6 Nations: Round 5 Team of the Week

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Super Saturday 2015 set a very high standard, but I really do think this seasons edition was very nearly as good. In a year where many have felt that the 6 Nations has regressed, the final round of the tournament quieted those claims, and soothed any fears with a blanket of competitive and entertaining rugby. Please remember this is not a team of the tournament, it is a team of the week, so the selections were not made based on weeks past.

1. Jack McGrath: Cian who? The Ireland loosehead seems to be getting better every single week, and his performance against Scotland evident of that. McGrath has an exceptional workrate, as he carried 9 times for 18 meters and made 8 tackles, as well as holding his own against a very solid Scottish scrum.

2. Scott Baldwin: In a week where there weren’t many standout performances from hookers, Baldwin caught the eye with some good carries and a great attitude in defence. He made 10 tackles, a pretty impressive tally when you consider how little ball the Italians had, and he also carried for 17 meters. Most importantly he made certain that the Welsh set-pieces clicked well, which allowed his side to put up their impressive points tally.

3. Dan Cole: Cole was unusually prominent in the loose, making some solid carries and good tackles. Sure, Mako Vunipola may have looked like a NFL lineman on a screen pass in drawing Guilhem Guirado for Cole’s try, but the Leicester tighthead also managed to beat a defender and throw an offload on the day.

4. Maro Itoje: The 21 year old took his game up a level against France. Yes, the physicality, the big carries, the athleticism were all there, but beyond that, Itoje dominated the lineout. On a day where Guilhem Guirado had a shaky start, Itoje never let the French hooker get settled, taking away option after option. Every time the French gained some momentum, it seemed that their lineout let them down, largely thanks to the work of England’s superb young lock.

5. George Kruis: Itoje’s partner in crime for Saracens and England was at it again. He, like Itoje was superb in the lineouts, causing major problems for France throughout the match. While he may not be as flashy or explosive as Itoje, Kruis has a great motor, going through tons of work around the field. Expect big things from the 26 year old second row going forward, especially on England’s tour of Australia.

6. CJ Stander: Stander has to be one of the most hardworking players in the tournament. The South African born flanker made 21 carries for 32 meters, beat 4 defenders, as well as 9 tackles. I have to also give a mention to Dan Lydiate, who had a great all around performance for Wales; with 34 meters made and 13 tackles, Lydiate was everywhere in his first match as captain.

7. John Hardie: In just 53 minutes, Hardie made a huge impact for Scotland. When he was on the field, Ireland were not able to generate any quick ball, and when he went off Ireland seemed to find a new gear. That was not a coincidence. On top of that, Hardie racked up 16 tackles…16 tackles in 53 minutes…that’s absurd. Hardie is a great find for Scotland in an area where they could use a few more quality options, and he is sure to be a mainstay of the side.

8. Billy Vunipola: Ross Moriarty, Taulupe Faletau, and Jamie Heaslip all had excellent games, but once again Vunipola was a notch above the rest. He carried the ball 18 times and racked up 81 meters, while beating 5 defenders. Vunipola’s form is certainly Lions worthy, and if he can continue to build on these performances through next season he will almost certainly be starting in 2017.

9. Danny Care: Rhys Webb had a very good return to the Wales 9 shirt, and Conor Murray was also impressive (apart from the box kick that gifted Stuart Hogg a try) but Care was the best of the bunch. His try was a thing of beauty, and his crisp passing kept George Ford on the front foot. His battle with Ben Youngs continues, and Care may have finally struck a decisive blow.

10. Dan Biggar: Biggar beats out Jonathan Sexton for a spot in the side after one of his best games in recent memory. Biggar impressed with an all around performance. While typically not heralded for his attacking play, the Ospreys 10 pulled the strings masterfully for Wales, allowing them to launch attack after attack. This has been a great tournament for Biggar, something that will make Warren Gatland a very happy camper.

11. Virimi Vakatawa: I can already hear the angry screams of “What about Watson?” And “Where is Nowell?” But Vakatawa carried France on Saturday. After Francois Trinh-Duc’s departure in the first half, Vakatawa looked to be the only French player with any intention to attack. Vakatawa tore England apart to the tune of 132 meters, 4 clean breaks, 11 defenders beaten, and 2 offloads. Unheralded outside the 7s circuit before this tournament, Vakatawa has certainly put himself on the map with this display.

12. Jamie Roberts: Another player who has had an excellent tournament, Roberts put the cherry on top with his game on Saturday. He carried for 77 meters and broke through 3 times. He did score a try, although that had more to do with the work of George North. Roberts’ ability to get over the gainline creates a lot of space for others, and while he may not always draw the most headlines he is a staple of the Welsh side.

13. Jonathan Davies: Jared Payne had an excellent defensive shift for Ireland, but his lack of attacking flair sees the 13 shirt go to Davies. It has been a relatively quiet tournament for Davies, who seemed to relish the space afforded to him by a very porous Italian defence. All told, he racked up 86 meters with ball in hand, beat 2 defenders, and made two excellent offloads.

14. George North: The Welsh wing has rediscovered his try scoring form this year, and was in rare form on Saturday. He scored what has to be the best solo try of the tournament, and his dominant carrying set up many more. North ran for 148 meters, 5 clean breaks, broke 5 tackles, and made 2 offloads. The only thing that didn’t go his way was Francesco Minto, who crunched North with a massive tackle. Still, the Wales and Lions wing remains one of World Rugby’s brightest stars, and we cannot wait to see him take the field in the summer.

15. Stuart Hogg: Simon Zebo had another good day for Ireland, but he was overshadowed by the Scottish playmaker. On top of his 119 meters, Hogg remained Scotland’s best attacking player, and though he showed some temperament issues throughout the match, he was a constant threat. Hogg is almost certainly going to be one of the key players on the 2017 Lions tour.

Aidan Clarke
Media Intern from America.

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