The race for a spot in the British & Irish Lions touring party to New Zealand intensified over the weekend as all four Home Nations were involved in matches against each other.
England produced their best performance under Eddie Jones to stun a shell-shocked Scotland in the Calcutta Cup, while an under pressure Wales silenced some of their critics with a bruising win over Ireland in Cardiff.
There were several key match ups across the weekend that would’ve have caught Warren Gatland’s eye, particularly in the back-row, at scrum-half and in the midfield.
So let’s take a look at who we felt stole the show in the penultimate round of the Six Nations with the Lions squad to be named in just over a month.
George North and Rhys Webb celebrate during Wales’ win over Ireland. David Rogers/Getty Images
15. Rob Kearney (Ireland)
A lot of pundits have already pencilled Stuart Hogg as their Lions fullback but a question remains if the Scotland fullback was to get injured — like he did on Saturday — who would fill the void. Kearney was superb under the high ball at the back for Ireland, and held his own defensively in a losing cause.
14. George North (Wales)
Back to his attacking best against Ireland. Ran hard an with intent, particularly in the first of his two tries where he sliced through Keith Earls and Simon Zebo en route to the whitewash. Still a question mark on defence, but certainly a step in the right direction.
13. Jonathan Joseph (England)
Played like a man with a point to prove. Surplus to requirements a fortnight ago for England, Joseph returned with a hiss and a roar, carving through Scotland’s midfield defence to score a hat-trick of tries and set one up for Anthony Watson. Deserved Man of the Match.
12. Owen Farrell (England)
Maybe Farrell should trip over Eddie Jones’ dog more often? The England playmaker shook off a leg injury that had him in doubt for the Calcutta Cup clash with a masterful attacking display in tandem with George Ford while his 11 kicks from 12 attempts from the tee was nothing short of world class.
11. Anthony Watson (England)
The Bath flyer was back from injury and it doesn’t look like he’s lost a yard of pace during his time on the sidelines. Sensed an opportunity as Joseph made yet another break through Scotland’s midfield and burst onto the scene in support to finish a brilliant England try.
10. George Ford (England)
His best game in an England shirt for sometime. While his opposite Finn Russell crumbled under the pressure, Ford was calm and collected when it mattered most. Played a huge part in Joseph’s second try with some lovely footwork and a perfectly timed pass.
9. Rhys Webb (Wales)
Won the battle of the two stand-out scrum-halves in the Northern Hemisphere. Crisp distribution and accurate box-kicking put his side on the front foot while his long skip pass in the lead up to George North’s first try couldn’t have been better.
Maro Itoje and Joe Launchbury salute the crowd after England’s win over Scotland. Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
1. Joe Marler (England)
Not the worst way to celebrate 50 caps for your country. Put in a big shift with 13 tackles while he worked over Scotland tight-head Zander Fagerson at the scrum. Going to be interesting to see how he is used in Dublin with Mako Vunipola back from injury.
2. Ken Owens (Wales)
No longer just sliding under the radar with all the talk surrounding Rory Best and Dylan Hartley. Ken Owens is the real deal. The Welsh hooker has a massive engine and the complete skill set. All nine of his throws hit the target, with both of North’s tries coming from line-out moves.
3. Dan Cole (England)
One of the first names on Eddie Jones’ team-sheet continues to make all the right noises. Kept the England scrum steady with Marler while getting through a body of work before making way in the 60th minute against Scotland.
4. Courtney Lawes (England)
Seems to have a renewed lease of life under Eddie Jones. A real safe pair of hands in the line-out laying the ball perfectly to Ben Youngs that led to two of England’s first half tries while imposing himself around the fringes and at the breakdown.
5. Joe Launchbury (England)
Every team needs a Joe Launchbury. The Wasps second-row got through a mountain of dirty work that allowed England to thrive on the ball. Continues to lead England’s effort defensively with 22 tackles.
6. Maro Itoje (England)
After a couple of games finding his way at blindside flanker, Itoje owned the role with an immense display at Twickenham. Popped up everywhere — including the right wing — in an 80 minute display while ruffling a few feathers in the Scottish pack.
7. Sam Warburton (Wales)
He may have relinquished the Welsh captaincy but Warren Gatland must be seriously considering the Welsh flanker to lead the Lions once more. Led by example with a remarkable 21 tackles to help deny Ireland from scoring a try. Justin Tipuric worthy of a mention too for another huge game.
8. Ross Moriarty (Wales)
Has put his hand up as a Lions bolter backing up an eye-catching performance against England with another tireless display against Ireland. Didn’t take a step backwards all night against a formidable Irish back-row with Stander, O’Brien and Heaslip.
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