Six Nations: Matt Scott in team of the championship
A team of the Home Nations top performers was produced by tournament statisticians Accenture for The Scotsman to illustrate, for Lions purposes, the most creative, accurate and successful players from the home nations in each position in the 2013 tournament. French and Italian players would have claimed spots had it been a full championship side.
But, while there is more to selection than mere statistics, notably form and coaches’ faith, and Gatland, we can state with some confidence, will not choose that many Scots, the research does paint an intriguing picture of which players did produce the goods in key aspects of the game.
Edinburgh’s 22-year-old centre Scott came out on top of the centres as a result of his probably under-rated consistency, notably a 100 per cent passing record, accurate kicking, high number of successful tackles and their effectiveness and distances made in half-breaks and breaks.
Full-back Stuart Hogg was also very close to being the top full-back. He was pipped only by Welshman Leigh Halfpenny, with the latter’s goal-kicking record – he was the tournament’s top points-scorer with 74 – and catching of high balls coming into play, but Hogg outshone Lions rivals, England’s Alex Goode and Rob Kearney, from Ireland, on the charts.
Sean Maitland was the second-best right winger behind Alex Cuthbert, with Tim Visser behind Mike Brown and George North on the left wing.
In the pack, Ryan Grant was the second top loosehead prop, just behind Cian Healy, while Jim Hamilton and Johnnie Beattie were second best in their positions, and Richie Gray and Kelly Brown both third. The reality is that Gatland will select the core of the Welsh team on account of them having stormed back into the championship, and also because, as Wales coach, he knows those players better.
Over the next five weeks before the squad is announced, he will also have to consider players not featuring highly on the statistics charts due to injury or poor form, but who have the experience and/or ability to shine on a Lions tour.
Chief among them are Ireland pair Jonny Sexton and Brian O’Driscoll who, if fit and available – Sexton is nursing a hamstring injury and O’Driscoll awaiting a disciplinary hearing – are certain to tour. Wales flanker Justin Tipuric did not start every game for Wales, so he is not among the top opensides in the stats, but, clearly, will be in Gatland’s mind, while Scotland lock Richie Gray will not be back in action until May and so may be a late call.
Scots hooker Ross Ford was not at his best in the tournament, starting on the bench due to injury in January, but improved and his experience of the Lions in 2009 may have him among the contenders if he can finish the season strongly with Edinburgh.
So, from a Scottish perspective, Hogg and Maitland have good chances, while O’Driscoll’s selection, along with that of experienced Welshman Jamie Roberts, may rule Scott out of Gatland’s party. Grant and Beattie are also in the running, while Gray and Hamilton could be vying for a fifth lock berth and Brown, one would argue, should be taken as the best candidate to provide quality cover across the back row.
He is also a contender for the sticky position of midweek skipper, which Lions coaches tend to like to be an honour taken by a player unlikely to start the Tests, and so not demoralised at such a prospect, but with a proven ability to lead men who may be disappointed with their lot. There will be various candidates for that role, but Brown has certainly proven that he can lead players coming off disappointments.
Scotland players did not do enough in the tournament to expect a large contingent to be selected for the Lions, but then few sides did cover themselves in glory. Wales have handed Gatland the perfect opportunity to select them en masse but, in moulding a Test side around their top performers, and an important back-up squad to help to carry the Lions through to a first series victory in Australia since 1989, Gatland will need to ensure he has good, hard-working blends throughout his squad.
Hogg is one of 15 players also shortlisted for the RBS Player of the Championship, which combines fans’ votes from online polls with the Accenture stats. The final vote is open to supporters to determine which player from a shortlist of 15 should pick up the RBS Player of the 2012 RBS 6 Nations Championship award for 2013. Voting closes at midnight tonight via twitter @RBS_6_Nations.
The contenders are: Owen Farrell, Chris Robshaw (both England), Mathieu Bastareaud, Nicolas Mas, Louis Picamoles (all France), Conor Murray, Brian O’Driscoll (both Ireland), Andrea Masi, Sergio Parisse, Alessandro Zanni (all Italy), Stuart Hogg (Scotland), Dan Biggar, Leigh Halfpenny, Adam Jones, Mike Phillips (all Wales).
HOW HOME PLAYERS SHAPED UP
2013 RBS Six Nations Championship top three performers in each position from Accenture match statistics
Full-backs: L Halfpenny, S Hogg, A Goode
Right wings: A Cuthbert, S Maitland, C Gilroy
Outside centres: J Davies, M Tuilagi, B O’Driscoll
Inside centres: M Scott, B Barritt, J Roberts
Left wings: M Brown, G North, T Visser
Stand-offs: D Biggar, O Farrell, P Jackson
Scrum-halves: M Phillips, B Youngs, C Murray
Loosehead props: C Healy, R Grant, G Jenkins
Hookers: T Youngs, R Best, R Hibbard
Tighthead props: A Jones, M Ross, D Cole
Front locks: J Launchbury, M McCarthy, R Gray
Rear locks: G Parling, J Hamilton, D Ryan
Blindside flankers: P O’Mahoney, S Warburton, T Wood
Openside flankers: C Robshaw, S O’Brien, K Brown
No 8s: T Faletau, J Beattie, J Heaslip