Fantasy Rugby: Who to pick for Week 3

Irish eyes were smiling after the second round of the Six Nations. Their 63-10 victory over Italy was their highest score and biggest winning points margin in an International Championship match, and for the first time in any international two Irishmen scored hat tricks.

It was all grist to the mill for Fantasy managers, especially those selecting CJ Stander and Paddy Jackson in their teams. Stander’s personal haul of 37 points and Jackson’s perfect 9/9 place-kicking return were new Fantasy records.

Stander was the bolter of last season’s Fantasy game finishing among the top three most valuable forwards overall, and he has started this season in the same storming form. His hat trick against Italy was the first by a forward in any Five or Six Nations match for 55 years and he also smashed the previous record for most Fantasy points in a match, set by his back-row colleague, Jamie Heaslip, in the corresponding fixture last year.

Craig Gilroy — the super sub of the second round — scored Ireland’s other hat trick. He was the first Irish back to cross three times in a Six Nations match since Brian O’Driscoll [against Scotland in 2002]. Ireland’s other multiple try-scorer, Keith Earls, now has three for the season.

Paddy Jackson’s nine goals equalled the Fantasy kicking record [set by George Ford in England’s high-scoring 55-35 win against France at Twickenham two years ago] and pushed him into pole position among this season’s marksmen. All told, Jackson has kicked twelve goals to date, one more than Wales’ Leigh Halfpenny and two ahead of Camille Lopez of France.

Ireland will be home for the first time this season in the tea-time kick-off on Saturday. France will be their visitors while Wales are Scotland’s guests at Murrayfield. Both matches are make-or-break games for four sides with one-from-two records. Wins will keep Championship hopes alive; defeats will consign the losers to basement battles to avoid the Wooden Spoon. For those reasons the matches at the Aviva Stadium and Murrayfield are hard to call: expect tight contests with a consequent tight spread of Fantasy points.

That’s not likely to be the case at Twickenham on Sunday when Italy are the visitors for a game that will almost certainly extend England’s record Test run to seventeen wins on the bounce, only one short of the all-time world record for Tier One nations.

Owen Farrell has been quietly collecting Fantasy points this year and is currently the sixth most valuable player in our competition. Apart from his obvious goal-kicking potential, his try-assist for Elliot Daly’s match-winner against Wales in Cardiff was such a perfectly-weighted pass that it warranted almost as much media attention as the try itself.

No less an authority than Jim Telfer, the former Scotland and Lions coach, believes that on current international form the England inside-centre is probably the only certainty for a Lions Test starting place. We agree, so unless Eddie Jones rests him, Farrell could well fill his boots with Fantasy points against Italy this weekend.

What we’ve learnt from the first two rounds

Scotland’s tackle rate is two a minute

Jonny Gray may captain Scotland in the absence of Greig Laidlaw. Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

Scottish players are the most likely to collect tackle Fantasy points. Collectively they are averaging two tackles a minute over the first two rounds of the Six Nations [319 tackles in 160 minutes of rugby]. Three Scots feature among the top five tacklers at present: Jonny Gray [42], Hamish Watson [34] and Richie Gray [32].

Italy concede most kicking points

Leave the England goal-kicker out at your peril ahead of Sunday’s clash with Italy. Photo by Steve Bardens – RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images

Fantasy stats show that the best place-kicking returns are from matches against Italy. Leigh Halfpenny was the hotshot of the opening weekend, kicking seven goals for Wales, and, as previously noted, Paddy Jackson weighed in with his record nine for Ireland in the second round. Watch out for Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell or George Ford — pending Eddie Jones’s starting fifteen — harvesting Fantasy points off the tee this weekend.

The tackle hero of the season

Maxime Mbanda has worked tirelessly on defence for Italy. Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

The Italians [like the French] do not play blindside and openside specialists in the back-row of the scrum. Instead, their flankers share those duties packing down on the left and right of the set-piece. Italian newcomer Maxime Mbanda has put in full shifts on the right flank and gathered three Fantasy points for his high tackle counts [42 altogether so far] — the best performance by any flanker this season.

Second to none among second-rows

Joe Launchbury was awarded man of the match in England’s win over Wales. Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

Joe Launchbury was recommended as one to watch among the locks in our Fantasy Six Nations preview. He currently leads the second-row performers with 13 points, three clear of Ireland’s Iain Henderson and Scotland’s Tim Swinson [who, incidentally, features in barely any of our Fantasy managers’ teams].

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