In a welcome turn of events Round 3 of the 2018 Six Nations kicked off early as we were treated to a bout of Friday night lights in Marseille, while a super Saturday of action did not fail to disappoint, particularly if you’re Irish or Scottish.
France opened the weekend by claiming their first victory of the competition, triumphing 34-17 over winless Italy at the Stade Velodrome in an error-strewn encounter, which feature some flashes of individual brilliance, more of which in a moment.
Meanwhile, over in Dublin, Joe Schmidt’s Ireland kept their Grand Slam hopes alive with a thrilling 37-27 victory over Wales at the Aviva Stadium, a game which ebbed and flowed in favour of both sides, before the hosts roared home in the latter stages.
Grand Slam hopes are no more for England, though, who succumbed to the power of a rejuvenated Scotland side, who soared to a remarkable 25-13 win at BT Murrayfield, a result worthy of their pre-competition odds, albeit a much welcome vast improvement on recent weeks.
1. Huw Jones
Without doubt the standout performer of the weekend has to be the Scotland centre, Huw Jones, who was the most deserving Man of the Match recipient of Round 3, after a stellar, brace-scoring display in Edinburgh. Displaying a sumptuous blend of pace, power and precision, Jones neatly chalked up an opportunistic first score for Scotland, their first try against England at Murrayfield since 2004, before added a second with a searing line to tear about the English defence, storm for the line and carry Anthony Watson and Mike Brown over with him. Added to his two forays over the whitewash, Jones made an outstanding 133 metres, yet also completed 13 tackles in the Scotland defensive line, second only to lock Jonny Gray.
2. Mathieu Bastareaud
A familiar face for many, but a recently absent feature within the Jacques Brunel France setup, Mathieu Bastareaud announced his returned to the international stage in a way only Mathieu Bastareaud can, with an imperious display of uncompromising force and finesse. Weighing in not too far short of 20st and standing at 6in tall, Bastareaud doesn’t have to do much to appear intimidating, but the French centre, brought back to the fore due to discipline issues in the squad, was superfluous throughout against Italy and duly crowned a majestic display with a bulldozing try eight minutes from time, not before sending Hugo Bonneval over with an outrageous offload and making a terrific 15 carries for his side.
3. Jacob Stockdale
After three eye-catching displays, Ireland wing Jacob Stockdale is likely to be in contention for player of the tournament at this rate; with his scorching pace and nibble footwork, the Ulster express is making a definitive mark on the international stage. Another brace of tries for Stockdale took his 2018 Six Nations tally to four and his Ireland record to eight tries in seven appearances, proving a roaring success for the men in emerald green. Saturday saw Stockdale open and close proceedings with a first score for Schmidt’s men, before dashing Welsh dreams with a sensational intercept try to secure victory for the hosts in Dublin.
1. Keeping Up with the Jones Scotland looked back to their best at BT Murrayfield with a high intensity and incredible work rate, which dazzled England from the off, but nothing stood out more than Huw Jones’ second score of the match. Courtesy of an audacious looped high pass from fly-half Finn Russell, centre Jones barnstormed his way through the English defence and roared his way to the whitewash a good 45 metres before carrying England defenders Anthony Watson and Mike Brown over the line with him.
2. Stockdale Stars, Again! It’s that man yet again on the highlights reel. Yes, it feels like Jacob Stockdale has a regular slot booked in this section of our weekly review, but once again, the Ulster winger has proven his credentials as a world class back. With Wales rallying late on in a desperate last ditch attempt to salvage victory in Dublin, Stockdale instead settled matters with a rip-roaring intercept try from just inside the Welsh half to round off a big win for Ireland and denied the tourists a losing bonus-point in the process.
3. Bastareaud Brilliance Inspires Les Bleus As we already eluded to, Mathieu Bastareaud has returned to the pinnacle of European rugby and what a statement he made, however, it is not his own try which makes our top plays of Round 3, but this brash display of panache, something never far away from a Bastareaud return. There were a number of offloads which could have made this chart from the bulldozing Frenchman, but this outrageous play from the back of the hand as he is taken down to release flyer Hugo Bonneval down the left flank is most certainly a moment to savour. Watch, gasp, and watch again. Welcome back, Mathieu.