So far, this Six Nations has been all about the rising young stars of the game, players like Wales’ 20-year-old wing sensation Louis Rees-Zammit and France’s brilliant scrum-half Antoine Dupont, who at 24 years of age, has still got so much rugby ahead of him.
Rees-Zammit is currently top of the try-scoring charts having taken his overall tally to three with a brace against Scotland, while Dupont has made the most try assists (four) to feature heavily on the Championship’s highlights reel.
But just as rugby is a game for all shapes and sizes, time does seem to wait for some players, namely England second-row Simon Shaw, who is the oldest player to ever play in the Six Nations just over two years short of his 40th birthday.
Out of the current crop of players, Alun Wyn Jones, the world’s most-capped player, and Johnny Sexton, the respective captains in the Six Nations 2021 opening round match between Wales and Ireland have a combined age of 70.
And two of the players they led out in that fixture are also still going strong in their 30s. With a competition-best 45 tackles, there is clearly plenty of life in the old dog of war, Wales flanker Justin Tipuric, while fellow 30-something, Ireland number eight CJ Stander, is still carrying as hard, and as often, as when he made his debut five years ago.
Neither of those two players comes close, however, to making it into our Six Nations ‘Golden Oldies’ XV, below, which lacks nothing in terms of experience – or Irish and Italian influence, with five representatives from each country.
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👴 @SimonZebo, @ConorMurray_9 and @StuartWHogg_ were just some of the Golden Oldies that @NHunt09 had to guess in the latest episode of #TheWrap
1) Andrea Lo Cicero (Italy)
Lo Cicero chose a fine match to bow out on – Italy’s momentous Six Nations win against Ireland in 2013. It was the last of his 103 caps at the ripe old age of 36 years 313 days.
2) Rory Best (Ireland, co-captain)
The Ulsterman made the last of his 64 Six Nations appearances against Wales at the Principality Stadium in March 2019, aged 36 years, seven months and two days, before retiring for good later that year. Over the course of his international career, he won the Six Nations four times, including two Grand Slams.
3) John Hayes (Ireland)
The cornerstone of Ireland’s pack for a decade and was still going strong well into his 37th year when his involvement in the Six Nations came to an end in a defeat to Scotland at Croke Park in 2010. Mike Ross continued the tradition of evergreen Irish tight-heads upon Hayes’ retirement.
4) Simon Shaw (England)
At 37 years and 199 days, Shaw became the oldest player in the history of the Six Nations when he played against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in 2011. He is also England’s second-oldest international player (38 years 37 days at RWC 2011) and the third-oldest test Lion (35 years 306 days).
5) Alessandro Zanni (Italy)
The versatile forward made his Six Nations swansong this time last year in Italy’s defeat to Scotland in Rome, aged 36 years and 22 days. One of eight Azzurri players to win a century of caps for his country.
6) Mauro Bergamasco (Italy)
A back-row warrior who played alongside brother Mirco for much of his time in a blue jersey, which came to an end after his fifth Rugby World Cup tournament in 2015 – a record he shares with Brian Lima and Sergio Parisse. His final Six Nations appearance came in the same year, aged 35 years and 324 days, in a defeat to Wales in Rome.
7) David Wallace (Ireland)
Another back-row force of nature who shared the international stage with siblings, Richard and Paul Wallace. The Cork man signed off in the Six Nations on a winning note, two-thirds of his way through his 35th year, with a 24-8 victory against England in Dublin.
8) Sergio Parisse (Italy, co-captain)
Typhoon Hagibis and COVID-19 have robbed the most skilful player to ever pull on an Azzurri jersey of a fitting farewell, for now. But the Azzurri talisman has yet to officially retire. Parisse is Italy’s most-capped player with 142 test appearances and nearly half of them came in the Six Nations. His last Six Nations match was a defeat to France, where he still plays his club rugby, in March 2019. He was 35-and-a-half years old at the time.
9) Isaac Boss (Ireland)
Richard Wigglesworth of England misses out by a number of weeks on the veteran scrum-half position to Ireland’s Isaac Boss. Boss only made half-a-dozen Six Nations appearances, the last of them coming as a replacement against Italy in Rome when his 35th birthday was coming into view.
10) Diego Dominguez (Italy)
Johnny Sexton is the oldest fly-half currently active in the Six Nations but the Irish playmaker will do well to break Dominguez’s record of 36 years and 303 days. Italian rugby’s record point-scorer made his 16th and final appearance in the Championship against Ireland in Rome in February 2003.
11) Christophe Dominici (France)
The side-stepping winger, now sadly departed, was nine months into his 35th year when he appeared off the bench to make his Six Nations swansong for Les Bleus in a 46-19 win against Scotland in Paris in March 2007.
12) Allan Bateman (Wales)
O’Driscoll’s long-time midfield partner, Gordon D’Arcy just misses out on a place at inside centre to supremely-gifted cross-code centre Bateman, who was 35 years and 33 days old when coming on as a replacement in Wales' first-ever Six Nations match in Rome. Wales won 33-23.
13) Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland)
Irish rugby’s highest try-scorer and most-capped player lit up the international arena for 15 years, before eventually making his Six Nations farewell against France at the Stade de France, aged 35 years and 53 days.
14) Sean Lamont (Scotland)
A powerhouse player who seemed to get better with age. Was 35 years and 29 days old when he took to the field against Wales at the Principality Stadium in February 2016. We’ve found room for him on the right wing instead of on the left.
15) Jean-Luc Sadourny (France)
The Toulouse full-back won the last of his 71 caps in a 48-19 defeat to England at Twickenham in April 2001, aged 34 years and 224 days, and was a worthy successor to Serge Blanco in the number 15 jersey.