Warren Gatland will name his British & Irish Lions squad to tour New Zealand in less than two weeks, providing plenty of incentive for players to impress in the Premiership, PRO12 and Top 14 over the weekend.
With most of Ireland’s Lions possibilities given a week off, others put their hands up, while a question remains whether Chris Ashton’s scoring ability is good enough to earn him a place.
RC Toulon’s Leigh Halfpenny in action against Toulouse. Bertrand Langlois/AFP/Getty Images
15. Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon)
Toulon were in danger of missing out on a playoff spot in the Top14 but Halfpenny steered the ship in a 33-23 victory over Toulouse, kicking 15 points in the win. Just a reminder to Gatland what he can do from the kicking tee.
14. Anthony Watson (Bath)
He was in scintillating form grabbing a brace in quick succession to turn the game on its head. From breaks, and leaving defenders in his wake, Watson — injury aside — is a nailed on for the Lions tour. A key turnover and a few big hits did his cause no harm.
13. Jonathan Joseph (Bath)
A month after ripping the Scottish defence to shreds with a hat trick of tries, Joseph was once again tormentor in chief at Twickenham. He looked composed and a threat whenever he was in possession.
12. Owen Farrell (Saracens)
Another masterclass from the Saracens fly-half as he looks to win back-to-back Champions Cup and Aviva Premiership titles. Twenty points from the boot, line breaks aplenty and an ability to put his backline in motion. It will take some stopping him and Saracens.
11. Chris Ashton (Saracens)
There is no doubting his scoring capabilities and it’s doubtful the Lions will be able to kick themselves to victories over the All Blacks. If they can, they have Owen Farrell. If they don’t, there are few who can compete with Ashton’s scoring ability.
10. George Ford (Bath)
Showed nice footwork to evade Leicester’s rush defence early on in the game, made a few breaks to get them in scoring positions which they took. His quick hands made Bath frightening in attack and there were a couple of offloads thrown in as well. It remains to be seen how many No. 10s Gatland takes. If Farrell goes as a centre, it could be a toss up between Ford and Dan BIggar.
9. Rhys Webb (Ospreys)
In Conor Murray’s continued absence, Rhys Webb took a step in front of Ben Youngs for the Lions spot. He was much more of a threat in attack than Youngs showed against Bath. He beat a few defenders, a nice offload in attack and earned a turnover and missed a tackle less than Youngs.
Saracens’ Mako Vunipola runs with the ball against Harlequins. Steve Bardens/Getty Images
1. Mako Vunipola (Saracens)
The England front row managed just 44 minutes but still did enough to impress Gatland once more. The crunching tackles he put in — there were nine in all — not missing one in defence, was epitomised by a huge hit just before half time, driving Quins outside of the Sarries 22, when they looked to get back to within touching distance at the break.
2. Ken Owens (Scarlets)
Owens was relentless in the Scarlets’ hammering of Treviso, ever willing to put his body on the line and once again showed his turnover skills. The problem for Owens is that he only has the PRO12 to show his class, although Gatland knows what he contributes and is likely to be on the plane.
3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster)
Furlong showed once again his ability to beat defenders, and playing with the best on the Lions tour should help him create the kind of space he can exploit against the All Blacks. In defence he was dogged, putting in big tackles and earning two turnovers in Leinster’s victory.
4. Maro Itoje (Saracens)
Lineout steals, 18 tackles and none missed, that is the kind of accuracy the Lions will need in New Zealand. The penalty count against him at the weekend may be a concern — as he conceded four — but his lineout and workrate around the breakdown provided quick ball for the Saracens backline.
5. Devin Toner (Leinster)
Toner has been going about his business quietly and put in a good display at the Ospreys. His work rate around the breakdown and his lineout abilities could see him make the squad.
6. Taulupe Faletau (Bath)
With two back-to-back man of the match performances, Faletau has put himself in the forefront of Warren Gatland’s mind. With the Irish Provinces resting their back row stalwarts, Faletau made a statement with great ball carrying — just short of 90 metres on 17 carries — and an assist.
7. Hamish Watson (Edinburgh)
The Scottish giant showed in the defeat to Connacht that there is a lot more to him than a physical presence as he combined offloads, breaks and beating defenders with a well taken try, as he charged through would-be tackler to score. In defence he put in 15 tackles and won two turnovers.
8. Billy Vunipola (Saracens)
A nice turnover from Vunipola put Saracens on the front foot. One tackle more than his brother, but was again faultless in defence, failing to miss a tackle and a wrecking ball at the breakdown.
www.espn.co.uk – RUGBY