Backs dominated the opening round of the 2017 Fantasy Six Nations.
Whereas forwards ruled the rankings at the corresponding point of last year’s Fantasy game, this season has started with five backs — Stuart Hogg, Leigh Halfpenny, Jonathan Davies, Paddy Jackson and Owen Farrell — in the top six performers. Ireland’s Iain Henderson, a try-scorer at Murrayfield, is the only forward breaking the backs’ monopoly of the leaderboard.
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The introduction of bonus points didn’t quite spawn the scoring bonanzas which were anticipated although Wales went close to a fourth try with Liam Williams’s last-gasp juggle on the goal-line in Rome.
Even so, it turned out to be one of the tournament’s most absorbing opening rounds of recent times. England and Wales won with strong second-half performances after their coaches had made judicious use of their benches, but it was Scotland who were the talk of the weekend.
Their 27-22 win against Championship favourites Ireland also brought their players into focus in the Fantasy ratings. Stuart Hogg, who set his side rolling with two eye-catching tries in the first-half, was the weekend’s most valuable player. He put in a 50-metre run for one score and collected the man-of-the-match award to finish with a bumper haul of 19 Fantasy points, three more than his nearest rival, Leigh Halfpenny.
There were also notable Scottish performances by skipper Greig Laidlaw, who had a perfect place-kicking return (five from five), and Richie Gray, who was one of only two players to win a Fantasy point for taking clean line-out ball against the throw. His brother Jonny Gray was on the honours board, too, finishing top of the tacklers with 28 and earning a rare two points.
The tackling of Scotland’s forwards was something to behold at Murrayfield. All told, the Gray brothers in the second-row made 50 tackles. Only the excellent Maxime Mbanda with 25 in Italy’s game in Rome prevented the Scots occupying the top five places in the weekend’s tackle stats. Look for a high tackle count when the Scots travel to the Stade de France to face the French on Sunday.
Scotland put in an impressive team performance in their victory against Ireland. Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images
There are interesting decisions for the coaches of the other two unbeaten teams to make before Saturday’s showdown in Cardiff. Wales and England didn’t spark until their benches came into play.
Fly-half Sam Davies, standing noticeably flatter than Dan Biggar, ignited the Scarlet runners after coming on at halftime. He was involved in the tries scored by Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams, and actually provided the assist for George North’s run that brought Wales their third try.
England only fired on all cylinders after Owen Farrell moved from centre to stand-off when James Haskell, Danny Care, Jack Nowell and Ben Te’o came on 12 minutes from time. Farrell and the four subs were involved in Te’o’s game-busting try.
The lasting Fantasy dilemma is choosing the place-kicker. Leigh Halfpenny, Owen Farrell and Greig Laidlaw were in sharp form for winning teams in round one, but with Ireland going to Rome in search of a big bonus-point win it’s worth considering nominating Paddy Jackson (or Jonny Sexton, if he is fit) for the role this weekend. To get their title bid back on course, Ireland will take their chances to kick early penalties and build a lead before cutting loose and scoring as many tries — and conversions — as they can once the game is safely won.
What we’ve learnt from Week 1
Leave Owen Farrell out at your peril
Owen Farrell is Eddie Jones’ go-to man for England. Kieran Galvin/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Even if he’s not your kicker, Farrell is an asset to any Fantasy XV. Cardiff promises to be a close match and Farrell is Eddie Jones’s go-to man in such games. The Saracen is therefore likely to be involved for the full 80 minutes. He was, moreover, the only England player to make an assist at Twickenham against France.
Laidlaw is the most durable scrum half in Europe
Greig Laidlaw has become a true 80-minute man for Vern Cotter’s Scotland. Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images
Early in his reign Vern Cotter regularly used to replace the Scottish captain late in matches that were often still in the balance. Not any more. Laidlaw is the only scrum-half among Six Nations players who has put in a full 80-minute shift in three Internationals this season — twice in the autumn and again at Murrayfield against Ireland last Saturday.
Halfpenny is another 80-minute man
Leigh Halfpenny hasn’t missed a minute of Wales’ last five Tests. Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images
Leigh Halfpenny is another who is likely to last the duration. He hasn’t missed a minute of Wales’s last five Tests and if the game in Cardiff is tight, coach Rob Howley is likely to need his place-kicker for the entirety.
Guy Noves wants his team to run and run
France covered the most metres in the opening round of the 2017 Six Nations. Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
The most metres covered in the opening round were by Frenchmen. Scott Spedding from the back, Virimi Vakatawa along the wing and man-of-the-match Louis Picamoles down the middle were constant threats at Twickenham. Expect Vakatawa and Noa Nakaitaci, who was also prominent among the runners on Saturday, to score tries soon.
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Fantasy Rugby: What we learned from Week 1
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