15. Leigh Halfpenny – 7
The pocket warrior took advantage of Scotland’s incessant offending to land a 23-point haul, which could have been bigger but for three uncharacteristic misses. Even more impressive was his aerial solidity under pressure from Stuart Hogg, as well as some lively carries and typically courageous tackling.
14. Alex Cuthbert – 6
Amid the turgid forward battle, Cuthbert was completely anonymous until the second half, when he came off his wing to good effect and steam-rolled Tim Visser from a burly kick-return.
13. Jonathan Davies – 6
Another to get lost in a pretty abject game, Davies did provide a kicking option while ensuring the Scotland midfield made little headway. Manu Tuilagi will not be as easy to contain, though.
12. Jamie Roberts – 5½
He led defensive line-speed well and harried to good effect, stifling the hosts’ attack more than their own lack of ambition managed. Even if a grim occasion did not call for them and next weekend’s high stakes render a change unlikely, it might be time to trade brawn James Hook’s creativity.
11. George North – 6
Largely starved of space throughout this tournament, it was extremely refreshing to see North in space following a lovely side-step on Richie Gray. That foray led to the solitary try and the winger’s other runs asked questions as well.
10. Dan Biggar – 6
Biggar’s was quite a tough performance to gauge given the real battleground was in front of him. Still, stayed calm and made sure his side did not have to play in uncomfortable areas too often. Also intervened to extinguish Duncan Weir’s electric chip and chase.
9. Mike Phillips – 6½
Loves this sort of contest and his enthusiasm was apparent from the opening minutes when he sprinted into Stuart Hogg’s face to spoil a clearance. Challenged Scotland’s fringes and leant his weight to the close-quarter tussle. Kicking could be better but decent outing elsewhere.
1. Paul James – 5½
Either folded or could not find his binding to hand the hosts some scrum penalties. In truth, the ones he won were more a result of Craig Joubert’s indecision than any dominance over Euan Murray. Worked hard for 77 minutes but picked up a team sin-bin at the death.
2. Richard Hibbard – 6½
Aside from three misplaced throws, he was at the heart of the trench warfare, epitomised by a barge over the line. Growing into Test rugby and is a very good influence at scrum-time that fully deserves selection.
3. Adam Jones – 7
Another good performance from the man who is the undoubted cornerstone of Rob Howley’s burgeoning pack. Tormented the previously imposing Ryan Grant and contributed more prominently in the loose, one deft off-load particularly eye-catching. A tally of 10 tackles without a miss also merits mention.
4. Alun-Wyn Jones – 7½
A first start since the November calamity against Argentina inspired Jones into an assured display. Got into double figures in the carry and tackle statistics, adding six lineout takes and a charge-down along the way to winning his shirt back comprehensively.
5. Ian Evans – 7
Very nearly as good as his engine-room ally, which is a huge compliment. Evans used his frame to awkward effect at the breakdown and was an athletic option for Hibbard at set-piece to enhance his growing credentials for a plane ticket to Australia.
6. Ryan Jones – 6½
By the time a minute had passed on the Murrayfield clock, Jones had already trucked up twice. That foreshadowed an afternoon of grimy graft in which the skipper again displayed his uncanny habit of finding victory from terse encounters. He sustained a shoulder injury in the second half, however, and it would be a real shame if he had to miss the Cardiff finale.
7. Sam Warburton – 7½
Just about merited his man-of-the-match plaudits after finding his way back to form over the course of 80 minutes. Topped the tackle table and linked the odd attack skilfully, but most encouraging by far was his influence over the tackle area. Towards the end in tandem with Justin Tipuric, he resembled his 2011 vintage.
8. Toby Faletau – 6
Was not quite as secure with ball in hand as usual – evidenced by the unceremonious stripping that Murray imparted on him – and got on the wrong side of Joubert’s ruck interpretation twice, but Faletau found gains when required. As solid as usual in defence – steady overall.
Replacements – The impression Tipuric made suggested he might be best employed as a super sub, testing teams that are tired in the fourth quarter. That said, it would be intriguing to see how he and Warburton combine from the first kick-off. Aside from dependable Lloyd Williams, the rest were not on the pitch long enough to make too lasting an impression.
By Charlie Morgan