Round two of the NatWest 6 Nations is officially in the bag and following six enthralling contests, the Championships enters into its first rest week before hostilities resume on February 23rd.
Both Ireland and England maintain their 100% record and top the table but remain only one defeat away from the clutches of Wales and Scotland.
With Italy and France showing their teeth despite succumbing to consecutive defeats and an end to their any title aspirations, this past weekend featured a host of star performances from across each Test side.
Naming a team of the week from those who stood out is something of a subjective affair and no matter what XV is chosen, there will always be a few surprises hiding in the mix.
Such it has been for the XV that former England star and pundit Will Greenwood has compiled following round two.
— Will Greenwood (@WillGreenwood) February 12, 2018
Featuring three Scots, a further three Irishmen, a pair from France and a single Italian, the remainder of the side is shared between England and Wales, with four and two respective representatives.
Ireland’s strength in the scrum has been reflected with the inclusion of two front rowers, Jack McGrath and Andrew Porter, with second row giant Devin Toner also in the mix.
Perhaps surprisingly, the likes of Conor Murray, Jonathan Sexton and Keith Earls didn’t make the grade in Greenwood’s eyes.
France’s Teddy Thomas is selected at 14, where Ireland’s Earls and England’s Anthony Watson have been in flying form, but given the Racing 92 winger is already three tries to the good this Championships and is in seemingly unstoppable form, it is next to impossible to rationally argue for his omission.
Greig Laidlaw’s inclusion at scrum-half is perhaps the first cause for a raised eye brow as despite his imperious kicking against France on Sunday, he did manage a few errors in the first half of their clash.
With Ireland’s Murray, England’s Danny Care and Wales’ Gareth Davies all in the mix but not doing anything that puts themselves significantly above the rest, perhaps it was Laidlaw’s kicking prowess that secures his spot in Greenwood’s side.
Similarly at out-half, Italy’s only representative in the side is Tommasso Allan and is one of the surprise inclusions in the side. Scoring 11 of his side’s points against Ireland in Dublin, the 24-year-old Benetton out-half did mange a fine performance for the Azzurri.
The question is if he had a better all-round display than Jonathan Sexton or George Ford. Greenwood certainly thinks so.
Looking through the rest of the XV, the inclusion of Owen Farrell, Jonny May, Josh Navidi, Mike Brown and Joe Launchbury were all likely easy picks for the player turned pundit.
For Ken Owens, Huw Jones, Ryan Wilson and Yacouba Camara, each put in a solid shift over the weekend and there is merit for their inclusion, though certainly not as clear cut as Wales Navidi and the four Englishmen.
So what can we take from Greenwood’s NatWest 6 Nations team of the week? Despite opinionated objections and alternative player suggestions, we can certainly say that Wales have a real star in Josh Navidi.
Belying his international inexperience, the 27-year-old is having a cracking tournament and looks to have a bright future ahead at openside. The real question that now needs answering is if Sam Warburton will be able to wrestle the number seven jersey back from Navidi when he returns from injury.
Ireland’s Andrew Porter was called into action within the open 90 seconds against Italy when British and Irish Lions starting tighthead Tadhg Furlong pulled up with a tight hamstring.
Rather than seeing a weakened scrum from the loss of Furlong, 22-year-old Porter’s stepped in a showed that while he may play second fiddle to the man from New Ross, he is a name for the future and could well ensure that Furlong doesn’t hold dominion over the position in the years ahead.
Tommasso Allan’s inclusion will surely be viewed with some satisfaction by Italy boss Conor O’Shea as now, with captain and talisman Sergio Parisse not getting any younger, behind the increasingly impressive out-half, there is a genuine successor emerging to lead a restructuring Italy into the future.
Scotland’s Laidlaw, Jones and Wilson’s inclusion is, in part, reward for the heroics against France in Murrayfield on Sunday. though you might argue for others in the positions the three Scots filled in the team of the week, their presence in the side will be a reminder to all that, under Gregor Townsend, the northern country has the players to contend with the best.
As France continue to search for their first victory in 12 months, it is fair to say that as a squad they cannot be regarded lightly, even as new head Jacques Brunel opts for an experimental side in this year’s Championships.
The brilliance of Teddy Thomas in the first two rounds is such that he is already a front runner for player of the tournament.
Having only just reached double digits for his cap count for France, it is clear that the 24-year-old has the potential to become one of Les Bleus great players. The 2018 NatWest 6 Nations could be the birthplace for that greatness.
Finally, as England continue their march towards a third successive title, the inclusion of four of their stars in Greenwood’s side show that there is a depth of quality and experience embedded through Eddie Jones’ side.
Across the XV, there are few who are failing to live up to their own hype of being the best side in Test rugby today.
As it always is with the Six Nations, it is a game of inches, attrition, individual brilliance and the chances of the next team of the week including even half of the same faces is pretty unlikely.
Where sides are evenly matched and clashes finely balanced, it really is a case that it takes all five rounds in order to find a winner.
Such is the magic of the tournament.
Now, the only issue that faces fans is the prospect of having to wait another two weeks for the next round to kick off again.