Rugby World Cup Watch: Five players who impressed at the weekend
It was a big weekend in Europe, where titles were on the line in both the men’s Six Nations and Rugby Europe Championship.
On Saturday, Ireland beat 14-player England in Dublin to win a fourth Six Nations Grand Slam, while France won against Wales in Paris and Scotland defeated Italy in Edinburgh.
The following day, Romania beat Spain to finish third in the 2023 Rugby Europe Championship before Georgia laid down a marker for their Rugby World Cup 2023 Pool C meeting with Portugal, securing a 38-11 victory and 15th continental crown.
A host of players who will hope to light up RWC 2023 shone in those matches, and below we recap five of the best performers.
🇬🇪 Those feelings! #REC23 pic.twitter.com/NsjLUxcYX3— Rugby Europe (@rugby_europe) March 19, 2023
Beka Gorgadze (Georgia)
Making his first test appearance since the famous win over Wales in November, due to injury, Georgia number eight Beka Gorgadze was integral to his side’s victory over Portugal in Spain.
It’s fair to say he picked up where he left off, providing impetus to the Lelos attack, ballast to their set-piece and steel to their defence.
Those were qualities that were needed as Georgia overcame a stubborn Portugal side to turn a slender 12-11 half-time advantage into a 38-11 victory and sixth successive Rugby Europe Championship title.
Gorgadze saw off competition from the excellent Akaki Tabutsadze and Davit Niniashvili, among others, to mark his return to test rugby with the Player of the Match award.
Blair Kinghorn (Scotland)
No Finn Russell, no problem. Blair Kinghorn deputised at fly-half against Italy on Saturday and scored a match-winning hat-trick that secured third place in the Championship for Scotland.
His first two tries were remarkably similar, taking the ball close to the goal line, spotting a slight gap in Italy’s defence and backing his feet and physicality to get him over.
Coming either side of half-time, they were crucial for Scotland, turning a 6-5 deficit into a 19-6 lead.
Kinghorn’s third intervention came in the final play at Murrayfield as he fed Duhan van der Merwe on the left wing and sprinted in support before taking a pass and outpacing three Azzurri defenders to put the seal on Scotland’s victory.
Romain Ntamack (France)
Almost certainly his best performance of the 2023 Six Nations, Toulouse fly-half Romain Ntamack was at the heart of everything good Les Bleus did in attack.
Ntamack made the break that catalysed the move that ended with Damian Penaud scoring his and France’s first try of the match in the 11th minute.
He was also heavily involved in the attack that led to Jonathan Danty crossing the whitewash and in the second half, supplied the pass that put Gaëlle Fickou through a gap in the Wales defence.
When Ntamack and his half-back partner Antoine Dupont are in this kind of form, France are almost impossible to stop.
Gabriel Pop (Romania)
Several players rose to the occasion to help Romania overcome hosts Spain at Estadio Nuevo Vivero and claim third place in the 2023 Rugby Europe Championship.
Andre Gorin was again a dominant presence at number eight, while his back-row colleague Cristian Chirica juggled the ball spectacularly to score early in the second half.
However, it was a couple of moments of magic from fly-half Gabriel Pop that swung the momentum firmly in the Oaks’ favour in Badajoz.
First, Pop produced a winger’s finish to score his side’s third try and extend Romania’s lead to seven points. Four minutes later he regathered his own deft chip over the defence to put scrum-half Gabriel Rapanu away for their fourth, ultimately putting the game beyond Spain’s reach.
Dan Sheehan (Ireland)
For the first half hour against England at the Aviva Stadium it looked as though the occasion might get to Ireland’s Grand Slam-chasing side.
That was until Josh van der Flier peeled away from a lineout drive and popped the ball inside to rampaging hooker Dan Sheehan, who accelerated into space to score the opening try of the match.
Sheehan then capitalised on tired legs in the second half as 14-player England struggled to contain their hosts, popping up on the right wing to cross for a second time.
In total, he made 84 metres from 11 carries and was near-perfect at the lineout as Ireland wrapped up a fourth Championship clean sweep with a 29-16 victory.