As we look ahead to the final weekend of the Six Nations, you might assume that there’s nothing left to play for given that Ireland have the Championship wrapped up. You’d be wrong.
Joe Schmidt’s men can wrap up the countries third ever Grand Slam and there is, of course, the player of the Championship to be secured. Is it an award that will be on the minds of many players heading into the final throes of the European showpiece? Probably not. But it’s still a nice title to claim.
Scotland’s Stuart Hogg has won it for the last two years, with other former winners including Brian O’Driscoll, Shane Williams, Leigh Halfpenny and Paul O’Connell. So who’s in the frame to win it this time around?
The actual winner won’t be revealed until after the tournament, but here’s Park Life’s shortlist:
A relative novice in the international arena, Stockdale has burst onto the Six Nations scene in what is his first Championship.
He’s currently the top try-scorer in the tournament, having run in six scores in just four matches. Two of those came against Wales during Ireland’s fairly convincing win over Warren Gatland’s men.
The winger has a proven eye for an interception too, picking off passes from both Gareth Anscombe and Peter Horne to go under the sticks.
Favourite for the award.
When you think of the Irish No.9, you think control, game management and the occasional try now and then.
All those facets of his game have come to the fore in this Championship, grabbing two five-pointers in the process.
His relationship with Sexton is invaluable and nobody has been able to to stop the partnership dictating every game they’ve played in so far.
The fly-half has conducted the Irish orchestra masterfully, despite having a target on his back throughout the Championship.
He had a bit of a wobble from the tee in the opening stages of the game against Wales, but who could forget that long-range drop goal to save Ireland’s bacon in Paris.
Rhys Priestland pointed out before the Championship that few things are as predictable as the ‘Sexton loop’ but few things are more difficult to stop.
A largely unheralded player whose international career appeared to have passed him by. Now he’s the talk of European rugby.
His stunning form for the ever-impressive Scarlets has thrust him back into the international setup and he’s transferring that form into a red jersey of a different kind.
His athleticism and deceptive turn of pace make him a huge threat in attack and he’s a constant thorn in the side of opposition lineouts.
He has the physicality to match, too.
Mr consistency in the Welsh midfield since making his debut in the autumn, Parkes provides the glue a midfield needs to flourish.
He’s got the traits most New Zealand rugby players possess. Namely, they do the basics well and have an innate ability to do the right thing at the right time.
There’s nothing flash about him but he’s hugely effective at what he does, whether it’s passing, running straight, defending or just reading play but he never seems to make any mistakes which is key at international level.
Tied Luke Charteris for a Championship tackle record in the opener against Ireland, notching up an eye-watering 31 successful hits.
It is, then, no surprise to see that he’s France’s top tackler with 69 and is another captain who leads with his action as well as his words.
The Frenchman is also a willing runner, averaging nine carries a game.
His Championship his over, with the news that he’ll miss the Wales game with a knee injury. But he has enough credit in the bank to warrant a place on this shortlist.
Has been one of a handful of English players to continually come out of a pretty dour campaign with credit.
Leads by example on the field and some of England’s best attacking moments have revolved around his partnership with George Ford.
The duo kicked Wales into submission at Twickenham and he intelligently found Johnny May with a split-second decision for the game’s opening try.
Who is your choice? Get involved in our poll on Twitter @parklife_sport.