Top 10: Guinness Six Nations Player Performances

Six Nations Ireland 19/3/2000Brian O’Driscoll©INPHO/Billy Stickland
In 22 years of Guinness Six Nations action, some of rugby’s greatest players have put on a show.

In 22 years of Guinness Six Nations action, some of rugby’s greatest players have put on a show.

With the 2023 edition of the Championship fast approaching, every player from across the continent will be eyeing up one of the most coveted prizes in the sport – the Guinness Six Nations trophy.

And to do that, they will be hoping to emulate some of the performances on this list and put on a dazzling display of defensive brilliance, try-scoring magic or pinpoint kicking to see their respective sides over the line.

Before all the action gets underway however, we look at those that have gone before and delivered performances that live long in the memory.

So, without further ado – and in no particular order – here are our top 10 individual Guinness Six Nations performances.

No top 10 list would be complete without Brian O’Driscoll, one of the greatest players to play the game, but it was in Paris in the inaugural Six Nations Championship that he really announced himself to the world.

Ireland were massive underdogs for this clash, having not beaten France in 17 years and not won in Paris since 1972.

But O’Driscoll, just 21 at the time, put on one of the greatest Guinness Six Nations performances of all time to score a sensational hat-trick.

Constantly finding space in the France defensive line, O’Driscoll scored his first try under the posts after his initial break put Ireland on the front foot. He was at it again shortly after, this time running perfectly onto Rob Henderson’s pass to score.

And to seal the hat-trick and a famous 27-25 victory, the legendary centre scooped up the ball off the floor and sprinted past two French defenders in a moment of individual genius.

England needed a hero to finally secure a long-awaited Grand Slam after numerous near misses, and in 2003, Jonny Wilkinson was that man.

England’s fly-half nailed 15 points from his boot, including two drop goals, as England went on to achieve a 42-6 win in Dublin.

But it was his control, vision and defence that were most important on the day, setting the example as England finally reached their target.

His tackle on Kevin Maggs five metres from his own try line proved to be a turning point and, on a day where the weather was far from optimal, Wilkinson ran the show with the Guardian saying: “He was like a conductor taking charge of his orchestra.”

It proved to be a rather magnificent year for Wilkinson as they went on to claim another prize eight months later…

We have all seen the famous tackle from Gavin Henson on Mathew Tait, but that was just one of several incredible momentum stopping tackles from Henson in a mesmerising performance.

His first one came after just 24 seconds to make an early statement to England how difficult this game was going to be, before making Tait’s debut a game to remember for all the wrong reasons when perfecting two tackles on the England centre to halt any possible progress.

Not content with a highlights reel in defence, he had to have one for his attacking game too, coming so close to scoring when breaking through a gap and hitting a kick from his 22 into touch five metres out from England’s try line.

Not content with that, he nailed a tough long-range penalty to hand Wales an 11-9 victory – their first over England in Cardiff for 12 years – as they went on to seal an historic Grand Slam.

Another Irish great, this was very much O’Gara in his pomp, bossing proceedings and seeing Ireland to one of their most famous victories.

The fly-half was in supreme form, cancelling out Wilkinson’s kicks and then some, taking his total for the game to 21 points, with five penalties and three conversions and a 100% kicking record.

As any great fly-half does, he bossed proceedings for his side, putting them in all the right areas and spotting the gaps.

This was done most notably when finding Shane Horgan with a simply perfect cross kick to score in the corner and his brilliance on the day saw Ireland to a breath-taking 43-13 win.

When you talk about blowing a team away, Vincent Clerc’s first half hat-trick against Ireland in Paris should be given as a prime example.

In just 21 minutes, he took the game completely away from Ireland in front of a buoyant crowd. His first was simply raw speed, racing past two Ireland defenders to run on to Jean-Baptiste Elissalde’s box kick into space.

He quickly followed that up in the same corner, finishing off a well worked move down the blindside and running on to David Skrela’s pass for his second.

Not content with two though, Clerc’s positioning was again perfect when receiving Cedric Heymans’ pass to cut inside Rob Kearney and seal the hat-trick in style.

Ireland came back to some degree in the second half, but Clerc’s hat-trick ensured France won 26-21 in a show of true finishing.

From one tale of legendary finishing to another, Chris Ashton went one up on Clerc for both the number of tries and the style of his dive.

The iconic ‘Ashsplash’ was in full flow at Twickenham as England enjoyed one of their best days under Martin Johnson, and it took just three minutes for the Premiership record try scorer to dive under the posts.

His second was far less stylish but no less impressive, showing his excellent support lines he has perfected over the years and finishing from close range after Shontayne Hape’s break.

His third showed great awareness, picking up the ball from the base of the ruck and diving under the posts to seal a hat-trick, before again showing his excellent support lines and his sheer desire to score tries when getting on to Matt Banahan’s inside ball to splash over for his fourth as England pulled off a 59-13 win.

Exactly one month after that disappointment for the Azzurri came one of their best ever results, and Mirco Bergamasco’s immaculate boot was the difference between the two sides.

France, Grand Slam winners 12 months before and World Cup finalists later that year, were considerable favourites to continue their perfect Six Nations run against Italy and they led 18-6 with just over 20 minutes to play.

But Italy were determined and through Andrea Masi’s try and three more Bergamasco penalties they landed a famous 22-21 win in Rome.

Bergamasco nailed 17 points from the tee including two high pressure kicks from far out near the touch line to help Italy create history – talk about composure!

Wales faced a Grand Slam decider with France in Cardiff in what was sure to be a tense affair but Dan Lydiate’s defensive masterclass saw Wales home safely to a 16-9 win and a third Grand Slam in seven years.

His chop tackle technique was on full flow in Cardiff and it was from a trademark Lydiate chop that Wales’ sole try came.

He chopped Thierry Dusautoir, allowing Alun Wyn Jones to get over the ball and turn it over, before acting as scrum-half quickly to get the ball through the hands and wide to Alex Cuthbert who ran in for a key score.

That was one of many of those on a truly special afternoon and a real exhibition of low tackling from Lydiate, who was understandably awarded Player of the Match.

From a defensive masterclass to playmaking brilliance, Finn Russell was at his world-class best when pulling Scotland back from the brink against England at Twickenham.

It had been a nightmare first half for Scotland, who trailed 31-0 shortly before the break but Russell turned it on in the second half to earn Scotland a memorable 38-38 draw in one of the greatest Guinness Six Nations matches of all time.

It was his pass that put Sam Johnson through a gap for Darcy Graham’s first try, while Graham’s second came following a simply ridiculous Russell pass over seemingly the whole English defensive line.

His vision in attack is even active when Scotland are defending and it was Russell himself who picked out Owen Farrell’s pass and raced away to level the scores under the posts.

Scorer then turned creator once more, putting Johnson through a hole yet again with a perfect flat pass to give Scotland the lead.

They could not hold on as George Ford went over late on to save a draw for England, but it was a sublime second half showing from Russell.

It may be too early to call Dupont a Guinness Six Nations legend, but as a two-time Player of the Championship he must be close and based on this showing alone he will go down in folklore.

Everything France do well seems to run through Dupont, and it was no different in Rome, with the scrum half getting four try assists and a try of his own as France ran out 50-10 winners.

His first assist may have been a simple pass to Dylan Cretin but his second was far more eye catching, putting in a simply outstanding chip through for Gaël Fickou to run onto as France began pulling away.

France’s third was once again composed by Dupont, hacking a loose ball downfield, before running on to Gabin Villiere’s pass and finding Arthur Vincent with a lovely offload over the left shoulder.

The fifth try saw Dupont get one for himself, running in a simple try after showing a perfect inside support line and receiving Teddy Thomas’ pass with nothing but grass ahead of him.

His fourth assist saw him return the favour, finding Thomas out wide after a Matthieu Jalibert break and capping one of the all-time great performances.