2013 British & Irish Lions
Lions Watch: Six Nations battle heats up
ESPN Staff
February 25, 2013
Wales' Alex Cuthbert sprints down the wing, Italy v Wales, Six Nations, Stadio Olympico, Rome, Italy, February 23, 2013
Alex Cuthbert scored Wales' second try against Italy © PA Photos

The countdown to the eagerly-awaited British & Irish Lions tour to Australia continued with a brutal and sometimes thrilling round of Six Nations action at the weekend.

As we all tick off the days until the team depart Down Under, ESPNscrum will cast an eye across the action and pinpoint those players eligible for the elite tourists who are pushing their selection claims with strong performances. But luckily there is still a lot of rugby to be played until the squad board the plane for Hong Kong and plenty of time for hopes to rise and fall.

15. Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)

The No.15 picked up the Man of the Match award for the second match running and looks certain to be on the plane to Australia come the summer.

14. Alex Cuthbert (Wales)

The Cardiff Blues' winger scored Wales' second try against Italy and could have had another had it not been for Gonzalo Canale's impressive tap-tackle.

13. Manu Tuilagi (England)

Despite having half of his left ear hanging off for most of the match, Tuilagi was huge for England. He scored their sole try and outplayed France's gigantic centre Mathieu Bastareaud.

12. Luke Marshall (Ireland)

The young Ulster centre shone on his debut and looks to be the natural successor to Gordon D'Arcy. He made several line breaks and while they failed to create a try, his performance would have given Declan Kidney some heart.

11. Craig Gilroy (Ireland)

While Ireland squandered numerous try-scoring opportunities, Gilroy took his when it was on offer to take his Test try tally to two in three appearances.

10. Dan Biggar (Wales)

Italy never really threatened Wales but while Kristopher Burton's tactical kicking was poor, Biggar shifted the Azzurri all over the field.

9. Greig Laidlaw (Scotland)

Laidlaw was flawless with the boot and his constant quick-ball around the breakdown kept Ireland on their toes. His versatility and composure could see him become a Lion in the summer.

England's Chris Robshaw salutes the Twickenham faithful, England v France, Six Nations, Twickenham, England, February 23, 2013
Chris Robshaw secured back-to-back Man of the Match awards © PA Photos

1. Gethin Jenkins (Wales)

Jenkins defied the doubters and was back to his best against the Italy scrum. He picked up an injury in the second-half that could rule him out of their next match versus Scotland but it was a top performance from the loose-head.

2. Richard Hibbard (Wales)

On a weekend when none of the hookers really stood out, Hibbard was probably the best performing No.2.

3. Adam Jones (Wales)

While Jones' rival for the Lions tight-head berth Dan Cole struggled against France's Thomas Domingo, Jones hammered Italy's Andrea Lo Cicero. He was immense against the physical Italian front-row and looks to be a Lions certainty. Scotland's Geoff Cross warrants a mention.

4. Jim Hamilton (Scotland)

He caused havoc in the Irish lineout with a series of steals and helped maintain Scotland's defensive structure - he also won the Man of the Match award for his gritty display at Murrayfield.

5. Geoff Parling (England)

The Leicester second-row should cancel his plans for the summer - he will almost certainly be on the plane to Australia. He was the standout second-row on show at Twickenham and is consistency personified.

6. Ryan Jones (Wales)

Jones is flourishing at blindside for Wales and it would take a huge call from Rob Howley to take the captaincy off the veteran back-rower. He was Wales' top tackler against Italy with 16 and could be in Lions contention.

7. Chris Robshaw (England)

He is now the favourite to lead the Lions in the summer and was named Man of the Match for the second round running after another massive performance. Scotland's Kelly Brown is unlucky to miss out.

8. Tom Wood (England)

Despite having played most of his rugby at blindside or openside, he is excelling at No.8 for England. He went toe-to-toe with Louis Picamoles for the entire match and managed to generally nullify the French back-rower's threat.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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