Action from the RBS 6 Nations, the Aviva Premiership, the Guinness Pro12, Super Rugby and the women's and U20 competitions produced plenty of heroes and villains.
The No 8 was more potent in attack than any of his team-mates, making 94 metres from 17 carries, with only Ireland’s Robbie Henshaw bettering that in this game, with 108m.
Vunipola beat nine defenders and still found the energy to make eight tackles, then pick up the Man of the Match award. His break from a scrum in the first half would have resulted in a try if CJ Stander and Conor Murray hadn’t combined to stop him, while his second-half charge from a lineout did set up the attack which led to Mike Brown’s try.
Greig Laidlaw was the Man of the Match in Scotland’s 36-20 win over Italy in Rome – a result which ended a nine-match losing streak for Scotland in the RBS 6 Nations.
Laidlaw kicked five penalties to keep the Italians at arms-length for most of the game, and converted all three tries. He missed from the tee just once, a penalty immediately before half-time.
Stuart Hogg also shone for Scotland – as ever – making 99 metres with the ball in hand, beating six defenders in the process and helping to set up the opening try for John Barclay and the last one for Tommy Seymour.
Alex Cuthbert has not had the happiest time in a Wales shirt in the last couple of years and while he had a quiet game in attack on his return to the team on Friday (making just three carries), he did a vital piece of work in defence, stopping a France try.
With a little help from Liam Williams, Cuthbert put in a vital try-saving tackle on Maxime Medard as the full-back looked set to score in the left hand corner. Cuthbert stopped him short, then got his body underneath the Frenchman to prevent any chance of a try. France were 16-3 down at the time, midway through the second half, so a seven-pointer at that stage would have put them right back into the game. Cuthbert earned his match fee right there.
World Cup here we come
Wales Women snuck a shock 10-8 victory over France and secured qualification for next year’s World Cup in the process. France were the firm favourites but heroic defence from skipper Rachel Taylor and her team set up a memorable victory after Dyddgu Hywel had scored an early try.
France led 8-5 early in the second half and threw everything at their hosts to try to move further ahead, but could not break through the Wales defence. Then Megan York finished off an outstanding move to put Wales in front and more great defence enabled them to hang on for the win.
Victorious skipper Taylor said: “The magnitude of this win probably won’t sink in for a couple of days. They try and bully you and beat you up around the park, we knew it was coming and just had to front up and compete. The first five minutes showed we were here to party – I couldn’t be prouder.”
Despite the fact both Wasps and Harlequins were on 37 points in the Aviva Premiership table before they met on Sunday afternoon, there was a gulf in class at the Ricoh Arena as Wasps romped to a 42-10 win.
Their fifth try was an absolute cracker, with Rob Miller putting Frank Halai through a gap with a superb offload, then Halai finding Siali Piutau, who stepped diagonally through the last line of defence to score.
Plaudits also go to Christian Wade, who was involved in creating tries for Nathan Hughes and Thomas Young, who scored one himself from close range and put in a top-notch try-saving tackle on Charlie Matthews when the Quins wing looked certain to score. Wade isn’t exactly famed for his strong defence, but that tackle was out of the top drawer.
Points make prizes
Gareth Steenson gets a big pat on the back this week for his 16-point haul in Exeter Chiefs’ 26-17 win over Bath, as it took the fly-half past 1,000 points for the Devon club. Steenson kicked four penalties and two conversions, taking his Premiership points total for the season to 155 – the best in the league – and helping Exeter narrow the gap to Saracens at the top of the table to three points.
The right Toolis for the job
A late try from second row Ben Toolis gave Edinburgh a welcome 24-23 win over the Scarlets in the Guinness Pro12. The Scottish side came into the game having lost four consecutive matches – all away from home – and so were delighted to get back to winning ways. Phil Burleigh scored Edinburgh’s other try while Blair Kinghorn kicked 14 points and the win kept them in the hunt for the playoffs.
Let it go
I enjoyed seeing TV presenter John Inverdale winding up Ali Williams about New Zealand’s 2007 World Cup quarter-final loss to France in Cardiff, in the BBC studio at half-time in Friday’s Wales v France match.
Williams was laying into referee Wayne Barnes for blowing his whistle too often and Martyn Williams laughed “let it go!” before Inverdale said: “Ali, it was nine years ago – you can’t change history, OK?” Ali Williams laughed too, and as Inverdale explained to his audience what he was talking about, the Kiwi chipped in “It ruined my life!”
Argentinas Jaguares grabbed some headlines on their Super Rugby debut by snatching a 34-33 victory over the Cheetahs with a quite brilliant try.
The South Americans had to fight back from 24-3 down and were still trailing 30-24 with 65 minutes gone when replacement full-back Matias Orlando set off on a scorching run out of defence. He flipped a brilliant pass to Martin Landajo on the 22 and the scrum-half stepped past the final man to score the try. Nicolas Sanchez converted and added a drop-goal on 70 minutes to make the lead 34-30, so one last penalty for the Cheetahs wasn’t enough for them to steal back the win.
Jules looks a fool
It is tempting to put the whole France team bar skipper Guilhem Guirado on the Sinners’ bench as they were so inept in their 19-10 defeat in Cardiff. They had plenty of attacking platforms in the shape of close-range scrums and lineouts, but didn’t appear to run any set moves from them and looked clueless. Their attack was totally impotent and it wasn’t until late in the game that Guirado crossed the line from a rolling maul for their solitary try.
However, fly-half Jules Plisson goes to the bottom of this not-very-good French class for gifting a try to George North in the 46th minute of the match, to give Wales a clear lead. North was chasing a kick from Jonathan Davies up the left wing, he attempted to kick ahead as the try-line approached and only managed an embarrassing air-shot, but instead of diving on the ball, Plisson kicked it ahead himself and North gratefully touched down for a try.
Brown in the bad books
Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray had to have stitches to a facial wound after Mike Brown caught him with his boot in a ruck ten minutes from the end of the England v Ireland game. Referee Romain Poite and TV ref Shaun Veldsman looked at the replays and decided the contact had been accidental so gave just a penalty, but Brown needs to take more care about where he puts his boot when he is trying to ruck out a ball – especially as he seemed to make contact with Murray’s face twice. The England full-back wasn’t even given at ticking off by Poite, which was odd, considering Murray had to leave the pitch with a bleeding wound.
South loses his way
England U20 are among the Sinners this week for squandering a 20-6 lead and losing 26-20 to Ireland U20 at Kingston Park on Friday. An extra slap on the wrist goes to Stan South who got himself sent off during the second half for a tip tackle. He grabbed a player’s leg as he stood at the back of the ruck and turned him upside down in a needless and dangerous act of foul play. Ireland kicked the resulting penalty to go from 23-20 up to 26-20 and England were unable to score in the last five minutes to snatch the win.
Sharks squander their chance
There were enough Saints and Sinners in the Sale Sharks v Saracens Aviva Premiership match to fill their own column, so I am just going to name-check a few from their extraordinary 36-36 draw.
Top of the bill has to be poor old Danny Cipriani, who once again missed a potentially match-winning kick late in the game. The fly-half squandered four conversions in all, including the last one after a try from Tom Arscott.
A weak tackle from Saracens full-back Ben Ransom allowed Arscott to score the first of his two tries as Sale built up a 17-0 lead. Then, after Saracens had fought back to 22-17 up, only for three Cipriani penalties to put Sale 26-22 ahead, Sharks full-back Mike Haley flung a high long pass to Sam James, forcing the centre to jump high to collect it, and James threw a silly offload several metres forward, where Chris Wyles swooped on it and put Nick Tompkins through for a try.
A young Saracens side actually did very well to fight back from 17-0 down, but Sale should be kicking themselves that they gifted them a couple of interception tries and failed to kick the points which could have brought a memorable win over the league leaders.