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Stats review: Stander and Nowell catch the eye

Stats review: Stander and Nowell catch the eye

CJ Stander has six tries in 15 career Guinness Six Nations appearances (inpho)

While France and Italy have already named their training squad for the 2019 Guinness Six Nations, the rest will be announced this week.

And with that in mind, this European weekend was the last chance to audition for places and some players took full advantage.

Not least Jack Nowell who returned from injury in scorching form for Exeter Chiefs on the same weekend that Maro Itoje also returned to fitness in a boost for Eddie Jones and CJ Stander showed his best form for Munster.

Here is a full statistical breakdown of the European weekend:

JACK’S BACK

Out since November with a hamstring injury, Nowell wasted little time in proving he is back to his best at Sandy Park on Sunday.

Picked at full-back, Nowell was given free licence to roam by Rob Baxter and he did just that inside the first five minutes with a wonderful slaloming solo score to set the Chiefs on their way.

The back three positions for England are fiercely competitive but on this evidence Nowell cannot be ignored.

He was taken off before the hour mark but in that time he beat eight defenders, made 138m with ball in hand and chipped in with a breakdown turnover for good measure.

Selected top metre makers from European action this weekend
Jack Nowell – Exeter Chiefs – 138m
Simon Hammersley – Newcastle Falcons 122m
Tommaso Boni – Zebre – 115m
Darren Atkins – Bath Rugby – 114m
Brice Dulin – Racing 92 – 111m

In addition to Nowell, another England ace also returned to fitness this weekend in the form of Maro Itoje.

The Saracens lock was back in the starting line-up for their win over Lyon and made nine carries, eight tackles and two turnovers in the victory but did pick up a yellow card.

His second row partner George Kruis – himself not long returned from an injury sustained in November – showed a superb appetite for work with 20 tackles but it was Mako Vunipola who took home the man of the match award.

The loosehead prop produced two superb try assists as Sarries booked their spot in the quarter-finals.

Meanwhile in the Challenge Cup, a special mention must be made for England flanker Teimana Harrison.

The back-row forward has not pulled on the Red Rose jersey since the 2016 summer tour to Australia but he was in fine form this weekend for Northampton Saints.

Harrison bagged a hat-trick, including one fine solo score with a dreamy dummy, made 96m with ball in hand from 17 carries and managed two turnovers against in-form Clermont Auvergne.

CJ STANDS AND DELIVERS

On Friday night, Munster flexed their muscles as European heavyweights with a superb win over Gloucester at Kingsholm.

And central to the victory was the irrepressible CJ Stander, the No.8 making an astonishing 21 tackles, 17 carries and forcing a turnover in the victory.

Selected top tacklers
CJ Stander – Munster – 21
George Kruis – Saracens – 20
Antoine Dupont – Toulouse – 19
Arthur Iturria – Clermont – 18
Eric O’Sullivan – Ulster – 18

The headlines on the night inevitably went to Joey Carbery who crossed for two tries and continued his unerring goal kicking.

Carbery has now made 17/17 kicks at goal in his last three games for the province and his kicking from hand is also impressive, including a delightful dink with his left foot that set up Andrew Conway for a score on Friday night.

But the foundations for Carbery’s classy kicks are laid up front and it is Stander who remains a Duracell bunny with unending appetite for work in the tight.

Tadhg Beirne was not far behind with 15 tackles, nine carries and two turnovers.

Carbery’s halfback partner Conor Murray looks to be back to his best, and it is just as well for Joe Schmidt on a weekend that saw both Luke McGrath and John Cooney ruled out for their provinces with injury to give the Ireland head coach a headache.

Kieran Marmion is also on his way back from surgery so Schmidt currently only has Murray as a fit and firing international No.9.

But in the rest of the backline he is spoilt for choice, Jacob Stockdale remains on fire but it was Will Addison who really stuffed the stat sheet for Ulster.

The versatile centre made 13 carries, 11 tackles, kicked delightfully off either foot and also chipped in an impressive five offloads to hand Racing their first defeat in Europe this season.

McGrath’s injury was the sole black spot on a fine weekend for Leinster who made light of their injury absentees to continue their impressive defence of their crown.

Jonathan Sexton, Devin Toner, Robbie Henshaw and Dan Leavy were just four of their absentees against Toulouse but they hardly missed a beat in a bonus-point win that puts them back on top of Pool 1.

Selected top carriers
Rhys Ruddock – Leinster – 20
Jack Conan – Leinster – 20
CJ Stander – Munster – 17
Teimana Harrison – Northampton Saints – 17
Brice Dulin – Racing 92 – 17
Nathan Hughes – Wasps – 17

FRENCH POWER

Louis Picamoles marked his 100th appearance for Montpellier with a man of the match outing in the same week he was called up by Jacques Brunel.

And the No.8 chipped in with 16 carries and two offloads as they proved too strong for Newcastle Falcons.

Another call-up, Paul Willemse, also impressed off the bench with six carries, eight tackles, two turnovers and a try in his second-half cameo.

But while French power up front looks in good order, the backline options continue to dazzle.

Wesley Fofana’s double for Clermont was well-timed but an injury to Damian Penaud in the same game is cause for concern.

But if Brunel needs an option to cover wing and centre, then surely he need look no further than Virimi Vakatawa.

Selected most defenders beaten
Virimi Vakatawa – Racing 92 – 10
Jack Nowell – Exeter Chiefs – 8
Brice Dulin – Racing 92 – 6
Teimana Harrison – Northampton Saints – 6
Rob Evans – Scarlets – 6

Vakatawa and Brice Dulin – another man unfortunate to miss the French squad announcement last week – both impressed in defeat at the Kingspan to give Brunel a timely reminder of their talents.

And while Toulouse could not claim victory at the RDS, Antoine Dupont showed he has steel to go with his attacking style, making an impressive 19 tackles in the reverse.

TAULUPE TURNS IT ON

Warren Gatland will have been delighted to see Taulupe Faletau return this weekend.

Out since October with a broken arm, the No.8 hit the ground running for Bath in their victory over Wasps.

He made a stunning break and offload in the first half to set up Max Green’s try and overall made 12 tackles and two clean breaks in the win.

Gatland has another, albeit unlikely, option at No.8 – Ken Owens!

The Scarlets injury crisis has meant the British & Irish Lions hooker has now started there twice for the region and claimed the man of the match award this weekend in their win over Leicester with a try, 13 tackles, eight carries for 47m and a clean break.

Special mention to prop Rob Evans too who beat six defenders in the victory.

DARCY’S DANCING FEET

It was an epic weekend for the Scots as well, as both Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors took huge steps towards the knockout rounds in the Champions Cup.

Edinburgh’s win in Toulon owed much to their young attacking talent in the backline.

Blair Kinghorn and Darcy Graham are close to forcing Gregor Townsend’s hand when it comes to international selection, such is their form of late.

And in the Stade Felix Mayol they were on fire on Saturday, Graham scoring a try, making 96m with ball in hand for four clean breaks and five defenders beaten.

Kinghorn was equally impressive with a try of his own as well as 12 carries for 68m, three offloads and four defenders beaten.

Glasgow meanwhile beat Cardiff Blues on Sunday as Ryan Wilson made a whopping 16 carries while Townsend has much to consider at scrum-half as Ali Price claimed two assists before giving way to George Horne who went over for the crucial final try.

TITO’S TALENT

Tito Tebaldi’s hat-trick for Benetton Rugby remined Conor O’Shea of his talents after a week that saw him named in the Azzurri’s squad.

The scrum-half was the metronome for Benetton’s win over Agen while Seb Negri also made 16 tackles in a win that keeps them in contention for a Challenge Cup quarter-final berth.

Zebre slipped to defeat to La Rochelle on Friday night but had Tommaso Boni carry for 115m from 14 carries, make ten tackles and four offloads to serve notice of his form.

Meanwhile up front Giovanni Licata was hungry for work with 16 carries and ten tackles in the reverse.