It’s time for our Monday wrap of who has their name in lights and who is making the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
THEY’RE ON FIRE!!
Peter O’Mahony: A performance good enough to put the Munster captain right back into Warren Gatland’s thoughts for the Lions tour to New Zealand. O’Mahony’s phenomenal steal with England’s lineout deep in Irish territory and time running out felt like the pivotal moment in the kind of punishing contest he relishes. And while the loss of Jamie Heaslip deprived Ireland of plenty of experience, having O’Mahony at six with CJ Stander at eight gave Ireland’s back row balance in a brilliant result.
Wayne Barnes: Focussing on the bizarre extra-time period, Barnes could not have done any better. Resisting the temptation to award France a penalty try and acknowledging the number of different offences took bottle, while criticism over his handling of the Uini Atonio substitution (more on him later) has been wide of the mark. If a referee is told a player has a head injury, there’s little he can do.
Finn Russell: Man of the Match for Scotland against Italy with an all-round brilliant performance, and enough to also boost his own Lions hopes. Russell finished well in the corner to settle Scotland down after half an hour, and his quick hands in the build-up to Tommy Seymour’s try was sharp too. The Lions aren’t short of fly-half options and Russell has really shone at times over the last few weeks.
Hurricanes and Crusaders: Big wins although from very different standpoints, with the Hurricanes putting over 40 points past the Highlanders thanks to a spectacular effort from Jordie Barrett, while the Crusaders gave their fans another scare with their third big comeback in a row, after stunning the Highlanders and Reds before doing the same at home to the Blues.
Jaguares: Three wins out of four marks a strong start to the new year from the Argentine franchise, and they made light work of the Cheetahs as expected. Good to see Juan Martín Hernández getting it done at 34, while Ramiro Moyano had a breakout fixture. Pablo Matera and Tomás Lezana meanwhile are flying on both flanks.
Romania: There was some confusion at first but after clarification from Rugby Europe, Romania were crowned Championship winners having beaten Georgia 8-7 in Bucharest on Sunday. Considering that Romania lost to Germany on the opening weekend, that is some turnaround, and ends Georgia’s run of six titles in a row.
England Women and U20: The Men’s side might have fallen at the final hurdle but there were Grand Slams for the Women’s and U20s’ side on Friday in Donnybrook. It took a phenomenal defensive stand from the U20s to keep Ireland out at the death, while England’s Women stormed to victory in the second half under captain Sarah Hunter.
La Rochelle: Still ploughing ahead in the Top 14 after their 14th win of the campaign – they have impressively lost just four of their 21 matches – and Saturday’s 36-17 victory over Brive was all too easy. They are now eight points clear.
COLD AS ICE
England: Outclassed for the first time under Eddie Jones and their replacements failed to bail them out like in the wins over France and Wales. Saturday may prove to be a necessary learning curve but watching England get shunted around by Ireland and make nervous mistakes was unusual. Yes they are Six Nations champions, but that was last week’s achievement. If you miss out on a Grand Slam and the Tier 1 wins record, you find yourself down here.
Uini Atonio substitution: Atonio complains he has had a bad back. Yet the French doctor tells Wayne Barnes he has a head injury and needs to be assessed. We will find out more about this in the coming days, but it didn’t seem outlandish to question why Atonio’s back required an HIA. This one will run and run.
Italy: Zero points against Scotland, zero table points for the entire tournament. Even with the introduction of bonus points. All which makes that first half against England seem all the more desperate. Conor O’Shea knew there was a long road ahead when he took over, and we can only wish him luck.
Quade Cooper: Way too high a tackle on Rohan Janse van Rensburg – don’t worry, we’re not sure how to stop him either – but Cooper’s red card in Johannesburg paved the way for a pounding from the Lions. And that’s what the Reds got.
Waratahs: Early days certainly, but the Waratahs look in trouble. Saturday’s home defeat to rivals the Brumbies showed a worrying fondness for knock-ons and mistakes. Thankfully the gap to the top of the Australian Group isn’t exactly far – two points, with the Brumbies on six, in comparison to leaders the Chiefs on 14 – but still, time to get a move on. A deflated Rebels side are up next.