Three Irish in our Six Nations Team of the Weekend
There were some close calls, but we have selected three Irish, four Englishmen, seven Welsh players and a French man in our best XV from the opening weekend of the Six Nations.
15 Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
The full-back hadn’t scored a try in five years but was back on the scoresheet with a bang against the Scots with a hat-trick to power Warren Gatland’s side to victory in the Welsh capital. Remains very sound defensively and one of the most consistent goal kickers in world rugby.
14 Anthony Watson (England)
The electric pace and nose for the try line was what earned him a spot on last summer's Lions tour and the Bath winger notched another two five-pointers in Rome. Will face sterner examinations in defence, but a real game changer for Eddie Jones.
13 Robbie Henshaw (Ireland)
Has had enormous shoes to fill in the Ireland 13 jersey, but is now the glue in the Irish backline. A fantastic defensive organiser, efficient tackler and building up a good understanding with former Connacht team-mate Bundee Aki in midfield. Some deft passes on his 31st Test appearance.
12 Owen Farrell (England)
His kicking may have been slightly awry, but was a class above against the Italians. Having an out-half at 12 allows for further offensive options and ran some excellent lines as well as taking his own try with aplomb. Farrell thrives on the other side of the game too, relishing the physical challenge.
11 Steff Evans (Wales)
Made more metres (103) than any other player over the weekend, while his tally of six defenders beaten was only matched by French try scorer Teddy Thomas and England’s number 8 Sam Simmonds. A serious operator with a sublime off-loading game. Took his try well, could have had another and pushed Aaron Shingler close for man-of-the-match.
10 Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
Can be few arguments here. Aside from the kick itself, was superb in the 41 phases that led to the match-winning drop goal. Marshalled Ireland around the field and made a number of strong carries at the Stade de France.
9 Gareth Davies (Wales)
The absence of Rhys Webb was barely noticeable. The intercept try was a fillip and sets a fast tempo to Welsh attacks. A fine passer, he engages the Welsh backline at every opportunity.
1 Mako Vunipola (England)
Applied pressure in the scrum and looked to get on as much ball as possible in the loose. The 27-year-old is coming into good form at the right time from an English perspective.
2 Guilhem Guirado (France)
The hooker played a captain’s role in making an incredible 31 tackles against Ireland. France lost just the one lineout and offered himself as a battering ram in a game where every inch was hard earned.
3 Samson Lee (Wales)
The 25-year-old is a comfortable operator now at Test level and his clash with Cian Healy, or perhaps Jack McGrath, at the Aviva Stadium could have a crucial bearing on the outcome of the game against Ireland later this month. Has the kind of handling for a prop that wouldn’t be out of place in New Zealand.
4 Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)
Tough call perhaps on Iain Henderson, while Joe Launchbury was impressive for England, but the Welsh lock was a key cog in a lineout that ran well at Cardiff. Increasingly looks more of a throwback as the game continues to become faster and more athletic, but the 32-year-old is the heartbeat of Warren Gatland’s side.
5 James Ryan (Ireland)
A bit of a shaky start with the concession of an early lineout and a poor pop pass to Conor Murray that lead to a swift French counter-attack deep into Irish territory, but grew quickly into the contest on his Six Nations debut. Still to reach double figures in professional starts, he was immense in the Irish defensive line. A day to remember at the Stade de France.
6 Aaron Shingler (Wales)
Ireland may pride itself on its backrow options, but Wales too look formidable in this area. Shingler was given the man-of-the-match gong for his linebreaks, off-loading, work at the breakdown and line speed against the Scots.
7 Josh Navidi (Wales)
Dan Leavy was excellent when called upon to replace the injured Josh van der Flier, but the Cardiff Blues man is just the latest openside flanker to flex his muscles in the seven jersey for the Welsh. It’s a notable area of strength for Wales and Navidi was a tackling machine against the Scots, with two key turnovers in the opening 40 minutes that halted any possible Scottish momentum in attack.
8 Sam Simmonds (England)
Had as many clean breaks (3) as anyone else this weekend and a brace of tries, plus an assist, isn’t a bad return for a Six Nations debut. Up against the formidable Sergio Parisse, he excelled on the front foot, and what he lacks in physique (he is close to five stone lighter than Billy Vunipola), he makes up for in speed and agility. Can expect a bigger step up next week at home to Wales.