Six Nations: Scotland the unlucky missouts in our Mixed XV
Spare a thought for Scottish rugby as the Six Nations kicks off this weekend, with Vern Cotter and co’s cracking autumn efforts, alongside the rise of Glasgow Warriors, likely to come to nought when the northern hemisphere’s elite face off.
Despite boasting talented individuals such as Greg Laidlaw, Sean Maitland, Stuart Hogg and the Gray brothers, none of Cotter’s crowd quite manage to force a spot in news.ladbrokes’ Six Nations mix ‘n’ match.
Joe Marler’s transformation from comedy prop to world-class pill operative is complete, with the Harlequins captain keeping fit-again Alex Corbisiero out of England’s side for the opener against Wales.
He gets in at loosehead ahead of Ireland’s Cian Healey, who misses Joe Schmidt’s side’s opener in Italy but should be fit for the visit of France.
Dylan Hartley is a hugely talented walking yellow card, so returning Dragons hooker Richard Hibbard sneaks in on Marler’s right, with Martin Castrogiovanni, Italy’s only representative in this XV, edging out Dan Cole and Mike Ross at tighthead.
The second row picks itself; Courtney Lawes will compete with injured teammate Joe Launchbury for the title of the northern hemisphere’s top lock, but only after Paul O’Connell retires, which could occur before the end of this calendar year.
Wales’ Sam Warburton has had much more success captaining his country than fellow number sevens Thierry Dusautoir and Chris Robshaw, with two championships under his belt as skipper, one of which was a Grand Slam.
Warburton gets in at openside flanker with Munster captain Peter O’Mahony, who will likely lead Ireland when O’Connell retires, claiming a spot at blindside.
Taulupe Faletau has an outstanding record in the Six Nations; Wales have won 12 of the 15 fixtures the Newport man has featured in since his international debut in 2011.
Unfortunately for Faletau, who missed last year’s tournament through injury, Jamie Heaslip would make many rugby watchers’ world XV’s at eight right now, so the Leinster stalwart, who captained Ireland during their 2013 campaign, just about grabs the last back-row berth.
The last British and Irish Lions half-back pairing of Jonathan Sexton and Connor Murray cannot be split up, particularly given the chaotic nature of England’s, France’s and Wales’ combinations behind the scrum.
Les Blues duo Rory Kockott and Camille Lopez have turned out eight times between them for their country, while England will hand George Ford his first Six Nations start in Cardiff.
Meanwhile, Wales half-backs Dan Biggar and Rhys Webber could conceivably be replaced by Rhys Priestland and Mike Phillips if they don’t do the business against Stuart Lancaster’s side.
Jamie Roberts is similarly untouchable in the centre, as is George North on the left wing, but the remaining three spots are up for debate.
We’ve managed to shoe-horn a Frenchman into our XV by breaking up the Roberts/Jonathan Davies axis with the latter’s in-form Clermont teammate Wesley Fofana.
Fleet-footed Fofana’s slender 5ft11 frame would be afforded plenty of protection from battering rams Roberts and North. On the right wing, Tommy Bowe’s electric pace and immaculate finishing ability also wins out over the brute strength of Alex Cuthbert (who, to be fair, is no slouch).
Rob Kearney can feel aggrieved to miss out at full back after barely putting a foot wrong in his hugely-successful career so far, but Mike Brown was a revelation in England’s number 15 jersey last term.
The 2014 Six Nations player of the year just about gets our nod ahead of Kearney, with Wales’ much-lauded long kicker Leigh Halfpenny in need of a confidence-boosting campaign ahead of the World Cup this autumn.
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