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Six Nations: Team of round one

Owain JonesJamie Lyall

There may have been no crowds to witness the first round of the Six Nations championship but that didn’t stop the protagonists playing out a dramatic opening weekend. A first sending off from an Ireland player since 1977, a first win by Scotland at Twickenham since 1983, a raft of injuries and a smattering of glorious skills from gifted players meant huge TV audience, but who caught the eye? The XV have turned selector to cherry pick the best of the best…

15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

Hogg played a captain’s role, cajoling his contemporaries from the backfield and regularly skipping beyond the first tackler on eight occasions with a skip or a feint in atrocious conditions. He carried on 11 occasions for 92m. His sumptuous 60m spiral kick to within 10m of the English tryline typified the smart rugby Scotland played and his decision to let Cameron Redpath and Dave Cherry lift the Calcutta Cup spoke of a growing maturity from the 28-year-old.

Stuart Hogg
Stuart Hogg caused the England defence problems from the backfield (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)

14. Teddy Thomas (France)

There are few players who bring more of a smile to the face than the enigmatic Frenchman but, Thomas, carried on his impressive scoring stats on the Test stage with two tries to make it 15 in 23 appearances. The Racing 92 flyer carried for 101m, beat seven defenders and made three clean breaks with one scything break from his own half leading to a try from Antoine Dupont as the Italian defence were left flat-footed. A quick mention for Louis Rees-Zammitt, who finished his try expertly in the corner.

13. George North (Wales)

Barely two months ago, there were naysayers who were writing George North’s epitaph as a Test entity. After an assured game at 13 against Italy, and a clutch of inspired performances for the Ospreys, North is playing his best rugby in years. His 42nd try for Wales (and 44th in all), came from the 22m line, where he saw the mismatch and blowing Irish forwards to cut through a gap and power over with Tadhg Beirne hanging on like the backend of a pantomime horse. North made eight carries for 87m from midfield and was also physical in contact, often competing for the jackal in a top-drawer performance. Garry Ringrose also deserves a mention for a classy performance.

12. Cam Redpath (Scotland)

A penny for Eddie Jones’ thoughts as Cameron Redpath’s first foray into the Test arena ended to the cacophony of plaudits ringing in his ear. The former England U20 centre, and son of Scottish scrum-half, Bryan, Redpath looked composure personified as he pounced on any error from the England midfield, which included his old team-mate at age-grade level, Ollie Lawrence. One left-footed clearance, 60m, showed his mental alertness, while another steal at the breakdown showed his appetite for the rough stuff. When he did carry, he habitually broke the gainline with footwork, power that belied his growing frame, and spacial awareness. Redpath looks a key cog in the Scottish midfield for years to come.

11. Duhan van der Merwe (Scotland)

While there will always be those naysayers who question the big wing’s allegiance to Scotland, after Van der Merwe grew up in George on the Western Cape, they would have been in the minority when the 6ft 4in, 16st wing muscled over the line with three English defenders, Daly, Farrell and Wilson swatted aside as he collapsed over the line for the game’s only try. With 46m carries, and a few rib-ticklers on England attackers, Scotland look like they’ve found their match-winner in tight games.

10. Matthieu Jalibert (France)

With Romain Ntamack on the comeback trail from a broken arm, France have not missed a step at fly-half with the 22-year-old Bordeaux playmaker. A triple threat as a runner, Jalibert’s footwork, distribution and smart kicking game means he is unsettles defences. A decent goal-kicker, he was replaced on 59 minutes with 15 points, and after a hesitant Test debut three years ago, the fly-half is now looks far more assured. His decision-making was too much for a naive Italian backline.

Matthieu Jalibert
Matthieu Jalibert put in a composed display against an inexperienced Italy side (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)

9. Antoine Dupont (France)

The rugby world is running out of superlatives for the 24-year-old Toulouse native. Dupont is now a recognised superstar of the game and playing like one, week-in, week-out. His support running on the shoulder of attackers is why he scored his eighth try for France in 28 Tests, and his impudent offload to Arthur Vincent when he looked like he’d been shackled, showed his predilection for creating the extraordinary. He ended up with game with four ‘assists’, a joint-tournament record with Frederic Michalak. He wasn’t perfect, with two ambitious kicks for the corner going out of play, but he picked his now customary Man of the Match award.

1. Wyn Jones (Wales)

Laced a bruising physical display with some lovely flourishes in open field, including a couple of deft off-loads. Jones cut his teeth scrummaging against the gnarled old bulls of the Welsh game at Llandovery, and it shows in how he handles himself in the set-piece. Wayne Pivac has a slew of fine loose-heads, but for now, the jersey emphatically belongs to Jones.

Elsewhere, Rory Sutherland delivered his customary blend of power in the scrum and dynamism in the loose.

2. George Turner (Scotland)

Entered 2021 as Scotland’s third-choice hooker. Began the Six Nations starting at Twickenham. There was much anguished mopping of brows in Scotland over Turner’s throwing, but his darts were nigh-perfect. Scotland did not lose a single of their 15 line-outs.

Turner is a beast on the carry and in the tackle, and this felt like a coming of age for the hooker. He was criminally starved of game time at Edinburgh before shifting west to Glasgow and carving his path in the professional game.

3. Zander Fagerson (Scotland)

Fast becoming a serious Lions contender. Fagerson dealt with England’s meaty pack in the scrum and made a heap of telling contributions at the breakdown. Tomas Francis is a close second after a mighty shift featuring 19 tackles at the Principality.

4. Tadhg Beirne (Ireland)

An incredibly close call between Beirne and Alun Wyn Jones, who, at 35 after a nine-week injury lay-off, put in a colossal defensive shift and a host of dominant tackles.

Beirne edges it for his ubiquitous display for an Ireland side shorn of Peter O”Mahony for 66 minutes. He made a frightening 21 carries, including a clean break, pounced for Ireland’s first-half try and was a constant pest over ball.

5. Jonny Gray (Scotland)

Gray was the premier lock at Twickenham. Because he is so machine-like in his consistency, the Scot’s excellence is often overlooked. He was Scotland’s top tackler, and second-top carrier, bossed the skies and was generally a horrible big lump to play against.

Justin Tipuric Garry Ringrose
Justin Tipuric made 29 tackles, one of which, was on Garry Ringrose (Photo by David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images)

6. Justin Tipuric (Wales)

We’ve cheated a bit here to squeeze in Tipuric and Hamish Watson, but both were just too good to leave out. Barring one slip in the lead-up to Beirne’s try, Tipuric was sensational for a Wales team that for long spells, had to defend for grim death.

He made a crazy tally of nearly 30 tackles, including one potentially try-saving hit, pilfered a couple of outrageous turnovers, and injected pace and impetus every time he carried.

7. Hamish Watson (Scotland)

This weekend’s showdown at Murrayfield between Tipuric and Watson will be incredible. The Scot is a tiger, all snarl and anger and rugged refusal to be quelled. He smashed a couple of Englishmen in the tackle, was utterly relentless over ball, and beat four defenders en route to gobbling up 23m with ball in hand. In bossing Tom Curry, Watson offered a timely reminder to Warren Gatland of his Lions credentials.

Hamish Watson
Hamish Watson punches well above his weight in the Scotland back row (Photo credit Dave Rogers / Getty Images)

8. CJ Stander (Ireland)

With O’Mahony gone, and Johnny Sexton injured, Ireland needed a leader – step forward, CJ Stander. What a colossal performance this was from the Munster eight. Stander carries like an ox on pre-workout powder. No forward in the opening round bettered his haul of 46m for 18 bullocking charges. He even lined up the hulking Taulupe Faletau, barrelled straight at his opposite man, and sent the Welsh juggernaut careering backwards on to his buttocks. Stander emerged as a totem for Ireland in their hour of need.

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