The first of a weekly feature this season, have a look at who we think enhanced their chances of playing at the Rugby World Cup in a little over a year’s time, and who took a step back this weekend.
You couldn’t tell the young Irish centre had been out for most of last season. Olding was the standout player on the pitch for Ulster in their dramatic come back against the Scarlets. He carried 13 times for an impressive 60 metres, but the most astonishing stat was his 10 defenders beaten. If he can stay fit he’ll certainly be in Ireland contention.
Rumours has it that Trinh-Duc might finally have done enough to get himself back into the France squad. Frankly, given their paucity of options at 10, it’s baffling to most how it’s taken this long. At the weekend he orchestrated his side’s 43-10 demolishing of Castres, setting up two tries and kicking 16 points. Over to you, Mr. Saint-André.
Bagged a brace, one of which was a superb finish involving no little pace to get away from the covering defenders. He was a livewire all day, and after making his Wales debut over the summer against South Africa and being named in the PRO12 team of the year last season, he’ll be looking to kick on this year and cement his spot in the Welsh squad for the World Cup.
If Davies could be the long term answer at scrum-half for Wales, Patchell could be the man to join him. He scored one, showing impressive pace to gallop away from the defence, and set up another with a gorgeous offload out of the tackle. He certainly seems to have more flair than those Gatland has preferred in the shirt over the past few years.
A powerful, bustling centre, Hill was one of many outstanding Chiefs in their giant win over London Welsh. The quality of the opposition’s defence is a bit of a mitigating factor here, sure, but Hill’s direct running cause numerous problems for the Exiles and his partnership with the equally impressive Henry Slade looks like one that could really blossom.
It’s going to be an almighty battle for the England no.10 jersey this season, and Ford has laid down an early marker. Against Sale he was faultless from the tee and his general control of the game was superior to anything we’ve seen from him in the past. Add in his beautiful cross field chip for Watson’s try, and you’ve got a highly polished performance.
Thurd choice fly-half? Is that a joke? Barrett would walk into literally every other country’s first choice team, and when he was finally given his chance to start this weekend against Argentina he proved why. Despite an off day from the tee (he’s usually dead-eye) he still controlled the game to an extent that this didn’t matter. Given the horrendous conditions, it was even more praiseworthy.
Lining up against his greatest rival for the England no.12 shirt Luther Burrell, and as the new Gloucester captain and poster boy for their new regime, Twelvetrees really needed a good performance. Sadly it just didn’t materialise. Sure, the handful of new faces around him (not least the new half back pairing of Hook and Laidlaw, both of whom had stinkers) didn’t help, but he needed a better game to convince everyone he should remain first choice for England. The fact that Burrell was so good also works against him.
With Ken Owens in great form for Scarlets, and coming off the back of a successful South Africa tour, Hibbard was another who needed to get his season off to a bang. Like his clubmate above, he failed. The lineout was a mess, and there was no sign that the scrum issues that dogged Gloucester last year have been fixed by his and Afoa’s arrivals. Undoubtedly things will get better with time, but for now Hibbard has a lot of work to do to remain Wales’ best option at hooker.
Sinkler was great with ball in hand, his usual muscular self, but when it came to scrum time he was given a torrid time by Tom Court, who must have been fuelled by memories of his demolition on the same turf in an Ireland shirt a few years back. Sinkler has an incredible amount of raw talent, and looks a superb prospect for England’s tighthead ranks, but for now he remains just that: a prospect.
Keatley had an absolute shocker from the tee on Friday night, a performance that ultimately cost his side victory against Edinburgh, a team they would have been hoping to beat comfortably. Johnny Sexton is nailed on as first choice for Ireland, but his deputy is far from certain – this showing certainly didn’t advance Keatley’s cause.
Racing Métro, Wales
As other, younger, scrum-halves buzzed around the PRO12 with the Welsh regions impressing, Phillips was in action for Racing Métro as they were being thumped by Clermont. He missed more tackles than he made and wasn’t a threat in attack. He’s still a Gatland favourite but his shirt is certainly coming under threat, and fast.
Who were you impressed/disappointed with this weekend?
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43