Mick Cleary is the Telegraph’s rugby union correspondent and has been covering international rugby for nearly 30 years.
He picks out the favourite men and moments from the 2014 RBS 6 Nations and his team of the tournament.
15 – Full-back
Probably the easiest decision in this team. What a tournament he’s had, topping nearly all the most important attacking stats. He took his two tries so well in Rome, he constantly runs great lines and nearly always beats his first man. Oh yes, and he can finish too – four tries to finish joint-top scorer.
14 – Wing
Even though the French had a poor Championship, the big, bearded Huget has been one of their few consistent performers. He makes his presence felt all over the field and his impact against England, when he touched down two tries in the first 15 minutes, ultimately decided the Championship title.
13 – Outside centre
It’s not a sentimental choice by any means – he’s genuinely played brilliantly in this Championship. He hasn’t been allowed a Sachin Tendulkar-like final circuit to milk the applause while not being in top form. He’s really worked hard for Ireland and, even at 35, still unleashes those jaw-dropping off-loading skills, as we witnessed against Italy. He was only on for an hour and yet he won the man-of-the-match award. He’ll be sorely missed.
An honourable mention to Luther Burrell, who pushed O’Driscoll close. He’s been a real find for England. We were told he’s not a natural 13 but didn’t look out of his place at outside centre.
12 – Inside centre
Mike Brown’s blossoming has a fair bit to do with Billy Twelvetrees’ footballing skills, deception and ability to bring runners into the line. He’s not the flashiest of players and stuttered at the start of his England career, but he’s brought more out of fly-half Owen Farrell in the line this year.
11 – Wing
Even though he’s been on the scene for a while now, I thought Trimble has really emerged as a player of note these past seven weeks. He was terrific in Paris; looking for work, coming in off his wing and making the hard yards. Someone who has disappointed is George North, who was poor against England. When he doesn’t play well it really stands out, we’re just not used to it.
10 – Fly-half
It’s a very close call as Farrell has been one of England’s most improved players, but I will go with the Irishman, who is the market leader at 10. He was terrific in Paris on Saturday, he’s rediscovered that Lions form following a slump of sorts at Racing Metro. He had a couple of blemishes with his goal kicking but his attacking play was second to none, rounded off with two excellent tries.
9 – Scrum-half
Another easy decision. The Quins scrum-half is well ahead of the field. He’s been consistent all the way through the Championship and crucially scored decisive points when England needed them. He’s always had real devil in his game but he’s matured, while his kicking game and decision-making skills have improved considerably. He and Farrell have struck up an excellent partnership, which bodes well for 2015.
1 – Loose-head prop
He’s been a real force for Ireland this year. OK, he was fortune to get away with an attack of the red mist against France, but it’s in the scrum where his game has been outstanding. They’ve suffered at the set-piece over the past few years, but they’ve got a solid, dependable front row who made life difficult for all their opponents.
2 – Hooker
In a position that was a tight battle with Tom Youngs going into the Championship, it’s Hartley who’s come out with clear water. His line-out throwing has been fantastic throughout the tournament and his contribution around the field has been typically robust. Again, he’s another who has matured – 10 months ago he was having a disciplinary meltdown at Twickenham that cost him a place on the Lions tour to Australia.
3 – Tight-head prop
Again, another position where nobody in particular has stood out. Dan Cole missed half of the tournament with injury, while Adam Jones didn’t have his finest tournament for Wales. With that in mind, I would go for Ireland’s Mike Ross for the same reasons as Healy. The Irish scrum was a solid, dependable platform.
4 – Second row
This young man is such an impressive character. He’s got real presence and, off the field, he reminds me of the great John Eales (nicknamed Nobody – as in “nobody’s perfect”) in terms of his temperament and his will to succeed. His athletic abilities have also come to the fore, most notably the crucial tap-tackle on Dave Kearney in the final minutes of England’s win over Ireland at Twickenham.
5 – Second row
It would be tempting to go for Courtney Lawes as his partnership with Joe Launchbury has been really important for England, adding another dimension with his line-out leadership. But I have to go with Paul O’Connell, the mainstay of Ireland’s pack for so many years and he’s still there, as good as ever.
6 – Flanker
This fella has really made his mark considering Ireland have been without the dynamic Stephen Ferris. He’s a real leader who could be Ireland captain in a few years when O’Connell steps down. England’s Tom Wood also had an excellent tournament, evoking memories of the great Richard Hill, just getting on with his tasks.
7 – Flanker
To those who say he’s not a natural number seven – he’s been there for England these past two years so he must be doing something right in Stuart Lancaster’s eyes. He continually tops the tackle counts and has led with verve and real tenacity. It’s about time he gets the credit he deserves.
8 – Number 8
This is a tricky one. If Billy Vunipola had not been injured he would’ve taken that slot, although Ben Morgan played very well as his replacement. Louis Picamole’s indiscipline and strange French selections mean he didn’t play all the way through at the back of the scrum, while Scotland’s David Denton had a good tournament despite being inexplicably left out against Italy. However, I’ll give it to Parisse, he’s still the best number 8 in the tournament.
Player of the tournament – MIKE BROWN
Match of the tournament – FRANCE v WALES
England v Ireland was a terrific game but the finale in Paris had everything, made the more tense because France managed to put in a determined performance at home, something they haven’t shown all tournament. It had it all; forward passes, missed penalties, fairytale endings…
Try of the tournament – DANNY CARE v IRELAND
Another tricky one but Care’s score against Ireland was such an important try, getting England back to where they needed to be. There was fantastic interlinking with Mike Brown, once again proving why he was the best player of the Championship.
Moment of the tournament – BRIAN O’DRISCOLL’S FAIRYTALE FINALE
The sight of O’Driscoll finishing on a world record 141 caps is just remarkable. It would not have done him justice if he had retired with only one RBS 6 Nations title to his name.