Six Nations 2024: Is Ireland’s James Lowe the best winger in the tournament?

Which BBC Sport pundit said James Lowe was “too heavy, too big and too slow”?

It’s safe to say that former England winger Chris Ashton, who made the comments after England beat Ireland in 2020 – and has since apologised – has changed his opinion now.

“I did it for this effect,” Ashton said with a smile when asked about his comments on Six Nations Rugby Special. “He’s got a lot to thank me for, actually.”

With sights firmly set on back-to-back Grand Slams, Lowe was player of the match as the Ireland juggernaut steamrolled Italy in Dublin.

He contributed the fifth of Ireland’s six tries with a superb solo score as he collected a pass outside the 22 and showed tremendous power and poise to drag three Italian shirts over the line with him as he touched down.

At the other end, the 31-year-old’s left boot, which he admits “is a bit of a ticket” in modern rugby, helped Ireland gain useful territory and only three players have kicked more after two rounds of fixtures.

Lowe has also made the most line breaks and made the most ground, with 157m gained so far, and his defensive decision-making has been spot-on in the opening two rounds.

“He’s just a powerful winger with that all-round game,” Ashton added.

“I think with his skills, there is no winger right now in the Six Nations who has that. There’s finishing, the French wingers [Damian] Penaud and [Louis] Bielle-Biarrey will have something to say about that.

“But in terms of what he is doing for Ireland and the effect he has, whether that is exit, defensively or finishing, I don’t think there is anyone better.”

High praise indeed. So is Lowe the best all-round winger in the tournament? If not him, then who takes the crown?

Damian Penaud (France)

Damian Penaud scores a try against Ireland
Damian Penaud is one of the best finishers in world rugby, but is he the best all-round winger?

Age: 27 Caps: 49 Tries: 36

If this question was about the best finisher, then Damian Penaud may already have this one sewn up. His strike rate of 36 tries in 49 caps – including six at the World Cup – is absolutely frightening and he was a rare ray of light in France’s opening-day defeat by the Irish.

The Bordeaux Begles man has had limited chances so far in this Six Nations but his time to shine will surely come.

Louis Bielle-Biarrey (France)

Age: 20 Caps: 10 Tries: Six

While we have known about Penaud’s quality for a while, his partner-in-crime Louis Bielle-Biarrey has burst on to the scene.

The 20-year-old was described as “the young genius on the wing” after his stunning solo try against Scotland – which ultimately secured the win.

It might be too early in his career to properly judge his all-round game, but Bielle-Biarrey definitely has star quality.

Duhan van der Merwe (Scotland)

Age: 28 Caps: 36 Tries: 23

Fast, dynamic and freakishly strong, Duhan van der Merwe is one of the hardest players to stop in full flight. We all know about his try-scoring capabilities, such as his Twickenham stunner in 2023 and another solo effort against Wales on the opening weekend.

The 28-year-old’s (just about legal) tackle on Gael Fickou denied the French centre a try-scoring opportunity on Saturday. When Van der Merwe plays well, so do Scotland.

Rio Dyer (Wales)

Age: 24 Caps: 16 Tries: Five

The wizard on the wing, Rio Dyer is a crucial part of Warren Gatland’s Wales rebuild.

He’s the only other player to make as many line breaks as Lowe in the championship so far, and he’s doing it in a team struggling for confidence and form.

He also gets an extra mark for his chargedown on George Ford’s ‘conversion’ attempt.

Elliot Daly (England)

Elliot Daly
Elliot Daly has been Mr Reliable for England

Age: 31 Caps: 64 Tries: 18

While 18 tries from 64 Tests isn’t exactly prolific, we’re looking at the full skillset and that is where Elliot Daly shines. His versatility means he can play wing, centre or even slot in at full-back.

He’s industrious rather that spectacular, but that is no slight on the Saracens man’s ability, and he was an unsung hero of England’s three Six Nations titles since he made his debut in 2016.

With a thumping left boot, he’s also a very handy option from the kicking tee.

The other contenders

Mack Hansen
Mack Hansen is missing the Six Nations through injury

Italy’s Monty Ioane was impressive against England but barely had a sniff against Ireland, while Wales’ Josh Adams has failed to hit the heights of previous campaigns.

Calvin Nash has had an assured start to his Six Nations career on the opposite wing to Lowe as he steps in for the injured Mack Hansen, but he probably lacks the X-factor of his Ireland team-mate, and Tommy Freeman has looked promising in the white of England.

The missing men

While Lowe has been making headlines, his Ireland team-mate Mack Hansen would be in with a shout if he had not been ruled out of the tournament through injury.

The absent Darcy Graham also falls into this category after some impressive performances for Scotland, while Wales’ Louis Rees-Zammit has swapped rugby for American football.

Henry Arundell and Anthony Watson are unavailable for England, while Jonny May has hung up his international boots.

So does anyone take the crown from Lowe? Have your say below.

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