Lions Watch: The best of a bad bunch
March 11, 2013
Toby Flood was England's star performer against Italy © Getty Images
The countdown to the eagerly-awaited British & Irish Lions tour to Australia continued with the fourth round of the Six Nations.
As we all tick off the days until the team depart Down Under, ESPNscrum will cast an eye across the action and pinpoint those players eligible for the elite tourists who are pushing their selection claims with strong performances. But luckily there is still a lot of rugby to be played until the squad board the plane for Hong Kong and plenty of time for hopes to rise and fall.
15. Rob Kearney (Ireland)
There are younger, more striking, contenders for the Lions No.15 shirt but do they have the class of Kearney? The Ireland fullback, as he demonstrated once again against France, gets better as the conditions get worse, the occasions get bigger and oppositions get tougher.
14. Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
Kearney's display sees Halfpenny displaced to the wing - but there was no question of the Welshman missing out all together. He recovered from missing a few kicks midway through the first half to slot seven penalties and a conversion as well as putting in a terrific effort under the high ball.
13. Jonathan Davies (Wales)
In a weekend where the backs rarely got a chance to shine, Davies was probably the best outside centre on show. He was also one of the only two players on the Welsh side who offloaded during the game.
12. Manu Tuilagi (England)
Not a great week of inside centres, so England's No.13 gets the nod in our line-up following another powerful display. He was not at his best but his ability to ride a tackle served as a reminder of his game-breaking potential.
11. George North (Wales)
Although he did not cross the line against Scotland, he was a constant thorn in their side and made some solid yards with ball in hand. An impressive showing.
10. Toby Flood (England)
Had it not been for Toby Flood, then England could have lost against Italy. He knocked over all of the hosts' points but struggled when kicking for touch. Paddy Jackson is perhaps unlucky to miss out on selection but Flood just edges him.
9. Conor Murray (Ireland)
The Munster scrum-half took much of the pressure off his young half-back partner, box-kicking well and directing Ireland's effective driving mauls. All of which made it very puzzling when he was pulled off with 20 minutes to go.
Jamie Heaslip celebrates his try against France © PA Photos
1. Mako Vunipola (England)
He got the better of his Italian counterparts and was one of England's main attacking threats. He did his international claims no harm in what was a poor performance by Stuart Lancaster's men and should keep the loose-head shirt for their Grand Slam decider against Wales.
2. Richard Hibbard (Wales)
The Ospreys hooker showed great aggression and dynamism when carrying the ball, epitomised by his crucial first-half try. And for the most part his throwing in at the lineout, his biggest Achilles heel, was on the money against a towering Scottish lineout.
3. Mike Ross (Ireland)
Ross was the cornerstone of Ireland scrummaging effort against a powerful French front-row that laid the platform for what should have been an Irish victory over the French. With Adam Jones and Dan Cole also impressing, the tight-head props are hitting form nicely for Warren Gatland.
4. Alun-Wyn Jones (Wales)
Warren Gatland need not worry over the fitness of the Ospreys second-row - he was superb against Scotland. He made the second most tackles for Wales and was omnipresent on the field.
5. Donncha Ryan (Ireland)
Another massive performance at the lineout from the Munster lock who dominated the murky skies at the Aviva Stadium. Paul O'Connell is on the comeback trail but he'll face a fight to regain his place in the Ireland team.
6. Sean O'Brien (Ireland)
He made the most yards for Ireland with ball in hand and also outshone opposite number Thierry Dusautoir which is no mean feat.
7. Sam Warburton (Wales)
Apparently a 36/1 shot with some bookies to lead the Lions prior to Wales' win over Scotland - surely that will go down as the miss of the season. When he was recalled by Rob Howley, did anyone expect anything other than a massive performance, especially at the breakdown, from the Wales openside?
8. Jamie Heaslip (Ireland)
The Irish captain has come in for a fair amount of criticism over his form and leadership this tournament but he was at the heart of a fantastic forward effort from Ireland, especially in the first half, and took his try very well.
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