15. Mike Brown (Harlequins)
It did not get any easier this week for England’s Harlequins contingent, as they were thoroughly outplayed by Saracens. Brown, however, showed why he is wasted out on the wing, with several scything runs from fullback that left Sarries’ defenders flailing at thin air. Shame it was all in vain, really.
14. Tom Varndell (Wasps)
Varndell did his England credentials no harm with a dazzling 50m try that few others would have been able to finish. Still looks suspect in defence at times (as one manically botched clearance kick proved), but there is no doubting his finishing ability.
13. Elliot Daly (Wasps)
Daly is a precociously talented rugby player. Blessed with both speed of mind and feet, his try was superbly well taken. He had absolutely no right to score, and yet still managed to beat four defenders in a five-metre channel on his way to the line. Showed impressive strength as well as the quick feet we all know he possesses.
12. Matt Banahan (Bath)
Wasn’t really much to shout about at inside centre across the Premiership this weekend. Banahan (who actually wore 13) was about the best of a bad bunch as he did what he does best: run hard, fast and direct at the Sale defence. Produced a nice offload in the build-up to the Agulla try, too, although spilt a fair few clangers also.
11. Tom Brady (Sale)
Brady makes the team not for any individual brilliance concerning his try – it was smartly taken, but was more down to a poor missed tackle from Eastmond really – but rather the importance of it. It has lifted Sale to five points clear of Welsh and could well be the try that sparks their survival bid. Time will tell.
10. Owen Farrell (Saracens)
After a fairly torrid outing with the boot in Cardiff lsat weekend, Farrell was back on the money this time. Questions will still remain about his attacking play – as another butchered overlap proved – but his delicate cross-field kick for Fraser’s try was a thing of beauty.
9. Lee Dickson (Saints)
Dickson was given an armchair ride by his definitively dominant pack, and so his performance wasn’t exactly surprising. He managed to get his usually cool opposite number Joe Simpson riled up about something, which helped to put him off, and then got stuck in as an extra flanker to barrel over the line for one of Saints’ four forward-oriented tries.
1. Mako Vunipola (Saracens)
A one-man wrecking ball at times, Vunipola was comfortably the best loose-head on the pitch in what was a woeful afternoon for his England rival Joe Marler. Once such a strong ball-carrier, he was reduced to the shadows as the Vunipola show played out. Made his tackles and was a nuisance at the breakdown, too, but as Mark McCall said afterwards the most pleasing aspect of his game was that he dealt so superbly with the scrummaging power of Quins tight-head James Johnstone.
2. Dylan Hartley (Saints)
Had Saints not won this game at the death Wasps replacement Tom Lindsay would have got this spot for the impact he made from the bench. As it is Hartley’s pack-leadership was enough to drag the Saints over the line in an enthralling encounter at Adam’s Park. For that he makes it.
3. James Tideswell (London Welsh)
Two barnstorming runs are enough for this young tight-head to make the team. The first was opportunist, picking and going from the base of a ruck, while the second involved a superb support line and although he was probably guilty of not passing, it mattered not in the end as he managed to flip an offload to MacKenzie to score. Aulika was also excellent for Irish.
4. Alastair Hargreaves (Saracens)
As the Saracens pack bullied their Quins counterparts into submission, no-one was more to the fore than giant South African Hargreaves. There were also a couple of brutish ball-carries that caught the eye, one of which led later to the Brits try.
5. Ed Slater (Tigers)
There wasn’t much that caught the eye at Sandy Park on Saturday as Exeter and Leicester did their best to bore the pants off spectators, but Slater’s performance was at least one positive on show. He is in the form of his life and again made several hard-yard-winning hustles up the middle to give the Tigers the platform to win the game. Not pretty stuff, but effective nonetheless.
6. Samu Manoa (Saints)
A regular feature in this team, the giant Tongan-come-American has been one of the players of the season. This week he was again at the heart of a Saints pack that destroyed their opposition, and was also as conspicuous in the loose as always with countless capable carries.
7. Will Fraser (Saracens)
It has been a breakthrough season for the young English flanker, who is certainly putting his hand up for selection for the summer tour to Argentina. Capped off an all-action performance with a smartly taken try – and showed great desire to leap in front of a horde of awaiting teammates to get it.
8. Chris Hala’ufia (London Irish)
The Saints’ pack may have made the headlines this weekend but the Exiles’ forwards were equally as dominant in their crucial win against Worcester. Hala’ufia – who often makes waves for the wrong reasons – was to be found at the front of both driving mauls for the first couple of tries, before popping over for one of his own in the second half. Such an important player for Irish, when he can stay on the pitch.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43