By Charlie Morgan
IT WAS a rip-roaring Round 3, where France and Ireland lost their chance of a Grand Slam and England and Wales moved back into contention for the Six Nations title. Then there was Scotland who bounced back from their England nadir to snatch a thrilling last-minute win.
So without further ado, here are the players who make our team of Round 3.
15. Mike Brown (England)
Rob Kearney took his try very well, but Brown has drained most superlatives dry this season and Joe Schmidt reckoned he was the difference between England and Ireland on Saturday. Elusive on attack, his cannon left boot and bravery were to the fore in defence, too – a goalkeeper-style interception from Brian O’Driscoll was a staggering piece of anticipation. The Harlequin laid on Danny Care’s score and his prickly persona (ask Jonny May about that) demands quality from teammates.
14. Yoann Huget (France)
France were simply dreadful at the Millennium Stadium and rolled over up front with an almost embarrassing lack of fight. Still, Huget retained his standards and would have caused serious headaches without a fine defensive shift from Liam Williams. The Toulouse man is enjoying a very impressive tournament and has been France’s outstanding performer.
13. Alex Dunbar (Scotland)
It was very fitting that Dunbar grabbed a brace in such a vital win for Scotland – he has been thoroughly exceptional for Scotland over the past month. A bristling, brawny presence in the centre, his tenacity in defence and attack would be a credit to any international midfield. Two fine finishes, backing himself in Rome only confirmed that.
12. Billy Twelvetrees (England)
Twelvetrees has suffered some excessive online criticism, which simply proves some England fans do not know how lucky they are. There were some handling mistakes as Ireland were let off the hook a couple of times, but the Gloucester man’s work-rate was a significant factor in the hosts’ victory at Twickenham. Twelvetrees made 18 tackles to help nullify the threat of Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll, took a fantastic restart, kicked well from hand when required and trucked up the middle hard. Still to fully convince with his distribution, but this was positive.
11. Sean Lamont (Scotland)
It might seem strange to see two Scots among this backline, but Lamont’s dogged persistence and power demanded inclusion. Instrumental in Dunbar’s second with a drop of the shoulder, he skittled an Italian defender and made a neat offload to Cusiter. Lamont could have had try himself had Duncan Weir used him in the first half. A tally of 14 carries and seven tackles from the wing underlined his commitment and thirst for work.
10. Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
Weir earns a mention for having to cojones to slot a match-winning drop-goal. One errant restart aside though, Sexton oozed class throughout Saturday afternoon and reinforced his standing as the best fly-half in the northern hemisphere. Stood firm in his channel despite regular testing from England’s runners and directed some slick interplay. He also found Andrew Trimble with a gorgeous cross-kick while generally looking dangerous on the gainline and kicking his goals.
9. Rhys Webb (Wales)
Webb benefited from a dominant front five on his first Test start, but the young Osprey also had a big hand in a Welsh performance that was utterly transformed from the Dublin debacle. Whippy, decisive service added to contestable kicks, a couple of stinging snipes and committed tackling comprised a noteworthy full debut. Warren Gatland’s number nine shirt should now be his to lose for England.
1. Gethin Jenkins (Wales)
A frankly baffling decision from Alain Rolland gave Jenkins a yellow card and a ten-minute breather alongside opposite man Nicolas Mas, but Wales’ loosehead ensured his 108th Test was one to cherish. Though a tricky surface and some unsympathetic refereeing made the scrum a penalty factory, the Cardiff Blue wrestled set-piece ascendancy and rumbled around in the loose like it was 2005.
2. Dylan Hartley (England)
If he has really been the victim of social media trolling for being part of England’s under-fire scrum, there are some pathetic, misguided people out there. Hartley continued his excellent Six Nations with a perfect return from eight lineouts and some typical robust industry around the pitch. Five carries and seven tackles was the tangible return, but his temperament now – still as fierce, but far more measured – is so important to Stuart Lancaster’s side.
3. Geoff Cross (Scotland)
Spare a thought for Moray Low, because being pulled on 38 minutes after giving away four penalties must have been horrible. Still, Scott Johnson’s call was inspired. Cross defied Martin Castrogiovanni and Alberto de Marchi to shore up the scrum superbly and, despite a glaring knock-on in a good position, helped pave the way for the biggest comeback in his country’s history.
4. Joe Launchbury (England)
Luke Charteris was brilliant in Cardiff but this, without question, was the individual performance of the Championship to date. To say Launchbury eclipsed Paul O’Connell is a mammoth statement, but delving into the detail justifies such praise. The young London Wasp caused havoc at the breakdown, married power and skill in the loose and tackled tirelessly – a late ankle-tap on Dave Kearney was utterly astounding as he moved to blindside flanker for the final ten minutes. At the end, Launchbury slumped into Henry Thomas’ arms, emotionally and physically drained. He couldn’t have given anything more.
5. Joshua Furno (Italy)
Normally the plaudits are reserved for another rangy, ball-playing Italian forward . Melbourne-born Furno was even more important to the Italian effort on Saturday than his skipper Sergio Parisse though. The lock loped over for the try that looked to have slain Scotland and put Tommaso Allen in for another score in the first half with a cute pass – how many tight-five men can overcome white-line fever that coolly? Twelve carries and 15 tackles completed a superb contribution.
6. Dan Lydiate (Wales)
For a 50-second spell in the second half at the Millennium Stadium, it felt like 2012. Tearing across the Cardiff turf, Lydiate chopped down three Frenchmen in less than a minute to confirm a very timely return to form and finally repay his coach’s well-worn faith. Redemption must have felt far away a fortnight ago, but the Racing Metro man has almost reached it.
7. Sam Warburton (Wales)
If a hiding over the Irish Sea had put Warburton’s leadership under pressure, Alun-Wyn Jones’ withdrawal two hours before kick-off against France would have sent the stomach butterflies into overdrive. The openside responded by turning in an openside masterclass. Strength, opportunism and technique in the tackle area brought turnovers and a go-go gadget finish killed off France, but the subtleties – such as taking six lineouts to ease the burden on debutant Jake Ball – are what make him such a special skipper. Sheer class from the moment he took the mascot’s hand.
8.Jamie Heaslip (Ireland)