This weekend we were treated to two brilliant Six Nations fixtures. England and Wales played out one of the most physical games seen this season, while France and Scotland offered up a hugely entertaining spectacle in Paris.
Ireland’s demolition of Italy will inevitably bring questions over their future participation in the tournament, particularly as Georgia’s demand for inclusion has grown louder in recent years.
The manner of Ireland’s victory makes picking a team of the week all the more difficult, as any making judgements based on statistics will generally favour Irish players who blew a poor Italian team away.
For example, while it would be easy to include Craig Gilroy after he scored a hat trick in Rome, the Ulster winger came onto the field when the Italians were fatigued.
Conversely, despite dominating many of their opponents, the Welsh players found themselves on the losing side after Eddie Jones’ unleashed his finishers from the bench.
Nevertheless, there were a number of players who did stand out over the weekend.
[tie_slide]1. Cyril Baille (France)
Cyril Baille’s presence may not be entirely noticeable in the loose, but he has now dominated at scrum time against two potential Lions tourists in Dan Cole and Zander Fagerson.
[tie_slide]2. Ken Owens (Wales)
Ken Owens gave everything he had for the 60 minutes he was on the field against England. Didn’t take a step back in defence and carried until he had nothing left to give.
Problems remain with the Welsh line-out, but they have been long standing and it’s hard to place all the blame on Owens.
[tie_slide]3. Uini Atonio (France)
In our team based on his scrummaging prowess, Uini Atonio is almost immovable on the French tighthead side. Together with his front row colleagues, Atonio won six penalties at scrum time against Scotland.
[tie_slide]4. Joe Launchbury (England)
This time last year Joe Launchbury was relegated behind Maro Itoje and George Kruis, but now looks like a potential Lion after another massive performance for England.
[tie_slide]5. Courtney Lawes (England)
Like his second row partner, Courtney Lawes has really put his hand up this season. A true back five player, Lawes even operated on the blind side after Maro Itoje had moved into the second row.
[tie_slide]6. CJ Stander (Ireland)
Granted it was only Italy, but CJ Stander was awesome in Rome. While much has been made of his hat-trick of tries and the 73 meters he gained, the fact that he looked to pass the ball has largely gone unnoticed.
Despite continually barging through the Scottish defence last week, Stander only passed the ball twice in 80 minutes. Against Italy, he brought some extra subtlety with nine passes.
That “instinctive” cross field kick will also be spoken about for years in the Stander household you would suspect.
[tie_slide]7. Justin Tipuric (Wales)
Justin Tipuric was everywhere against England in Cardiff. However, despite endlessly running support lines and making 19 tackles, the Welsh openside found himself on the losing team.
[tie_slide]8. Ross Moriarty (Wales)
Ross Moriarty was on his way to a man-of-the-match performance when Rob Howley took the decision to replace the number eight with Taulupe Faletau.
However, while the decision to substitute Moriarty may not have directly led to Wales’ defeat, it certainly contributed to their downfall as Faletau was unable to match his physicality.
[tie_slide]9. Baptiste Serin (France)
Not the best weekend for scrum-halves as a whole, but Baptiste Serin impressed for France during the first half. He kept the tempo high and found his forwards with some well-timed flat passes that invited runners to burst over the gain line.
[tie_slide]10. Paddy Jackson (Ireland)
Although he wasn’t put under any real pressure by the Italian defence, Paddy Jackson kept Ireland on the front foot and assisted in three of Ireland’s tries.
Nine successful conversion attempts will do his confidence no harm either. Whisper it, but Jackson might be far closer to replacing Sexton than some might think.
[tie_slide]11. Liam Williams (Wales)
Liam Williams has Lion written all over him. It doesn’t matter if he plays at fullback or on the wing, he picks brilliant lines that take him through the smallest of gaps in the tightest defence.
[tie_slide]12. Owen Farrell (England)
Another controlled and mature performance from Owen Farrell.
His pass to Elliot Daly for the match-winning try was a thing of beauty, while the manner in which he dusted himself off after being hit late by Moriarty illustrated his class.
[tie_slide]13. Gary Ringrose (Ireland)
Gary Ringrose came in for some criticism following his performance in Murrayfield, but that didn’t seem to trouble him against Italy.
His running style and low centre of gravity have resulted in comparisons being drawn with Brian O’Driscoll in the past, something he will find hard to shake following a brilliantly taken try.
[tie_slide]14. Elliot Daly (England)
This guy is just a natural footballer. Sometimes Eddie Jones comes across as though he is trying to shoehorn Elliot Daly into his team, but the truth be told, he could play anywhere in the backline.
Very quickly becoming a certainty for the Lions.
[tie_slide]15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)
Another game and another try for Stuart Hogg. However, while there is no doubting his ability with ball in hand, Gael Fickou exposed his technique in the tackle.
That’s something that will not have been lost on Steve Hansen and the All Blacks.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena
On this week’s edition of The Oval Office podcast, we talk about the Irish back row with Niall Ronan and get the Scottish perspective from The Scrum Magazine’s David Arnott.
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