The Guinness Six Nations returned from its bye week on Saturday with Round 3 of the 2020 campaign, as teams at opposing ends of the table contested games of varying quality.
Scotland took the edge in the bid to avoid the wooden spoon by beating Italy, 17-0, in Rome in a game that is better off forgotten for everyone but the most ardent of Scottish fans. An enthralling contest in Cardiff followed, with France keeping alive their Grand Slam hopes with a 27-23 victory over Wales.
- Stuart Hogg, Scotland
The full-back secured some international redemption after his error over the try line against Ireland with a wonderful solo score in Rome. It was a turgid game, in all honesty, although Hogg was a consistent attacking spark for Gregor Townsend’s side and was one of the decisive differences for Scotland in what was certainly a must-win game. A mention, too, for France’s Anthony Bouthier, who had another superb game in Fabien Galthié’s French revolution.
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- Jonny May, England
Not exactly the sort of game that most wings thrive in, although England’s kick-heavy approach played right into the hands of May’s lightning pace, considerable stamina and accuracy in the chasing tackle and/or aerial contest. He was unlucky not to grab a try when he stole the ball from John Cooney and his length of the field sprint ended with him being tackled into touch off the ball. Whether or not Robbie Henshaw was committed to the tackle prior to May kicking was a 50/50 call.
- Nick Tompkins, Wales
There were times on Saturday where Tompkins’ execution let him down, but on balance, his performance was a far more positive one for Wales than it was a negative one. He repeatedly gouged the excellent French defence and was Wales’ most consistent source of attacking success. As he gets more comfortable in international rugby, the already irregular errors should begin to further fall away. A nod to Manu Tuilagi, too, who had he had a second half like his first, would have bagged this spot.
- Owen Farrell, England
Farrell gets the nod here for the decisiveness of the victory he was pivotal in delivering, though Hadleigh Parkes and Sam Johnson both impressed in different fashions over the course of the weekend. The English playmaker’s kicking game, both from hand and at the sticks, as well as his fizzed passes and aggressive defence, were all significant factors in England’s win over Ireland on Sunday.
- Gaël Fickou, France
A mention for Jonathan Joseph, as both he and Fickou impressed with their midfield involvements when they came off of their respective wings. Fickou’s incisive kicks and passes in the centres helped France unlock the Welsh defence and more than mitigated the odd moment he was caught out positionally. Could playmaking centres coming off the wing be the new trend in international rugby?
- Romain Ntamack, France
Ntamack was pushed all the way by Adam Hastings, with the Scotsman having also excelled this weekend with the ball in hand, and an impressive George Ford on Sunday. That said, Ntamack’s performance in Cardiff was one of a masterclass in decision-making, skill execution and game management. From his kicking from hand and at goal, to his silky passing and elusive running, the French fly-half was a standout for Les Bleus in a memorable victory.
- Antoine Dupont, France
Perhaps not as eye-catching a performance as the ones he turned in against England and Italy, Dupont was still precise and effective against Wales, where his game management, rather than his considerable ability with the ball in hand, was more ardently tested. There seems to be very little this scrum-half can’t currently do.
- Joe Marler, England
A formidable scrummaging display from England’s freshly shorn loosehead, as he took on friend and rival Tadhg Furlong and came out on top. In addition to winning that set-piece battle of the two British and Irish Lions, Marler also impressed with the power of his carrying close to the ruck, freeing up England’s back rowers to have more influence in the open spaces.
- Stuart McInally, Scotland
Jamie George put his hand up for selection, although McInally, alongside Hogg and Hastings, was one of the decisive elements in the game in Rome. His contributions at the set-piece and in the loose helped Scotland keep Italy scoreless and provide enough opportunity for the visitors to come away with three tries and the win.
- Giosuè Zilocchi, Italy
Italy’s tighthead came very close to making this XV in the opening weekend of the championship and is now rewarded after another valiant display in defeat. He has been one of the real positives for the Azzurri after three rounds of competition and with Marco Riccioni waiting in the wings, coach Franco Smith has an enviable one-two punch to mould.
- Bernard Le Roux, France
Once again, the hard work and physicality of Le Roux from the engine room was critical for France. For all the dynamism in the side’s back row and the improved composure of the back line, it’s the gritty offensive and defensive work close to the ruck by the lock that is helping lay the foundation for the rest of the team’s successes.
- Maro Itoje, England
Itoje was pushed hard at Twickenham by James Ryan, as this evolving rivalry continues to deliver time after time. That said, the impact that Itoje was able to have in defence was highly significant in the result, as he slowed Irish ball, delivered momentum-shifting tackles in the midfield and forced turnovers.
- Courtney Lawes, England
A real competition on the blindside this week, with Ross Moriarty looking energised and dynamic once again, whilst Jake Polledri was also very effective in a losing cause for Italy. Lawes, however, put in an emphatic shift for England against Ireland, ruling the skies at the lineout and providing some much-needed physical edge as a ball-carrier, something which he was critiqued for not providing in the same role against France.
- Charles Ollivon, France
Ollivon pips Sam Underhill and Hamish Watson here, as the French captain continues to shine with the burden of both captaincy and playing expectations. From the breakdown to having the ball in his hand, Ollivon is a leader by example for the French team and he plays with an energy and work rate that has not always been apparent among French forwards in recent years.
- Gregory Alldritt, France
Even after spending 10 minutes in the bin for a yellow card, Alldritt still makes this XV with a fine and dynamic carrying performance in Cardiff. The consistency that he is bringing, alongside the likes of Ollivon, Ntamack, Le Roux and Dupont, is the reason why Les Bleus are in the mix for their first Grand Slam since 2010.
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