Six Nations team of the week: which players starred in round two?

Who makes The Independent’s selection after a drama-filled second weekend?

Harry Latham-Coyle,Luke Baker
Monday 12 February 2024 14:28 GMT
<p>James Lowe, Tommy Reffell, Ben Earl and Ben White (clockwise from top left) were among the standout players in round two of the Six Nations</p>

James Lowe, Tommy Reffell, Ben Earl and Ben White (clockwise from top left) were among the standout players in round two of the Six Nations

After an incident-packed round two, the Six Nations heads into the first fallow week with Ireland top of the pile.

Andy Farrell’s side took another step towards back-to-back grand slams with a comprehensive victory over Italy rugby, backing up their win over France rugby with a strong performance even after plenty of rotation.

Behind Ireland sit England, clunky in attack but defensively stern as they edged out Wales, Warren Gatland’s men once more valiant in defeat but ultimately none from two.

Scotland, meanwhile, came even closer to victory, a match-winning try seemingly scored at Murrayfield, but a failure to find conclusive evidence of the ball being touched down ensured that France just about clung on to their lead.

Which players make it into our team of the week? Here, The Independent picks the standout XV from Round Two of the Six Nations:

1 Pierre Schoeman (Scotland)

Andrew Porter played his part in Ireland’s win, Ellis Genge was strong off the bench for England, but Schoeman earns the loosehead spot again. The 29-year-old has become one of the world’s most consistent, well-rounded props and stood up to the might of Uini Atonio and the rest of the French scrum.

2 Dan Sheehan (Ireland)

Dan Sheehan scored twice in Ireland’s win against Italy

A couple of tries for Sheehan, who would have had a third if not for a remarkable tackle from Stephen Varney in the corner. His natural athletic ability catches the eye but it was his rock-solid set-piece skillset that laid the foundation for Ireland’s win. Elliot Dee had another good outing for Wales.

3 Finlay Bealham (Ireland)

Does Andy Farrell have a decision to make at tighthead? Finlay Bealham may not yet displace Tadhg Furlong but he continues to impress, putting the pressure on a good prop in Danilo Fischetti at scrum time throughout the match. Bealham became a dad last week, too – a handy few days for the Connacht man.

4 Maro Itoje (England)

Maro Itoje impressed for England as they got the better of Wales

Itoje is embracing his role as a defensive leader for England under Felix Jones, setting a penalty count target before the game and ensuring his side kept beneath it by adjusting smartly to the referee. Ben Earl may have scored the try but England’s vital first score was equally down to Itoje’s wrecking ball efforts from the restart.

5 Joe McCarthy (Ireland)

It perhaps lacked the glamour and clamour of his Six Nations debut last weekend, but there was little drop in McCarthy’s performance against Italy. A lineout pilfer helped ensure the visitors were kept scoreless and McCarthy looks right at home in the Test arena.

6 Francois Cros (France)

Ryan Baird ran him mightily close for this spot, but on a day when France failed to get into gear, the ability Cros has to do the nuts and bolts proved vital. Eighteen tackles were five more than anyone else managed, while the flanker was busy at ruck-time in both attack and defence.

7 Tommy Reffell (Wales)

Tommy Reffell was excellent for the unlucky Welsh side

The best player on the pitch at Twickenham on Saturday, even in a losing effort. Warren Gatland explained after the game that he is trying to develop Reffell into more of an attacking force, and he cut some lovely angles as Wales built their lead. Reffell’s calling card remains his ability as a breakdown truffle snuffler, of course – there aren’t many better.

8 Ben Earl (England)

Earl was busier even than Reffell in disrupting the ball as part of a concerted effort from England to try and stall Welsh ruck possession. It worked as planned, allowing the blitz defence time to reset and rush up again to hold the visitors at bay throughout the second half. Earl’s cannonball score from the base of a creaking scrum shows that he is becoming a genuine Test number eight.

9 Ben White (Scotland)

Craig Casey and Jamison Gibson-Park each staked a claim for selection in Ireland’s win, but White holds on for his part in piloting Scotland into pole position at Murrayfield. His kicking game has come on leaps and bounds in the last couple of years and White took his try smartly.

10 Jack Crowley (Ireland)

Crowley has – so far – been a positive force in the fly half position still so associated with the retired Johnny Sexton

While it was his calm and composure that stood out against France, Crowley showed off some of his fancier flicks in Dublin on Sunday, his no-look pass to Hugo Keenan a particular highlight. It seems remarkable that his try was a first in senior rugby of any kind.

11 James Lowe (Ireland)

It’s impossible to leave Lowe out, even if he didn’t get too many attacking touches in the first 60 minutes. His enormous left boot is both a fantastic weapon and soothing salve, while he showed off his finishing prowess by beating four Italian tacklers in the lead-up to his try.

12 Stuart McCloskey (Ireland)

What depth Ireland have in their centres. Robbie Henshaw could easily have made our selection and could yet retain the 13 shirt even if Garry Ringrose is fit for round three. But let’s give some shine to McCloskey, who has always managed to stand up in a tough season for Ulster and seemed to enjoy being back in Irish green.

13 George North (Wales)

He no longer has the out-and-out gas of his youth, but North remains such a tough carrier to put down. He feels like the sort of figure that Gatland needs to keep around even as he rebuilds, the centre offering defensive solidity and a much-needed option to make some hard yards with Wales still short of forward punch.

14 Louis Bielle-Biarrey (France)

Louis Bielle-Biarrey’s late try helped France to victory

You’ll forgive us for switching Bielle-Biarrey off his left wing, hopefully, given his solo score was simply sublime. The pace to get to the outside, the perfectly weighted chip, the oh-so-cool finish – he’s a proper talent.

15 Freddie Steward (England)

Steady Freddie continues to come up clutch for England, his ability to control air traffic is invaluable in a tight contest. His leaping take just before George Ford’s 50:22 kick was remarkable.

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