After a thrilling first round of Six Nations rugby, Joe Harvey takes a look at his team of the week from the weekend's matches.
1. Mako Vunipola (England) – Probably the best way to describe this performance is vintage Mako. The loosehead prop was named the man of the match by Guinness and rightfully so. Making around 25 tackles, Vunipola got through plenty of work and largely nullified Tadhg Furlong at scrum time. What can’t he do?
2. Jamie George (England) – Starting in his own right for the first time in the Six Nations, George has probably silenced the majority of his doubters with a well-rounded game from the hooker. Mobile around the pitch, George carried well when requested and tackled with effectiveness when needed. The Saracens players’ throw-ins at the line-out were extremely reliable and resulted in good England ball on each occasion which was really impressive.
3. Tomas Francis (Wales) – Playing in a Welsh pack that was listed as 50kg lighter than their French opponents, Francis was extremely impressive for Warren Gatland’s side as they stood up to their opposition. Making some impressive tackles in defence too, Francis didn’t have an absolute barnstormer, but did his main job very well.
4. Grant Gilchrist (Scotland) – Scotland veteran Gilchrist has seen the tides change for Scottish rugby since he made his debut back in 2012. The Edinburgh lock was regularly carrying the ball in Scotland’s 33-20 win over the plucky Italians. Added to this, he was resolute in defence and played the entire game for Gregor Townsend. He was even unlucky not to have a try after the officials saw more than a double movement.
5. Alun Wyn Jones (Wales) – Like all of the forwards on this list, Alun Wyn Jones did not score a try. However, what Jones did was arguably much more important. 16-0 down at halftime, Jones led his team to an impressive 19-24 win in Paris. Playing the entire game at the age of 33 too, Jones’ performance was unprecedented. Aging like a fine wine.
6. Josh Navidi (Wales) – Lining up at blindside, Navidi outshone his teammate Justin Tipuric in the backrow. With a memorable rip and carry and a couple of important turnovers, Navidi always seemed to be in the thick of things and was an integral part of the Welsh comeback. With plenty of competition in that backrow, it seems that Navidi will be nailed on for the rest of the Six Nations.
7. Jamie Ritchie (Scotland) – Jamie Ritchie really burst onto the international scene during the Autumn and the 22-year-old has had another barnstorming performance for his country this weekend. Stepping up at openside for the injured Hamish Watson, Ritchie was a workhorse for Gregor Townsend’s side as well as being solid in defence and contributing to the attacking efforts.
8. Mark Wilson (England) – Admittedly Wilson played at openside for England in their 32-20 win over Ireland, but his efforts can’t be overlooked. Putting in over 20 tackles, Wilson was absolutely resolute in defence. The Newcastle Falcons man has continued his great international form with another excellent all-round game and was a massive part of England’s win in Dublin.
9. Ben Youngs (England) - He's had his doubters surrounding his distribution speed, but there was no evidence of that on Saturday. Has one of his best outtings for England in recent memory. Kept the intensity of England's attack ticking over nicely, steadying and stearing the ship, along with some intelligent tactial kicking.
10. Finn Russell (Scotland) – Having not seen Finn Russell play much since his move to France, it’s remarkable how much the 26-year-old seems to have improved. And he was already world-class. Everything that Russell seemed to try worked out, his cross-field kick for Blair Kinghorn’s first try being a perfect example of that. Genuinely can’t wait to see him in action this weekend against the Irish.
11. Blair Kinghorn (Scotland) – Scoring a hat-trick of tries against the Italians, it’s difficult to believe that it hasn’t been a year since Kinghorn started his first Six Nations game. Naturally a fullback, Kinghorn’s ability at fielding high balls is partnered nicely with his searing pace and general athletic ability. Ireland will find difficulty at finding weakness in his game.
12. Manu Tuilagi (England) – This was not the performance of a man who hadn’t started a Six Nations game in six years. Playing at inside centre, it did take a little while for his relationship with Owen Farrell to form but when it did, it always created space for England. In addition to this, the Leicester centre put in some massive hits on his opposition, really shaking the Irish. Ben Te’o may have lost that starting berth.
13. Henry Slade (England) – Scoring two tries, Slade continued to show that he is England’s best 13. Superb at linking up play with the wings and fullbacks, Slade really was a great link for Owen Farrell. Added to this, the Chiefs stalwart also used his boot to good effect when looking for touch late in the game and showed athleticism to gather a loose ball for his second try. Seriously impressive.
14. Jonny May (England) – May got off to a great start in Dublin after finishing off a fine move down the left wing in the early minutes. This set the scene for a very strong May performance. He was safe under the aerial bombardment and chased energetically around the park all day. Assisted Henry Slade's try with a nice kick through to top off a solid performance.
15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland) – As per usual it was a joy to watch Stuart Hogg in the Six Nations. Scoring a try in this game, Hogg displayed all of his abilities throughout the 80 minutes in Edinburgh. Always breaking the gainline, it’s difficult for any opposition to stop the Glasgow Warriors player in his tracks. Exeter Chiefs fans should be extremely excited to see this man at Sandy Park.