Ireland wrapped up the Six Nations title on Saturday while England were beaten again.
After Wales wrapped up the fourth weekend of the championship with victory over Italy, we assess the fortunes of each team…
Good: The Six Nations winners have put themselves in a glorious position to earn their place in a small club and seal only the third Grand Slam in the country’s history next weekend. Joe Schmidt’s side were clinical, relentless, ruthless against Scotland as they took their four tries with conviction. No other Irish player has scored more tries in a championship than Jacob Stockdale (six tries in five matches) and there’s still one more round to go.
Bad: Everything has gone to the best possible script for the Men in Green but the weight of history and what they could achieve at Twickenham, could play on their minds. It’s not a bad problem to have but the Irish need to remember the full job isn’t done yet.
Good: When the Red Rose went quick ball first and didn’t worry about their structure, it gave the players the chance to have a broken field and use their footwork. The English showed flashes of their attacking exploits, but Eddie Jones’ men need to add another 40 percent to their performance if they are to have any hope of beating Ireland in the final round.
Bad: A far cry from the team that won back-to-back titles – with two defeats in four matches this championship. They gave away too many penalties – a record 15 which is the most of the Jones era – and looked deficient in attack and couldn’t unlock a granite-like French defence. The back-row balance is a massive area that needs to be addressed.
Good: Warren Gatland showed the serious depth available in his squad after making 10 changes to his squad. To see the likes of George North, Hadleigh Parks and Elliot Dee shine in the bonus-point win shows the class on offer in the Dragons set-up. They have the chance to secure second place with a bonus-point with against France on Saturday.
Bad: Lacked ruthlessness at times during the first period after such a storming start. The Dragons need to be composed with ball-in-hand for long periods, cut down mistakes and discipline (two sin bins and Liam Williams lucky not to get a red) if they are to seriously challenge the likes of Ireland and the Southern Hemisphere teams at next summer’s World Cup.
Good: Gregor Townsend’s side showed creativity and had chances to go ahead in Dublin, and ask questions that weren’t asked of Ireland in the tournament yet. Although they might look at the scoreline and see a comprehensive defeat, there were signs of class that the Scots need to work on to improve after the championship.
Bad: It’s unfortunate that a burgeoning team like the Scots have been so appalling on the road this championship – with three defeats in five. They butchered three try-scoring chances against the Irish, including an early opportunity for Stuart Hogg that could have put a different reflection on the contest.
Good: The win over England will get them back into the top eight of the world rankings – after falling behind Fiji and Argentina. Les Bleus showed the French Flair that has been missing in their game in recent years, hammering the English with every opportunity. Victory over the Red Rose represents a significant boost to their overall morale, with the physicality of their back-row providing a serious thorn to their success.
Bad: A thumping victory in Paris but Jacques Brunel’s side haven’t solved anything yet. They failed to make an impact for nearly 50 minutes of the match and only came to light when awarded a penalty try. Made some critical errors, including burning a serious try scoring chance from a five-metre scrum after the break.
Good: The Azzurri’s structure and work through the phases looked positive and will add confidence to the work of Conor O’Shea and his backroom team when sitting down to review the championship next week. To see the elusive Matteo Minozzi touchdown for another try will be another key positive.
Bad: Their game plan was littered with mistakes in the second-half and virtually fell apart as Wales upped the intensity. Loose defending and an inability to keep the ball moving cost them as the game progressed. The failure of Sergio Parisse to have any impact on proceedings did little to inspire them and their heads subsequently dropped. They have one final chance to end the campaign on a high against Scotland next week – a team who has failed to win on the road this season.
Ireland clinched the Six Nations Championship with a round to spare and it’s no surprise to see three of their players in the standout performers of the weekend.
Wales and France recorded important wins and also have three men each in our top-10 – but there is no place for any players from England or Scotland.
Here is the full rundown of the best players from week four.
Rob Kearney – An absolute colossus at the back for Ireland. Despite getting older the Leinster man never seems to miss a beat. Fielded the high-ball immaculately and counter attacked with real purpose every time he had his hands on the ball. Ever-dependable in defence, a wall Scotland couldn’t knock down.
Garry Ringrose – If this is what the outside centre plays like having not featured in an international Test since last summer then just wait until he’s in form. In many ways he’s a throwback, not huge of frame, and relies mainly on his speed, footwork, and rugby brain – all of which were razor sharp this weekend.
Dan Leavy – Another Irishman supposedly filling in for a more illustrious colleague, and while Sean O’Brien may have big boots to fill, Leavy is more than up to the task. Covered pretty much every blade of grass against Scotland and finds a wonderful openside balance of link players and defensive nuisance.
James Davies – An all-action debut for the Scarlets flanker. Was busy in the loose, getting turnovers and carrying well on several occasions, but it was his tackle count of 18 that really stood out. Blotted his copybook slightly with a soft penalty but in all can be more than happy with his first outing.
Hadleigh Parkes – Another stand-out performance from a man making the Welsh 12 shirt his own. Described post-match as someone who doesn’t make mistakes, that was clear for all to see in Cardiff. Passes beautifully, great in the tackle, solid boot, strong runner, denied a deserved brace by the TMO.
George North – First start for Wales in 12 months and it was like he had never been away. Showed good footwork early on, and excellent support running for his first try. Solid line for his second to really announce his comeback. His work-rate will please Warren Gatland, especially a second-half turnover.
Matteo Minozzi – On an otherwise dreary day for the Italians, the full-back provided a rare chink of light. A simply dazzling piece of footwork to beat Liam Williams out wide and then the power to get over the line for a score of great quality. Some nice touches throughout on another difficult day for the Azzuri.
Benjamin Fall – With Teddy Thomas sidelined there were question marks over the French wings, but Fall was constantly on the lookout for work. Denied by Anthony Watson, leading to the crucial penalty try, the 29-year-old Montpellier star carried hard and showed good footwork in enclosed spaces.
Remy Grosso – Another totemic presence for the French out wide. Managed a game-high 110-metres with ball in hand offering a good threat on the counter and in more structured attack. Add into this half a dozen defenders beaten, a couple of clean breaks and two offloads and you see why the Clermont flyer was man-of-the-match.
Yacouba Camara – Has been one of the high points for France in the tournament and his abrasive style was perfect for the clash with England on Saturday. A determined runner, he’s tough to bring down and from a defensive perspective, more than played his part in the back row unit that dominated England.
He’s endured a tough week at club level with criticism coming his way for an apparent unwillingness to play for Northampton Saints, yet George North put his club woes behind him as he returned to the Welsh squad in scintillating fashion with a brace of tries in a 38-14 win over Italy.
North was on the scoreboard after mere minutes as he finished off excellent work from Owen Watkin. He was powerful in attack and tenacious in defence too as the Azzurri struggled to cope with a man starting a first game for his country since last year’s Six Nations.
He finished off a move in the 65th minute for a second score and was unlucky not to grab a third at the death as he had another ruled out for a forward pass earlier in the move.
Here, we analyse the performance of the coveted star.
Tries – 2
Passes – 5
Runs – 11
Metres made – 101
Clean breaks – 0
Defenders beaten – 3
Tackles – 3
Missed tackles – 0
Penalties conceded – 0
North had endured a week in which he found himself at the centre of controversy after being accused of not wanting to play for Northampton last weekend. The 25-year-old will return to Wales next season on a national dual contract and could come back even sooner – after the Six Nations – if his club relations have broken down.
While in Northampton he might be a sinner right now, in Cardiff though he was a Saint as he returned to what he knows best in his first Six Nations start in almost a year, scoring tries.
Italy have seen enough of North over the years and he has now crossed for his eighth try in eight matches against the Azzurri.
Power – It’s been a tumultuous few years for North in a Wales shirt as injuries have taken their toll on the big man. With continued concussions raising concerns about his wellbeing and even his future in the game – despite being just 25 – this was a true return to form for the powerhouse. Blistering pace married with a battering ram style, North was an absolute meance all evening.
Ruthlessness – North’s calling card in his still relatively young career has been his uncanny ability to sniff out try-scoring opportunities. And even though he’s been away for a while he was quickly back among the scorers. He was on hand to finish off Owen Watkin’s brilliant run, strolled over for a second and can count himself unfortunate not to have had a hat-trick at the death.
Recklessness – Even though his brute strength is one of his biggest attributes it’s easy to see why so many in the game are concerned for North’s health amid a myriad of concussions throughout his young career. He flings himself into opponents with little care for his own safety and while rugby by its very definition is a combative sport, North’s head down and plough ahead style of play can be petrifying to watch.
4th min CHANCE: Two trademark runs from the big man see him take Wales close to the line from a penalty, in turn leading to the opening try for Hadleigh Parkes.
6th min TRY: Owen Watkin does brilliantly to pick up and counter after a terrible blind pass from Italy flanker Maxime Mbanda. He makes 50 metres and then finds North surging up on his shoulder and he finishes off.
43rd min RUN: Again the wideman is in the thick of the action as Wales make light of Liam Williams’ yellow card to surge into Italy territory. After Gareth Davies charges down Matteo Minozzi’s clearing kick, North carries the ball and defenders with him close to the line. Seconds later Cory Hill is over.
45th min TURNOVER: Tracking back, North makes a fine tackle and is immediately up on his feet to try and steal the ball, forcing a penalty for holding on. Great work.
63rd min RUN: Aled Davies tries a cheeky back-handed pass to North but it was a little too ambitious. Flashy but without the desired result
65th min TRY: He’s been a huge presence all day and he’s over for his second score. Good work by the forwards, Aled Davies feeds replacement Patchell who has enough strength to offload to North and he strolls over for his second of the afternoon
76th min RUN: In addition to his two tries, North has been the most potent attacking threat on the pitch. Another foray forward takes him past 100 metres made
80th min TRY DISALLOWED: North thinks he’s scored his hat-trick on the right wing, but his third try is taken away from him. Wales knocked the ball on through Aled Davies way back in the move. A wry smile on the face of the Saints winger. He’s been devilishly good today
The North Walian was making his first full appearance for his nation since the closing stages of the 2017 Six Nations. And while he’s been away Wales have blooded some new talents on the wing, with Josh Adams and Steff Evans taking their chance to pick up the mantle out wide. Evans in-particular has been a revelation this championship, with five tries in his first eight Wales appearances, but North returned with a vengeance as he proved just what an elite winger he is. Simply put, North is a finisher. Once he gets a sniff of the line he rarely fails to cross it, with his brute strength and fearsome pace still a deadly combination.
He bagged his 31st and 32nd tries against the Azzurri and is now just one behind the legendary Ieuan Evans in third on the all-time list. If he can stay clear of his concussion issues, there’s absolutely no reason why he can’t surpass Gareth Thomas (40) in second and ultimately Shane Williams (58) at top spot, as he’s only just 25.