Wins for Ireland and Wales, another heartbreaking loss for Scotland – but which Guinness PRO12 players shone, and who can expect to feature for their countries again next week?
Dan Biggar’s place in the Ospreys starting XV has been threatened by Sam Davies this year, while the challenge has been mimicked on international level by both Davies and Cardiff Blues’ Gareth Anscombe.
But Biggar produced arguably his best Wales performance since the World Cup on Saturday, showing up well alongside Gareth Davies.
Davies’ excellent ball freed up Biggar to play flatter and he responded by running for 38 metres – more than George North with less than half as many carries and bettered among the Welsh only by Leigh Halfpenny and the lethal Liam Williams.
— Welsh Rugby Union ???? (@WelshRugbyUnion) November 12, 2016
His clean break was pivotal in setting up Williams’ score, while he made seven tackles without missing one.
Youngster Davies could come in against Japan, but Biggar looks to have made the No. 10 jersey his own for South Africa.
To lose a scrum-half of Rhys Webb’s quality will never sit easy, but to have a replacement with Davies’ vast array of attacking talent will surely ease the pain for Rob Howley.
Davies – as he showed in the Rugby World Cup against England – knows where the try-line is, but in Saturday’s 24-20 win over Argentina, his service for Biggar was exceptional, seemingly bringing out the best in his half-back partner.
Seven kicks, seven runs and 49 passes show that Davies was able to mix his play well, while – along with Munster’s Keith Earls – he beat more defenders than any Irish, Welsh or Scottish player.
Finn Russell had not played for Scotland since the 2016 RBS 6 Nations, but returned with a mature performance for Vern Cotter’s side in their 23-22 loss to Australia.
He provided an eminently steady pair of hands on Saturday against the Wallabies – his perfectly weighted chip created Huw Jones’ first try, but he also played flat to the line and constantly put his ball carriers into space.
Russell mixed eight kicks, with 24 passes and carried the ball for 22 metres including a clean break – his threat with ball in hand and variation meant Scotland’s back-row, without a recognised No. 8 for a long period, were still able to make significant yardage.
The Glasgow fly-half also made nine tackles as Cotter’s side sought to stem a second-half Wallaby onslaught – 62percent of the second period was played in Scottish territory.
— Jim Hamilton (@jimhamilton4) November 13, 2016
Jonny Gray was perhaps the game’s outstanding forward, making an astounding 24 tackles when Scotland were under the cosh and scoring a try when they were dominant, but Scarlets’ John Barclay played a pivotal role in a fine performance.
As Chris Robshaw does for England, Barclay supported superbly, while after Ryan Wilson’s departure, he was the go-to man for Scotland’s hard yards.
His 12 carries for 13 metres may not seem earth-shattering, but the man with 171 Guinness PRO12 appearances popped up at vital points to ensure offloads found hands and consequently that Scotland retained possession.
Somehow at 21, Garry Ringrose’s Ireland debut seems to have been a long time coming, but when he did start for Joe Schmidt’s side, he did not disappoint.
Though he did not cross for a try in Ireland’s 52-21 win, he looked incisive in attack and as well as making two clean breaks, he constantly threatened the Canadian defensive line.
With 11 carries for 57 metres, he clearly had an effective day with ball in hand and the man often touted as Brian O’Driscoll’s long-term successor showed enough promise to ensure he won’t be losing that tag any time soon.
To displace Rob Kearney after a near flawless performance in Ireland’s victory over New Zealand was always going to be a tough ask, but Tiernan O’Halloran gave it an excellent shot.
Kearney was impeccable under the high ball against the All Blacks, broke well to set up CJ Stander’s score and given his ability to raise his game – particularly against New Zealand, as he did in 2013 – he looks to be guaranteed a spot for the return fixture.
But O’Halloran showed no little skill in taking his two tries against Canada – and a pace to rival any player on the planet.
In running for 69 metres in 12 runs, he stated his claim to a slot on the bench and a licence to cause havoc in the final quarter.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final