Rugby World Cup Watch: Five young players who impressed at the weekend
Following the opening weekend of men’s Six Nations and Rugby Europe Championship action, we pick out five youngsters who took an opportunity to shine.
Two rounds in and things are beginning to take shape in the men’s Six Nations and Rugby Europe Championship.
Ireland and Scotland are the only unbeaten teams heading into the Six Nations fallow week after the former won a brilliant match against France and the latter made it two victories from two for the first time since Italy joined the fray in 2000.
In the Rugby Europe Championship, all three teams who have qualified for Rugby World Cup 2023 – Georgia, Portugal and Romania – have booked their place in the semi-finals with a pool match to spare.
Following another absorbing weekend of action across the continent, we take a look at five players who impressed for teams heading to RWC 2023 this September.
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Ireland had to be at their brilliant best to beat France at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, and no player contributed more to that performance than Caelan Doris.
The number eight was seemingly indefatigable in Dublin as he impacted the match on both sides of the ball across the entirety of the 80 minutes.
It was his powerful carry that gave Ireland the field position in the opening 10 minutes from where Finlay Bealham popped a perfect pass to the onrushing Hugo Keenan, who pinned his ears back for the line.
And Doris was still at it in the final 10 minutes, somehow delivering an arrowed pass out to Garry Ringrose on the left wing while Gaël Fickou did his best to bring him down.
In total, Doris made an incredible 117 metres with ball in hand from 18 carries. Italy coach Kieran Crowley will be frantically trying to work out a way to stop him before the teams meet on 25 February.
Romania centre Taylor Gontineac had to wait almost four years for his first test try, but now he has it he can’t stop scoring.
The first of Gontineac’s brace against Poland in the opening round of the Rugby Europe Championship was his maiden test try, having made his debut against Chile in June 2019.
But the centre followed up that performance with a hat-trick against Belgium in Brussels to help the Oaks qualify for the semi-finals with a 56-5 win.
Gontineac’s opening try at Stade Nelson Mandela came in the 14th minute as he won the race to Mihai Lamboiu’s hack on, following a handling error from the hosts.
He then struck twice in three second-half minutes, powering over from close range to secure a try-scoring bonus-point for Romania before adding a more individual effort.
Taking the ball around five metres inside his own half, Gontineac stormed through a gap before slaloming between two attempted tackles and dotting down close to the posts.
Neither Georgia nor Spain will want to play Portugal in the Rugby Europe Championship semi-finals such is the free-scoring form Os Lobos have started the year in.
Buoyed by their qualification for Rugby World Cup 2023, Portugal have started Pool B on fire, running in 19 tries in victories against Belgium and Poland.
On Saturday, the team’s wingers, Rodrigo Marta and Vincent Pinto, crossed the whitewash four times apiece as Poland were beaten 65-3 in Gdynia.
Marta’s quadruple mean that he is now the most prolific male Portugal player in test history, having taken his tally to 25 tries in only 28 matches.
His ability to support his team-mates was evident as he scored a 47-minute hat-trick, while his fourth – which completed the scoring at Narodowy Stadion Rugby – showcased his speed, agility and ability to scythe through a gap.
Os Lobos take on Romania in Lisbon this Sunday, with the winner advancing to the semi-finals as Pool B winners, and the hosts will be confident of securing only a second win in their last 10 matches against the Oaks.
There was a period either side of half-time, with George Turner in the sin-bin, when Wales had the opportunity to seize the initiative at Murrayfield.
As home fans chatted at the interval, they would have been forgiven for fearing an historic second-round Six Nations victory was about to vanish from in front of their eyes. If Rio Dyer held onto Dan Biggar’s ambitious pass, perhaps it would have.
However, Scotland weathered that brief storm and in the second half the Murrayfield faithful were treated to a masterclass from Finn Russell.
With a little under half an hour to play Russell tied up three Welsh defenders and then produced a stunning offload to send Kyle Steyn over the whitewash.
Seven minutes later, Russell found Steyn again with an inch-perfect cross-field kick that enabled the winger to stretch Scotland’s lead further.
His right foot was involved once more as Duhan van der Merwe set up Blair Kinghorn to score his side’s fourth try and Russell rounded things off with a sumptuous miss-pass for Matt Fagerson to score in the left corner.
Jack Willis has overcome a great deal of adversity in his young career, but he looked back to his best as England beat Italy at Twickenham on Sunday.
It was against the Azzurri two years ago that Willis suffered the second of the two serious knee injuries that have restricted his appearances in the famous white jersey.
In what was his only previous Six Nations appearance, the flanker lasted just six minutes as a second-half replacement before he was forced to depart on a stretcher, using the time in between to score his second international try.
His third test score arrived in the 13th minute on Sunday, and he would last another 40 minutes before he was replaced by Ben Earl and wrapped tightly in cotton wool.
Willis was, with Ollie Lawrence, England’s best player during his 53 minutes on the Twickenham turf, making a remarkable 21 tackles while carrying six times for 27 metres.
England coach Steve Borthwick will hope he can keep Willis fit and firing on the road to RWC 2023.