Six Nations Rugby | Great fly-halves of the Six Nations era

And as we head into the 2020 Guinness Six Nations, it feels like the perfect time to reflect on those players who have had the biggest impact on the last two decades.

In the build-up to the opening match between Grand Slam champions Wales and Italy, we are counting down some of the best players to have graced the Championship.

Today we pick out the fly-halves who have made a big impact in the competition.

In alphabetical order:

THOMAS CASTAIGNEDE (FRANCE)

With over 20 years of service in a French shirt to his name, Thomas Castaignede’s longevity speaks volumes.

The former Toulouse, Castres and Saracens man made his mark on the Championship, both in its modern format and as the old Five Nations.

Castaignede’s impact was instant. He enjoyed a Championship debut to remember against England in 1996, landing a game winning drop kick he said changed his life.

“I was 20 and it was not a particularly good game,” he recalled of his debut a decade on. “My drop was not beautiful, but we won 15-12 and it changed the beginning of my international career.”

After Italy joined at the turn of the century, Castaignede’s record was superb. He only lost two matches in 11 starts – both to England – and played a key role as Les Bleus won the 2006 Championship.

DIEGO DOMINGUEZ (ITALY)

He may only have two victories to his name across 14 Championship games at fly-half for Italy, but Dominguez remains one of the tournament’s greats.

His finest moment is arguably the same as his country’s after he spearheaded Italy’s stunning debut way back in 2000.

Facing reigning champions Scotland, Dominguez orchestrated a superb victory.

His boot provided 29 points in the 34-20 victory and the display is still the benchmark by which every Italian No10 since is, perhaps rather harshly, judged.

A hat-trick of drop goals, six penalties and a successful conversion sucked the life out of Scotland and left supporters in Rome with a new idol.

It would be three years before Dominguez tasted victory again as he scored 15 points in a 30-20 defeat of Wales.

OWEN FARRELL (ENGLAND)

The first name on this list to still be playing, Farrell combines no nonsense tackling with accurate kicking and impressive leadership skills.

Often used as a centre by Eddie Jones in an axis with childhood friend George Ford, Farrell has 18 outings at fly-half to his name.

The points – he has 209 while playing at 10 so far – have flowed since and Farrell has become integral to England since making his Championship bow in 2012.

The Sarries man fired England to a resounding victory over Ireland that year with a 20-point haul as the then champions enjoyed a 30-9 win at Twickenham in Round Five.

He has gone on to collect titles in 2016 and 2017 and is now captain of his country.

JAMES HOOK (WALES)

An 80 per cent win record is the best of any of the players on this list and Hook has had his fair share of highlights in Welsh red.

He didn’t have the easiest of arrivals at as he was forced to play much of the 2007 Championship at centre as Wales looked to accommodate both he and Stephen Jones.

The ploy backfired and defeats to Ireland, Scotland, France and Italy left the Welsh facing a series whitewash heading into their final game against England.

Step forward Hook with a virtuoso 22-point performance which included four penalties and a try as England were beaten 27-18.

The Ospreys man will retire at the end of the season and can reflect on a career which featured three Championship titles and two Grand Slam wins.

STEPHEN JONES (WALES)

Another double Grand Slam winner and the man who Hook spent part of his career trying to dislodge.

That he found it so hard to do so is largely down to Jones’ excellence across a career which featured 50 outings in the Six Nations.

Sitting third on the list of all-time scorers with 467 points, Jones was ever-reliable from the kicking tee for 11 years.

FREDDIE MICHALAK (FRANCE)

Perhaps the most mercurial of the names on this list, Michalak had the ability to astound and frustrate in equal measure.

On his day, however, there were not many better at pulling the strings from No10.

Michalak rarely took sole responsibility for France’s kicking duties and it is possibly for this reason, he does not have more than 75 points from 22 outings to his name.

But he dazzled with the ball and had one of the most creative minds this century, playing a key role in Les Bleus’s success in 2004, 2006 and 2010.

RONAN O’GARA (IRELAND)

No man has scored more Championship poinmts than the Irishman with his 557 putting him 11 clear of Jonny Wilkinson.

A first name pick for most of his 13-year international career, O’Gara eventually claimed the title and Grand Slam in 2009 – sealing it with a 78th-minute drop-goal to beat Wales.

Add to the mix triple crown wins in 2004, 2006 and 2007 and it is hard to argue with the impact O’Gara has made.

JONNY SEXTON (IRELAND)

Once the pretender to O’Gara’s crown, Sexton is now firmly established in the heart of the Ireland side he will captain at this year’s Championship.

The 34-year-old has been pivotal in helping Ireland to three of the last six titles and secured his first Grand Slam in 2018.

He plundered 44 points as Ireland took home the top prize two years ago and the Leinster man’s kicking from hand has been key to his side’s style.

With 43 outings at fly-half, only O’Gara and Wilkinson have set the tempo for their sides more in the competition’s history.

GREGOR TOWNSEND (SCOTLAND)

Scarcely has one man stamped their name so permanently across a competition than Gregor Townsend did in 1999.

A year before Italy joined the party, Townsend led Scotland to their first Five Nations triumph since 1990 as he scored a try against every opponent he faced.

It was Townsend’s break against Ireland which started the move for one of Scotland’s greatest ever tries and Scotland haven’t known it so good since the halcyon days of 99.

He would follow 1999 with 13 appearances in the reformatted Six Nations between 2000 and 2003.

JONNY WILKINSON (ENGLAND)

The poster boy of English rugby throughout his career, Wilkinson was the jewel in the crown of Clive Woodward’s 2003 Grand Slam winners.

That success was one of four for the World Cup winner – adding to wins in 2000, 2001 and 2011 – and the 89 points he plundered in 2001 is still a record.

Injury likely deprived the former Newcastle Falcons man of the overall points record, but he still managed to prove his worth right until his retirement.

He would go on to represent England at the 2011 World Cup before departing the international scene with over 1,000 points to his name.

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