The second round of the Guinness Six Nations didn’t disappoint. Though England got back to winning ways with a thumping 41-18 win over an improved Italy, it was the nail biters between Scotland and Wales, and Ireland and France that really drew fans from their seats. Seven tries in the fixture up in Edinburgh and a frenetic finish saw both sides emerge with credit to a classic Test match, which ended a point in Wales’ favour, 25-24, while France were ecstatic to register their first win in Dublin since 2011, as Ireland pushed them so, so close. In the trio of games, there were some standout performances, so The XV, have picked out the player who caught the eye. Feel free to let us know who would have made your team…
15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)
Hogg has shown real maturity as a leader in this year’s Six Nations but his, relatively, newfound responsibility shouldn’t take away from his brilliance as a rugby player. Against Wales, he first used his deft right boot to lift the ball over the Welsh defence before putting enough pressure on Leigh Halfpenny force an error and dot down unopposed, and then with Scotland down to 14-men, he nudged his countrymen ahead again with an arcing step outside a flailing Owen Watkin to score his second try. With 22 tries, he needs only three more to become Scotland’s all-time top try scorer, which is remarkable given he’s only 29 in June.
14. Louis Rees-Zamitt (Wales)
Rees-Zamitt only left his teens a fortnight ago but already looks to the manor born on the Test stage. Four tries in five Tests is similar to the impact that George North made in his early days, and while very different players, Rees-Zammit could well follow North by beating a path to a Lions call up. His first try was a rope-a-dope. After receiving the ball from Liam Williams, he put on the afterburners to go for the corner, leading Darcy Graham to commit before yanking up the handbrake to step off his right foot and score. The second try will be played on a loop in Welsh quarters for years to come. Taking the ball from Willis Halaholo on the halfway-line, he pulled away from Duhan Van der Merwe to put a perfectly weighted kick over Stuart Hogg and outpace Chris Harris to the line. ‘A star in born’, purred Jonathan Davies. He wasn’t wrong. The 60m banana kick off his right boot was a nudge that he was not purely a speed merchant.
13. Garry Ringrose (Ireland)
Outside Henshaw, Garry Ringrose was another to step up and arguably get the better of Arthur Vincent opposing him. Ringrose is a leader in midfield, with a wicked step and his ten carries averaged nearly over 8m a carry as his strong leg-drive took him beyond consistently beyond the gainline. One of Ireland’s minor failings is that they don’t get Ringrose enough front-foot ball to hurt defences. His lack of a try for Ireland in two years speaks volumes.
12. Robbie Henshaw (Ireland)
Deprived of the usual suspects, Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton, inside him, Henshaw took on extra responsibility in midfield, regularly barking instructions and cajoling Billy Burns and Jamison Gibson-Park. Fresh off the back of an impressive performance against Wales, his duel with Gael Fickou ended in a draw, with both men carrying hard into contact – Henshaw carried on nine occasions for 57m – yet showing flashes of guile in releasing runners around them. A siege-gun boot, a power-fend and enough pace to outstrip first-up defenders, means he will surely be among the reckoning for a Lions squad spot.
11. Anthony Watson (England)
Anthony Watson’s brace on Saturday was his first for England in nearly a year, which reinforces critics of Eddie Jones, that their jet-heeled wings are not utilised enough. It saw his tally rise to 20 tries for his country, just days before his 27th birthday. His first, was textbook Watson as he took the ball from Jonny Hill at pace and used his footwork to step inside Stephen Varney and Jacopo Trulla to power home. His second showed his instincts for an intercept had not be dulled from his relative inactivity, as he picked out Paolo Garbisi’s pass and galloped 70m to go in under the sticks. With 160m carried, Watson gave his detractors a timely reminder of his quality.
10. Finn Russell (Scotland)
He ended up on the losing side but Russell showed enough moments of pizzazz to keep the neutral purring as Scotland narrowly lost to Wales. The improbable offload to Duhan Van der Merwe, in the game’s dying seconds, nearly won him ‘assist of the tournament’, but throughout he used his varied kicking game to create uncertainty in the Welsh ranks. His easy-going, ‘it’s only a game’ charm was captured at the culmination of the second-half when he was pictured dancing along with some piped-in Aviici. A born-entertainer and wonderful rugby player, who can make the odd error in judgement, but lifts the mood for the rugby neutral.
9. Antoine Dupont (France)
Dupont may as well sponsor the Team of the Round award because he is playing at a higher level than not just his fellow 9s, but almost all players, full stop. Dupont can play the patience game, by releasing his backline but when he takes the ball up himself, those players on his shoulder should expect to see the ball popping up at any angle. Not everything went to plan – he will not be thanking Paul Willemse’s head for getting in the way of a potential try, but the Tolousain, had his mitts on everything enterprising for France and a burst late on down the left-hand touchline, in which he swatted three Irish forwards, showed his freakish strength for someone of modest proportions. He wasn’t a slouch in defence, either, with 12 tackles as France fought to suppress
1. Wyn Jones (Wales)
Another excellent showing from Wales’ premier scrummaging loose-head. But there is much more to Jones’ game than set-piece ballast. The beefy Scarlet is such a brute on the jackal, winning one hugely impressive turnover and wedging himself over many a Scottish ruck. He does need to stay out of the nine-10 channel, mind you. Just ask Dan Biggar.
2. Julien Marchand (France)
An absolute monster with the ball, only Gregory Alldritt topped Marchand for carries (10) and metres made (63) in the French side. These are terrific hauls for a hooker, particularly the average metres per carry number of 6.3m. Marchand looked likely to punch holes in Ireland’s defence almost every time he came rumbling forward, and showed some deft sleight of hand too. The only concern will be the performance of France’s line-out, where three out of 15 throws were lost, but the hooker is not necessarily at fault.
3. Kyle Sinckler (England)
This was a big weekend for Sinckler, pitched straight back into the starting XV after serving a suspension for swearing at a referee, and the tight-head delivered. HIs performance was not a spectacular showcase of line breaks and off-loads and massive hits, but a consistently top-class display in all areas of the game, including 10 carries for a brilliant 40m.
4. Tadhg Beirne (Ireland)
A fabulous weapon at the breakdown. Beirne is a cloying menace when he gets his long, lean frame latched over ball, as he did on Sunday, winning three turnovers. The lock did not have the same telling influence with ball in hand as he did against Wales, but still managed five carries, beating one defender, and racked up 10 tackles. Beirne was also part of a fine Irish line-out, winning all of its own ball and spoiling several French throw-ins.
5. Jonny Hil (England)
After putting in 20 tackles against Scotland, Jonny Hill was given another run out at Twickenham. His 6ft 7in frame was last to emerge from the throng for England’s first try and he was on hand in the outfield to slow a sleight of hand to put Anthony Watson for his first try. Hill grows in composure with every game. A mention in dispatches for another Jonny, at the Exeter Chiefs, as Jonny Gray continues to burnish his credentials as a Lions tourist, backing up a titanic performance at Twickenham with another top display against Wales.
6. Charles Ollivon (France)
What a mighty defensive shift this was from the French captain. Ollivon put in 19 tackles, the joint-highest figure of the weekend, as France repelled phase after phase of Irish bludgeoning. He did not see much of the ball but was on hand to gallop away for a massive score with his team down to 14 men.
7. Hamish Watson (Scotland)
Scotland’s scrapper supreme was relentless in Edinburgh, just as he was at Twickenham in round one. For a small bloke, in professional rugby terms, Watson plays very, very big. He amassed nearly 40m on the carry, many of his 10 rumbles in hideously close-quarter skirmishes, and pilfered two Welsh balls at the breakdown.
8. Gregory Alldritt (France)
A very close call between Alldritt and CJ Stander, who delivered another colossal ball-carrying performance for Ireland. The Frenchman nicks it for the incredible effect he has in getting his team motoring forward, and his magnetic influence on defenders, breaking five tackles from his 14 carries and 89m on the hoof. In a big defensive effort, Alldritt made a dozen hits and missed none. A timely mention for Taulupe Faletau who topped the tackles, carries and metres run for Wales.