15. Leigh Halfpenny
WALES HAVE BROUGHT their nightmare run of Test defeats up to eight, but if there’s any blame apportioned to their goal-kicking fullback, it is misplaced.
Halfpenny is a lion (and soon, a Lion) no matter how low Welsh confidence, he is busting a gut.
Little wonder he was the back targeted so hungrily by Craig Gilroy and Simon Zebo whenever he found space in the 22.
14. Giovanbattista Venditti
Growing in stature as a valuable outlet for Italy. Clever running lines and strength in possession helped ease the pressure and frustrate France.
13. Brian O’Driscoll
Suddenly, this tournament has the feeling of a victory lap for the greatest centre Ireland will ever produce.
12. Billy Twelvetrees
Justified calls for his selection with an assured and incisive debut. More difficult tests will lie ahead, but perhaps Stuart Lancaster now feels confident enough to throw to Gloucester centre up against Brian O’Driscoll.
11. Simon Zebo
One moment of magic, but 80 minutes of top class play in attack and defence. Still looked fresh and willing to carry in the dying minutes.
10. Jonathan Sexton
His sizeable frame was needed to withstand a ferocious Welsh fightback and he put his body on the line after quickly putting Ireland through the gears in the first half.
9 Conor Murray
Comparisons with Mike Phillips are obvious, but on Saturday the Munster nine showed the growing confidence he shows at club level can be replicated on the big stage. Another half back debate is over.
8. Sergio Parisse
Despite being the Azzuri’s chief danger man, the Stade Francais back row always somehow manages to come up with a big play in attack. His finish from a sweeping move in the first half set the tone and ensured Italy would believe.
7. Sean O’Brien
He may have been out-scrapped on the deck after Justin Tipuric took the field, but in three positions O’Brien typified the will to win of Ireland. 23 tackles and another hat full of carries. A try may have stolen man-of-the-match away from O’Driscoll.
6. Alessandro Zanni
Together with Parisse, Zanni was central to the stifling of France and also carried effectively to make a mockery of what many considered to be the best back row in the competition.
5. Geoff Parling
Took on Scotland’s strongest department and won. Got around the park well and made some timely hits.
4. Mike McCarthy
Didn’t see out the full 80, but managed to rack up 18 tackles, second only to O’Brien, before being replaced by Donncha O’Callaghan. Was up against a fearless debutant in Andrew Coombs, but Ireland’s locks showed enough athleticism in Cardiff to make any gameplan possible.
3. Martin Castrogiovanni
He had to score. An Italy win might just have been a little imperfect if their hirsute symbol of a prop had not crashed over to restore a lead and pave the way for another shock win at home to France.
2. Rory Best
Missed 10 minutes with a yellow card, but the instant he was back used the freshness to level Jamie Roberts with a big hit on the try-line. Further strengthened a claim to be Lions hooker by making crucial breakdown turnovers.
1. Cian Healy
A try to cap an outstanding display at the set-piece, but particularly in open play. The aggression of his counter-ruck created untold leeway tor Ireland to take the eight-point win.