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Dublin: 1°C Sunday 7 March 2021

CJ Stander and the rest of The42's Six Nations Team of the Week

There was the tightest of tight calls at number eight, while we found room for five Irishmen after the draw against Wales.

THE SIX NATIONS is back, and it has reverted to pre-21 March 2015 levels of entertainment. Still, what it lacked in free-flowing try-fests, it made up for in edge-of-the-seat, nail-biting and intense contests.

Here are the players The42 feels shaped the opening weekend.

15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

Scotland were strangled in to submission by a ruthless English performance, but when the host fullback was in possession Murrayfield believed they were capable.

Hogg was happy under the high ball and livewire with it in his hands.

Source: RBS 6 Nations/YouTube

14. Jack Nowell (England)

An excellent finish to a fine move was the icing on the cake. Nowell was the archetype industrious wing on Saturday, strong at the breakdown and committed to the chase.

Scotland v England - 2016 RBS Six Nations - BT Murrayfield Stadium Source: Danny Lawson

13. Jared Payne (Ireland)

Showed off his excellent footwork to make yards and worry the Welsh defence on every carry. Without the ball, he was a linchpin in the defence with a tackle count of 15 that was only bettered by Jamie Heaslip and Jack McGrath.

Ireland v Wales - 2016 RBS Six Nations - Aviva Stadium Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

12. Jamie Roberts (Wales)

It was a long, hard day’s work for the centres in Ireland v Wales, and Roberts worked harder than anyone. 11 solid carries to rock Ireland on their heels and a whopping 20 tackles helped Wales fight back from 13 down to 13 – 16 up.

CJ Stander runs at Jamie Roberts Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

11. Virimi Vakatawa (France)

France didn’t quite unleash the Jouer aesthetic that Guy Noves is hoping for, but as long as he picks players like Vakatawa, there will be a touch of magic.

Source: RBS 6 Nations/YouTube

The Sevens star showed an excellent step to finish his own try and also made a break to set up another.

10. Jonathan Sexton (Ireland)

Source: RBS 6 Nations/YouTube

Walked off the field appearing to rub a pain in his sternum, but showed from early on how vital he is in the reigning champions’ attack. His goal-kicking was arguably steadier than ever, including a nerveless long-range leveller, and along with Simon Zebo the out-half was the one to threaten line-breaks for his side.

9. Conor Murray (Ireland)

While all his positional peers faltered, Murray remained a steady hand at the tiller before showing quickness of thought and a firm grip to sell a brilliant dummy to Justin Tipuric that made the space to dot down his try.

Source: RBS 6 Nations/YouTube

1. Rob Evans (Wales)

The loosehead was key to turning momentum back Wales’ way as he made the closing minutes of the first half hell for Ireland tighthead Nathan White. Gethin Jenkins’ young replacement did more than justify his selection, topping off that try-yielding set of scrums with 13 tackles and 10 carries before the experience Lions loosehead was sent on.

General view of a collapsed scrum Source: James Crombie/INPHO

2. Guilhelm Guirado (France)

France’s top tackler by a distance and a benchmark by which the rest of the team should aim to set themselves.

France were sub par for long stretches at home to Italy, but the captain and hooker kept them on course to victory with an intense work-rate and flawless line-outs.

France Rugby World Cup Source: Francois Mori

3. Dan Cole (England)

The cornerstone of a rock solid English pack, playing the full 80 minutes in Edinburgh and laying the foundations for Eddie Jones’ era. Cole’s scrum may have been under pressure from Scotland, but he was key in riding the storm out. And by the time he moved on to a second loosehead, he was the dominant force.

Dan Cole and George Kruis Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

4. Devin Toner (Ireland)

Ireland wondered where the leaders would come from and Toner confidently strode out of Paul O’Connell’s shadow to take charge of the engine room. 12 tackles and five line-out takes topped off a brilliant performance against the tournament’s best second row pairing.

Ireland’s Jamie Heaslip Mike McCarthy Devin Toner and Wales’s Luke Charteris Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

5. George Kruis (England)

His try was blockbuster of a carry from five metres out and just rewards for a man who got through a massive 16 tackles while also dominating the line-out with 10 takes in the air.

Source: RBS 6 Nations/YouTube

6. CJ Stander (Ireland)

What more can we say about Big CJ? Rarely if ever before has a Test debutant looked so much like the dominant force. 23 hard carries earned Ireland just 38 metres, but every one of them was vital.

CJ Stander and Rhys Priestland Source: James Crombie/INPHO

7. John Hardie (Scotland)

A revelation at the World Cup and still threatening to pull up trees in the Six Nations. The livewire openside was the chief reason England didn’t manage to pull clear of Scotland sooner. He will have easier days when his pack are able to get on the front foot and help him.

Owen Farrell with John Hardie Source: Craig Watson/INPHO

8.  Billy Vunipola (England)

Competition for the number eight jersey was more fierce than anywhere else, but with respect to a vintage Jamie Heaslip performance and the latest wonders on display from Sergio Parisse, England’s number eight was untouchable this weekend.

Source: RBS 6 Nations/YouTube


Vunipola looks a touch lighter than previously seasons, but no less powerful, even coming close to matching Stander’s tally of carries, but more space enabled his 22 runs to earn 51 metres for his side.

Who would you have picked?

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Schmidt considering changes as Ireland look to build on solid foundation

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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