15. Mike Brown (England)
Brown was once again in top form at the weekend, giving further fuel to his acceleration onto the list of top full backs playing the game. The Englishman was not only defensively flawless – with one cat-like reflex-catch a particular highlight – but he also made 82 metres with the ball in hand (more than anyone else) and showed wonderful awareness for his team’s try. Not afraid to exchange pleasantries with the great O’Driscoll either, which is always great to see.
14. Yoann Huget (France)
Despite three cracking matches on display, this weekend wasn’t really the best showcase of European wingers, which is why I’ve picked the Toulouse man in my team despite playing in an otherwise abysmal French side. That he still managed to beat two defenders and look threatening during such a blunt display from his side is the sign of a class player and he was one of few to walk away from Cardiff with his reputation intact.
13. Alex Dunbar (Scotland)
The Scottish commentators on the BBC are usually forced to be optimistic about minute, irrelevant details – such as the re-introduction of a collar to the Scottish shirts (bravo, by the way) – so it was incredibly refreshing to hear them have something legitimate to be cheerful about. We’ve known Dunbar as a solid defensive centre, but in Rome we got to see him pick intelligent lines and gallop his way in for two superb tries. A real step forward for the Scottish midfield.
12. Jamie Roberts (Wales)
Roberts is one of those awkward players who is very hard to stop, despite the fact that you know exactly what he is going to do. In a typical example, his chin will reach you about 10 seconds before the rest of him does, but even though you have time to prepare you still find yourself unceremoniously being used as an impromptu doormat. The Lions centre is a man who has perhaps lived off his 2009 pomp for too long, but on Friday night he had his timings and his angles all right, launching himself over the French line time and again.
11. Jonny May (England)
I thought long and hard about this one and I’ve gone for the Gloucester flyer despite fluffing a fairly simple chance early on and then not backing himself to reach the corner in the second half. There are times when he looks like a headless chicken with the ball in hand and doesn’t know where he’s going, but I comfort myself in the knowledge that, if he doesn’t know, the opposition won’t either. Against Ireland he made 80 metres (that’s 80 metres forwards, goodness knows how many sideways) and beat six defenders with sheer pace and footwork.
10. Duncan Weir (Scotland)
It could be argued – successfully – that Priestland, Farrell and Sexton all had better games than the Scotsman, but the Glasgow fly half wins the spot this week for having balls the size of space hoppers. His last minute drop goal was not easy and he was under a heck of a lot of pressure, but nailing it after the fortnight Scottish rugby has endured was a huge lift to his team and the game in Scotland in general. Chapeau.
9. Danny Care (England)
A very close call between the Quins man and Rhys Webb, who finally injected some zip to the Welsh attack, but Care wins for his ability to be in the right place at the right time. His anticipation for Brown’s break and change of direction was superb and showed the benefit of working with someone week in, week out at club level. He also runs like a man from the 1950s as well (arched back, bolt upright), which adds entertainment value.
1. Gethin Jenkins (Wales)
Surprised everyone by turning in a scrummaging performance that had the much-vaunted French front row travelling backwards on more than one occasion. Was everywhere in the loose and made hit after hit in defence – it was as if somebody had wound the clock back nine years. He was harshly dealt a yellow card along with his opposite number for ongoing scrum instability (when the issues were mainly on the other side), but he sealed his place in the team of the week with a hopelessly scuffed attempted chip through the French defence.
2. Rory Best (Ireland)
I haven’t always been a fan of Best, and not just because he looks like a bulldog chewing a wasp, but on Saturday he put in a superb shift at hooker in a losing cause. Hitting 18 out of 18 lineouts – an area of supposed weakness for him – set the platform for a very solid display in the tight, where he was also part of a dominant scrummaging effort. Now if he could only cheer up for just one game…
3. Mike Ross (Ireland)
I can’t believe I’m picking him, but almost every other tighthead this weekend seemed to give away penalty after penalty. Ross may have been invisible elsewhere around the park but he was a rock solid presence in the set piece which formed the basis of more than a couple penalties.
4. Joe Launchbury (England)
Give him wings and harp, and he could almost pass for a cherub sitting on a cloud by the gates of heaven. But don’t be fooled by the young lock’s cheeky-chappy appearance – he was a demon in defence and at his disruptive best against Ireland, weighing in with three magnificent turnovers and hitting tackle after tackle. His diving tap on Dave Kearney was one of the moments of the weekend.
5. Richie Gray (Scotland)
Scott Johnson has shown this season that he shares Philippe Saint-André’s coaching philosophy of dropping your best players before a game and substituting off your top performers during it, so it must have been a real relief to the Scottish fans that One Direction’s largest member was not only selected, but lasted the entire 80 minutes. He responded with an immense display consisting of 11 carries and 12 tackles on top of strong work in the set piece.
6. Dan Lydiate (Wales)
At last, something approaching his 2011/12 form. The Racing Métro flanker was at his tree-chopping best on Friday night, hammering down the likes of Louis Picamoles with consummate ease. Each hit denied Les Bleus building any momentum and, when your stats read “15 tackles made, 0 missed”, that is a lot of momentum being stopped at source.
7. Sam Warburton (Wales)
Another one of the Welsh contingent to make a statement after their literal mauling at the hands of Ireland last week. Chris Robshaw was impressive for England but the Welsh captain had it all in his performance – big tackles, turnovers, carries and a try that included a go-go gadget arm. The battle between the two captains in a fortnight will be worth the entry fee alone.
8. Sergio Parisse (Italy)
Once again, the captain was a standout player for his side and, although he seems more ably supported by his teammates these days, he is still their go-to man. His drive into the heart of the Scottish defence set up the Italian’s first score, but his delightfully gliding outside arc and timed pass for Furno’s try was another example of one of the best rugby brains in the business in action. Plus, he’s a beautiful man, according to my other half, and that is apparently very important too.
By Mike Cooper (@RuckedOver)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images