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Six Nations: Team Of The Weekend

By virtue of the decision to schedule games on Friday night, Six Nations fans face into another fallow Sunday in this season’s Championship.

While Friday night fixtures are popular among fans at a domestic and European level, Six Nations organisers face opposition to their staging.

In any event, the lack of action allows rugby fans time to reflect on the weekend’s results and consider what could unfold on “Super Saturday”.

Although England have already wrapped up the Championship, with a Grand Slam and world record at stake, Eddie Jones’ side have a lot to play for in Dublin next weekend.

After beating South Africa, New Zealand and Australia in 2016, most Irish fans expected their side to be in contention for the Championship title next weekend and not playing for a top half finish.

Consequently, Ireland will see their final day showdown with England as a means of saving what will otherwise be regarded as an underwhelming Six Nations campaign.

Likewise, Wales could end their season on a positive note by beating France, and Italy might fancy their chances against a Scottish side that could be decimated by the injuries they sustained in Twickenham.

Indeed, if Scotland were to lose, it would take the gloss off what has been a progressive campaign.

1. Rob Evans (Wales)

Wales have suffered massively in recent seasons due to their inconsistent scrum.

At times, they look capable of withstanding the pressure being applied by the opposition, however on other occasions, they simply collapse into a heap.

On Friday night the former occurred, with Rob Evans seeing off Tadhg Furlong’s power. Not only that, but he demonstrated his skill set around the field with a brilliantly floated pass into three Welsh players in space.

2. Ken Owens (Wales)

Wales v Ireland - RBS Six Nations

At the beginning of the campaign, Ken Owens wasn’t considered to be among the hookers in contention for a place on the Lions tour.

However, after a strong performance against England and a perfect line-out display on Friday night, the Scarlets player is now in the conversation.

3. Rabah Slimani (France)

RBS 6 Nations Championship Round 4, Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy 11/3/2017 Italy vs France Italy's Lorenzo Cittadini and Rabah Slimani of France swap shirts after the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

As has been the case with sides who have played Italy in this Championship, it can be difficult to judge a player’s performance given how poor the Italians have been.

Nevertheless, Rabah Slimani’s impact was noticeable in the scrum, where he and his front row colleagues destroyed their opponents.

A feat made all the more impressive due to Andrea Lovotti’s dominance over Dan Cole in round three.

4. Joe Launchbury (England)

England v Scotland - RBS Six Nations

Joe Launchbury is playing some of the best rugby of his career at present, and his contribution was once again noticeable against Scotland.

Brilliant in the line-out against the in-form Gray brothers, and aggressive around the field, Launchbury was a big reason why Scotland had no response to England’s power and physicality in the front five.

5. Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)

Wales v Ireland - RBS Six Nations

Make no mistake about it, Alun Wyn Jones was under a great deal of pressure coming into Friday night’s clash with Ireland.

His leadership had been called into question following Wales’ defeat in Scotland, while the form of the Gray brothers, Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje and even Devin Toner meant that Jones had to respond with a quality performance so as to brush off any talk of his Lions place being under threat.

That Jones did with a peerless line-out display, the highlight of which was a key steal five meters from the Welsh line in the 14th minute.

6. Sam Warburton (Wales)

Wales v Ireland - RBS Six Nations

Wales absolutely dominated Ireland’s back row in the Principality Stadium, with Sam Warburton leading the charge at almost every breakdown.

Alongside Justin Tipuric, the duo worked in tandem to negate Ireland’s powerful ball carriers by denying them quick ball at every opportunity. Such was their impact, they limited Sean O’Brien to just six meters.

7. Justin Tipuric (Wales)

CARDIFF, WALES - MARCH 10: Justin Tipuric of Wales takes on Jamie Heaslip of Ireland during the Six Nations match between Wales and Ireland at the Principality Stadium on March 10, 2017 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Given their dominance at the breakdown, rightly or wrongly, Wales forced Joe Schmidt to remove CJ Stander from the fray and bring in Peter O’Mahony so as to negate the influence of Justin Tipuric and Sam Warburton.

Although Ireland fans were left puzzled by the sight of Stander being removed instead of Jamie Heaslip, it demonstrates just how crucial Tipuric was to slowing Ireland, leaving Schmidt with little choice but to react in some way.

8. Louis Picamoles (France)

Without a shadow of doubt, Louis Picamoles has been the best number eight in the Championship this season, dominating every opponent thus far.

It was no different against Italy, who were left watching on as his power kept France on the front foot throughout.

9. Rhys Webb (Wales)

Before the tournament kicked-off, most observers believed it was a straight shoot-out between Conor Murray and Ben Youngs for the Lions number nine jersey.

However, Rhys Webb’ form has certainly brought him into contention, particularly after playing a key role in the build-up to George North’s first try.

Not only did Webb start the move that saw Scott Williams take advantage of a dog leg in the Irish defence, but upon receiving the subsequent offload from the centre, the scrum-half looked for support before putting Leigh Halfpenny into space.

10. George Ford (England)

during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Scotland at Twickenham Stadium on March 11, 2017 in London, England.

Another player who found himself under pressure coming into England’s tie with Scotland, George Ford needed a big performance if he was to see off Finn Russell and force Warren Gatland to take note.

Ford delivered in Twickenham, underlining his value as a playmaking option at fly-half by instigating a series of moves that saw Jonathan Joseph score a hat-trick of tries.

11. Anthony Watson (England)

England v Scotland - RBS Six Nations

Given the form and footballing ability of Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson was kept out of the England side that took to the field against Scotland.

However, immediately after Daly was forced off, the Bath winger began to make his presence felt, furthering his reputation as a brilliant finisher.

12. Owen Farrell (England)

England v Scotland - RBS Six Nations

Owen Farrell was at the heart of England’s dominant display against Scotland, pulling the Scottish defence this way and that as he orchestrated a scintillating attacking performance alongside George Ford.

A certainty for the Lions, it’s just a matter of what position he plays.

13. Jonathan Joseph (England)

Left out of the England squad against Italy in the third round, Jonathan Joseph responded with a hat-trick upon his return.

It wouldn’t be unfair to say the Bath centre hasn’t been at his best this season, however his performance against Scotland has propelled him into Lions reckoning.

14. George North (Wales)

Wales v Ireland - RBS Six Nations

After a very poor performance against Scotland, George North not only needed to respond, but restore his reputation on Friday night.

That he did with two tries, the first of which was a powerful effort that saw him crash through Keith Earls and Simon Zebo.

Not only that, but he looked for the ball throughout, coming in off his wing and swapping over to the opposite flank on a number of occasions.

15. Mike Brown (England)

England v Scotland - RBS Six Nations

It wasn’t the best weekend for fullbacks. Rob Kearney struggled to make an impact for Ireland, Leigh Halfpenny didn’t look comfortable under the high ball, while Stuart Hogg was forced off the field during the early stages in Twickenham.

This leaves Mike Brown as the fullback in our team of the week. A player who might not light up the world, but remains a solid performer in the number 15 shirt for England.

Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena

On this week’s edition of The Oval Office Podcast, Lee Byrne tells us what’s gone wrong with Wales and how many dragons are likely to feature for the Lions.

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