Six Nations Team of the Week, Round Two
OPINION: The second weekend of the 2020 Six Nations offered a mixed bag of performances.
The relatively open match-up of Ireland versus Wales made way for the wet, windy and bedraggled contest between Scotland and England in Edinburgh.
The round came to a conclusion on Sunday in an entertaining affair between France and Italy in Paris, where Les Bleus emerged victorious in a 35-22 win over their mainland rivals.
The results leave just Ireland and France hunting a Grand Slam this season, with the two set to lock horns in the final round of the tournament.
Alex Shaw named his 15 most impressive performers from the weekend’s rugby below, but do you agree with our calls?
- Jayden Hayward, Italy
Perhaps a surprising inclusion given Jordan Larmour’s second strong game in as many weeks for Ireland, although the Italian full-back was one of the few Azzurri players to be unlucky to be on the losing side in Paris. Hayward’s counter-attacking, territorial kicking and aerial receipts were all extremely consistent, and he distinguished himself in a losing effort.
- Jonny May, England
A very solid outing from May in extremely challenging conditions. After spilling the first ball of the game, the Leicester Tigers wing went on to excel with the aerial contests and given how much kicking dominated the Calcutta Cup clash, that was absolutely vital to England lifting the trophy for the first time in three seasons.
- Arthur Vincent, France
A tough competition with Robbie Henshaw, where either man could have come out on top, although the French youngster looked remarkably competent at this level in just his first start in international rugby. His defensive decision-making was notably impressive, as well as providing some go forward outside of Gaël Fickou.
- Owen Farrell, England
It was a captain’s knock from Farrell at BT Murrayfield, as he dealt with the conditions expertly. His kicking from hand was incisive and put the Scottish back three under pressure, as he kept his kicks low and avoided the worst of the gales, something England’s other players struggled with. The England captain also defended strongly and prospered with his decision-making, whilst a nod to Bundee Aki is deserved, too.
- Jacob Stockdale, Ireland
The sizeable wing celebrated his new contract at Ulster and with the IRFU in good fashion in Dublin, as his ball-carrying helped propel Ireland towards a bonus point win over Wales. There aren’t too many players more exciting to see with the ball in hand in world rugby than Stockdale and we got another glimpse of that on Saturday. If weather conditions improve over the coming weeks, he looks in the sort of form to shake up the championship.
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- Romain Ntamack, France
A couple of awry kicks aside, Ntamack pulled the strings exquisitely for France against Italy and was more than fair value for the 18 points he contributed through kicks, tries and assisted tries. Both Jonny Sexton and Dan Biggar went well in their respective matches and that’s the company that Ntamack is now keeping on a weekly basis for France.
- Conor Murray, Ireland
With John Cooney breathing down his neck, Saturday’s win over Wales was a timely reminder of what Murray offers at half-back. His array of passing in Dublin was exemplary and there are few other nines in world rugby who can match the accuracy, tempo and variety of Murray’s distribution. He’s done enough to ward off Cooney’s ambitions on the jersey for now, as well as the excellent Antoine Dupont for a place in this XV.
- Cyril Baille, France
In addition to providing France with a solid set-piece platform against Italy, the Toulouse loosehead also went to work as a ball-handler. He can carry up and over the gain-line when he wants to, although he was also able to bring into play those around him with his sophisticated passing and offloading skills.
- Rob Herring, Ireland
France’s Julien Marchand had a strong first half and Jamie George battled valiantly and successfully against the conditions in Edinburgh, though for overall positive impact, this spot just goes to Herring. The Ulster hooker gave Ireland a foundation at the set-piece and his contributions in the loose were also noteworthy, as Ireland put the squeeze on Wales and were able to move through the gears and open up their game plan.
- Tadhg Furlong, Ireland
An honourable mention for Kyle Sinckler, who was impressive against Scotland, though a try to his name tips the scales ever so slightly in Furlong’s favour. The Irishman’s brutish physicality was on display as he grabbed that try, whilst his work in the tight was typically excellent. Between Furlong and Sinckler, the British and Irish Lions options at tighthead are looking in particularly good health.
- Maro Itoje, England
Itoje was an aggressive pest to Scotland on Saturday, with his defensive work at the lineout, contact area and in the tackle consistently forcing Gregor Townsend’s side into errors, from which England was able to capitalise. In a game that was dictated by the set-piece, defensive pressure and turnovers, Itoje reigned supreme.
- Alun Wyn Jones, Wales
The veteran lock has won plenty of battles on the pitch over his gloried career, although the one he is currently winning against Father Time might be the most impressive of them all. He put in a remarkable defensive shift at Aviva Stadium on Saturday afternoon and though Wales were well beaten come the 80th minute, that was not down to a lack of impact from Jones. He just shades this spot from Paul Willemse.
- Jake Polledri, Italy
Another standout display for Polledri in the Italian pack, as the Gloucester flank enjoyed success as a ball-carrier and a defender. The physicality he generates in contact on both sides of the ball sees him invariably win the collisions and although Italy isn’t currently able to turn that into points due to other deficiencies in their side, it’s a position of strength for them to build from.
- Sam Underhill, England
A brutally physical performance from one half of England’s ‘Kamikaze Kids’ duo, who just sees off yet another strong showing from Wales’ Justin Tipuric. With the wind and rain the wrong side of torrential in Edinburgh, Underhill’s textbook and punishing tackling helped keep the Scots at bay and he was crucial to England’s game plan of kicking possession away and forcing Scotland into errors with ball in hand.
- Gregory Alldritt, France
A peerless performance from Alldritt, who excelled in all facets of the game against Italy in Paris. His ball-carrying was incisive, his kick receptions were clean and effective, and he was also able to shift the point of contact with an adept passing and offloading game on the gain-line. The No 8 has been a real success story of this new-look French side.
By Alex Shawm RygbyPass