Forget the fireworks and the London Eye, the Six Nations is the surefire sign that any new year is in full swing. And 2020’s edition is just around the corner with new stories to be told and heroes to be made.
The likes of Alun Wyn-Jones, Courtney Lawes and Stuart Hogg will be looking to etch their names into the history books of the northern hemisphere’s greatest rugby spectacle, but there have been plenty who have become notorious for actions both on and off the field in the past.
Below, The Sportsman takes a look at some of the iconic mavericks that have graced this tournament over its 20-year history.
Sergio Parisse (Italy)
Simply put, a legend of international rugby. The Italian maestro is the most capped player in the history of the Six Nations, with 69 appearances to his name in a career which spanned 15 years. A true icon of Italian sport, Parisse has lost in every single way imaginable.
While playing for Italy he has lost more than 100 games in total and has one of the lowest win percentages in rugby history. His Italian side has been dismantled, pipped to the post, beaten by a late drop-goal, yet he has remained as an almost defiant constant.
And he’s no normal player either. This is a guy who regularly passes without looking, catches lineouts one-handed and diverts it straight to the scrum-half, and provides an enviable physical presence.
It is certainly those defeats that make the rare wins so special but, for Parisse, his career has lasted so long simply because of his love for the game.
“Sometimes you play well, sometimes you play badly, but every single time I put on a jersey in the Six Nations it is a moment to enjoy.” he told The Guardian.
Although he hasn’t made it into the initial Italian squad this time around, he will make his farewell appearance in the Six Nations against either England or Scotland at home. The opportunity to say farewell to rugby at the 2019 World Cup was cruelly taken away from him as Typhoon Hagibis wreaked havoc with the scheduling and forced Italy’s final match to be called off. This will be a truly fitting goodbye for a true winner, despite the Azzurri’s stranglehold on the wooden spoon.
Shane Williams (Wales)
When Shane Williams was told he was too small to play rugby and that he might be better off focusing on football instead, surely even he didn’t believe he was going to become Wales’ all-time leading try scorer.
He weighed in at just 11 stone on his debut in 2003, but by the time he won the Grand Slam in 2005 he was well on the way to becoming a global star and any fears over his size we well behind him.
However, his 2005 would soon turn downhill, as he was erroneously held in Cyprus over an alleged assault. Things got worse as police lost his passport, while Williams’ lawyer claimed the entire thing was a complete stitch-up. When home, Williams claimed he'd rather have holidayed in Tenby. What drama.
The legendary Welsh winger would end his career in Japan, playing for the catchily named ‘Mitsubishi Sagamihara DynaBoars’ and can now be seen regularly working as a pundit.
The moral of the story? Don’t stick to football.
Mathieu Bastareaud (France)
The cousin of French footballer William Gallas, Bastareaud emerged as an iconic figure in the French side. He was a crucial member of the side that won the Grand Slam in 2010 and fans grew to love his no-nonsense playing style.
It hasn’t been all plain sailing for the Frenchman though. On a tour of New Zealand and Australia in 2009 he faked being beaten up by thugs when he had actually just been drunk and tripped over the table in his hotel room. He fabricated the story as he didn't want to get in trouble with the coaching staff! He didn’t get away with it, but still made a total of 54 appearances for his country before retiring from international rugby last year.
He left his greatest mark on the Six Nations in 2010 when coming up against Ireland great Brian O’Driscoll, with one memorable right-hand fend which remains legendary to this day in French rugby circles.
He made a big leap across the Atlantic this year, joining Rugby United New York - a side which was only founded two years ago and is a pioneering force in American rugby.
Sebastien Chabal (France)
Perhaps the most iconic Six Nations player of all time, the instantly recognisable Sebastien Chabal become a huge celebrity due to not only his hairy appearance but his size and aggression on the field.
Having left his factory job to take up rugby, the man known as ‘The Caveman’ became a national hero for the French when he was a part of the Six Nations-winning side of 2007. He was so popular that the term ‘Chabalmania’ was created by journalists in France for the sheer frenzy he created with his rugged looks and recognisable beard.
His staring down of the New Zealand Haka during the World Cup is still an iconic image, but nowadays he is a member of the Champions for Peace club looking to make sport a tool for dialogue and cohesion. Oh, and in his spare time he's a bit of a Proclaimers fan if his random rendition of their hit '500 miles' at the Hong Kong Sevens is anything to go by.
Lewis Moody (England)
If there is one English player who typifies exactly what it means to play for your country in the Six Nations, it is Lewis Moody. With a face that has suffered from two broken noses and a fractured cheek, he has also broken his hand, suffered a hip micro-fracture, three broken toes and a fractured navicular bone. It is fair to say he has put his body on the line for his country on multiple occasions.
He gained the nickname ‘Mad Dog’ from his teammates for a reason.
On one occasion he charged down a full-back’s kick, throwing himself head first onto his opponent’s boot, and then still wanted to play on despite the fact the collision had left him with blood streaming down his face. As he later told the Daily Mail:
“I found it frustrating. We were losing. I couldn’t see a thing out of my left eye, but I wasn’t that bothered. I said: ‘Can I stay on the pitch?’ The ref told me to go off because I was bleeding and I was taken straight to the hospital.”
A true English bulldog.