15. Mike Brown (England)
Despite looking like a type of character you might see drinking White Lightning in a Tesco Car Park, the Harlequins man is rapidly becoming the go-to man in the English backline and one of the most effective attacking full-backs in Europe. 117 metres gained with the ball in hand, three clean breaks and six defenders beaten on a pitch resembling treacle was evidence of that. A mention to Rob Kearney too, who didn’t put a foot wrong against Wales.
14. Andrew Trimble (Ireland)
In a tactical arm wrestle, Trimble demonstrated that a kick really is only as good as its chasers by hurtling after every up-and-under like a man possessed, forcing the turnover on more than one occasion. One fleet-footed dart through the Welsh defence was also memorable in a game that did not allow too many clean breaks. Plus, any man that can keep George North quiet for 80 minutes deserves some recognition.
13. Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland)
The veteran’s 138th Test Match (yes, 138) proved to us one thing – BOD is now made almost entirely of rubber. After being clattered in a borderline hit by opposite number Scott Williams, the legendary centre caught his breath and bounced back up, just in time to see the Welshman leave the field with a damaged shoulder. This wasn’t magical O’Driscoll, this was hard-as-nails O’Driscoll, and he was a lynchpin in the midfield for his side during a relentlessly physical game.
12. Wesley Fofana (France)
In a match that was decided by three casual moments of French brilliance, the Clermont man shone by being central to two of them. Quiet for 70 minutes, the silky centre roused himself for 10 in the second half and took the game away from the Azzurri by gliding past Luke McLean for his team’s second try, and then passing a gorgeous ball over the top after breaking free in the build-up to the third. Genius on tap.
11. Jonny May (England)
After going off with a broken honker in Paris the previous week, the Gloucester flyer had a lot of ground to make up this round. And boy did he make it up, galloping 92 metres and beating seven defenders, despite the fact that his first meaningful touch of the ball didn’t occur until the 41st minute. Those dancing feet and his searing acceleration have added another dimension to the England attack, and he should be looking forward to playing on a decent surface in a fortnight’s time.
10. Jonathan Sexton (Ireland)
Irish fans must have been delighted to see their fly half showing no ill-effects of his troubled time at Racing Metro against Scotland last week, but the former Leinster man was only just warming up. Sexton executed a masterclass of tactical kicking against Wales, varying the points of attack and communicating clearly with his chasers so that they had the best chance of forcing a turnover. Weighed in with a solid defensive effort, too.
9. Conor Murray (Ireland)
Just pips Danny Care to the spot thanks to the fact that he performed consistently well for the full 80 minutes and has a better haircut. His box-kicking worked perfectly in harmony with Sexton’s and they never allowed the back three to settle, in stark contrast to the inaccuracies in opposite number Mike Phillips’ kicking game. He showed good communication with Paddy Jackson for Ireland’s second try as well.
1. Alberto De Marchi (Italy)
I challenge you to find a sight more glorious than that of a prop out in the centres, making line breaks. De Marchi managed this rarest of front row feats not just once, but several times, making a sensational 46 metres from just five carries. Add to that the fact that he was part of a scrum that had the vaunted French front row in trouble on several occasions, and you have a pretty strong day at the office for the 27 year old.
2. Dylan Hartley (England)
A force renewed this year, Hartley presided over a magnificent 21 successful lineouts with a 100% success rate. But that wasn’t the only impressive aspect of the Saints captain’s performance against Scotland – his ferocity in the loose and inclination to crash into rucks at top speed make him one of the best ‘clearers’ in the European game, helping his side recycle the ball quickly.
3. Dan Cole (England)
After a difficult time in the set piece against France the England tighthead dealt with the situation in his own typical way – by looking grumpy and getting on with it. He caused Ryan Grant all sorts of problems on a tricky scrummaging surface but once again it was his tireless work in the loose that caught the eye, claiming two turnovers at ruck-time to pilfer the ball off the hapless Scots.
4. Paul O’Connell (Ireland)
He may have only played 54 minutes but Mr Angry was out in real force in Dublin on Saturday. Leading a ferocious forward effort, he showed his opposition no quarter and was at the heart of the rolling mauls which skewered the Welsh resistance. A constant rallying point in defence as well, you could almost feel the energy lift whenever the Munster legend was involved, leading from the front as usual.
5. Courtney Lawes (England)
Remember Courtney Lawes? That reckless dunder-head from Northampton who was only good for giving away penalties and getting onto highlights reels with the word “Hit” in the title? Well, he’s gone. Instead, the new Courtney Lawes was in prime form against Scotland, running a near perfect lineout and getting really stuck into the opposition set piece. Always eager to carry hard and a terrier in defence, the Saints man may have calmed down but he still has his ‘edge’ and is turning into top-quality international second row.
6. Peter O’Mahony (Ireland)
It turns out O’Connell has a rival in the aggression stakes – O’Mahony was clearly pumped up for this one and physically dismantled the Welsh breakdown, winning four turnovers himself. A brick wall in defence, this was a complete blind-side flanker performance that meant he outshone his opposite number, Test Lion Dan Lydiate, by a long, long way. He even chucked in a cheeky grubber kick for good measure.
7. Chris Henry (Ireland)
Chris Robshaw deserves a mention after another all-action display, but Henry gets the nod because he has stepped in for Sean O’Brien and done a phenomenal job. Tireless in defence, Henry did a great job of frustrating the Welsh pack at the breakdown, constantly slowing ball down and forcing attacks to stall. He picked up a deserved try as well by intelligently ‘driving’ an unstoppable rolling maul, confirming to Joe Schmidt that he has no intention of being a ‘stopgap’ for the Tullow Tank.
8. Billy Vunipola (England)
With thighs the size of oak tree-trunks and a torso similar to that of an adolescent rhinoceros, it’s perhaps not surprising that the Saracens number 8 is a tricky individual to stop when he gets going. But when you can combine that colossal power with such deft offloading ability, then you have yourself a real attacking weapon. Scotland were inept enough to keep allowing the big man space to run at them, and Vunipola took full advantage, smashing his way through six tacklers and making 58 metres in the process.
By Michael Cooper (@ruckedover)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images