A captivating opening weekend saw three away wins for a second year in a row as the Six Nations returned with a bang.
Defending champions Ireland established themselves as firm favourites to retain their crown with a dominant performance in Marseille on Friday night, leaving France with plenty of questions after a flat first showing.
Which players starred to make our team of the week? Here, The Independent picks the standout XV from Round One of the Six Nations:
Loosehead prop: Pierre Schoeman (Scotland)
Battled over the line for a try during Scotland’s dominant first half in Cardiff but was also a tackling machine around the park, making 14 and missing none, while hitting ruck after ruck and offering an effective one-up carry option. Welsh loosehead Corey Domachowski gets an honourable mention for going a full 80 minutes and rucking hard.
Hooker: Dan Sheehan (Ireland)
Elliott Dee deserves mention for his work in that captivating Cardiff comeback but Sheehan makes the cut after another strong outing in the heart of the Irish front row. The hooker’s darts were on the money throughout, enabling him to dart for the line from the back of a maul late on.
Tighthead prop: Uini Atonio (France)
A bruising night for Les Bleus but Atonio was about their best in Marseille. The tighthead was on top of Andrew Porter at scrum-time and put himself about in the loose, one hulking carry key in the build-up to Damian Penaud’s try.
Lock: Joe McCarthy (Ireland)
It felt like a star-making performance from McCarthy at the Stade Velodrome, the 22-year-old following up an outstanding season for Leinster with a standout showing on Six Nations debut. McCarthy adds real grunt to Ireland’s tight five.
Lock: Tadhg Beirne (Ireland)
McCarthy’s second-row partner wasn’t half bad, either. Such a complete player, Beirne excelled in all aspects against France, marshalling the lineout superbly, distributing neatly at the line and hitting plenty of rucks in attack and defence. Both Maro Itoje and Federico Ruzza merit honourable mentions for their work in Rome, but Beirne was a class above.
Blindside flanker: Ethan Roots (England)
A hard-hitting debut from the former cage fighter and jiu-jitsu competitor ended with him nabbing player of the match in England’s win over Italy. He provided the hard-carrying, ruck-hitting presence that England’s back row needed and was also his side’s preferred lineout option.
Openside flanker: Josh van der Flier (Ireland)
He may not have made the headlines but Van der Flier remains such a key cog for Ireland, his efficiency and efficacy vital in keeping the machine moving. Tommy Reffell was very close to earning a nod at seven having impressed throughout for Wales, while Michele Lamaro was back to somewhere nearer his best for Italy.
No 8: Aaron Wainwright (Wales)
Unmissable not only for his shock of bleach-blonde hair and old-school ‘tache but for his immense performance at the back of the Welsh scrum, as shown by winning player of the match despite being on the losing side. Worked tirelessly at the breakdown and provided serious weight in the tackle area as well as carrying hard and powering over for a second-half try in Wales’s furious comeback. Narrowly edges out Caelan Doris, who was typically impressive for Ireland.
Scrum half: Tomos Williams (Wales)
Was probably the key reason why Wales turned things around after half-time in Cardiff. While starting No 9 Gareth Davies struggled to dictate play, Williams provided quick ball, zipped passes and sharpness around the breakdown to instigate the comeback. Ran the Welsh attack impressively in conjunction with Ioan Lloyd at 10. Jamison Gibson-Park was also sublime in Ireland’s triumph in Marseille and looks almost nailed on to be the starting British & Irish Lions scrum half next year.
Fly half: Finn Russell (Scotland)
A toss-up between Finn Russell and Jack Crowley at 10, although Ioan Lloyd also impressed off the bench for Wales. Crowley started slowly, looking nervy early on and missing a sitter of a penalty but grew into the game and flourished as it progressed. Conversely, Russell was sublime in the first 45-odd minutes as he orchestrated a Scottish attack that seemingly scored at will and set up two tries with his magical distribution. The only criticism would be that he needed to take hold of the game – as both fly half and captain – once it started slipping away from Scotland but he restored control in the nick of time heading into the final 10 minutes to hold on for a one-point win.
Wing: Duhan van der Merwe (Scotland)
Two tries for the prolific wing and his second was a thing of beauty as he collected Russell’s offload, turned on the gas to glide round the outside of Tomos Williams and sprinted over the line. Such a smooth but powerful runner, his try total is now 23 in 35 games for Scotland.
Centre: Sione Tuipulotu (Scotland)
The perfect foil outside Finn Russell, Tuipulotu gets over the gain-line with every carry and consistently makes metres through contact – the ideal safety valve if the Russell magic gets shut down. Also not afraid to hit a ruck when needed, especially defensively. Pips Tommaso Menoncello to the 12 jersey, who was Italy’s most impressive player and best ball-carrier in Rome.
Centre: Bundee Aki (Ireland)
A slight positional fudge, yes, but it was impossible to leave Aki out. The Ireland centre picked up where he left off at the World Cup with a performance of strength, subtlety and skill.
Wing: Tommy Freeman (England)
Took his opportunity to start for England and ran with it, literally. While Steve Borthwick’s men largely spent the World Cup leaving their wingers standing out wide as the ball was either carried up the middle or kicked away, Freeman was involved from the off here – cutting in from his flank to take the ball as he does so effectively for Northampton Saints. Carried further than any other English player in Rome and his darting run set up Elliot Daly’s try. Just preferred to Damian Penaud, who drifted out of the game at points in Marseille despite his 36th try for France.
Full-back: Hugo Keenan (Ireland)
Keenan wasn’t necessarily at his busiest on Friday night, but he operated with trademark accuracy and acumen. His ability to cover backfield space was key in Ireland’s decisive winning of the kicking battle, while one crunching tackle on Damian Penaud just before half-time was emblematic of Keenan’s ability to punch above his weight defensively.