness Six Nations squad, he will come in for the home games later in the Championship.

Parisse has made 69 appearances in the Guinness Six Nations in total, and has collected some sweet victories along the way.

Italy’s first ever Guinness Six Nations success over Ireland in 2013 is a highlight while he played in both wins over France in 2011 and 2013, scoring a try in the latter.

Louis Picamoles (FRANCE)

While he was part of the France squad in 2010, Louis Picamoles failed to make an appearance as Les Bleus secured the Grand Slam and the most recent of their Guinness Six Nations trophies.

The retirement of Harinordoquy allowed Picamoles to emerge as France’s regular No.8 and he made the spot his own from 2012 onwards.

The Japan World Cup last year proved to be Picamoles’ last tournament for France as he called time on his international career with 33 Championship outings under his belt.

Scott Quinnell (WALES)

The 1994 Five Nations provided Scott Quinnell with his finest hour across the Championship’s full history.

He played in each of Wales’ games that year, scoring a try and making an excellent break to assist another in a man of the match performance as Wales beat France 24-15.

Quinnell’s longevity ensured he remained a fixture in the Wales side after the turn of the millennium and he featured in the Guinness Six Nations from 2000 until 2002.

Simon Taylor (SCOTLAND)

For nine years Simon Taylor owned the Scotland No.8 jersey as he accumulated 30 Guinness Six Nations caps.

Winner of the 2002-2003 Scotland Player of the Year award Taylor was known as a formidable tackler.

He served evidence of his appetite for the game when facing Clive Woodward’s fine-tuned England team as he made 23 tackles across one match in 2003.

No Scot has played in the No.8 role as many times as Taylor has in the Championship.

Billy Vunipola (ENGLAND)

England’s 2016 triumph owed much to the brilliance of Billy Vunipola and he produced a string of superb displays to emerge as their key man.

The powerful No.8 was awarded man of the match in meetings with Scotland, Ireland and France and played every game as England claimed the Grand Slam.

A year later, Vunipola scooped more silverware as England retained their title and, after missing out in 2018 through injury, he played every game last year.