The Wales and British and Irish Lions great looks back on the 2024 Championship, and casts an eye ahead to Wales’ future and a potential Lions leader.

Who was your Player of the Championship? I was really impressed with Italy’s outside centre, Nacho Rex, especially towards the tail end of Championship. But I have to go for Ben Earl, just for his consistency and how dynamic he is with and without the ball in that contact area. He was excellent, and a vital player for England throughout the whole tournament. I’m reluctant to call what he does ‘highlight moments’, because that would suggest he doesn’t do the nitty-gritty - which he does - but he produced some huge moments this year.

Try of the Championship? The best set play move I saw was the one they ran against Wales, which was scored by their fullback, Lorenzo Pani. But for me, it was scrum-half Nolann Le Garrec’s try against England. France turned the lineout over and Le Garrec puts the pass in inside his own 22 in one corner, and then he scores in the opposite corner. Just watching his workrate off the ball, where he takes a positive line down the field, not just hoping but expecting his teammates to break the line. It’s great foresight for him to think, ‘the boys are going to get down there’ - and he got his reward for his hard work.

Who stepped up the most for Wales in 2024? Aaron Wainwright. He worked really hard. He was constantly with his hands on the ball in attack, and he was physical throughout the whole tournament. He was definitely a positive for Wales during the Six Nations.

Who would you have liked to have seen more of this year? Le Garrec. He came to the fore towards the end of the tournament, off the back of playing well for Racing for a couple of years now. A huge amount had been said about Antoine Dupont not being there and what a loss he would be to France, but when Le Garrec had couple of starts he showed that he’s a player and potentially could compete for that number nine jersey in the future. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it was great to see the confidence he had, having had very little time on the international stage. I can’t wait to see more of him play.

Did we begin to see the blueprint for this new Wales team? It’s probably too soon to say. We talked at the start of the Championship about Wales finding their identity and what they want to become, and I don’t feel they know quite in which direction they want to go. That will take time, but what’s a positive is that a lot of young players have been exposed to the top level and seen what’s required to be one of the best teams. So for me, it’s about learning from that now, and not resting on the ‘this is a young team in development’ line. They have to push on and put a marker down on this summer tour because it’s important that they don’t have this confidence drain over a prolonged period of time. I remember in 2012 when we went on a loss of eight or nine games. It was tough going. However, we were fortunate that our team had experience of winning as well, so it’s going to be interesting to see where things go with this Welsh team.

Will Ireland do the triple in 2025? It would be interesting to see the dynamic with Andy Farrell going away to fulfil his Lions commitments, but Ireland do have a very, very settled squad. Another year older, another year more experienced. I think England showed that they’re a team on the up, though. They got better and better the more they were playing, and they’ll look to build on that over the next twelve months. We see this year how competitive the teams in this Championship can be, but what Ireland showed was an ability to turn up week in, week out and get the results that were needed. A few teams showed a lot of promise at the start then faded away, or came good at the end. It’s all about starting fast and staying ahead of the game, and Ireland do that really, really well.

What was your favourite moment? Italy’s win against Scotland. They’ve endured some lean years, and the emotion they showed at the full-time whistle was moving. It reminds you how good the game is when you get those wins after you’ve all worked so hard and been on the same mission. It’s why everyone loves the game. I was lucky during my Six Nations career that we were successful, and it wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate every win, but we were familiar with that winning feeling. When a team like Italy doesn’t, and when they do finally get experience of a big Test win, that emotion was good to see after they’d given everything for that win.

Who would you like to see more of at the Test level? Joe Roberts, my teammate at the Scarlets. With George North retiring from international rugby, that number thirteen shirt is up for grabs. If he can get a run of games and find form, he could make that spot his and be successful in it.

Who might Andy Farrell choose as his Lions captain on the basis of the 2024 Championship? The way Jamie George handled himself throughout the tournament, on and off the field, was a credit to him. He has a huge amount of experience from two previous tours, and Andy has worked with him before.

How do you think Wales will fare this summer in Australia? It’s going to be hard. I think they have to decide what they want to be: if they’re going to go down this young route and expose these boys to the highest level and get them used to it, building for the next World Cup. Australia are in the same boat as well; you’ve got two teams in that transition period. It’ll be an interesting tour. I hope that we can be competitive. I want to see this Wales team be successful, so fingers crossed they can build on what they’ve learnt, and understand where they want to go.