Six Nations Team of the Week: Round Four
OPINION: Despite the game between Ireland and Italy being called off, the fourth round of the Six Nations still offered up a veritable feast of international rugby in its two surviving fixtures.
England got the ball rolling with an impressive 33-30 win over Wales at Twickenham, with the visitors surging late in that game to add some gloss to the scoreline from their perspective. It then finished in dramatic fashion as France saw yellow and red and fell to a fired-up Scotland, 28-17, at Murrayfield, as their Grand Slam hopes drifted away in a haze of indiscipline.
We have selected below our pick of performers from the 92 players involved in the past weekend of Six Nations rugby.
15 – Stuart Hogg, Scotland
Hogg’s best performance of the Six Nations so far this year, the fullback was incisive and his decision-making in attack led to composed and clinical Scottish tries. When Hogg plays well, a lot of Scotland’s attacking issues melt away around his influential contributions and that was as true as it has ever been on Sunday.
14 – Anthony Watson, England
The wing looked like he had never been away as he collected Ben Youngs’ inside pass and danced his way passed the Welsh defence and found his way to the tryline. Watson also held up well defensively and showcased his excellent footwork on a couple more occasions at Twickenham on Saturday.
13 – Manu Tuilagi, England
For many this spot will go to Nick Tompkins, whilst some will give it to Virimi Vakatawa for a strong showing against the odds, but the influence Tuilagi had on England’s attack was highly impressive. His carries were constantly getting over the gainline and giving Youngs quick ball with which to work, whilst his late red card, though fully deserved, had no tangible effect on the final result.
12 – Owen Farrell, England
Just the 15 points for Farrell, who was 100 percent with the boot against Wales at Twickenham. The England captain also stepped up defensively and with his playmaking as a ball-handler, helping propel his side to a position from which they were not going to lose the game, despite England’s defensive lapses in the dying minutes.
11 – Sean Maitland, Scotland
A brace for Maitland, who clinically pounced after the interval and killed off France’s chances of springing an unlikely upset once they had been reduced to 14 men. He will have flashier games with the ball in hand, though he took his chances when they were presented and did a solid job of keeping Gaël Fickou quiet on his wing.
10 – Dan Biggar, Wales
Even though Wales struggled for front-foot ball and to achieve parity against the English pack, Biggar’s work from flyhalf was eye-catching, despite the disadvantages he faced relative to his opposite number. With a heavily strapped knee, Biggar was still able to manufacture moments of attacking opportunity and there were not many players unluckier to be on a losing side this weekend than him.
9 – Ben Youngs, England
A very impactful outing from the oft-maligned Youngs, with the scrumhalf’s box-kicking proving vital to England’s success at Twickenham. He seemed back to his old self with some trademark darts around the fringes, too, whilst his passing was accurate and helped lead to two first-half tries for the hosts.
1 – Rory Sutherland, Scotland
The Scottish loosehead successfully exerted pressure on France’s Mohamed Haouas and though there’s no way of proving that contributed to the tighthead lashing out with a punch and spending over half the game in the bin, it certainly wouldn’t have hurt. Sutherland was also effective in defence around the fringes, repelling France’s power carriers.
2 – Julien Marchand, France
One of the few French forwards to leave Murrayfield with his head held high, Marchand was effective at the set-piece and one of the more industrious players in the loose in Edinburgh. His ball-carrying and work at the contact area helped keep France in the contest despite Haouas’ red card and some sub-par performances from his fellow pack members.
3 – Kyle Sinckler, England
The tighthead started solidly for England, holding up his side of the scrum and providing the quick hands that he has become known for. As the game moved on, he started to go after his number more aggressively at the scrum and became more of a carrying presence, all the whilst maintaining his excellent defensive work.
4 – Maro Itoje, England
Itoje has made himself a regular in this XV with the tenacity of his performances and his ability to take opposition game plans and bend them to his will. From his defensive line speed and decision-making to the physicality of his collisions and nuance in the dark arts of the game, the lock was vital to England’s efforts against Wales.
5 – Grant Gilchrist, Scotland
An honourable mention to George Kruis who was excellent at Twickenham, but Gilchrist came out on top in a battle with two very physical French locks, Bernard Le Roux and Paul Willemse. Le Roux should be one of the front-runners for player of the tournament and yet it was Gilchrist who came out of Sunday’s contest as the more influential of the pair, as he stymied power runner after power runner in the French forward pack.
6 – Jamie Ritchie, Scotland
Ritchie’s abrasiveness and physicality constantly got under France’s skin on Sunday and he was key to Scotland winning the battle on the gain-line and keeping their opponents frustrated. His work rate, along with that of fellow flanker Hamish Watson, was exemplary.
7 – Justin Tipuric, Wales
Yet another showing of Tipuric’s undoubted ability, as he bagged two tries at Twickenham and added some much-needed consolation to what was a poor overall performance from Wales. Beyond his two scores, Tipuric was influential with the ball in his hand and at the contact area, as the Welsh openside proved to be a persistent thorn in the side of the dominant English pack.
8 – Grégory Alldritt, France
The No.8 put in a Herculean shift for a pack that was undermanned and outgunned by their Scottish counterparts at Murrayfield. His ball-carrying, link play and contributions at the breakdown were all standout, as France become ever more reliant on his dynamism, power and ability to play for 80 minutes at a high intensity.
By Alex Shaw, @RugbyPass
Watch: Eddie Jones and Owen Farrell speak to the media after beating Wales