After a first round of action that fizzed but for the most part failed to pop, here’s a look at the stand-out players in the opening round of the Six Nations 2014.
15. Full Back – Stuart Hogg
Close Call – Rob Kearney
I’m sure a lot of people would have Kearney in ahead of Hogg after his performance for a winning Irish side but for me Hogg was the stand-out full-back this weekend. Whenever he got ball in hand you got a feeling of excitement as he seemed to make yards and ghost defenders at every opportunity. His defensive work and commitment (see his challenge on a rampaging Jamie Heaslip) just added to a brilliant all-round performance.
14. Right Wing – Yoann Huget
Close Call – Alex Cuthbert
Although there was an element of luck in Yoann Huget’s two tries for France this weekend his threat with ball in hand was clear for all to see. His impressive all-round display when most wingers seemed to go walkabouts this weekend make him the pick of the team out wide. You just got the feeling that whenever he had a go at the English line that he might be able to conjure up a moment of magic.
13. Outside Centre – Michelle Campagnaro
Close Call – Scott Williams
At just 20 years of age Campagnaro gave the kind of display that many players with 50 international caps would have been proud of. He was the one bright spark in an Italian backline that showed attacking intent but failed to make any real in-roads into the Welsh 22. His defensive work as well was truly excellent whilst his two tries were simply the icing on the cake to a well-round performance.
12. Inside Centre – Jamie Roberts
Close Call – Wesley Fofana
To be honest, this weekend wasn’t really one for the inside centre’s with none of them quite sparkling despite their obvious quality. Out of the players employed in the number 12 shirt Jamie Roberts was the one who made the most impact on the game as he rampaged through the midfield making hard yards on one or two occasions but failed to really impose himself on the game for any significant period.
11. Left Wing – Mike Brown
Close Call – Andrew Trimble
Despite being moved out to the wing from full-back early on Mike Brown ensured he made his mark on the game as he scored his first ever test try in an England shirt. He was a constant threat in attack whilst defended solidly out on his wing against the impressive Yoann Huget.
10. Fly-Half – Johnny Sexton
Close Call – Jules Plisson
Despite having a very mixed season in Paris with Racing Metro, Irish pivot Johnny Sexton looked back to his very best this weekend against Scotland. He made most of his kicks, was solid in defence and provided a real attacking threat ball in hand. His run past five defenders and pass to set-up Rob Kearney proved what a class act he is and ensured he kept the Scottish defence honest all afternoon.
9. Scrum-Half – Danny Care
Close Call – Connor Murray
Danny Care was at his magnificent best this weekend with snipes around the ruck and willingness to take quick taps. It is no wonder questions have been raised about Stuart Lancaster’s decision to take him off after 60 minutes. For me Care has done more than enough to ensure that he should be the first-choice Scrum-Half for Stuart Lancaster during the Six Nations at least.
1. Loosehead Prop – Cian Healy
Close Call – Thomas Domingo
For me Cian Healy is currently amongst the top 3 loosehead props in World rugby. Not only is he impressive in the tight but his work around the park carrying the ball and clearing out rucks is seriously impressive. Despite missing a large chunk of the season through injury he was at his best against Scotland on Sunday where he imposed himself all over the pitch and ensured that Sean O’Brien wasn’t too badly missed.
2. Hooker – Richard Hibbard
Close Call – Dylan Hartley
This weekend Richard Hibbard was one of the few Welsh players to come out of the game with much credit having really made an impression on the game. It was by no-means his best performance in a Wales shirt but every time he got the ball he carried well making yards whilst putting in some crunching tackles in defence.
3. Tighthead Prop – Nicolas Mas
Close Call – Adam Jones
It seems a number of the top international tighthead props have been struggling to adapt to the new scrum engagement laws with the removal of ‘the hit’ somewhat diminishing their destructive scrummaging prowess. On Saturday though Mas kept the English scrum honest as he more than held his own in the contest and ensured that the French backs had a solid platform that they could play off.
4. Lock – Joe Launchbury
Close Call – Devin Toner
Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes have formed a formidable partnership in England’s engine room over the past 3 or 4 months which was once again in evidence this weekend. Launchbury showed an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time as he made his tackles and ensured he was a nuisance at every ruck he could get to.
5. Lock – Courtney Lawes
Close Call – Alun Wyn Jones
Lawes return to the England starting line-up has seen a series of impressive performances as he brings his tough tackling to the international stage. On Saturday his commitment never diminished for a second as he carried well and put in crunching tackles all around the pitch until he had to eventually be withdrawn with a bruised cheekbone.
6. Blindside Flanker – Yannick Nyanga
Close Call – Dave Denton
For me Nyanga was quite possible the player of the weekend as he won turnover ball or at the very least made life difficult for England in the rucks. He also carried the ball extremely well and beat a number of defenders as he helped give the French the early momentum. It seemed every time there was a breakdown in play that Nyanga was at the centre of it on Saturday.
7. Openside Flanker – Chris Henry
Close Call – Justin Tipuric
Chris Henry ensured that Joe Schmidt’s Ireland barely missed Sean O’Brien in Dublin this weekend. He carried the ball well and ensured he made all of his tackles whilst competing well at the rucks and stealing vital turnovers for the backs to capitalise on.
8. Number 8 – Jamie Heaslip
Close Call – Billy Vunipola
With Paul O’Connell a late withdrawal for Ireland Heaslip more than stepped up to the mark as he led by example for Ireland and imposed himself on the game. His ball carrying in the loose was immense as he regularly made ground and it was only an all-out tackle by Stuart Hogg that helped stop him from rampaging in for a try.
15 – Stuart Hogg (Scotland)
14 – Yoann Huget (France)
13 – Michelle Campagnaro (Italy)
12 – Jamie Roberts (Wales)
11 – Mike Brown (England)
10 – Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
9 – Danny Care (England)
1 – Cian Healy (Ireland)
2 – Richard Hibbard (Wales)
3 – Nicolas Mas (France)
4 – Joe Launchbury (England)
5 – Courtney Lawes (England)
6 – Yannick Nyanga (France)
7 – Chris Henry (Ireland)
8 – Jamie Heaslip (Ireland)
Players per Country
Ireland – 4 players
England – 4 players
France – 3 players
Wales – 2 players
Scotland – 1 player
Italy – 1 Player
Who would be in your team of the round?