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Euro Team of the Week: Round One

OPINION: The European Champions Cup returned this weekend to wake the Northern Hemisphere from its post-World Cup blues, and we have compiled our XV of the week from an entertaining opening round.


With Saracens focusing their attentions elsewhere, English clubs continued to struggle in Europe, with Exeter Chiefs the notable exception, as they notched up a highly impressive 31-12 win over La Rochelle on France’s Atlantic coast. The Irish provinces prospered, with Ulster and Munster chalking up away wins over Bath and the Ospreys respectively, whilst Leinster held serve at home against Benetton and Connacht saw off French powerhouse Montpellier.

A number of French teams did put down markers, though, with Toulouse and Clermont in particular looking in rich veins of form. Lyon weren’t able to upset Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens, however, with the East Midlands side adding a late silver lining for English fans.

15 Thomas Ramos, Toulouse
The fullback not only provided Toulouse with an unerring source of points from the boot, he was safe at the back for the French side and was able to launch several probing counter-attacks. After a bright start by Gloucester, Ramos gradually and consistently brought Toulouse back into the game and put them in position to steal all four points.

Silver – Mike Haley, Munster

Bronze – Anthony Bouthier, Montpellier

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14 Teddy Thomas, Racing 92
Thomas was equally clinical in attack as he was reliable in defence on Sunday afternoon. Playing outside of the impossible-to-contain Virimi Vakatawa, the wing was the adept finisher that Racing needed to see off the challenge of the reigning champions.

Silver – Semesa Rokoduguni, Bath

Bronze – Andrew Conway, Munster

13 Garry Ringrose, Leinster
Ringrose grabbed a hat-trick against Benetton and was pivotal for the province in what was a spirited display from their Italian opponents. He was clinical and efficient in all aspects of his play on Saturday and had to be, to see off the challenges of the two men below, both of whom were similarly impressive.


Silver – Sofiane Guitoune, Toulouse

Bronze – Henry Slade, Exeter Chiefs

12 Romain Ntamack, Toulouse
It was another step forward in the burgeoning career of the young French playmaker. He mixed up his game nicely at inside centre, exploiting the space as a carrier when Gloucester’s defence allowed, as well as providing plenty of service to the incisive Guitoune outside of him. Ntamack’s growth mirrors the ever-more impressive Toulouse spine.

Silver – George Moala, Clermont

Bronze – Rory Scannell, Munster

11 Alivereti Raka, Clermont
The Fijian-born wing ran rampant against Harlequins in Clermont’s return to the top table of European rugby. With the ball in his hands and popping up off of his wing, his speed, power and footwork were all too much for Quins to deal with defensively and he was fair value for his two tries.

Silver – Arthur Retiere, La Rochelle

Bronze – Keith Earls, Munster

10 Johnny Sexton, Leinster
There was no World fatigue on show from the veteran Irishman, as he led Leinster to a solid, albeit unspectacular win over Benetton. He guided the team around the park with trademark efficiency in attack and though the province didn’t quite fire on all cylinders, his influence was significant.

Silver – Joe Simmonds, Exeter Chiefs

Bronze – Finn Russell, Racing 92

9 Joe Simpson, Gloucester
For a large portion of the game, it looked as though Gloucester would knock off the reigning French champions and the livewire sniping and high tempo play of Simpson was a big part of that. He helped put the Cherry and Whites in a position to win the game, albeit the English side lost control in the second half and began to gift Toulouse possession and penalties.

Silver – Cobus Reinach, Northampton Saints

Bronze – John Cooney, Ulster

1 Raphael Chaume, Lyon
Both Chaume and his replacement Hamza Kaabeche gave young Ehren Painter a torrid time at the scrum at Franklin’s Gardens. Lyon didn’t really click on their trip to the East Midlands, although they were able to bloody Northampton’s nose at the scrum on multiple occasions, frequently led by their dominant looseheads.

Silver – Eddy Ben Arous, Racing 92

Bronze – Jeremy Loughman, Munster

2 Julien Marchand, Toulouse
Consistent at the line-out and a strong source of front-foot ball in attack, Marchand was a persistent thorn in Gloucester’s side. He gave his team a solid set-piece platform and a swiftness of ball in phase play that allowed his backs the time and space they needed to excel in.

Silver – Ronan Kelleher, Leinster

Bronze – Rob Herring, Ulster

3 Rabah Slimani, Clermont
The French tighthead really turned the screw on Harlequins at scrum time in the first half, so much so that it prompted early replacements from Paul Gustard’s side. With Clermont in complete control, the prop didn’t have to do too much away from the set-piece, but what he did there in the tight was exceptional.

Silver – Marco Riccioni, Benetton

Bronze – Clement Ric, Lyon

4 Iain Henderson, Ulster
A real vindication of Henderson’s captaincy at the province, as he led his team to a narrow and tight win over Bath at the Rec. Unsurprisingly, he prospered in the physical exchanges and was pivotal to helping Ulster control the gainline in attack and defence.

Silver – Irne Herbst, Benetton

Bronze – Paul Jedrasiak, Clermont

5 Joe Tekori, Toulouse
Despite being set to turn 36 next month, Tekori seems to age like a fine wine at Toulouse. His impact has been crucial in the club’s resurgence and his carrying presence was similarly vital at Kingsholm on Friday. His experience and physicality continues to be a nice complement to the youthful and elusive threats that Toulouse are building around.

Silver James Ryan, Leinster

Bronze – Courtney Lawes, Northampton Saints

6 Peceli Yato, Clermont
Arguably the performance of the weekend across all positions, Yato’s display against Quins was reminiscent of the destruction he wrought on Australia at the World Cup, before injury saw him have to leave the field. He was unlucky not to grab a hat-trick on Saturday, although like his teammate Raka, he was superb offensively and tormented Quins throughout the game.

Silver – Dave Ewers, Exeter Chiefs

Bronze – Paul Boyle, Connacht

7 Colby Fainga’a, Connacht
The flank was effervescent for Connacht in their win over Montpellier, consistently popping up to stymie French attacks with dominant tackles or slowing their ball at the breakdown. He also contributed strongly as a ball-carrier in a very impressive all-round performance.

Silver – Josh van der Flier, Leinster

Bronze – Callum Gibbins, Glasgow Warriors

8 CJ Stander, Munster
Munster weren’t at their best in Swansea on Saturday, but Stander’s tireless and physical performance was crucial to them eventually securing the bonus-point win. On both sides of the ball, the No.8 was forcing himself upon the Ospreys and there was little the Welsh region could do to stop him winning the gain-line as a ball-carrier and a tackler.

Silver – Fritz Lee, Clermont

Bronze – Caleb Timu, Montpellier

By Alex Shaw, @RugbyPass

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