After round one of the Six Nations, with Italy falling short in Paris 23-21, England edging Scotland 15-9, and Ireland and Wales drawing in Dublin, Last Word On Sports have picked the team of the week. This week, it involves four Frenchman, four Englishmen, two Italians, three Irishmen, a Welshman and a Scot.
15. Maxime Medard, France
Ever-willing to run back Italian kicks, Medard made 82m and beat five defenders. He also offloaded the ball four times and assisted Vakatawa for his try. It will be interesting to see if he’s done enough to snatch the jersey from Scott Spedding for the meanwhile.
14. Jack Nowell, England
The Exeter Chief was solid under the high ball and in the tackle. Nowell also finished a well-worked England move in what turned out to be the match-winning try. The 22-year old also made two clean breaks and beat three defenders. His improvement in the last year has been drastic, and he looks to have the wing jersey almost nailed down now.
13. Michele Campagnaro, Italy
Another Exeter Chief, who is starting to become more of a presence on the international stage. His 11 tackles were important in keeping the French at bay for large parts of the match, and his three clean breaks and four defenders beaten demonstrate his attacking ability. Italy would be in a real pit if Campagnaro were to get injured.
12. Jamie Roberts, Wales
The British and Irish Lion was absolutely immense again for Wales, making 21 tackles and ten typically bulldozing carries. Roberts is a once-in-a-generation player and the way he is willing to put his body on the line time and again is sometimes difficult to comprehend.
11. Virimi Vakatawa, France
The former Sevens star has made his presence in the full format of the game well known with a superb debut. A try, 63m made, and five defenders beaten (joint highest by a Frenchman) means he waltzes unchallenged into this team. France need him to build on this performance to lead them on through the Noves era.
10. Carlo Canna, Italy
A try and eight points from the tee was not a bad start to his international career by any means. He picked an intelligent line to break down the French door. Have Italy finally found the answer to their fly-half problem?
9. Conor Murray, Ireland
Nine tackles for a scrum-half borders on ridiculous. His try gave Ireland a 13-0 lead and they should have closed it out from there. Just like Gray, Murray will book his place on the 2017 Lions tour with performances like this. His partnership with Jonny Sexton is critical to Ireland’s success.
1. Jack McGrath, Ireland
The young Irish prop deputised for the injured Cian Healy very effectively. His 16 tackles and 11 carries ensured his side didn’t succumb to defeat in a 16-all draw with Wales. Healy will struggle to make it back into the side if McGrath keeps performing to this standard.
2. Guilhem Guirado, France
His tenure as French skipper got off to a victorious start. Yes, it was a lacklustre display in a narrow victory over the Italians but in the Six Nations it doesn’t matter how you win, particularly in the opening fixture. The Toulon hooker led from the front, making 13 tackles and eight carries, while also hitting his lineout jumper 11 times.
3. Dan Cole, England
No tighthead stood out this weekend, but this man was arguably the pick of the bunch. He made an impressive nine tackles, and in his post-match interview, Eddie Jones stated: “Dan Cole showed why before the World Cup he was rated the best tighthead prop in the world”. His discipline must be improved, however. All in all a solid game from the Leicester man.
4. Jonny Gray, Scotland
The Glaswegian lock put in an industrious performance as usual: 11 carries, 15 tackles and a lineout steal against England’s solid set-piece highlights his fantastic effort. Consistency at international level is key, and Gray is certainly performing week in, week out. If he can sustain his form, he will be on the Lions plane to New Zealand next year.
5. George Kruis, England
A try in the 14th minute from Kruis was to be the confidence boost he needed as the Saracen put in his best performance in an England jersey so far. He was one of the top tacklers for the men in white with 16, and just like Gray, he poached a lineout against the head. He should have done enough to retain his place for the trip to Rome.
6. CJ Stander, Ireland
A fine debut performance by the Munster fan favourite, making an incredible 23 carries and 11 tackles. His endurance and work ethic was rewarded with the Man of the Match award. He may be disappointed with the result on the whole, but what a start by the South African-born back rower.
7. Wenceslas Lauret, France
A tight call between him and James Haskell for this spot in the team. The icing on the cake for the Frenchman was the assist for Damien Chouly’s try, however he also performed the donkey work well, making ten tackles and nine carries.
8. Billy Vunipola, England
‘Billy V’ put in a match-winning performance with his 22 carries and nine tackles. A one trick pony perhaps but he his one trick, ball carrying, is very effective. 9/10 times he bursts over the gainline, and his total of 55m made exemplifies this. Like Stander, his efforts were rewarded with a Man of the Match award.