Undoubtedly the pick of this weekend’s games, Wales host Ireland at the Principality Stadium with the intention of wrapping up their first Grand Slam since 2012. Ireland, meanwhile, retain a sliver of hope, with a win in Cardiff and some help from Scotland at Twickenham enough to deliver them a successful defence of their title.
It’s been a competitive Six Nations at the top and the bottom, but with a clear divide forming, as Wales, Ireland and England have prospered, and Scotland, France and Italy have struggled. With two of those three front-runners going head-to-head this weekend and the title on the line, we decided to put together a composite XV from the two matchday teams.
Remember, it’s based on current form in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations.
- Liam Williams, Wales
Jordan Larmour flashed a lot of promise against France in Round 4, but the full-back position has been one of inconsistency for Ireland this year, with Rob Kearney injured and Robbie Henshaw unaccustomed to the position after so long in the centres. In contrast, Williams has been defensively responsible and ambitious in attack in equal measure and has given Wales security at the back.
- Keith Earls, Ireland
It’s been a good tournament for George North, who has shown again his finishing ability and that he is a solid defender in the wider channels, but he probably hasn’t quite hit the heights that Earls has this year. The Munster wing has been a thorn in the side of most of the teams he has gone up against.
- Jonathan Davies, Wales
This two-time British and Irish Lion has been key to Wales’ success so far this year, with his defensive reading of the game in the 13 jersey as good as there has been in the tournament. He can shift from blitz to drift seamlessly and has been a strong carrying option for Warren Gatland’s side, too.
- Hadleigh Parkes, Wales
The toughest selection so far, with Bundee Aki having also performed consistently to a high standard. You could go either way, really, with Aki having fought out some harder yards closer to the ruck, as part of Ireland’s more patient, phase-building style, whereas Parkes has had a little more incision to his game, shifting a bit further out from the contact area and finding more space. Both have been crucial to their team’s fortunes.
- Jacob Stockdale, Ireland
Another tight one, with Josh Adams deserving a very honourable mention. The England game aside, Stockdale has been dominant again this year and offensively has been one of, if not the most potent weapon in the championship. He leads wings in gain-line successes, and he is beating a defender on average every 1.7 carries.
- Gareth Anscombe, Wales
Purely within the spectrum of the 2019 Six Nations, Anscombe has outplayed his illustrious rival, Johnny Sexton. Wales haven’t been blowing teams away, but they have been clinical with opportunities when they have arisen, with Anscombe often being at the heart of that. He has added a creative element and fair bit of guile to the Welsh midfield.
- Conor Murray, Ireland
Similar to the Williams pick, Murray gets the nod here based on consistency of selection, as well as the undoubted ability he has brought. Wales have flipped between Tomos Williams, Aled Davies and Gareth Davies, whilst Murray has continued to mix up his play from nine, providing an adept sniping option, a range of passing and a refined box-kicking game.
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Watch: Warren Gatland admits Wales’ minds were on Ireland during the second half at Murrayfield
- Cian Healy, Ireland
It’s been a slightly cleaner tournament from Healy than the one by Rob Evans, but both looseheads have been part of impressive scrummaging units. Healy has offered a little more bang for his buck as a ball-carrier, something which just sees him sneak ahead in this contest.
- Ken Owens, Wales
It’s worth noting that the Welsh lineout has struggled in the championship and though Owens’ play has been impressive in most aspects, particularly clearing out at the contact area and providing a pick and go option, he and his jumpers have not been able to get on the same page. The injury to Rory Best earlier the championship hurt Ireland in the front row.
- Tadhg Furlong, Ireland
He has scrummaged strongly, carried and tackled with an engine which belies his bulky frame and gone to work at the contact as one of, if not the most brutally efficient clearer in the tournament. It’s no criticism of Tomas Francis, but it’s a mark of Furlong’s ability that this was a fairly easy call.
- James Ryan, Ireland
The lock is remarkably the number two ranked player in the tournament for gain-line successes with 25 so far, just two behind the impressive Braam Steyn. It’s that carrying ability, both in the tight and the more open areas of the pitch, that has separated Ryan from most of his positional rivals this year.
- Alun Wyn Jones, Wales
The work rate of Jones is beyond question at this point and his ability in the defensive stands Wales put in against both England and Scotland warrant him a spot here. That’s before even considering the other aspects he brings to the team, including lineout ability, contact area work and leadership. His teammate Adam Beard deserves a mention, too, but a Ryan and Jones engine room is the clear call here.
- Peter O’Mahony, Ireland
The blindside continues to be a pest for opposing sides at both the lineout and the contact area, and he currently leads the championship with five turnovers won. Two of those five turnovers have come at the lineout and his ability to not just steal possession in that facet, but also disrupt, muddy and slow down opposing ball, is a big part of Ireland’s ability to confound the attacking game plans of opponents.
- Justin Tipuric, Wales
Probably not the emphatic tournament with ball in hand and defensively at the contact area that Tipuric is used to having, but he has played a significant role in Wales being able to compete for a Grand Slam this weekend. He has helped deliver ball-security and quick ruck speed, whilst he has tackled efficiently and powerfully, and like Jones, he particularly stood out in those tight games against Scotland and England.
- CJ Stander, Ireland
Stander has become the Swiss army knife of the Ireland back row, with Sean O’Brien struggling with injury problems. The number eight gives Ireland a pressure valve as a pick and go and one-out carrier, usually delivering a metre or two and ensuring ball-security with a good placement. He chips in with turnovers at the breakdown and is one of the players in the championship capable of making physically dominant solo tackles on the gain-line.
Watch: Rory Best and Joe Schmidt talk to the press after beating France
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