Six Nations 2014: 10 Players Whose Reputations Suffered
We have applauded the best; now it's time to look at the other end of the scale.
The Six Nations was electrified by some world-class performances, but there were some leading lights who shone less brightly.
Players we have seen some scintillating stuff from down the years simply had a stinker for one reason or another, and they go back to their clubs with points to prove if they want their places on their respective summer tours.
These are the men who had a tournament to forget.
1. Jonny May
This live wire looked threatening with his scampering darts off his wing in the championship.
But as we moved through the rounds, it seemed as though his eye-catching bursts were not enough.
England need their wings to start scoring tries, and between them May and Jack Nowell managed one, a walk-in for the Exeter man against a downtrodden Italy.
May, on the other hand, fluffed the chance of a lifetime against Ireland and never got as close as that again.
With the partnership between Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell working so well in the midfield, there are signs that Stuart Lancaster may well be considering deploying Manu Tuilagi on the wing.
That could mean May’s spot is under threat.
Had he filled his boots with five-pointers in an England side that has shown more attacking threat than any other since 2003, May would have made himself harder to shift. But he didn’t.
2. Rhys Priestland
It was a poor tournament for a player Warren Gatland has long admired.
Priestland’s performances in the 2011 World Cup made him the No. 1 choice for the No. 10 jersey. His form since that year has largely justified his selection over Dan Biggar, particularly due to his ability to produce such damaging runs from Jamie Roberts outside him.
But in the 2014 Six Nations, it was a close call between who should start the tournament.
The Scarlets man got the nod, but he looked woefully out of sorts. He was muted in a lacklustre team display against Italy and drowned against Ireland, providing no answer to the kicking game of Jonny Sexton.
If anything, he got worse with the boot against England, providing the dangerous Mike Brown far too many opportunities to showcase his counterattacking skills.
Biggar leapfrogged him for the final game against Scotland, and when Priestland did replace him with 20 minutes to go, he was unfairly treated by the Cardiff crowd.
Still, this was far from his finest tournament. He needs to regain his confidence before Wales’ stiff examination in South Africa this summer.
3. Stuart Hogg
We saw dashes of the player Warren Gatland took on the Lions tour, but they were rare and fleeting in this championship.
Perhaps Hogg’s time at full-back should be brought to an end.
As the most creative player in the side, a stint in the No. 10 jersey might see his influence on the side grow.
Bit parts aside, there was one major blot on the Glasgow man’s copybook this year.
His needless shoulder into the jaw of Dan Biggar saw him take an early bath in the final game, and his side sunk without him.
4. Mathieu Bastareaud
It’s hard to blame Bastareaud for doing what he knows he can do.
But at the same time, even when he made so many damaging runs against Ireland on the final day, you can't help but wonder why such a one-dimensional player is so well-liked by Philippe Saint-Andre.
Bastareaud can carry the ball and bash into—and sometimes through—defenders all day, but when he tries to do more than that, he comes unstuck.
His passing is well below the standard of an international centre, which means he is a vast obstruction to any attempts at creativity out wide for France.
Often he will not even bother to consider his passing options, stick his head down and fire himself at the nearest opposition shirt.
He can do better and needs to look no further than the great Ma’a Nonu, who began life as a wrecking ball and has welded kicking and distribution to his stock in trade to become a world-class operator.
5. Mike Phillips
Warren Gatland has been a staunch supporter of Phillips through his off-field travails, but he ran out of patience with the scrum half in the tournament.
Not for anything he did away from the turf, but for the way he performed on it. Against Ireland, Phillips had a poor game and lost his rag at the end of the match with an unnecessary shove that earned him a yellow card and a rebuke from Gatland.
We weren't happy with Mike's performance against Ireland. He probably got a bit confrontational last week, got yellow-carded as well. … It's probably an opportunity [for Phillips] to reflect on his performance against Ireland and that's why we've put him on the bench.
Phillips’ replacement, Rhys Webb, played well against France but was poor against England and got the hook for Phillips at half-time, so the 31-year-old may well reclaim the starting spot for the tour to South Africa. He can consider his card marked by his coach.
6. Jules Plisson
Plisson arrived at his first Six Nations as the promising young fly-half from Stade Francais and the driving force behind their surge to the upper echelons of the Top 14.
But we saw little flair or invention from him in the blue of France.
He almost looked in awe of the size and power of the backs around him and shipped the ball onto them with little rhyme or reason at the earliest opportunity.
He will doubtless get another chance and should improve with more experience, but it was clear in the final game when Remi Tales was picked ahead of him that the Castres fly-half is far more accomplished at this level.
7. Sergio Parisse
A quiet, disappointing tournament for the Italian captain perhaps signals the start of the dying of the light for this great No. 8.
Still only 30, he has plenty yet to offer an Italian side who, under Jacques Brunel, are looking to move away from their safety-first approach.
Perhaps this is why Parisse, the soft-handed, strong running attacker, has been seen less often in this championship.
The result of the side’s more expansive game plan has been twofold. Tries have been easier to come by, but turnovers have become more prevalent and men like Parisse have put in a monumental shift in defence.
That only leaves so much energy for keeping up with whippersnappers like Michele Campagnaro and Leonardo Sarto.
8. Louis Picamoles
Picamoles remains an unrelenting workhorse in the French back row. You know what you get from the big Toulouse man.
He will truck it up all day long for his side, so in that respect he was one of few French players who carried out his task well.
But he landed himself on this list with the sort of petulance usually reserved for our round-ball cousins.
After being shown a yellow card against Wales, he turned around as he trudged off and sarcastically applauded the referee for his decision.
Picamoles was promptly dropped the following week. His coach Philippe Saint-Andre said:
Certain attitudes have no place whatsoever in our sport. Respect is the foundation of our values. It is important to send a signal to all players who have the privilege of wearing the jersey and remind them it imposes duties and obligations.
9. Chris Fusaro
One of the more bizarre episodes of the championship unfolded when Scott Johnson dropped his captain, Kelly Brown, for Glasgow open-side flanker Fusaro for the visit of England.
Fusaro, Johnson said, was picked to play more of a scavenging role than Brown could.
Instead, he looked outmuscled and out of his depth against the bigger men of the Red Rose back row.
He held on to his place the following week when Scotland narrowly squeaked home against Italy, but was then dropped from sight for the last two matches as Johnson declared Brown more suited to the French.
It hardly covered Johnson in glory for executing such an odd selection policy, and Fusaro’s performances made you wonder what all the fuss was about in the first place.
10. Gethin Jenkins
Jenkins did not have a vintage tournament. The Italian pack gave the Welsh front row a torrid time before Ireland took them to the cleaners.
Against France, whose scrum looks to be in the worst shape for years, Jenkins performed better, but he followed that up with a nightmare against England’s David Wilson, ending his afternoon in the sin bin for one too many scrummage infringements.
Warren Gatland was quick afterward to defend the Lion, but if you demystify the laws of the set piece, you are left with one simple principle: The man going forward and staying up will not get penalised; the man hitting the deck and going sideways will.