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Six Nations 2014: Team of the Opening Weekend

Tom SunderlandFeatured ColumnistFebruary 3, 2014

Six Nations 2014: Team of the Opening Weekend

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    Thiabult Camus/Associated Press

    Wins for France, Wales and Ireland got this year's Six Nations off to a booming start, with all three home teams managing to defend their turf with varying degrees of difficulty.

    The opening weekend didn't fail to impress, upholding its billing as possibly the tightest rendition in the tournament's history, shown by the closer margins by which results were decided.

    Now that the dust has settled and minds gear up for next weekend's throng of action, however, it's time to nominate our team of the opening weekend.

Front Five

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    1. Cian Healy, Ireland

    A most memorable dash into enemy opposition was the highlight of Cian Healy's good work against Scotland, but there was so much more base to the Leinster man's performance.

    There was no holding Healy back in the scrum and a carrying tally of 35 yards is balanced out by a total of seven successful tackles. 

     

    2. Richard Hibbard, Wales

    Another international week for the Ospreys figure, another chance to show exactly why his rise to Welsh prominence has been something of a marvel in recent years.

    The blond bombshell might have been mistaken for a centre at times, such was the tenacity with which Richard Hibbard was looking to carry in the loose, not to mention making an impressive 10 tackles. 

     

    3. Nicolas Mas, France

    There's a lot to be said for experience in high-profile fixtures such as these and Nicolas Mas' wisdom rose to the fore against England.

    Joe Marler had a tough day's work ahead of him thanks to the veteran, while Mas doesn't appear bothered one jot about the new scrum laws, screwing the English pack with relative ease at times. 

     

    4. Courtney Lawes, England

    England's forwards may have came up short in the scrum battle, but it was at the line-out that Stuart Lancaster's side did manage to strike up fiercer competition, with Courtney Lawes at its heart.

    The Northampton Saints man is becoming one of his national team's more long-term staples and showed it with a physical, commanding display, which included 10 tackles and 29 carrying metres. 

     

    5. Alun-Wyn Jones, Wales

    Sam Warburton's absence in the captaincy was hardly missed as Alun-Wyn Jones stepped back into leader duties for the visit of Italy.

    And it showed, too, as the lock spearheaded the hosts' pack, collecting a heap of ball from the line-out, carrying frequently and putting up a fierce wall in defence, making seven tackles in all.

Back Row

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    6. Yannick Nyanga, France

    A special mention goes to Peter O'Mahony for his concrete performance against Scotland, but Philippe Saint-Andre was fortunate to see Yannick Nyanga step into the blindside spot with Thierry Dusautoir out of action.

    The other Toulouse back-row star rose to the occasion of England's visit tremendously, beating no less than seven defenders from just five carry attempts, forcing three turnovers and completing 12 tackles. 

     

    7. Chris Henry, Ireland

    Chris Henry is far from the most established of Ireland stars to have taken upon the Scottish challenge this Sunday, but the Ulster back rower came into his own at the Aviva Stadium.

    Thanks to the 29-year-old, Sean O'Brien wasn't missed quite as much as he might have been prior to kick-off as Henry contributed an awful lot to the gruelling dog work needed against Scott Johnson's men, getting about the pitch in very energetic fashion.

     

    8. Billy Vunipola, England

    This weekend featured a healthy serving of No. 8 displays, with Sergio Parisse and Louis Picamoles among those garnering more than an honourable mention.

    And that leaves Billy Vunipola to storm into the starting spot, following on from an emphatic outing at the Stade de France, the likes of which wouldn't lead you to believe the brute is only 21 years of age.

    It was Vuniploa's fine legwork that opened up a gap for Luther Burrell to touch down under the posts against Les Bleus, and the Saracens starlet also managed to clock up a carrying total of 69 metres himself, along with nine tackles, three turnovers and three beaten defenders.

Half-Backs

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    9. Danny Care, England

    Not for the first time, head coach Stuart Lancaster turned a few heads by opting to put faith in Danny Care rather than last summer's British and Irish Lion Ben Youngs—and it turned out to be a well-placed choice in the end.

    The Harlequins man would have built on a well-taken drop goal from short range were his disallowed try permitted to stand, but Care will rest easy knowing that his quick thinking provided a catalytic foundation to the fightback in France, not to mention setting up a Mike Brown try.

     

    10. Jonny Sexton, Ireland

    If there were any fears that his move to Racing Metro might result in a lack of synchronisation with the rest of his more locally based Irish squad, Jonny Sexton is quickly putting any such concerns to bed.

    Kicking for a 13-point contribution, it was the fly-half's turn of pace and eagerness to get forward with ball in hand that impressed more than anything, a 40-yard carrying total pointing toward a Sexton figure who is gradually evolving in his responsibilities.

Centres

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    12. Jamie Roberts, Wales

    Scott Williams was impressive against Italy, but one might argue that Wales' No. 13 wouldn't have looked anywhere near as good were it not for the front foot that Jamie Roberts managed to put his back line on.

    Constantly looking to straighten things up when carrying, it was a Roberts break that set Williams up to touch down close to half-time, his 49 metres made in possession being the highest of any Welsh player on the day. 

     

    13. Michele Campagnaro, Italy

    Michele Campagnaro wouldn't have been the pick of many to star in the team of the weekend leading up to a tough test at the Millennium Stadium, but the Italian youngster announced himself on the world stage in a big way this weekend.

    One of several up-and-coming starlets in Jacques Brunel's back line, the 20-year-old will have certainly impressed with his first try, a kick and chase from long range, before than charging home with an intercept score to complete a wonderful brace.

Back Three

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    11. Sean Lamont, Scotland

    Johnson's Scottish side can be counted as slightly fortunate that Ireland never really managed to get out of first gear in Dublin this week, but then it was due to some fine restraining work across the Scottish defensive line that such was indeed the case.

    Sean Lamont succeeded with all nine of his tackle attempts and was as impressive as any other back in his team when it came to seeking the necessary penetration of Irish ranks, hauling in 75 metres with ball in hand.

    Lamont beat three defenders along the way and, despite not having all the tools in place to make that impact tell on the scoreline, the Glasgow Warrior held a good account of himself. 

     

    14. Yoann Huget, France

    Yoann Huget's scoring contributions were completed within the first 17 minutes of the clash in Paris on Saturday, where the Toulouse man needed no second chances in putting away two of the easier finishes he might be handed.

    Nevertheless, the speedster opened the scoring inside a minute thanks to some unfortunate Jack Nowell ball handling, before then showing a great combination of instinct and reflex to clutch down a complicated bounce for his second try.

     

    15. Stuart Hogg, Scotland

    Like Lamont, Stuart Hogg's fight was a fruitless one in that his side came out on the other end of Sunday's clash with no points in hand, but his return from injury got off with some promising signs afloat.

    The full-back carried for an identical 75 metres to his wing teammate, beating six defenders along the way and making four offloads.

    Hogg's probing led to a number of Scottish breaks that really should have come to more; it's merely a case of others around the youngster developing a similar knack for forward-thinking.

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