Champions Cup Team of the Week: Round Three
European rugby returned for its pre-Christmas sojourn this weekend, as the Champions Cup reached the halfway point of the pool stage.
Toulouse kept up their 100 percent record with a win away at Wasps, a result which sees them topping Pool 1, over Leinster, whilst Saracens also maintained their perfect start, seeing off Cardiff Blues competently, 51-25, after some early scares.
Glasgow Warriors kept up the pressure on Saracens with an impressive away win in Lyon, whilst Munster took control of Pool 2 with a resounding 30-5 victory over Castres.
We have rounded up the top performers from a busy weekend of European rugby.
(*) indicates RugbyPass Index score
- Thomas Ramos, Toulouse (87)
Ramos’ role as a playmaker joining the Toulouse back line is one of the key cogs in the French side’s rise back towards the top of the European game. His accurate boot at goal was also vital in their away win at the Ricoh, whilst he was a reliable last line of defence and kept phases alive well, without overplaying his hand at any point.
Silver – Brice Dulin, Racing 92 (74)
Bronze – Matthew Morgan, Cardiff Blues (74)
- Santiago Cordero, Exeter Chiefs (88)
The Argentinean repeatedly slalomed through Gloucester’s defence at Sandy Park and he was unlucky to end the game on the losing side, such was his positive contribution to the game. He was a threat on the counter-attack, in phase play and even when Gloucester looked as though they had him bottled him up and there was no space, he would create some with a piece of dazzling footwork or a searing turn of pace.
Silver – Cheslin Kolbe, Toulouse (90)
Bronze – Sean Maitland, Saracens (81)
- Will Addison, Ulster (80)
Another marker put down by Addison, whose performances and versatility are throwing him into the mix for Ireland’s Rugby World Cup plans. He was creative in attack and showed the dual-threat of straightening the line and running hard at space, as well as linking clinically with the wider channels and bringing the wings and full-back into the game. That ability to do both kept the Scarlets defence guessing on Friday evening.
Silver – Sofiane Guitoune, Toulouse (84)
Bronze – Jonathan Davies, Scarlets (87)
- Julian Savea, Toulon (78)
Forget the scepticism of Savea’s selection at the position prior to the game, the former All Black was very impressive in the role of pressure valve outside of Anthony Belleau. Savea ran several effective, incisive lines off of Belleau, but also linked play well with his passing and though a carry-first player, he did not inhibit Toulon’s ability to go wide when the opportunities arose. If Toulon want to rediscover their potent power game in Europe, Savea looks to be a good option to continue with at inside centre.
Silver – Rory Scannell, Munster (85)
Bronze – Peter Horne, Glasgow Warriors (88)
- Steff Evans, Scarlets (88)
It was a frustrating night for Scarlets, who fell to a one-point defeat at home to Ulster, a result which ends their European campaign this season, but Evans gave the Irish province everything they could handle and more. Evans bagged a couple of tries at Parc y Scarlets, as well as looking a threat whenever he got his hands on the ball. The Scarlets may not have made the most of the possession and territory advantages they enjoyed, but Evans was ruthlessly clinical, not to mention very industrious.
Silver – Ollie Thorley, Gloucester (71)
Bronze – Filipo Nakosi, Toulon (74)
- Adam Hastings, Glasgow Warriors (84)
A really tough call between Hastings and Belleau, with both young fly-halves exhibiting excellent control over their respective games and sparking great attacking moments. We just erred on the side of Hastings, with the impressive nature of what he did coming on the road in France, but there really was very little between the two. Hastings’ combination with both Hornes continues to look effective and Scotland’s depth from nine to inside centre looks as good as it has for a long time.
Silver – Anthony Belleau, Toulon (73)
Bronze – JJ Hanrahan, Munster (77)
- George Horne, Glasgow Warriors (89)
An electric performance from Horne, who was able to exploit space around the ruck as well as delivering quick, accurate ball for the Glasgow back line to work with. He showed an impressive level of control in the game, too, and alongside the impressive Hastings, Glasgow were able to mix up their attacking play and either take their lead from the scrum-half or the fly-half, depending on what the situation demanded of them.
Silver – Conor Murray, Munster (77)
Bronze –Teddy Iribaren, Racing 92 (89)
- Pierre Schoeman, Edinburgh (81)
The deck was a little stacked for Schoeman, here, going up against a player unaccustomed to packing down at tighthead in Sam Lockwood, due to Newcastle’s prop crisis. Nevertheless, Schoeman made that difference in experience show and had the Edinburgh scrum in dominant position throughout the contest. He put in the hard yards around the fringes, too, softening up the Newcastle defence with powerful carries and good ball placement, which allowed Edinburgh to prosper further out.
Silver – Mako Vunipola, Saracens (88)
Bronze – Dave Kilcoyne, Munster (91)
- Julien Marchand, Toulouse (83)
The French hooker continues to impress at this level, taking his set-piece stability and ability to influence in the loose on the road to the Ricoh Arena. He provided Toulouse with a well-functioning lineout and scrum against Wasps, as well as making inroads with the ball in hand, as the former French giants put down another marker as to why they’re a genuine threat at European rugby’s top table once again.
Silver – Stuart McInally, Edinburgh (83)
Bronze – Ken Owens, Scarlets (89)
- Tadhg Furlong, Leinster (90)
Furlong continues to re-write the textbook on how to be a tighthead prop. He wasn’t overly busy in the loose this weekend, but his set-piece work was beyond reproach. He anchored Leinster’s scrum in tough conditions and against a very adept set-piece loosehead in Nathan Catt, and his lifting at the lineout was immaculate, helping the likes of James Ryan and Devin Toner to thrive. He’ll have more eye-catching displays but given the tightness of the contest and the weather, Furlong did exactly what he needed to for his side to succeed.
Silver – Henry Thomas, Bath (65)
Bronze – Hamza Kaabeche, Lyon (69)
- Iain Henderson, Ulster (83)
The Irish international dominated the physical encounters at Parc y Scarlets, repelling carriers on the gain-line with gusto. His work in the defensive line and slowing down Scarlet ball at the breakdown was a big part of Ulster surviving the possession and territorial advantages that the Welsh side had. The lock took away Scarlets’ momentum multiple times and ended potential scoring moves before they began.
Silver – Mamuka Gorgodze, Toulon (77)
Bronze – Nick Isiekwe, Saracens (86)
- James Ryan, Leinster (92)
Leinster weren’t quite at their best on Saturday, with Bath’s physicality around the breakdown and in the tackle seeming to throw them off their stride, but it was barely a bump in the road for the lengthy gallop of Ryan. The lock gave Leinster a source of front-foot ball with his carrying, he was an efficient operator in the lineout and brought good line-speed to help counter an impressive performance from Bath’s forwards.
Silver –Leone Nakarawa, Racing 92 (82)
Bronze – Joe Tekori, Toulouse (71)
- Mike Rhodes, Saracens (88)
Rhodes was excellent for Saracens at Allianz Park, carrying with real purpose both in the tight and in the wider channels. He was ruthless at the breakdown clearing out the potent Cardiff fetchers and played his usual role in his side’s high-speed defensive line, restricting space and making the efficient one-on-one tackles to help his side prosper.
Silver – Adam Ashe, Glasgow Warriors (75)
Bronze – Stéphane Mbarga, Toulon (68)
- Sam Underhill, Bath (70)
If you can go up against the Leinster pack and outmuscle and outwork them at the breakdown, you’re definitely doing something right. That’s exactly what Underhill did and, in tandem with fellow back rower Francois Louw, kept his side in the game and competitive against the reigning champions, who had no answer for his work over the ball at the Rec. In the evolution of Underhill as a flanker, this game may well be looked back on as a flashpoint, despite the disappointing result.
Silver – Jake Polledri, Gloucester (71)
Bronze – Hamish Watson, Edinburgh (86)
- Viliame Mata, Edinburgh (76)
The Fijian back rower got through a mountain of work at Murrayfield on Friday evening, carrying with intensity for the entire 80 minutes and recording an eye-watering tally of 27 come the final whistle. It wasn’t just the carrying the positively affected the game, either, with an offload helping set up one of Edinburgh’s four tries and several of his tackles were physically-dominant hits on the gain-line. Edinburgh struggled, at times, to break down a stubborn Newcastle side, but Mata was a consistent force of front-foot and quick ball.
Silver – Francois Louw, Bath (70)
Bronze – CJ Stander, Munster (90)
By Alex Shaw, RugbyPass
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