Stats review: England’s back three and Irish defence

Eddie Jones revealed his plans to use Jack Nowell as a ninth forward during the Guinness Six Nations, but the Exeter Chiefs full-back used this weekend to show he can be very effective in the backs too.

Eddie Jones revealed his plans to use Jack Nowell as a ninth forward during the Guinness Six Nations, but the Exeter Chiefs full-back used this weekend to show he can be very effective in the backs too.

In a big weekend of European rugby, arguably the game of the weekend came at Thomond Park, where Exeter travelled to Munster looking to secure a win and a place in the quarter-finals.

While they fell just short, losing 9-7, rather than the eight-point success they needed to top their pool, it was not for lack of effort from Nowell, who was everywhere for the Chiefs.

No one could match his 176 metres made with ball in hand, in fact only Wales’ Liam Williams came close, and Nowell also led the way in terms of defenders beaten and carries.

For England, who kick off their Championship away to Ireland on the opening weekend, it was another indication that the Chiefs man is back to his best having only returned from injury last weekend, while Mike Brown celebrated his England recall with an impressive display for Harlequins away to Agen.


Jack Nowell (England) – 176 Liam Williams (Wales) – 146 Jacob Stockdale (Ireland) – 88 Mike Brown (England) – 85 Jonah Holmes (Wales) – 86


England’s back three options look very intriguing, with Jonny May another to shine on Saturday, as he matched Nowell’s seven defenders beaten, the best of any player this weekend.

While May’s Leicester Tigers were beaten at home by Ulster, fit-again John Cooney making a big impact off the bench on his return from injury, the England winger continues to be a threat with ball in hand.

He was up against Jacob Stockdale, a potential Guinness Six Nations match-up in a fortnight, with the Irishman also a constant threat as he finished with five defenders beaten.

That was the same as David Sisi, the Italy second row who was the only uncapped member of the Azzurri squad, while compatriot Sebastian Negri matched him as Benetton won in Grenoble.


Jack Nowell (England) – 7 Jonny May (England) – 7 Jacob Stockdale (Ireland) – 5 David Sisi (Italy) – 5 Garry Ringrose (Ireland) – 5 Mike Brown (England) – 5 Sebastian Negri (Italy) – 5 Tomos Williams (Wales) – 5 Steff Evans (Wales) – 5


While Nowell made more carries than anyone else this weekend, with 20, a pair of No.8s were not far behind him.

Billy Vunipola played a key role in Saracens getting the better of Glasgow Warriors, scoring a try and making 17 carries in the 38-19 success.

Vunipola was absent for England in November, but has proved his fitness and was back in the England squad named this week.

Meanwhile uncapped Grégory Alldritt was called up by France, with Jacques Brunel identifying him as Louis Picamoles’ back-up at No.8.

And he impressed in the role for La Rochelle on Saturday, making 17 carries in a 22-10 win over Zebre that clinched a Challenge Cup quarter-final spot.


Jack Nowell (England) – 20 Billy Vunipola (England) – 17 Grégory Alldritt (France) – 17 Henry Slade (England) – 17 Jordan Larmour (Ireland) – 15 Steff Evans (Wales) – 15


Ireland held New Zealand tryless in November, and if Munster’s performance against Exeter is anything to go by, they will be a tough team to break down in the Guinness Six Nations.

CJ Stander racked up a remarkable 25 tackles, while Peter O’Mahony chipped in with 16 and Tadhg Beirne caused all sorts of problems as he took his tally of turnovers in Europe to 13 for the season, the most of any player.

It was not just Munster who were tough in defence, Leinster duo Josh van der Flier and James Ryan also managed 19 tackles apiece away at Wasps.

Maro Itoje was another to enjoy a fine outing on Saturday, racking up 20 tackles, to go with a try and a man-of-the-match award as Saracens saw off Glasgow Warriors. And on Friday night, Stuart McInally played a leading role in Edinburgh’s win over Montpellier that earned the Scottish side a place in the quarter-finals.

With three uncapped hookers alongside him in the Scotland squad, Gregor Townsend will have been thrilled at the performance of his first-choice hooker.


CJ Stander (Ireland) – 25 made, 3 missed Maro Itoje (England) – 20, 1 Josh van der Flier (Ireland) – 19, 0 James Ryan (Ireland) – 19, 1 Gary Graham (Scotland) – 19, 3 Stuart McInally (Scotland) – 18, 2