By Charlie Morgan
Unsurprisingly, Italy, Wales and Scotland do not figure highly in Round 2′s Team of the Week, so who impressed us? Let us know what you think…
15. Mike Brown (England)
Outwardly, Brown was magnanimous in the lead-up to Saturday and praised Stuart Hogg as a “world-class” performer. Deep down, he would have been desperate to make a point to a player who travelled in front of him for the Lions last summer. The Harlequin did that in the first quarter with a copybook hit on his opposite number before yet another impressive display of wiry running that included a second Test try in as many weeks.
14. Andrew Trimble (Ireland)
Trimble didn’t cross the whitewash as he managed against Scotland, but the Ulsterman was a picture of industry. Sparked by a fantastic one-on-one tackle on George North in the early stages, he harried after kicks relentlessly throughout a frenetic first hour, which featured one fine first-half bust. A return of 63 metres from nine carries on such a claustrophobic occasion is very commendable.
13. Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland)
When O’Driscoll was writhing on the turf after receiving Scott Williams’ shoulder in the guts, it appeared his part in Ireland’s sweet victory could be over. Then he got up with a wry smile, the Aviva exploded into a throaty cheer and we all remembered how clever the timing of the great man’s script-writer is. This is far from a sentimental pick, though – O’Driscoll’s afternoon was full of understated excellence from canny grubbers to dogged counter-rucking and watertight defence. Sheer class, right until his role as peacemaker as it got ugly at the end.
12. Wesley Fofana (France)
Jamie Roberts’ perseverance provided a solitary crumb of comfort for Warren Gatland and Wales, but a second-half magic spell from one of the tournament’s most genial players was enough to clinch a berth at inside-centre. First Fofana darted down the blindside to score himself, bypassing a weak challenge from Luke McLean. Five minutes later, he picked the pocket of Mauro Bergamasco and tore up the middle before hooking a sublime overhead pass to Yoann Huget, who in turn released Hugo Bonneval to dot down for a debut try. In an attritional episode at the Stade de France, Fofana offered much-needed joie de vivre.
11. Jonny May (England)
Convention and coaching manuals take a back seat whenever May is in possession – and it’s simply mesmerising to watch. Scotland were dumfounded time as Gloucester’s mercurial wing shimmied and sashayed between would-be tacklers at will. May is also tougher than he looks in defence. In him and Jack Nowell, Stuart Lancaster has unearthed a pair of rough diamonds, ready to be polished.
10. Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
Sexton’s partnership with Joe Schmidt is already dripping in silverware from years together at Leinster and their symbiosis is smoothly moulding Ireland into an international outfit with much promise. With a pack that was wreaking havoc at lineout and ruck, the hosts’ fly-half did precisely what he needed to – hit the corners, varied his kicking and slotted his goals. Composure and accuracy personified, he also put his body on the line – stripping Richard Hibbard of the ball and forcing the ball out of Roberts’ grip late on.
9. Danny Care (England)
Conor Murray comprehensively outplayed Mike Phillips, but over-hit a couple of box-kicks. Care kept control against Scotland – something he didn’t do quite as well in Paris – and guided England in winning the territorial tussle comfortably. The Harlequin also fizzed a crisp pass to Luther Burrell for the opening try, landed a magnificent snap drop-goal from 35 metres and managed referee Jerome Garces shrewdly.
1. Cian Healy (Ireland)
If Wales were going to hi-jack Dublin, Adam Jones needed to deliver a trademark demolition job at the scrum. Despite the intense scrutiny from Wayne Barnes, that never happened and Healy showed how far his set-piece has come on. There weren’t any Hollywood charges, but a couple of short shunts kept Warren Gatland’s men on their toes. Healy’s main contribution in the loose was some terrific chop-tackling around the fringes, which allowed Ireland’s ruck scavengers to feast.
2. Rory Best (Ireland)
Best has a phenomenal engine – as if his magnificent back row needed any help in overpowering a strangely timid Wales – and was simply effervescent. Some dead-eye throwing also made him the architect of Ireland’s lineout maul, their most devastating weapon. He lasted 12 minutes longer than Hibbard and easily bettered his much-lauded rival.
3. Dan Cole (England)
Cole is so valuable to England and proved his worth over another hard-working shift. Replaced only in game’s dying embers, he has now racked up 155 minutes in this competition – far more than any other tighthead. That’s not to say the Leicester man paces himself at all, though. Indeed, his Calcutta Cup clash was saturated with honest graft and he eked a scrum penalty out of Ryan Grant as well.
4. Paul O’Connell (Ireland)
If Sexton was Ireland’s brain, O’Connell was the heartbeat. He set the tone for his side’s superior muscularity by man-handling Dan Lydiate to halt Wales’ first attack and dismantled the visitors’ lineout thereafter. Before kick-off, Schmidt mischievously suggested Ireland captain would need a big game to justify his return to the team. It proved a masterstroke in man-management and O’Connell was happy to rise to the occasion.
5. Courtney Lawes (England)
Lawes was commanding in every aspect at Murrayfield and his consistency at Test level is becoming fearsome. The individual statistics – 11 lineout takes, two steals, ten carries and seven tackles – are top-drawer, but the less quantifiable aspects of his play are just as impressive. This special Northampton Saint possesses the pace to terrify first receivers and enough presence to keep Jim Hamilton quiet.
6. Peter O’Mahony (Ireland)
For the second week in a row, a man wearing a number six on his back was the stand-out player across all three fixtures. At 6ft 3in, taller than most of the world’s best breakdown exponents, O’Mahony defied physics and Wales with a number of cast-iron jackals. Winning his first penalty after five minutes when Lydiate held on, he also ambushed Sam Warburton in the second half close to his line and was generally a complete pest to the men in red.
7. Chris Henry (Ireland)
Being in the right place at the right time is the very first thing on an openside flanker’s job description, and Henry is doing a fantastic job of letting Irish fans forget about the absence of Sean O’Brien. Fabulously irritating for the opposition in every contact situation, he benefitted from being at the heart of Ireland’s irresistible driving maul for a first Test try on the half-hour. Before and after that, the tenacious Ulsterman scrapped and spoiled wonderfully as Wales were derailed.
8. Louis Picamoles (France)
At the end of a dismal first half in Paris, France needed something to lift their clunky, clumsy mood. The longer Italy lingered within a score, the tetchier the famously fickle French supporters grew. Luckily for them, Picamoles was on hand to bulldoze past three defenders and over shortly after the break. It became a catalyst for the spell that clinched an underwhelming match, though Toulouse’s talisman – with 52 metres from 12 carries – showed determination all day.