IRISH RUGBY FANS were treated to three wins from four to ease the discomfort of witnessing a mauling for Connacht against Saracens. Ulster, Munster and Leinster all won with the first two provinces securing home quarter finals.
There were notable performances from some Irishman abroad as Gareth Steenson, Shane Monahan, Robin Copeland and Niall Morris stepped up for their respective teams.
Let us know what you think of the Best XV in our comments section below.
Felix Jones [Munster]
Has found the form that earned him Ireland caps early in his career and fully deserves his call-up to the Six Nations squad. An attacking threat all afternoon for Munster as they eventually cut loose to thrash Edinburgh. Made 67 metres on 10 carries that involved a couple of fine offloads. Capped his day off with a try in the closing stages.
Shane Monahan [Gloucester]
We have shifted Monahan from the left wing to the right as he is a flexible back and could not be left out after his two-try performance away to Perpignan. His first score was typical winger’s fare but he showed great strength and awareness to get over for another in the second half.
Casey Laulala [Munster]
It is a shame that Munster fans are only seeing the best of Laulala now that he has agreed terms with Racing Metro. Was at the centre of some dangerous attacks and constantly put himself forward for carries. Some powerful fend-offs and nifty offloads and sturdy in defence when called upon.
Luke Marshall [Ulster]
A close call but Marshall gets the nod over Gordon D’Arcy, who had a fine outing for Leinster. Leicester had his card marked from the get-go but the inside centre still managed to evade some black shirts and put his teammates on the front foot. Made 10 tackles to go with his 11 carries and linked up well with Darren Cave and Andrew Trimble.
Luke Fitzgerald [Leinster]
The Ospreys struggled to get to grips with Fitzgerald at the RDS. ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy.
Back to form and no doubts about it. Fitzgerald’s smart attacking lines and near-impossible offloads had the Ospreys defence flailing all evening. Unfortunate not to get on the scoresheet but Leinster’s stand-out back on a slow burning night. Made two superb line breaks in the first half.
Paddy Jackson [Ulster]
Apart from a snatch at a drop goal, Jackson had a fine game. His restarts always gave his team a chance and his aerial punts set up a number of exciting kick chases. Linked up well with his backline, ceded to Ruan Pienaar’s genius on occasion and made an astonishing 15 defensive tackles.
Ruan Pienaar [Ulster]
As close to perfect from the South African scrum-half as you will ever get. Contributed all 22 points for his team and scored the vital try as he charged down a Toby Flood clearance. His penalty kicking was nerveless and he constantly worried the Tigers defence with his chips, feints and grubbers.
Cian Healy [Leinster]
As dominant a 53-minute performance as you are likely to see from a loosehead prop. Healy dominated Adam Jones at scrum-time, even if the Welshman did suffer from having one less body behind him. Elsewhere, the Ireland international was explosive in his ball carrying, beating defenders and providing Leinster with front foot ball. Joe Schmidt can count on at least one world-class prop for the Six Nations.
Rory Best [Ulster]
The Armagh man has been in fine form ever since returning from a chastening Lions Tour to Australia. Had one line-out picked off by Graham Kitchener but didn’t miss the target for the rest of the evening. Contributed hugely at the breakdown and to a scrum that wavered before bouncing back impressively in the final 30 minutes. Made a fine, booted clearance to near halfway from his own tryline.
Stephen Archer [Munster]
The Munster front row was a real weapon against Edinburgh and James Coughlan joked that, when the pack was rumbling forward, scrum-half Conor Murray was never going to get the ball. Penalties earned by Archer & co. allowed Ian Keatley to hit the line and set up rolling mauls. Made one clean break and beat his man for a one metre gain, according to the ERC stats, and landed nine tackles.
Devin Toner [Leinster]
The 27-year-old has grown immensely in maturity and effectiveness over the last year. His line-out skills have never been in doubt, while re-starts are another area where his height is a useful aid. However, it was Toner’s carrying that stood out against the Ospreys as he arrived onto the ball from depth and at pace. His semi-late hit on Richard Hibbard in the first half was also a welcome sign, as his aggression levels have previously been questioned.
Paul O’Connell [Munster]
O’Connell carries against Edinburgh at Thomond Park. ©INPHO/James Crombie.
Continued on with his inspirational form of last week’s away win in Gloucester. Made a super dummy run to free up space for Coughlan’s try and was the man calling the shots at the effective, rolling mauls. Made 10 carries and threw himself into 10 tackles.
Peter O’Mahony [Munster]
The Munster captain shades it from Roger Wilson [Ulster] by virtue of scoring the crucial bonus point try for his side. O’Mahony’s development this season has been remarkable and he often puts his hands up for the hardest work. Was part of a dominant pack, did his job at the lineout and was Munster’s most dangerous forward with ball-in-hand.
Chris Henry [Ulster]
23 tackles. Henry was by far Europe’s leading tackle machine this weekend as he unloaded a series of crunching hits and slowed up the likes of Salvi and Crane at the breakdown. Made a number of hard-yard carries too. Should be an able deputy for the injured Sean O’Brien in the Six Nations.
James Coughlan [Munster]
Overlooked by Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, Coughlan delivered for his province yet again. Scored the first try, on seven minutes, by powering past Jack Cuthbert after running a nice attacking line. Made 69 metres off 11 carries and beat four Edinburgh defenders in the process. Cardiff’s Robin Copeland, who is off to Munster in the summer, was named man-of-the-match against Exeter.
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