Mon 21 Jan 2019 | 09:31

Champions Cup Team of the Week: Round Six

Champions Cup Team of the Week: Round Six
Mon 21 Jan 2019 | 09:31
Champions Cup Team of the Week: Round Six
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OPINION: The pool stage of the Champions Cup was wrapped up this weekend, as the competition heads into a Six Nations break, before returning with the knockout rounds of club rugby’s grandest prize at the end of March.

Saracens triumphed 38-19 over Glasgow Warriors, ensuring they went six wins from six in the pool stage and secured the top overall seeding, meaning they will face the Scottish side, who ended as 8th seeds, again in the quarterfinals. Racing 92 sowed up the second seed with a 46-33 win at home to the Scarlets, which means they will face Toulouse in Paris, who saw off Bath on Sunday afternoon.

Third seeds Leinster are set to face Ulster in Dublin in an all-Irish encounter, after the two provinces beat Wasps and Leicester respectively, whilst Edinburgh‘s impressive 19-10 victory against Montpellier secured them a home quarterfinal against Munster, who edged a brutal contest with Exeter Chiefs.

Below are our pick of the performers from the weekend’s action.

(*) denotes RugbyPass Index score

15 Liam Williams, Saracens (89)

A late switch to fullback from the wing didn’t seem to faze Williams, with the Welshman providing plenty of incision to Saracens’ counter-attack, as well as being a solid last line of defence. His ability to spot gaps in Glasgow’s defence and then having the acceleration to exploit them was on frequent show and the firm surface of the Allianz Park pitch meant that his footwork was at its most effective.

Silver – Jack Nowell, Exeter Chiefs (86)

Bronze – Scott Spedding, Castres (71)

14 Simon Zebo, Racing 92 (79)

Zebo’s two tries encapsulated everything that has been good about Racing in this year’s Champions Cup, with the Irishman’s clinical finishing the embodiment of how the side from the French capital like to play their rugby. There will be flashier games to come from Zebo, but the opportunities that were presented to him were taken with ruthless efficiency.

Silver – Matt Banahan, Gloucester (66)

Bronze – Andrew Conway, Munster (87)

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13 Josua Tuisova, Toulon (76)

There is a lot of chatter as to why Toulon would take wings like Tuisova and Julian Savea and put them into the centres, but it’s a move that’s working for the Fijian, at the least. Tuisova was excellent as a ball-carrier on Friday night, as well as keeping the ball alive after contact, where Toulon were really able to hurt Newcastle’s scramble defence. He made some good defensive reads in the difficult-to-defend 13 channel and was able to use his strength to win multiple turnovers in areas of the pitch where forward support was slow to arrive.

Silver – Florian Viallele, Castres (61)

Bronze – Harri Millard, Cardiff Blues (72)

12 Henry Chavancy, Racing 92 (81)

The chemistry between Chavancy and Finn Russell is becoming something special in Paris and they replicated it perfectly against the Scarlets. Chavancy’s decision-making as to when to run and when to pass was in the groove and he had the composed execution to pull it off. A lot of Racing’s clinical play, which saw them score six tries despite significant possession and territorial disadvantages, could be tracked back to Chavancy and his work in the midfield.

Silver – Chris Dean, Edinburgh (80)

Bronze – Josh Matavesi, Newcastle Falcons (59)

11 Duhan van der Merwe, Edinburgh (83)

Of all the players at Murrayfield on Friday evening, van der Merwe was the one to consistently get free and find himself able to exploit the opposition defence. The South African wing eluded Timoci Nagusa a number of times and quick ball out from the Edinburgh midfield frequently saw him turn the corner and make big forays into Montpellier territory. He didn’t manage to trouble the scorers, but that was the only thing missing from a strong attacking performance.

Silver – Aled Summerhill, Cardiff Blues (63)

Bronze – Steff Evans, Scarlets (81)

10 Louis Carbonel, Toulon (65)

Toulon’s European dream may have been over going into Round 6 of the pool, but young Carbonel gave them a reason to be optimistic about their fortunes in the years to come. The flyhalf was part of the French side which won the World Rugby U20 Championship last year and he showed that ability to pull the strings of a side in attack once again, albeit at senior level this time. He had a nice pressure valve outside of him in Savea, but it also meant that he had to do a lot of the creative work himself, drawing defenders, playing on the gain-line and mixing up his delivery.

Silver – Joey Carbery, Munster (88)

Bronze – Ross Byrne, Leinster (89)

9 Tomos Williams, Cardiff Blues (79)

A clinical, sniping performance from the scrumhalf, who repeatedly made Lyon pay for complacency around the fringes. He was good value for the try he scored just minutes before heading to the bench, as the Welsh scrum-half had supplied his side with the tempo and the urgency to break down the Lyon defence.

Silver – Ali Price, Glasgow Warriors (74)

Bronze – Antoine Dupont, Toulouse (89)

8 CJ Stander, Munster (91)

A lot of what was said about Armand holds true to Stander, also. The number eight was in his element in a tight, brutal encounter like the one that played out on Saturday afternoon. Time and time again, Stander repelled Exeter ball-carriers on the gain-line and though the visitors enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, the Ireland international was one of the major contributors to Munster’s ‘bend but don’t break’ defence. He’ll have other games where he’s more impressive offensively, but there’s no doubting how key he was to Munster picking up the four points on Saturday.

Silver – Zach Mercer, Bath (67)

Bronze – Viliame Mata, Edinburgh (83)

7 Don Armand, Exeter Chiefs (83)

Not only did Armand grab the only try of the game at Thomond Park, he also went stride for stride with the physicality of the Munster pack. Plenty of loose forwards get a rude awakening when they head to Limerick to take on Peter O’Mahony and co, but Armand was good match for them, and it was something which only added to the compelling nature of the game. He had a fair amount of success disrupting Munster’s ball security, which is no mean feat in itself.

Silver – Liam Gill, Lyon (70)

Bronze – Camille Gerondeau, Castres (71)

6 Wenceslas Lauret, Racing 92 (79)

Lauret gave Racing an edge as a ball-carrier and a physical tackler on the gain-line, bringing one of the all-action type performances that has made him so integral to the Parisian side’s climb to becoming perennial domestic and European contenders. His 69 minutes on the pitch were energetic and it was powerful carries from the flanker that led to two Racing tries, as well as playing a role in multiple other scores for the home side.

Silver – Sean Reidy, Ulster (77)

Bronze – Jamie Ritchie, Edinburgh (84)

5 Jacques du Plessis, Montpellier (71)

The one real standout for Montpellier on a tough night in the Scottish capital, du Plessis managed to meet Edinburgh’s suffocating physicality and force some of his own back on to the hosts. He sparked a number of promising Montpellier attacks with his carrying and offloading, only to see them end up knocked on or turned over in the phases to come.

Silver – Tadhg Beirne, Munster (92)

Bronze – James Ryan, Leinster (92)

4 Maro Itoje, Saracens (93)

The unwelcome sight for Eddie Jones of seeing Owen Farrell withdrawn from the Saracens squad with a thumb injury on Saturday was mitigated by the impressive performance of Itoje. The lock was bruising with his carries, creating plenty of holes in the Glasgow defence, and thrived as usual at the lineout and the breakdown. His three won turnovers were as many as the entire Glasgow first XV had combined.

Silver – Iain Henderson, Ulster (82)

Bronze – Jean Kleyn, Munster (89)

3 WP Nel, Edinburgh (85)

Nel anchored the scrum for Edinburgh against Montpellier and like Schoeman, who was mentioned earlier, went to work on an experienced Montpellier front row. He may not have had Grégory Fichten retreating backwards like Schoeman had du Plessis, but he set the pivot around which his teammate could drive the Montpellier pack. Punctured holes around the fringes as a carrier, too.

Silver – Georges-Henri Colombe, Racing 92 (58)

Bronze – Dan Cole, Leicester Tigers (73)

2 Stuart McInally, Edinburgh (86)

McInally’s consistently superb form in this competition should not go under the radar and the Scotland hooker should be one of the leading candidates for the European Player of the Year award, albeit that accolade does tend to go to the flashier players on the pitch. The hooker had Edinburgh’s set-piece running efficiently and seemed to be ever-present in his side’s defensive line, constantly repelling the powerhouse carriers of Montpellier for little or no gain.

Silver – Sean Cronin, Leinster (89)

Bronze – Jamie George, Saracens (91)

1 Pierre Schoeman, Edinburgh (82)

If you’re forcing a tighthead like Jannie du Plessis off the pitch as a tactical replacement after 30 minutes of play, you’re doing something right. Schoeman was excellent at the set-piece against Montpellier and continued his busy work in the loose. The loosehead has been one of the key men behind Edinburgh’s excellent European campaign to date.

Silver – Dave Kilcoyne, Munster (90)

Bronze – Tapu Falatea, Castres (60)

By Alex Shaw, RugbyPass

Watch: Big Jim’s Big Interview with Simon Zebo.

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Champions Cup Team Of The Week: Round Six | Rugby365