The men’s Six Nations 2023 returned for its third round last weekend as Ireland strengthened their grip on the Championship.

Andy Farrell’s men were pushed all the way by Italy in Rome but now lead the standings by five points following a 34-20 victory.

There were also victories for England, against Wales in Cardiff, and France, who emerged from a thorough examination from Scotland in Paris.

As the Championship heads into its second fallow week, we pick out five players who impressed in round three.

Lorenzo Cannone (Italy)

This is quickly becoming a breakout tournament for Italy number eight, Lorenzo Cannone, who was in impressive form in Rome as the Azzurri ran Ireland close.

It was Cannone who provided the impetus to the move that ended in Stephen Varney’s seventh-minute try, producing a barnstorming run that mixed brute force with a deft dummy.

Cannone made 102 metres from eight carries at Stadio Olimpico, breaking through seven tackles in the process. He also contributed to Italy’s defensive effort with 15 tackles.

Ultimately, it wasn’t enough as Mack Hansen’s late try confirmed victory for Ireland but if Italy’s number eight continues to perform as he has done since making his test debut in November then it won’t be long before the team find a way to win these matches.

Not since Sergio Parisse’s peak years have the Azzurri had such a dominant presence at the base of their scrum.

Gaël Fickou (France)

France centre Gaël Fickou capped an impressive personal performance with the try that sealed victory against Scotland, and a bonus point, in Paris.

Fickou displayed admirable strength and agility to get over the line at Stade de France, but it was his defensive shift that was of most importance to Les Bleus.

The only player who started for France on Sunday who did not miss a single tackle, he completed all 15 that he attempted as the hosts withstood a great deal of pressure in the closing stages.

It enabled Les Bleus to bounce back from their defeat to Ireland with a win that keeps their Championship hopes alive heading into the final two rounds.

Hugo Keenan (Ireland)

One of the Championship’s most in-form players, Hugo Keenan was at his consistent best as Ireland did enough to beat Italy in Rome.

Wearing the green number 15 jersey for the 12th time in the Six Nations, Keenan made 124 metres from nine carries with ball in hand, while his boot proved a useful release valve when needed.

He picked the perfect support line in the first half, and broke free of two attempted tackles, to score his try and restore Ireland’s early lead.

It was the type of intuitive play that has almost become expected of Keenan since he broke into the Ireland team at the end of 2020.

Finn Russell (Scotland)

Sunday’s match at Stade de France showcased all the conflicting reasons why Finn Russell is arguably the Championship’s most watchable player.

First there was the risk-or-reward pass he threw in the first half, which fell into the former category as Thomas Ramos picked it off to score the hosts’ third try inside 18 minutes.

Then came the comeback. Russell’s quick hands freed Huw Jones to score Scotland’s first try and it was his duck and dive for the line that earned their third.

He converted, his third of the match, to bring Scotland within a try of recording a memorable win but it wasn’t to be.

Jones was also a colossus in the Scotland midfield, making 141 metres from 13 carries and breaching the French goal line on two occasions.

Freddie Steward (England)

Another young full-back who becomes more important to his country as the weeks pass by, Freddie Steward was in fine form against Wales in Cardiff.

The highlight of an all-action performance from the Leicester Tigers player came in the 75th minute when he shipped a try-scoring pass to Ollie Lawrence for the score that denied the hosts a losing bonus-point.

Steward made 94 metres with ball in hand, while proving an incredibly safe pair of hands under the numerous high kicks sent his way.

Lawrence, Ellis Genge, Kyle Sinckler and Alex Dombrandt were also pivotal to the England victory, which enabled Steve Borthwick’s side to climb the Six Nations standings.