Three Irish make Six Nations team of the weekend as England dominate
With the second weekend of the Six Nations in the bag, the battle for the Grand Slam has become a two-horse race between England and Wales.
Thankfully, there's no equine flu infecting this duel as the two thoroughbreds are due to face-off in a Cardiff eliminator in the next round. But with the third weekend still two weeks away, we're here to look back at the second round where Scotland faltered, Ireland rebounded, Wales laboured and England dazzled.
The action got underway on Saturday afternoon in an all-Celtic affair as Scotland played host to Ireland. Looking to replicate their shock victory from two years ago, the Scots knew they were up against it, but after beating Italy in round one and seeing Ireland defeated by England, hopes of an upset were bright.
But they were quickly squashed by a more familiar Ireland display as Connor Murray, Jacob Stockdale and Keith Earls got the 2018 champions back to winning ways in a 22-13 victory, with Scotland's sole response coming through Sam Johnston.
Next it was to Rome for the evening kick-off, and despite pushing Wales hard on home turf, Italy were unable to avoid a 19th consecutive defeat that extends their unwanted Six Nations losing record. The home side did at least manage to score the first try through flanker Braam Steyn, but Wales proved to have too much firepower in the locker as Josh Adams and Owen Watkin went over in the second half to secure the 26-15 win.
The weekend's action wrapped up at Twickenham as England looked to go two from two against France, and they did exactly that in emphatic style. A 29-minute Jonny May hat-trick set the tone, and after Henry Slade sealed the bonus point before half-time, a penalty try and Owen Farrell completed the 44-8 rout in the second half – with France's only reply coming from wing Damian Penaud.
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1. Allan Dell (Scotland)
Valliant display in a losing effort at Murrayfield. Dell impressed in the scrum against Tadhg Furlong as the Scottish pack stood up well in the set-piece, but it was his defence that really stood out with the London Irish-bound loosehead registering a mammoth 23 tackles.
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2. Jamie George (England)
Excellent in the loose as he strengthened his claim to being the most mobile hooker at international level. His lineout accuracy was good, though two of his 12 throws found French hands, but he has well and truly ousted Dylan Hartley as England's No 1 No 2.
3. Kyle Sinckler (England)
His hot-headed character may have landed himself a lecture in “rugby values” from Nigel Owens and conceded a penalty in the process, but his sublime handling skills and powerful runs more than made up for it. Played a role in Jonny May's second try and threw a beauty of a pass for Henry Slade's score that should see him immediately exiled from the front-row union.
4. Grant Gilchrist (Scotland)
The Edinburgh lock led the Scottish defensive effort with 25 tackles and is standing up as a true pack leader in the absence of John Barclay and, now, Ryan Wilson. Unlucky to have been on the losing side.
5. Courtney Lawes (England)
Maro Itoje's absence at Twickenham was barely noticeable on Sunday as Lawes seized his opportunity with both hands. Bone-crunching tackles on Felix Lambey and, impressively, Mathieu Bastareaud set the tone for England's defence while he also pinched two lineout inside the French 22.
6. Braam Steyn (Italy)
Italy's standout player by a country mile in Rome as they went down swinging against Wales. Stole lineout ball, scored the opening try of the match with a powerful surge close to the line and made more tackle than any other player on the field. That he was wearing No 7 does not matter either as we're taking to the Warren Gatland approach to doubling-up on opensides.
7. Tom Curry (England)
Forced off the field for the second time in a week, though discipline was not the issue this time around as he suffered a gruesome gash to his forehead that took five minutes to patch up. But for the other 75 minutes he proved a thorn in the side of France as he caused them all sorts of bother at the breakdown, with his late turnover-penalty the perfect sign of his resilient attitude.
8. Josh Navidi (Wales)
One of the players of the tournament so far that has given Warren Gatland plenty to think about in his back-row selection. Has enjoyed standout performances in all three positions in the Welsh back-row to prove his versatility, and managed to stop a number of Italian attacks in their tracks either by force or by craft in the ruck.
9. Conor Murray (Ireland)
A much-improved performance from the Irish No 9 that his display against England. His box-kicking was much closer to the accurate levels expected of the British and Irish Lion and he ran a good support line to profit when Tommy Seymour and Sean Maitland mixed up their defensive cover work to score the opening try.
10. Owen Farrell (England)
A tactical kicking masterclass from the English captain, who also bagged a try of his own this week as he took full advantage of Jonny May and Antoine Dupont's collision. However, it was his ability to control the pace of the game against France and dictate where the opposition were playing that paved the way for England's crushing first-half display.
11. Jonny May (England)
Three tries from four touches said all you needed to read about his 29-minute hat-trick. Is rapidly growing into one of the most lethal finishers in the game thanks to his sheer pace and rugby brain. A joy to watch on Sunday afternoon.
12. Bundee Aki (Ireland)
Has become the one constant in Ireland's midfield as both Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose continue to be affected by injury. His line-breaks and ability to offload in the tackle gave Ireland precious metres that helped them pull clear of Scotland and build an insurmountable lead.
13. Henry Slade (England)
Another shining display from the outside centre. Like Farrell, it was his tactical kicking from hand that did the damage for France, and when the opportunity presented itself he let his footwork do the talking as he sidestepped French captain Guilhem Guirado with ease to score a third try of the tournament.
14. Jacob Stockdale (Ireland)
Responded off the back of a quiet week with a delightful display, capped by his beautiful try in the first half as he popped up on Johnny Sexton's inside shoulder and went half the pitch on an arcing run to score. Contributed throughout and looked the danger man that we know he can be.
15. Elliot Daly (England)
Kicked the game into life at Twickenham with a dazzling run through the defence in the opening minute, keeping his wits about him to spot the pace in behind and kick ahead for May to score. But his defensive work also deserves praise, with two big tackles on Guirado after the hooker had broken the line.
Independent News Service