By Charlie Morgan
Before this weekend there were (theoretically speaking) five sides still in the Championship hunt. Wales left the running after being comprehensively downed at Twickenham, while Ireland brushed off a hard-working Italy and France somehow sneaked past Scotland. Now just three teams can still taste glory. But which individuals stood out? Here’s our Six Nations team of Round 4.
15. Mike Brown (England)
Brown is enjoying a patch as purple as England’s garish warm-up jackets – the Harlequin has not endured anything close to an off-day this season. Wales paid dearly for a brainless deep kicking game and were powerless to prevent England’s full-back from carrying 154 running metres and beating seven defenders with some typically incisive counter-attacks. Player of the tournament accolades surely await.
14. Andrew Trimble (Ireland)
Trimble took his try well on the opposite wing after capitalising on some sorcery from Brian O’Driscoll, but the less showy stuff – carries close to the ruck and from restarts – was just as important in overturning Italy. That provincial team-mate Tommy Bowe is not required in Paris speaks volumes for Trimble’s electric Six Nations.
13. Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland)
Talisman, role-model, icon – as he struggled to hold back the tears at full-time and insisted someone else deserved the man-of-the-match award, O’Driscoll personified those words. Earlier, a dazzlingly dextrous display had reminded Dublin that he has also been a wonderful entertainer. One we will all miss dreadfully.
12. Billy Twelvetrees (England)
Soaking up Jamie Roberts’ physicality is a seriously tough task, and Twelvetrees showed mighty effort to reduce the impact of his illustrious, in-form adversary. Intelligence in attack – epitomised by the delicious grubber for Luther Burrell’s try – complemented customary guts throughout an increasingly assured performance.
11. Yoann Huget (France)
There’s no escaping the fact that France were once abysmal. That said, they still sneaked an unlikely victory and unthinkably remain in the running to clinch the Championship crown. Huget’s intuitive interception – Scotland were home and dry had he misjudged it – hauled Les Bleus back from the brink. The in-form wing may have come unstuck for Stuart Hogg’s early try, but he wholly redeemed himself.
10. Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
Sexton was the best fly-half on show a fortnight ago despite being slightly below par during the loss to England. The Italians weren’t so lucky and got hit by a 17-point haul including two tries. When the Racing Metro waltzes to the gainline with runners carving dangerous lines all around him, it is a wonderful sight.
9. Greig Laidlaw (Scotland)
There was another moment of superb opportunism from Danny Care, but Laidlaw impressed as well. Aided by Scott Johnson’s selection up front (who’d have thought that picking your best players actually works?), the scrum-half had a decent platform. He made sharper decisions and guided Scotland painfuly close to a gritty win.
1. Ryan Grant (Scotland)
When a loosehead prop packs 12 carries into an afternoon and is part of a scrum in the ascendancy, he has more than earned his corn. Grant grew more prominent as Scotland looked to have sewn things up things up in the second half and really didn’t deserve to be on the losing side.
2. Leonardo Ghiraldini (Italy)
This tenacious Treviso hooker may have struggled slightly at set-piece against one of the best lineouts in the world, but he gave another lion-hearted showing elsewhere. Ghiraldini recorded an immense 18 tackles in 70 minutes and was effective with a handful on trundles on the rare occasions Italy were in possession.
3. David Wilson (England)
Mike Ross was solid for Ireland opposite dangerous Albert de Marchi and looks intent on holding off Martin Moore, a highly-rated contender for his starting slot. Wilson was outstanding though. Outmanoevred at the first scrum, he subsequently mauled Gethin Jenkins, sending the Lions loosehead to the sin bin and allowing dead-eye Owen Farrell to boot nine points for England. Throw in a superb midfield break, an out-the-back offload and a team-high tally of 38 ruck attendances and Dan Cole has a genuine contender.
4. Richie Gray (Scotland)
Gray may have seemed flat of late, but he saved his Test best for France – the blond giant dismantled the French lineout alongside engine room buddy Jim Hamilton and caused chaos elsewhere. Showed fine awareness and skill to step in a scrum-half prior to Hogg’s score, too.
5. Courtney Lawes (England)
There was a suggestion that Wales may have been lacking vital experience at half-back and Stuart Lancaster’s enforcer rammed that home, charging down Rhys Webb once and lurking, menacingly in Rhys Priestland’s peripheral. Lawes loped around the park to devastating effect, marrying subtle handling with raw athleticism. His tussle with New Zealand’s Sam Whitelock in June will be special.
6. Tom Wood (England)
A terrifically spiky shift from one of the tournament’s most underrated players. Another Englishman to thrive on deflating opponents’ reputations, Wood made the much-vaunted Wales back-row look one-paced and topped the game’s tackle-count with 16.
7. Alexandre Lapandry (France)
With the French front row experiencing difficulties, Philipe Saint-André’s number seven needed to scrap doggedly in the Murrayfield mud. Lapandry managed exactly that and was mighty industrious as part of an unfamiliar back row, tackling relentlessly and proving to be a severe nuisance on the deck.
8. Ben Morgan (England)
Billy Vunipola’s ankle injury left a hefty 19st sized-hole in England’s plans for the Wales revenge mission, but Morgan stepped up admirably. Hugely improved fitness levels allowed him to combine 13 tackles with 15 carries – big numbers – and there was also some deft distribution that linked England’s attacks well. An afternoon that proved the Gloucester man’s worth to Stuart Lancaster.