It was back to the Aviva Premiership and PRO12 for the British & Irish Lions hopefuls, looking to make Warren Gatland’s squad to New Zealand.
While most made a comeback this weekend, there were some, like Elliot Daly, Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton who were given a rest this weekend.
But of those who did return to club action, who impressed and who saw their stock fall?
Leicester Tigers’ Ben Youngs scores a try during the Aviva Premiership match with Northampton Saints. David Rogers/Getty Images
15 Mike Brown (Harlequins)
As Harlequins brushed Newcastle Falcons aside on Saturday, Mike Brown was in superb form, scoring a try and setting up Marland Yarde in the second half. Just the performance the England fullback required after last week’s defeat to Ireland.
14 Chris Ashton (Saracens)
Ashton grabbed a brace and Mark McCall stated that his performance would have made an impression on head coach Warren Gatland. Ashton was a constant threat in attack and was rewarded for that with two late tries, each capped with the familiar dive.
13 Jared Payne (Ulster)
With Leigh Halfpenny in Dubai, Stuart Hogg below par against Connacht and Rob Kearney injured, Payne gets our vote. Having performed well against England at fullback, there would have been more talk about his Lions inclusion but for injury hampering the rest of his tournament. Grabbed a try for Ulster, but a lack of European action could eventually cost him.
12 Owen Farrell (Saracens)
While Robbie Henshaw joined Ringrose in a pre-Champions Cup break, Farrell showed his control and composure in guiding Saracens to a comprehensive victory over George Ford’s Bath. Farrell had a try assist and marshalled his side well. He kicked well at goal and when looking for territory in difficult conditions.
The Blues, Crusaders and Highlanders all enjoyed wins against international opposition as several players stood out to make for some difficult selections in the latest team of the week.
11 Sean Maitland (Saracens)
George North didn’t have his greatest game for the Saints and was limited in his attacking opportunities, while Maitland was back to his devastating best against Bath. Tim Visser may have gotten back into the Scotland side due to his injury, but Maitland looked like a man with a point to prove. He did that with some excellent carrying, including going through Rokoduguni, and didn’t give up for his try when it looked like Ford had the beating of him.
10 Finn Russell (Glasgow)
On a weekend where Sexton and Dan Biggar were rested, and George Ford was found wanting, Russell played well in the tight battle with Connacht. He showed ability from the tee as well as scoring a try.
9 Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)
Conor Murray was absent for Munster, Rhys Webb was absent as Ospreys lost to Treviso in Italy, but Youngs did well as Leicester Tigers fought their way back. A sniping run down the touchline should have resulted in a better end result than a turnover. With none of his competitors playing this weekend, he did enough to keep himself in the frame.
Saracens’ Mako Vunipola is tackled by Bath’s Ben Tapuai. Nigel French/PA Images via Getty Images
1 Mako Vunipola (Saracens)
His class was evident throughout, even when leading 32-10, as he chased down George Ford and stopped him with an ankle tap. He was ferocious at the breakdown, won a turnover and and was on hand to sweep up whenever he was needed. In attack his bursts continued, and he could prove crucial against the All Blacks, if he gets a chance.
2 Jamie George (Saracens)
While the Six Nations saw him wait patiently behind Dylan Hartley for the most part, he did his outside chances of selection no harm with a solid performance for Sarries. Rory Best and Ken Owens were both rested for Ulster and Scarlets, and George showed once again that he could eclipse Hartley at international level, but especially in the Lions reckoning.
3 Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers)
With a raft of international props having an extended break, Cole shone for the Tigers in their battle against Northampton Saints. He was part of a solid scrum, with pressure on the Saints’ front row leading to winning possession off three Northampton put-ins. But bigger tests await for Cole before the season is out.
4 Maro Itoje (Saracens)
No Richie Gray or Donnacha Ryan to contend with this week, and Itoje showed the talent that means only injury will prevent him from lining up for Gatland’s Lions. What does he have at his disposal? Itoje was stealing lineouts, a menace at the breakdown and carried well in attack. There are few that can match his lineout capability.
5 Iain Henderson (Ulster)
Henderson’s versatility in the pack should make him a leading contender. His try against England didn’t harm his chances, but he backed up that performance on Friday with Ulster. His workrate around the breakdown and putting his body on the line in defence is matched by his ability in making key runs.
6 Peter O’Mahony (Munster)
From Lions obscurity to a leading contender within a week, O’Mahony continued his form in the PRO12 against Zebre after his exceptional performance against England last week. O’Mahony’s lineout strengths are superb and he helped Munster continue their push for the playoffs. A Champions Cup quarterfina next weekl is another chance for him to show what he can do on the bigger stage.
7 Chris Robshaw (Harlequins)
Robshaw put in an incredible performance, despite the lack of a threat Newcastle posed. He carried well in the lead up to Quins’ opening try and defensively put in a good shift. After fighting back from a shoulder injury and 12 weeks of rehab, he may well have timed his return to perfection.
8 Billy Vunipola (Saracens)
He bossed the tussle with his cousin Taulupe Faletau, was a constant carrying threat, and took Saracens over the gainline on a number of occasions. He was often double tackled, which saw space created out wide and his teammates exploited it. He shrugged off one tackle and went past another to score his try at the death. A cert for the Lions squad.
www.espn.co.uk – RUGBY