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LionsWatch: Itoje and Clifford serve Jones a timely reminder

LionsWatch: Itoje and Clifford serve Jones a timely reminder

While England were finishing off an unbeaten 2016 in style against Australia, rugby fans were also treated to a spectacular set of domestic fixtures in the Aviva Premiership and Guinness PRO12.

Itoje and Clifford both captained England Under-20s to world titles, in 2014 and 2013 respectively

While England were finishing off an unbeaten 2016 in style against Australia, rugby fans were also treated to a spectacular set of domestic fixtures in the Aviva Premiership and Guinness PRO12.

A number of seasoned internationals returned to their club sides and an intriguing set of results have left the league wide open before the European campaigns resume this coming weekend. 

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England under Eddie Jones are beginning to demonstrate an enviable strength in depth and never was that more evident than this weekend. 
 
CLIFFORD AND ITOJE SHINE 

 
With the likes of James Haskell and Billy Vunipola missing from England’s back-row this weekend against Australia – the Red Rose refused to miss a step.

Tom Wood, Chris Robshaw and Nathan Hughes all rose to the task but competition continues to get stronger when you look at the players coming back from injury.

Both Maro Itoje and Jack Clifford missed England’s entire autumn through injury but served notice of their intent with star showings on club duty. 

The duo were key figures in Australia this summer and Jones will have been an interested observer as they made their comebacks ahead of next year’s RBS 6 Nations. 

Itoje was everywhere for Saracens, making 13 carries and 11 tackles, but was unable to prevent the league leaders falling to defeat to Bath, earning special praise from his director of rugby Mark McCall afterwards.

“Even in the first half, when we weren’t quite as good as a team, I thought he (Itoje) shone out a little bit,” he said. “He carried the ball well all the way through the game.”  

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Meanwhile Clifford made 18 carries and was at his athletic best for Harlequins as they were edged out in a thriller by Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park – Scotland winger Tim Visser also impressing for Quins in defeat.

Itoje missed the autumn series for England with a hand injury while Jack Clifford suffered an ankle problem but both have made rapid recoveries and will have Jones licking his lips ahead of 2017. 
 
SEMESA STILL ROCKS 
 

England winger Semesa Rokoduguni may have been left out by Jones for the Australia clash this weekend but the Fijian-born flyer is certainly not feeling sorry for himself.

Defenders beaten – Aviva Premiership Round 10
Cooper Vuna (Worcester Warriors) – 8 
Dan Robson (Wasps) – 7 
Semesa Rokoduguni (Bath Rugby) – 6 

He made 109 metres with ball in hand, one of six players to break the century mark this weekend in the Aviva Premiership alongside fellow England star Alex Goode and Scotland flyer Visser. 

Rokoduguni’s man-of-the-match showing against Fiji this autumn earned him rave reviews and his domestic form has shown no signs of stopping.

He now leads the way in the league in terms of metres made and defenders beaten. 
 
GILES IS RAZOR KEEN 
 
Over in the Guinness PRO12 there is another wide man turning heads in Keelan Giles. 

The 18-year-old was on the bench for Wales this autumn against Japan but did not gain his first cap and has returned to Ospreys with a point to prove.

The former Under-20s flyer, who helped the Wales age-group side to their first-ever Grand Slam in last year’s Six Nations, has now scored four tries in four PRO12 games for the Ospreys. 

They proved too strong for Edinburgh in the Scottish capital although Magnus Bradbury – fresh from his first-ever Scotland cap in the autumn – did manage 16 tackles in total for the Gunners. 
 
SCARLETS AND MUNSTER ON A ROLL 
 
2013 Lion Jonathan Davies – who started the last three games in a row for Wales this autumn after a niggle ruled him out against Australia – was back in Scarlets colours this weekend.

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He made a whopping 115m with ball in hand for the Welsh region who have now won seven in a row in the league to climb into the top four. 

Steff Evans was in equally hot form for the Welsh side, who beat Zebre to continue their turnaround from a slow start to the season that saw them lose their first three in the league. 

Table toppers Munster are also in fine form, they have won six in a row in all competitions and ground out a superb win over Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun. 

Ian Keatley kicked the winning drop goal for the Munstermen while Ireland internationals Billy Holland and Tommy O’Donnell mastered a fine defensive showing with 16 and 14 tackles respectively. 

Rio 7s silver medallist Mark Bennett also impressed in defeat for the Warriors with 103m with ball in hand. 
 
AROUND THE GROUNDS 
 
Staying in the Guinness PRO12 and Ireland internationals Stuart McCloskey and Chris Henry both made try-scoring returns from injury in Ulster’s win over the Cardiff Blues. 

Connacht returned to winning ways in the defence of their title by comfortable seeing off Benetton Treviso and Jack Conan produced a stellar display in downing the Newport Gwent Dragons.
 

The #GUINNESSPRO12 Man of the Match is @JackConan1 of @LeinsterRugby presented by Rory Sheridan, on behalf of GUINNESS! pic.twitter.com/8wtvm8COqo

— PRO12RUGBY (@PRO12rugby) December 3, 2016


The Ireland flanker made 14 tackles and beat nine defenders in total in a man-of-the-match showing. 

And in the Aviva Premiership Rob Miller, deputising for the injured Danny Cipriani at fly-half, kicked six from six as Wasps closed the gap on Saracens on top with victory over Worcester Warriors. 

Freddie Burns and Owen Williams’ combined boots helped Leicester Tigers edge out Northampton Saints in the East Midlands derby while Exeter Chiefs cruised at Sale Sharks and Gloucester continued their revival by downing Bristol. 

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