Who were the star performers in the 2019 Six Nations? And what does it all mean for the Rugby World Cup in Japan? Read on to find out.
In a Six Nations defined more by defensive commitment and team discipline than individual flair or razor-sharp attacking play, picking a standout XV is tricky - particularly among the backs division. But here are the players who shone most in our eyes:
15. Liam Williams (England)
Less of an attacking threat than England's Elliot Daly, the other contender for the 15 shirt, but Williams gets the nod for not putting a foot wrong throughout the championship. Is there a player in the world who looks as assured under the high ball as the Saracens full-back?
14. Josh Adams (Wales)
The Worcester wing has been a beacon of light throughout the English Premiership season in a team battling relegation. Here, with Wales clinching the Grand Slam, it was Adams' defensive resolve rather than his raw pace that caught the eye - although his try against England, latching on to a cross-kick by out-leaping Elliot Daly, will live long in the memory.
13. Henry Slade (England)
A coming-of-age tournament for the Exeter back, who looks to be benefiting from an extended run at outside centre. Made more clean breaks (12) than any other player, scored three tries and set up two. Also offers a valuable left-footed kicking option.
12. Manu Tuilagi (England)
There were few standout performers for the 12 shirt. Hadleigh Parkes was solid in defence, but Tuilagi gets the nod for his ability with ball in hand. He enjoyed the most gainline successes of any back (18, level with Jacob Stockdale and Blair Kinghorn), scored a couple of tries, and generally looked a nuisance to bring down. His bulk creates space for England's other backs to exploit.
11. Jonny May (England)
After a shaky start to his international career, May is now one of the first names on England's team-sheet. Topped the Six Nations scoring chart with six tries and has now touched down 14 times in his past 15 Tests. His all-round game has improved massively in the last couple of years - particularly his aerial ability.
10. Finn Russell (Scotland)
None of the tens enjoyed blemish-free tournaments, so we've given the nod to the northern hemisphere's answer to Beauden Barrett. On his day, utterly unplayable (think that second-half display against England). He topped the try assist table with four, representing more than a quarter of Scotland's tries.
9. Antoine Dupont (France)
As with the stand-offs, the scrum-halves should have every reason to be disappointed with their collective performances. France's Dupont just about gets the nine shirt in our team thanks to his all-round busyness. He made more clean breaks (eight) than any other France player, beat 17 defenders and made seven offloads. Most surprisingly, despite his diminutive stature, he also won the second-highest number of turnovers in the tournament (six).
1. Rob Evans (Wales)
The Wales loosehead was tireless. He may lack the dynamic ball-carrying of Cian Healy, another contender for the number one jersey, but his defensive effort and workrate were unmatched. Also a quality scrummager, although Kyle Sinckler gave him a hard time.
2. Ken Owens (Wales)
The Welsh team is full of leaders - Test match animals, in the parlance of legendary Lions coach Sir Ian McGeechan - and Owens is a prime example. His lineout throwing wobbled occasionally, but he has a fantastic engine, makes his tackles and carries strongly.
3. Kyle Sinckler (England)
The tournament's standout front-rower. The Harlequins tight-head has always been a handful in the loose, but he's now rock-solid in the scrum too - and he hits harder than most in the tackle. Now looks a nailed-on starter for England in the World Cup.
4. Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)
Player of the tournament by a country mile. We could wax lyrical about him for days, but perhaps the most pertinent praise for the Wales captain is simply that the number four jersey is the only position in our Six Nations XV that never once looked up for debate. World class.
5. Felix Lambey (France)
In another stuttering Six Nations for France, Lambey truly cemented his place in the engine room alongside the mercurial Sebastien Vahaamahina. Made an astonishing 28 tackles in his side's losing effort against Ireland and, at 25, is very much still a baby in second-row terms. One to watch.
6. Josh Navidi (Wales)
Wales have an abundance of back-row talent, forcing Navidi to play out of position on the blindside to accommodate Justin Tipuric, but it never once affected his performances. Made 83 tackles, the second-highest total of any player, and was a constant threat at the breakdown, winning four turnovers.
7. Tom Curry (England)
England's standout performer. The Sale youngster played like a true openside should, making the highest number of tackles in the tournament (86) and winning five turnovers. He also carried with menace at times and proved that he knows his way to the line with tries against Wales and Scotland. Has he done enough to keep the seven shirt when Sam Underhill returns from injury?
8. Billy Vunipola (England)
Ross Moriarty of Wales was ferocious in defence, but Vunipola gets the eight shirt for his unparalleled ability to make metres in attack. He made the most carries (71) of any player and showed some surprisingly deft touches - a trait not always apparent in his bullocking skill set - in making five offloads, the fifth highest in the tournament. England need him fit and firing in Japan.
What does it all mean for Rugby World Cup 2019™?
As we noted in our review of the tournament, this Six Nations didn't exactly go according to script.
We certainly wouldn't have anticipated not including a single Irish player in our XV - it was only five months ago that they comfortably beat the All Blacks. Have Joe Schmidt's men been found out? Peaked too early? Perhaps, but they haven't become a bad team overnight. Their big players - Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton in particular - had quiet tournaments and will be desperate to make amends in Japan.
England showed flashes of brilliance. They were comfortably the most potent attacking force, scoring as many tries as Grand Slam-winning Wales and third-placed Ireland combined. But their occasional inability to close out a match reared its ugly head once more, first against Wales, and then - in bewildering fashion - during the helter-skelter draw with Scotland. Definite contenders for the World Cup, but Eddie Jones has a lot of work to do - and not much time in which to do it.
As for Wales… is this the most undemonstrative Grand Slam-winning, record-breaking team of all time? They don't look like steamrollering anyone (they even failed to score a try bonus point against a pretty abject Italy), yet they go into the World Cup as the northern hemisphere's top team. Warren Gatland has built a team of street fighters, and no one will relish coming up against them in the pressure cooker environment of a knock-out tournament.
And what about the rest?
It's a familiar story for France. Woefully inconsistent and liable to self-destruct at any given moment, as they did when squandering a 16-0 lead against Wales on the Six Nations opening night. But they have a knack of getting it together for a World Cup, so honestly, who knows?
Far from inconsistent, everyone knows what to expect from Scotland. To make up for their lightweight pack, they'll scrap for everything at the breakdown and run from everywhere when they get hold of the ball. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Their harem-scarem style is unlikely to win them a World Cup, but they have some big names to come back in time for the flight to Japan, most notably Stuart Hogg.
And Italy. Sadly, the Azzurri appear to be regressing. They haven't won a Six Nations match since 2015. The talismanic Sergio Parisse turns 36 just a week before the start of the World Cup. Can he inspire some sort of performance from his team-mates? In what could be the Stade Francais number eight's final tournament, he deserves better than what he's getting currently.