By Charlie Morgan
15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)
Fellow Lion Rob Kearney bagged a try and an assist on his 50th Ireland appearance, but Hogg sparkled as Scotland were overturned in Dublin. Six beaten defenders highlighted his elusive footwork, while five offloads evidenced dexterity and willing to keep the ball alive. Also positioned himself intelligently to make a cover-tackle on Dave Kearney.
14. Yoann Huget (France)
A brace of tries is the statistic that defined Huget’s night and ultimately decided a wonderful Anglo-French encounter in Paris. Though neither required too much effort as favourable bounces foxed English defenders, the Toulouse wing demonstrated a predatory instinct and threatened throughout Saturday evening thanks to his innate opportunism. He had some problems shackling Mike Brown, but he will not be alone this tournament.
13. Michele Campagnaro (Italy)
Another to grab a double – first finishing a clinical counter before picking off Leigh Halfpenny’s pass for an interception score – Campagnaro personified Italy’s plucky performance at the Millennium Stadium. Just 20, he made seven tackles opposite Wales’ powerful centre pairing and often added his weight to the Azzuri’s disruptive breakdown play.
12. Jamie Roberts (Wales)
Eight carries in the first quarter of Wales’ difficult win over Italy settled Roberts back into Test rugby as the cornerstone of Warrenball. A ninth bust through the Italian line allowed him to release Scott Williams just before the break – a try the hosts desperately needed. There was some rust, but expect that to be shaken off over the Irish Sea.
11. Mike Brown (England)
When Jonny May broke his nose after only eight minutes at the Stade de France, Brown was shunted away from full-back, where he found truly world-beating form in November. It didn’t matter – the Harlequin brought the same spiky approach over to the wing and was once more England’s talisman thanks to some excellent broken-field attack. A muscular finish for his maiden Test try was the catalyst for the visitors’ fine comeback, too.
10. Owen Farrell (England)
With his team 16-3 down in a cauldron of noise and emotion, Farrell turned in a coming-of-age display of game-management that showcased a range of running and passing he had never previously managed to assert in a Test match. Neatly scanning the French line before slipping Billy Vunipola through for Luther Burrell’s try, he typified a new-found inclination to commit tacklers on the gainline – the final facet of his game that needed work.
9. Edoardo Gori (Italy)
At 23, Gori is hardly long in the tooth, but on his 30th cap his experience certainly helped shepherd his 20 year-old half-back partner Tommaso Allan on what could have been a chastening Six Nations debut in Cardiff. The Treviso scrum-half was calm and measured enough to incite some structure when Italy had possession and harried Mike Phillips well. He also aimed an enterprising cross-kick at Sergio Parisse that nearly resulted in the try of the weekend.
1. Thomas Domingo (France)
It takes a rare technician to have Dan Cole struggling at scrum-time, but despite giving away a few kilograms to the Leicester Tiger, Domingo forced his opposite number to fold a couple of times – once earning the penalty that put France 16-3 ahead and into the driving seat.
2. Richard Hibbard (Wales)
He has to take some responsibility for his side’s pretty poor lineout, but Hibbard was one of very few Welshmen not to let their standards dive in an extremely underwhelming second half for the tournament champions. Tearing around the field felling runners by propelling himself at shin-height, the hooker was far from flat.
3. Nicolas Mas (France)
An 18-minute cameo almost saw Martin Moore sneak in here, but Mas prevails after derailing a number of England’s scrums in potentially profitable positions. Joe Marler may have made some Hollywood contributions around the park, but his 33 year-old adversary took the honours at the pivotal set-piece.
4. Devin Toner (Ireland)
Only topped by Brian O’Driscoll and Chris Henry on Ireland’s tackle-count, Toner was the go-to man at the lineout too, and combined with Rory Best to produce impeccable ball on five occasions. Given Ireland’s main weapon was the driving maul, this proved pivotal. The Leinsterman’s industry extended to the breakdown, where his lanky frame stunted Scotland’s go-forward regularly.
5. Courtney Lawes (England)
Stuart Lancaster will have breathed a significant sigh of relief upon hearing there was no structural damage to Lawes’ cheekbone and his magnificent lock will be fit to face Scotland. Lawes was forced off on Saturday, but not before laying down an outstanding 67 minutes in tandem with Joe Launchbury. Finally enjoying an injury-free spell, the Northampton Saint is mixing intelligent lineout calling with menacing athleticism. It’s an impressive cocktail.
6. Yannick Nyanga (France)
When punters start spouting nonsense about how they don’t rate Chris Robshaw as an international openside, you know an opposition back-rower has been phenomenal against England. Effervescent from start to cacophonous finish, Nyanga posed massive problems for Les Rosbifs. A fortnight after he helped slay Saracens, it was another tour de force encompassing rangy runs, limpet-like jackling and aerial authority in the lineout.
7. Chris Henry (Ireland)
Ulsterman Henry was never going to dismantle Scotland with an 80-minute monster truck impression as Sean O’Brien can, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t hugely effective alongside the splendid Peter O’Mahony. So often first to arrive at the ruck, he dictated the speed of ball for either side and also had a role at the heart of those destructive driving mauls before latching onto Dan Tuohy’s offload to lay on Rob Kearney’s try.
8. Billy Vunipola (England)
For a man who was considered unfit and carrying too much puppy fat as recently as September, Vunipola junior is hitting his stride quite nicely. Combining up his carries (17 for 68 metres) and tackles (nine), England’s prodigious No.8 totted up a contact every two-and-a-half minutes before leaving the fray on 65 minutes. Add in two try-scoring passes and you have something extremely special.