It is time for our weekly wrap up of who has their name in lights right now…and who is 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: The Joe Schmidt coaching era showed positive early signs in November of 2013 and they followed that up by getting 2014 off to a decent start with victory over Scotland. Led by Jamie Heaslip after Paul O'Connell's late withdrawal because of a chest infection, the likes of Cian Healy, Peter O'Mahony and Rob Kearney stood out in Dublin as the Irish crossed three times in total. They will hope O'Connell returns for Saturday's mouth-watering clash with Wales.
Michele Campagnaro: Campagnaro, like Italy, can take a lot out of the game at the Millennium Stadium as they made the Six Nations holders sweat for the two points. The 20-year-old stole the show in Cardiff with two well taken tries that ultimately saw Italy push Wales – who held on for a 23-15 win – all the way. Few people had expected such a close scoreline, particularly when seeing relative international unknowns such as Campagnaro and Angelo Esposito in the side. Credit to boss Jacques Brunel and the rest of the Azzurri.
Billy Vunipola: England's shining light in Paris. Vunipola played one of his best games in a white jersey as France struggled to keep him under wraps. Power, speed and offloads, the Saracens number eight broke tackles galore en route to creating both of the visitors' tries. Unfortunate to be on the losing side after his seventeen carries gave Stuart Lancaster's men plenty of front-foot ball. A key man moving forward towards hosting the World Cup.
France: 2013 was a dismal year for Les Bleus as Philippe Saint-AndrÃ©'s side won two out of eleven fixtures. A new year seems to bring fresh hope for France as players such as Jules Plisson, Nyanga, Thomas Domingo and Brice Dulin starred in their 26-24 victory over England. There was real heart in the showing but as has become France's way, they are predictably unpredictable. For example, this week they host Italy, which should be a simple win…whether that happens will be an indicator of if they can claim this Six Nations title.
Bath and Cardiff Blues: Bath came agonisingly close to edging Leicester at Welford Road in January when they met in the Aviva Premiership before a late score held them to a 27-27 draw. But a month later they finally secured what is their first victory in over a decade at the home of the Tigers as tries from Alafoti Fa'osiliva, Matt Banahan, Ollie Devoto and Carl Fearns saw them beat Leicester 17-35. Mentions also for the trio of teams joining Bath in the LV= Cup semi-finals – Saracens, Northampton Saints and Exeter Chiefs – while Cardiff Blues deserve a nod of approval following their impressive 35-5 win over Harlequins. Bath will host Exeter while Saracens go to Franklin's Gardens in all-English knockout ties.
Get these guys a cup of warm soup!
Worcester: Another L in the results column for the Warriors, this time by a 3-42 scoreline at home to Exeter Chiefs. Five tries were put past Dean Ryan's men in that LV= Cup defeat, but what makes it worse is that this wasn't a drastically weakened Worcester line-up. Granted, the Chiefs were only minus Jack Nowell, but losing by such a margin is another worry for Worcester, who will host Leicester Tigers in the Aviva Premiership on Friday.
Scotland: They were in it for 39 minutes before Andrew Trimble's try made it 11-3. Scotland though were taking body blows without landing significant ones of their own so it was only a matter of time before the floodgates opened. The past weekend's biggest losers in terms of scoreline, Scotland will need to up their attacking game if they are to record a victory in Six Nations 2014. Remember, they must go to the Stadio Olimpico. Wooden Spoon?
England bench: Pre-planned changes often rankle, particularly when a player is in top form on the field. That is what happened in Paris on Saturday from an England perspective as Danny Care was replaced by Lee Dickson on 61 minutes. Now for supporters, changes are meant to improve the side when fatigue sets in – but unfortunately for England that didn't happen. What was also a blunder in our eyes was the backline bench selection of Alex Goode and Brad Barritt. The injury to Jonny May meant not one but two changes as Mike Brown – arguably England's best back – had to shift to wing to allow Goode to come on. We expect alterations to those wearing numbers 22 and 23 this weekend, with George Ford and/or Anthony Watson possibly coming in.
Jean-Marc Doussain: France's win wasn't exactly helped by an off-colour performance from their scrum-half. Doussain missed crucial kicks in the first-half that could have stretched France's lead to an even greater gap on the scoreboard, plus produced a clanger of a knock on when on the attack. Given that Maxime Machenaud did well off the bench and Morgan Parra is nearly fit again, he should be sweating over his selection.
Kick-off times – London Irish v Scarlets: For some bizarre reason, London Irish kicked off their LV= Cup match against the Scarlets at 16:00 GMT, not 15:00 GMT like the other three games that day, and consequently meant that fans at the Madejski missed the France-England clash due to an overlap. The match wasn't even on TV, making the scheduling even more confusing. No offence to either club, but fans will always want to watch a Test match over the LV= Cup, so the planning is baffling.