6 Nations: Round 4 Team of the Week

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It’s been a pretty remarkable weekend. Not only did Ireland learn how to attack, but it seems that all the 6 Nations sides remembered how to play positive rugby. In all seriousness, this was one of the most exciting and fun weekends of European rugby we have seen in a long time. That does mean that the choices for this XV were tough, as some Irish players ran rampant over a woeful Italian side, while some Welsh players were very impressive on a very tough day against England.

1. Jack McGrath: The Leinster loosehead sneaks in ahead of the very impressive Alasdair Dickinson. McGrath helped Ireland control the Italian scrum, and was more than happy to contribute in open play. He showed his usual grit in scoring his try, but he also carried 15 times for 23 meters, beat a defender and offloaded. McGrath is very much at the heart of Ireland’s plans looking to the future, but he has continued to impress in the present.

2. Guilhem Guirado: The French hooker remains one of the few consistent players in a very inconsistent side. His physicality is always prominent in defence, and his bullish ball carrying gave yield to a great try for France. On a day when France seemed to take several steps back, Guirado seemed to step up, and that is exactly what is to be expected of a captain.

3. WP Nel: Scotland bullied the French pack, and Nel deserves plenty of credit in that regard. In years past, Scotland have been the ones pushed around at scrum time, but now that they have solidified their pack, the freedom their backs enjoy has brought great rewards. Nel is not just a scrum specialist however, and he offers plenty of power with ball in hand.

4. Donnacha Ryan: The Munster second row fought for two years to earn his way back into the reckoning for Ireland, and finally, he has been given his chance. Ryan has taken that chance with both hands, and while the return of Iain Henderson may force him to yield his position, days like Saturday will allow him to keep faith. His 15 tackles were complemented by a furious display at the ruck, where he gave Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton the clean ball they needed to thrive.

5. Maro Itoje: Sorry everyone, you can’t claim we “overhyped” this young man, as he has turned out to be everything we promised, and more. Itoje’s hard work, as well as his athleticism, make him a great prospect for England. Saturday he continued his rise by making 15 tackles, dominating the ruck point, and carrying well throughout the match.

6. CJ Stander: Stander is rapidly turning into an icon for Irish rugby, and it’s fairly easy to see why. Told he is “too small” to be competitive, mistreated, and ignored before heading to Munster, Stander is the underdog story that the Irish love. Of course, it could also have something to do with his talent on the pitch. Stander played a huge role for Ireland once again, carrying 15 times, and scoring a very good try. Have to mention Dan Lydiate, who made an immense 17 tackles for Wales.

7. John Hardie: Hardie was a massive pain for France at the breakdown all day long. It seemed that Les Bleus simply could not catch a break with Hardie on the field, as he constantly disrupted their attack. Hardie has impressed this season, and he could be a dark horse contender for a spot on the 2017 Lions tour.

8. Taulupe Faletau: I think this is the first time that I haven’t selected Billy Vunipola at No.8, and it was not easy. The English star continued to impress with 48 meters from 17 carries, but Faletau took the crown this week. The Wales and Lions hero may not have had the most statistically impressive day, but his commitment and workrate was evident throughout the match, and his try was superb.

9. Greig Laidlaw: Laidlaw has stepped up for Scotland time and time again since taking on the captaincy, and Saturday he did it yet again. Laidlaw marshalled Scotland around the park, and his decision making was nearly perfect. Not many teams have one player as their kicker and captain, but Laidlaw is more than capable of handling the extra responsibility, and he continues to help this young side grow.

10. Jonathan Sexton: George Ford finally seemed to get his game going for England, but Sexton’s all around game really stood out to us. Sexton seems to be much more comfortable playing attacking rugby, and he really does step up whenever he is allowed to play his instincts. Joe Schmidt ought to keep that in mind in the near future, especially after such a masterful performance from the Leinster 10.

11. George North: Jack Nowell played well this weekend, but North just sneaks in ahead of the Exeter winger. Sorry, but I find numbers like 140 meters made, 4 clean breaks, and 5 defenders beaten, very difficult to ignore. North remains one of the Northern Hemisphere’s most dangerous players, and that is something that will not change for some time.

12. Robbie Henshaw: There is a strong case to be made for Owen Farrell, but Henshaw’s 87 meters with ball in hand have won us over. The Leinster bound 22 year old was everywhere for Ireland, and while he may not have been able to get his name on the scoresheet, his support lines and passing allowed several others to do just that. This young man is definitely a player to watch.

13. Duncan Taylor: The Saracens centre seemed to be in exile for much of 2015, however, he has taken his return to Scotland well, scoring two tries in the tournament so far. Taylor offers a great workrate, but he is also a potent finisher, choosing great lines and using his vision to find gaps. May be more at home in the 12 jersey, but certainly did not look out of place at 13 for Vern Cotter’s side.

14. Anthony Watson: A very large part of me wanted to shift Simon Zebo to 14, but Watson has earned this one. Watson constantly reminds us of how dangerous he is in attack, but this season in particular he has impressed under the high ball. Wales struggled to find any success over him throughout the match, which took away a large part of their game plan. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that he also took his try very well.

15. Mike Brown: This was by far, the hardest call of the lot. Stuart Hogg was so so impressive, but Brown was every bit as dangerous. In the end, I could have gone either way, but I went with Brown simply because the numbers back him up. The Harlequins fullback racked up 139 meters, 3 clean breaks, and 7, yes 7 defenders beaten. Brown is a man we all love to hate, but you simply cannot ignore the fact that he is an outstanding player.

Aidan Clarke
Media Intern from America.

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