Six Nations XV : The Guinness Six Nations is back and the opening round of competition saw no lack of impressive individual performances from the 138 players involved.
Wales got the ball rolling with a comprehensive and clinical 42-0 win over Italy that will have pleased Wayne Pivac as much as it worried Franco Smith, whilst Ireland and Scotland played out a tense and tight game in Dublin, with the home side ultimately securing a 19-12 victory. The final match of the weekend saw a resurgent France beat England, 24-17, in Paris, as the beaten Rugby World Cup finalists struggled to stay with France’s youthful energy and tempo.
We have compiled our most impressive XV from the three games below, but do you agree with our calls?
- Jordan Larmour, Ireland
Six Nations rugby is an even more appetising prospect if we are guaranteed the presence of Larmour at full-back week in, week out. The electric back brought his scintillating footwork and turn of pace to the party this weekend and although he didn’t trouble the scoresheet personally, it’s impossible to argue that he didn’t contribute to Ireland’s best attacking moments. A mention for the evergreen Leigh Halfpenny, too.
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Watch: Ricky Riccitelli’s cheap shot on Siya Kolisi
- Jonny May, England
Two wonderful solo tries from May secures him this spot, despite England struggling overall in France. England’s attack was blunt and lacked precision and were it not for May’s individual ability, the scoreline would have been much worse for his side.
- Nick Tompkins, Wales
Tompkins took to international rugby like a duck to water for Wales on Saturday, as he replaced Johnny McNicholl in the first half. The Saracens centre was a creative force and an adept finisher for his adopted nation and his arrival to the pitch only further stretched the beleaguered Italian defence. He did his chances of starting in a week’s time no harm at all.
- Sam Johnson, Scotland
Inside centre Johnson was one of the Scotland players to leave Dublin on Saturday feeling particularly frustrated, as he impressed on both sides of the ball at the Aviva Stadium. He was able to get over the gain-line repeatedly and lay a platform for his teammates to impress, although unfortunately for Scotland, they weren’t as clinical as they needed to be to swing the tight game in their favour.
- Josh Adams, Wales
Adams may not have the searing pace and footwork of Cheslin Kolbe or the raw physicality of Joe Cokanasiga, but he is an exceptionally good wing and reader of a rugby game. This was on display as he cruised to a hat-trick of tries against Italy in Cardiff, in a performance that showcased the full array of his finishing skills.
- Jonny Sexton, Ireland
An honourable mention to Sexton’s opposite number, Adam Hastings, who put in a solid showing in the absence of Finn Russell, although the Irish fly-half was one of the pivotal differences between victory and defeat for the home side. He accounted for all 19 of Ireland’s points on the day and was influential with the ball in hand, kicking at goal and in defence.
- Tomos Williams, Wales
A livewire performance from Williams, who punished the disorganised Italian defence on multiple occasions on Saturday, so much so that he edges out the equally impressive Antoine Dupont. His preference for taking the gap and darting around himself was not so strong as to blind him to options on the outside, though, as he facilitated a number of Wales’ more impressive attacking forays in the midfield and on the outside.
- Joe Marler, England
A very impressive showcase in scrummaging from Marler, who was also very physical with his one-on-one tackling. He was one of the few English players to win their individual duels with their opposite number in blue on Sunday. The loosehead was unlucky to be on the losing side in Paris.
- Ken Owens, Wales
Owens went well for Wales in a game that they were in complete control of from the opening whistle until the final. In addition to marshalling Wales’ lineout well, Owens also popped up with some important carries and a couple of momentum-sapping tackles on the gain-line.
- Tadhg Furlong, Ireland
Giosue Zilocchi’s set-piece work was one of the few highlights for Italy in a damning overall performance from the team, but the crown this week goes to Furlong. The Irish prop was a physical force in attack and defence and scrummaged well against the Scottish tight five.
- Bernard Le Roux, France
For all the talk of England’s ‘brutal physicality’, it was Le Roux who spearheaded a ruthlessly physical French performance. The lock repeatedly denied the likes of Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry and Jamie George on the gain-line, as the veteran of the French pack led by example for his younger teammates.
- James Ryan, Ireland
The battle between Ryan and Jonny Gray on the pitch was as fun to watch in the game as the contest between them for this spot was to evaluate. We have leant towards the Leinsterman for his added ability as a ball-carrier, particularly close to the ruck, although both can hold their heads high after an entertaining clash in Dublin.
- CJ Stander, Ireland
This was exactly the sort of showing that keeps Stander a mainstay of the Ireland side, despite calls for ‘flashier’ options. The flanker prowled the gain-line in defence and was able to repeatedly stop Scotland on or before it, whilst reciprocating in attack with the sort of short one and two-metre carries that allowed Ireland to maintain tempo and force the Scottish defence onto the back foot.
- Justin Tipuric, Wales
A mention for the impressive Hamish Watson, but Tipuric, under the watchful eye of Sam Warburton on the sidelines, was every bit the thorn in Italy’s side that Pivac would have wanted from his openside. His work rate was excellent, his ability over the ball was considerable and his skills as a ball-handler allowed Wales to flourish in attack. A complete performance from the flanker.
- Charles Ollivon, France
We have shifted Ollivon over from the flank to No 8 to accommodate both him and Tipuric, but given his impressive carrying performance and two tries against England, it’s not a significant stretch of the imagination to have him at the base of the scrum in this XV. The French captain was excellent against England and will certainly have buoyed French fans who might have been in two minds about this youthful revolution of Les Bleus.
Watch: Andy Farrell and Jonny Sexton face the press after defeating Scotland in Dublin
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