Here at Sport360 we’ve put together a list of the top performers in the Six Nations after three rounds – try-scorers, points scorers, tacklers, metres made and defenders beaten – and there’s some real surprises on the list.
Perhaps most surprisingly is Italy full-back Matteo Minozzi who is in the top five for both metres made (212) and defenders beaten (9). It shows even though Italy have not been on the winning side in their first three matches they still have some dangerous ball runners.
Another surprise is the tackle count topped by French hooker and captain Guilhem Guirado who has made 57 tackles in total including a heroic 31 in the narrow loss to Ireland in Round 1.
The next best single game performance was Scotland lock Jonny Gray who made 24 in the upset victory over England to see him third on the list with 53 behind Guirado and Welsh flanker Josh Navidi (56). They are followed by another Welsh loose forward Aaron Shingler (47) and the ever-reliable Chris Robshaw of England (44).
Not surprisingly dynamite full-back Stuart Hogg tops the metres made with 252 ahead of a duo of exciting young wings – Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale (244) and Wales’ Stef Evans (222).
Stockdale, 21, also tops the try-scorers list with four – one ahead of Scotland’s Huw Jones and France’s Teddy Thomas, who has only played two matches.
The ever-accurate Leigh Halfpenny tops the point scorers list with 36 but it’s perhaps surprising to see France’s scrum-half Maxime Machenaud second on 33. His goal kicking could be crucial on Saturday in Paris.
Former Chiefs’ Super Rugby star Bundee Aki has been having a superb debut Six Nations with Ireland and he tops the defenders beaten list with 12, two ahead of Jones, England’s Anthony Watson and again surprisingly Italy flanker Sebastian Negri, who has the best solo performance in this category beating eight defenders in the match against France.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is an omission from one of the categories. In the top tackler list Ireland does not have one player in the top 40, with Aki again topping the Irish tacklers with just 24 – over 30 behind Guirado.
This reveals just how the tournament leaders have dominated the possession to date in their matches, enjoying 66.6% of the ball (63% v Italy, 68% v France and 69% v Wales) compare this to Italy who have had just 42% possession to date (37% v Ireland, 52% v England and 37% v France).
Six Nations Top performers after three rounds
TOP TRY SCORERS
4 Jacob Stockdale (IRE)
3 Huw Jones (SCO)
3 Teddy Thomas (FRA)
2 11 players
TOP POINTS SCORERS
36 Leigh Halfpenny (WAL)
33 Maxime Machenaud (FRA)
32 Johnny Sexton (IRE)
31 Owen Farrell (ENG)
29 Greig Laidlaw (SCO)
MOST METRES MADE
252 Stuart Hogg (SCO)
244 Jacob Stockdale (IRE)
222 Steff Evans (WAL)
212 Matteo Minozzi (ITA)
187 Jonny May (ENG)
186 Huw Jones (SCO)
MOST DEFENDERS BEATEN
12 Bundee Aki (IRE)
10 Huw Jones (SCO)
10 Sebastian Negri (ITA)
10 Anthony Watson (ENG)
9 Matteo Minozzi (ITA)
9 Jacob Stockdale (IRE)
9 Teddy Thomas (FRA)
57 Guilhem Guirado (FRA)
56 Josh Navidi (WAL)
53 Jonny Gray (SCO)
47 Aaron Shingler (WAL)
44 Chris Robshaw (ENG)
All stats compiled from sixnationsrugby.com.
Farrell, the team’s inside centre and goalkicker, starts as captain for the first time after Hartley conceded defeat in his battle with the injury sustained in training at the start of the week.
Hartley has been an ever-present under Eddie Jones, starting all but one of his 26 Tests in charge and always acting as skipper, and his absence at the Stade de France is part of the most radical team selection of the Australian’s reign.
Jamie George, the British and Irish Lions’ starting hooker against New Zealand last summer, is given the number two jersey while Mako Vunipola has been named vice-captain.
“Owen will be very proud to be captain but at the same time he’s disappointed for Dylan to miss out through injury. He knows the position of captain carries a lot of responsibility,” Jones said.
“We need to make sure we have one strong voice among the forward leaders and Mako has been doing some great work behind the scenes. He will step up and take that on officially against France.”
In total there are five changes – two of them positional – to the side defeated 25-13 by Scotland at Murrayfield on February 24.
Mike Brown has been dropped at full-back following his disappointing display in the Calcutta Cup, resulting in Anthony Watson moving from the wing and Elliot Daly being immediately reinstated after his recovery from ankle and calf injuries.
A further development of significance sees the power of Ben Te’o preferred to the quick feet of Jonathan Joseph at outside centre.
“Mike Brown has been excellent for us but he was a little bit off against Scotland and we’ve decided to start Anthony Watson there,” Jones said.
“We want to attack a little bit more so Anthony starts at full back with Elliot Daly on the left wing and Jonny May on the right wing. It’s a great back three for us.
“Elliot has come back into camp and is in really good fettle, moving well and he’s obviously a very good player having done so well for the Lions in the summer.
“It was always the plan – we felt we’d need someone a bit bigger and stronger on a slower track at the Stade de France and this is why Ben Te’o starts.”
Brown and Joseph are included on a heavily-changed bench that sees Luke Cowan-Dickie present as a reserve hooker.
Kyle Sinckler is back as tighthead prop cover – Harry Williams has been struggling with a neck problem – and is joined among the replacements by James Haskell and Sam Simmonds.
“This game is about the opportunity for the team to move forward and we want a response from the players this week,” Jones said.
“Against France we want to be brutal and aggressive on the gain line and to play with a great tactical discipline.”
England team to face France:
Jonny May has revealed that the recent bite to training has forced the intervention of coaches as England look to relaunch their Six Nations title defence.
Leicester wing May insists the fallout from Murrayfield has been evident in the squad’s practice sessions.
“There has been a bit of an edge in camp – a positive one,” May said.
“The boys have been training hard and smashing each other in training. You can just feel it.
“(Captain) Dylan Hartley leads it well. He always says, ‘Listen, we don’t want the coaches blowing their whistles, telling us to up it. We want the coaches blowing their whistles, telling us to rein it in.’
“That’s how it has been this last couple of weeks.
“There have been no dust-ups, but it has been physical. It has needed to be.”
England’s only previous experience of defeat under Jones came in last year’s Grand Slam game against Ireland, the anguish of that occasion heightened by the knowledge that the same group of players would not meet again until the autumn due to British and Irish Lions call-ups.
The Stade de France showdown offers the prospect of immediate redemption by fixing the shortcomings in defence, leadership and at the breakdown that were exposed in Edinburgh.
“It’s the first time that we’ve had a loss and stayed together. Last time after the Ireland loss we all went away,” May said.
“It’s a shame we didn’t have a game last weekend because we all wanted to get back out on the pitch.
“Sometimes it’s disappointing that you need to have a loss to have a reaction. That’s why we can be scratching our heads and thinking, ‘Why did this need to happen for us to feel this way?’.
“I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel or go back to the drawing board because we’re a great team.
“It’s not that we were complacent or anything but sometimes you do get beaten and it does bring an edge and a desire to get back out there and put it right.
“It’s been pretty dark since. We’ve had to sit on the result for a couple of weeks. We were are all really disappointed and hard on ourselves.
“Now we want to go out there and show what it means. This is new territory for us. This is our opportunity to pull back together and learn as a group and push on.”
England name their team to face France on Thursday morning, with Hartley’s fitness the main source of concern.
The captain is struggling with a tight calf which has been monitored daily and is subject to a fitness test, with Jamie George on stand-by to start at hooker and Owen Farrell the probable replacement as captain.