It is time for our weekly wrap up of who has their name in lights at the moment…and who's making the headlines for the wrong reasons.
It is time for our weekly wrap up of who has their name in lights at the moment…and who is making the headlines for the wrong reasons.
They're on fire!
Ireland's debutants: Ireland's 40-9 victory over Samoa at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday saw Leinster loosehead Jack McGrath make his first international appearance. It was an impressive opener for McGrath, as not only did he fulfill the role of destroyer-in-chief at scrum-time, but was also a physical force in the loose. Indeed, his work at the breakdown was equally noteworthy for a prop, and he was quite rightly named man-of-the-match. Dave Kearney, brother of full-back Rob, grabbed a fine brace of tries off the bench to mark his own debut – the second of which capped a fine Irish breakaway that saw the ball move through several pairs of hands.
New Zealand defence: Showed why they are the the world's best team but not just for their attacking ability. France had them under the cosh for large parts of their clash in Paris but the All Blacks kept the hosts at bay with a solid defensive effort, none more so than captain courageous Richie McCaw and towering second-row Brodie Retallick, who led the way with 19 tackles each. Retallick, in particular, caught the eye with some big hits which knocked the French out of their stride on several occasions. It was quite a performance.
Kenki Fukuoka: Scotland might have won their Test against Japan at Murrayfield but they won't forget the Brave Blossoms left wing in a hurry. The speedster left his hosts shell-shocked with two second-half tries and Scotland were forced to up the ante during the game's closing stages before securing a 42-17 victory.
Australia: Ewen McKenzie and his troops have come in for some severe criticism this season but they hit their straps with an impressive showing in their win over Italy in Turin. Not only did they come back from a 10-0 deficit during the game's early stages, but they notched a half a century of points and scored seven tries in the process.
Charles Piutau: The latest All Black wing sensation has given Steve Hansen a real selection headache ahead of Saturday's clash with England. With Julian Savea and Cory Jane's reputations preceding them, Piutau has certainly enhanced his with a couple of superb performances. Three tries in New Zealand's opening Tests against Japan and France, as well as an outrageous offload which set up Kieran Read's try against les Bleus means he should be one of the fist names on the teamsheet for the Twickenham clash.
Get these guys a cup of warm soup!
Chris Ashton: The pressure continues to mount on Ashton after another indifferent performance at Twickenham. There was a try almost on a silver platter that went begging while his kick-chase defence on Santiago Cordero was, we're sorry to say it, shocking. With injuries to Marland Yarde and Christian Wade, surely a call for the in-form David Strettle might be the best option for England head coach Stuart Lancaster?
Paris and Cardiff pitches: This needs sorting and fast. The surface at the Stade de France and Millennium Stadium was downright unsafe for players and needs addressing once and for all. It's not new as we've seen this time and time again at both venues whereby the pitch cuts up from minute one – a case in point being Morne Steyn slipping whilst kicking out of hand and Liam Williams doing the same when attempting to tackle Bismarck du Plessis. The net result for the Scarlet was that he suffered an injury. Meanwhile in Paris, it was the same story as front-row forwards were at risk of serious injury every time they packed down.
Damien Chouly: It is a shame to criticise a player from an absorbing game in Paris but Chouly made a serious boo-boo in the closing stages. With Les Bleus mounting pressure on the line and time almost up, the number eight handled the ball in an attacking scrum. What was going through his mind we'll never know but Jaco Peyper had the eagle eye to spot his indiscretion. One sympathises for what was surely a tough night's sleep.
Cardiff scrums: In part due to the shocking condition of the Millenium Stadium turf, the scrums became an all-out farce in the clash between Wales and the Springboks. The changes made to the set-piece by the IRB this season will only benefit the game where and when players want to scrum. With neither side seemingly too taken by that notion on Saturday, Alain Rolland was left with little option but to enforce fairly hefty sanctions – and sanctions which led to the non-event that is uncontested scrums. While the double yellow-card may have been a tad harsh on Coenie Oosthuizen at his first scrum, both sides were given ample warning by the referee as to the consequences of another frustrating collapse. As our own Jamie Lyall pointed out this weekend, the responsibility of ensuring the IRB directive is a success rests chiefly with the players.