Lancaster’s side lead way in top player election

Ross McLean
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ENGLAND’S ultimately forlorn Six Nations title bid has not prevented Stuart Lancaster’s side snagging the largest representation on a 12-strong shortlist for player of the tournament.

The Red Rose finished runners-up for the fourth year in succession after falling agonisingly short of holders Ireland on points difference, despite dispatching France 55-35 on a frantic final day at Twickenham on Saturday.

Centre Jonathan Joseph, fly-half George Ford, scrum-half Ben Youngs and No8 Billy Vunipola are all among the shortlisted group announced by tournament organisers yesterday.

Champions Ireland are represented by skipper Paul O’Connell, centre Robbie Henshaw and scrum-half Conor Murray, while Welsh duo Alun Wyn Jones and Dan Biggar have both been selected.

Five straight defeats may have consigned Scotland to their second Six Nations whitewash in four seasons but that failed to deny full-back Stuart Hogg and second row Jonny Gray a nomination.

Italy captain Sergio Parisse, who missed the Azzurri’s final game of the tournament against Wales with an ankle injury, was also included, unlike any of Philippe Saint-Andre’s mercurial France squad. The winner will be announced on Friday.

The list has been compiled by analysts who awarded or deducted points to players based on statistical performance across different categories, which were then collated to give an overall score.

The thrilling Six Nations climax at Twickenham between England and France attracted a record-breaking peak television audience of 9.63 million, beating the previous high of 9.56m for the 2011 clash between the two sides. A peak of 4.1m watched Wales thrash Italy 61-20 at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, as 5.1m tuned in for Ireland’s 40-10 demolition of Scotland.