Four of Joe Schmidt’s Grand Slam-winning team have been included in the six-man shortlist for the 2018 Six Nations Player of the Tournament.

Not surprisingly, title winners Ireland dominate the individual nominees, with the half-back pairing of Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray, along with wingers Jacob Stockdale and Keith Earls included in the selection.

Italian full-back Matteo Minozzi and French captain Guilhem Guirado complete the shortlist.

Out-half Sexton got Ireland’s campaign off to a dramatic winning start in Paris, with a last-gasp drop goal sealing victory at the Stade de France.

Defensively strong throughout the tournament – he made 11 tackles in the win over England – he continues to be the standard bearer for 10s in the northern hemisphere.

Munster scrum-half Murray too was a key component in the memorable season. Man of the match against Italy, he is the fulcrum of the side.

His precise passing, potent box-kicking, scoring prowess and strong defensive presence mark him out as one of the best in the business. Also showed his adaptability in assuming place-kicking duties when required.

Ulster winger Stockdale rewrote the history books with his seven-try haul, quite the achievement in his first taste of the Six Nations Championship.

Stockdale's electric speed and eye for the intercept try brought an extra dimension to the Irish backline.

On the opposite wing, the more experienced Keith Earls is in the form of his life.

His high catch in Paris in the build-up to the match-winning drop goal and his length-of-the-field chase down of Italy’s Tommaso Benvenuti will feature in the highlights reel, but he was outstanding defensively throughout and a willing runner at every opportunity.

No Italian had ever previously notched four tries in a campaign before Matteo Minozzi struck this year. He made seven clean breaks over the five games, gaining a total of 266 metres and beating 13 defenders to add a real X-factor to the struggling side.

Throw in some impressive cover tackles and it was a season to remember for the 21-year-old.

French captain Guirado was simply a tackling machine, 69 overall, all the more impressive as he didn’t feature in the final game against Wales.

The French lineout creaked on a number of occasions, but the hooker was inspirational throughout with his attitude and work ethic. 

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