6 Players with Most to Prove After 2 Games of RBS 6 Nations 2016

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistFebruary 18, 2016

6 Players with Most to Prove After 2 Games of RBS 6 Nations 2016

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    The first two weeks of this year's RBS Six Nations has borne witness to an array of star performances and players surpassing expectations, but there are also those who aren't impressing quite as hoped just yet.

    Some have been hindered like the rest of their team following a slow start to proceedings, while others simply aren't sticking out in sides that have already been successful in the opening weeks of the tournament.

    The competition for Six Nations places is tough, and we dissect which players still have the most to prove after the opening two rounds, each with ready-and-able replacements waiting in the wings.

1. Jared Payne

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    Jared Payne has done a decent enough job since coach Joe Schmidt drafted him to play alongside Robbie Henshaw in the build-up to last year's Six Nations, at least as far as results go.

    However, many Ireland fans will want to see more from the New Zealand-born back; more swashbuckling breaks and lung-gasping runs they've become accustomed to seeing when he's playing for Ulster.

    In fairness to the player, Payne is a full-back occupying the No. 13 jersey, and his defensive work was shown to be effective in Week 2 against France, where he made 15 tackles. That match-high total is even more impressive after the Irish Independent's Cian Treacy reported Payne strained his hamstring in the first half.

    But outside centres aren't put there for their tackling; any midfielder should be able to do that. With a prodigious talent like Garry Ringrose—one who will make those breaks we speak of—watching from the sidelines, Payne has to do more if he's to to prove he can't be dropped.

2. Yoann Maestri

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    Ireland's 10-9 defeat in Paris last Saturday was as tough a loss as the team is likely to suffer, mainly because of the nature of their one-point defeat, but also because of the physical harm suffered during.

    France lock Yoann Maestri escaped without punishment from the citing commissioner after a late hit on Johnny Sexton, which Rugby World's Gavin Mortimer agreed was "as cynical as you're likely to see."

    It was also somewhat disappointing considering Maestri made 13 tackles, the most of any French player, missing none, but that was in stark contrast to the three he missed against Italy just one week prior.

    It's been a very mixed bag for the Toulouse man, who now needs to assert his presence as a genuine asset to Guy Noves' squad and not just one of their primary bullies.

3. Johnny Sexton

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    In times of strife, a team needs to be able to rely upon its leaders to pull it through, so it's to be expected that much Irish attention has fallen upon star fly-half Sexton after failing to win in two outings this year.

    That's not to suggest Sexton has been poor, however, merely that this No. 10 still has a lot to prove, and knowing the Leinster man's on-pitch personality, he'll want to prove it to himself as much as anyone else.

    Right now, Schmidt's side teeter on the brink. With one point to their name from two games, the chances of a title defence could rest solely on the trip to Twickenham in Week 3; and that's where Sexton can stage his revival.

    The playmaker has been accurate with the boot thus far and is averaging 10 points per game, but he remains one of the suffocated tools in a frustrated Irish back line, and he could hold the keys to unlocking it.

4. Chris Robshaw

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    Former England captain is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't, it seems, after the flanker was shifted to blindside by new coach Eddie Jones coming into the 2016 Six Nations.

    Now in the No. 6 abode he's so frequently occupied for club side Harlequins down the years, Robshaw's performances have been good, but perhaps still not to the standard many might expect.

    According to BBC Sport's Chris Jones, Robshaw's coach Jones called the 40-9 win over Italy, during which the back-rower made 13 tackles, one of his "best games for England"—but that's what you'd anticipate against the Azzurri.

    Robshaw is known as an asset of almost pure defensive worth; he's made just 10 carries in 131 minutes of Six Nations rugby this year, showing he's far from the most rounded of flankers around.

    With Maro Itoje, Matt Kvesic and Jack Clifford all champing at the bit to get a chance in England's back row, Robshaw has to start shining unless the urge to experiment finally sees Jones take him out.

5. Finn Russell

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    First and foremost, Scotland fly-half Finn Russell has already enjoyed a range of highlight moments at this year's Six Nations, flashes of his brilliance that have helped Scotland dazzle.

    And yet Vern Cotter's side remain without a point to their name from two matches, and Russell's displays paint a similar picture—plenty of huff and puff, but a worrying lack of end product.

    For every moment Russell enjoys that makes Murrayfield gasp, he can make Edinburgh sigh in frustration at times due to his decision-making, that split-second of panic that stops him from sitting among the truly elite fly-halves.

    In terms of talent, the deft-kicking and often buccaneering runner has it all in his locker, but a new sense of calm would help him lead Scotland on to bigger and better things.

6. Jamie Heaslip

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    Jamie Heaslip is one of Ireland's greatest conundrums, a player who can go from being absolutely pivotal in one fixture to looking almost absent in the next.

    Perhaps it's as a result of the world-class standards we've come to expect of the No. 8, but he sits as another of Schmidt's men who should be producing his best if the rest of the team is struggling.

    Especially with Paul O'Connell now a figure of the past, the Ireland pack is looking to leader figures, and 80-times capped Heaslip should be in the window to fill those boots.

    Heaslip did carry for 43 metres in the 16-16 draw against Wales, but he was unnoticeable in attack against France, and CJ Stander could yet take the Leinster star's place if things don't improve quickly.

    All statistics come courtesy of ESPN Scrum.

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