Six Nations team of the tournament so far: Five Irishmen make the XV
With the Six Nations in a temporary stasis, it feels like the right time to look back on what individuals have most distinguished themselves over the course of the first two rounds.
15. Stuart Hogg
Arguably the best counter attacker in the Championship, Hogg was forced from the action early in the Millennium Stadium, though not without first having a couple of serous cuts at Wales. Scotland have the bones of a potent back line that’s yet to click but, when it does, the full back will be a key component.
14. George North
No player in the competition has made more yards or beaten more defenders than the bulldozing wing, who scored a fine try to break Scottish hearts last week. After an unhappy period at Northampton, North, like so many of his compatriots, is looking a lot like his best self in the red of Wales.
13. Jared Payne
It might be a little unfair to exclude England’s Jonathan Joseph following his hat-trick heroics in Rome but, while carrying a painful hamstring injury, Payne was a defensive behemoth for Ireland against Les Bleus. The naturalised Kiwi made 16 tackles from as many attempts and, with ball in hand, made 27m from six carries.
12. Jamie Roberts
The source of so much of Wales go forward ball, the Harlequin has been a formidable physical weapon to date. Took a beautiful line for his try against the Scots, before obliterating Blair Cowan with a crunching hit, which was almost identical to the one he doled out to Robbie Henshaw a week previous.
11. Tommy Seymour
Perhaps a surprise inclusion but, in an opening two rounds dominated by attrition, wing play has not featured prominently. Seymour has proven a capable kick-chase operator and made a pair of fine breaks against Wales. He demonstrated heightened instincts to be on hand to take Finn Russell's sumptuous chip and touch down in Cardiff.
10. Johnny Sexton
Sexton has yet to complete a full 80 minutes thus far, but has been at the epicentre in those rare times have Ireland have moved beyond their compact phased attack. With a 100pc return from the tee, the Leinster man’s worth cannot be overestimated.
9 Conor Murray
It could be deemed as strange that Ireland’s half backs have been shortlisted at a time when the squad's creative spark has never been questioned more. However, Murray continued on from a comprehensive display at the Aviva Stadium-where he sniped in for a pivotal try- against Wales, with another fine outing in Paris. His kicking and marshalling of the Irish pack have been first rate.
1. Jack McGrath
He may have been in an Irish scrum that has creaked at key moments, but those shorcomings have been largely on the tight head side. The Leinster loose head is the joint top tackler in the tournament with Taulupe Faletau on an incredible 33.
His clear outs against the Welsh poachers in week one were as ferocious as they were numerous. Continues to come of age as Ireland’s incumbent number one.
2. Guilhelm Guirado
The new skipper was France’s top tackler against Italy and certainly put it about against Ireland last week….just ask Dave Kearney (see below). Guirado’s darts from touch have rarely wavered and he’s stood up as a leader when his side needed to dig in and close things out in the opening two fixtures.
3. Dan Cole
The Leicester Tiger continues to be the bedrock of an English scrum which has only lost one of their 19 put ins. Went the full 80 during a quality display against Scotland and completed all but 11 minutes against the Italians.
4. George Kruis
The English lock is going to be a handful for his Irish counterparts next week if the last two rounds are anything to go by. Rumbled over against Scotland and forced four turnovers in Rome last Sunday.
5. Alun Wyn-Jones
Maybe not yet operating a full tilt but the Ospreys man possesses a work rate few can replicate. With Paul O’Connell now retired, Jones could well claim the mantle of most versatile second row and influential player in the Six Nations.
6 CJ Stander
What a revelation the Munster captain has been during his brief time on the test stage. He leads the competition in carries but that only partially tells the story. While acclimatising to the pace of the game at the highest level, Stander has tackled and competed on the deck with a dervish fervour.
7. John Hardie
The Kiwi-Scot alerted us to his talents at the World Cup and reaffirmed our first impressions against England and Wales. Stifled the English in Edinburgh and did more than hang in against Tipuric and Warburton last Saturday.
8. Taulupe Faletau
Not much more can be said about the number eight that hasn’t been already stated. As compete a loose forward you’re going to find in this hemisphere and arguably Warren Gatland’s most consistent performer. Honourable mention to Billy Vunipola and Sergio Parisse.