Tuesday 26 September 2017

BRENDAN FANNING'S TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT

15: Rob Kearney

(Leinster, 9 appearances)

It's indicative of his quality that it knocked nothing out of him to pick up again after Isa Nacewa had been so stunning in the position. And there was no slump in service. With O'Driscoll off the scene, Kearney's leadership was first class, and he also scored six tries.

14: Isa Nacewa

(Leinster, 9)

The best all-round rugby player in Europe.

13: Aurelien Rougerie

(Clermont, 7)

Powerful and very aggressive, he was at his best in the pool ties against Leicester, when the Tigers were giving Clermont a torrid time at the scrum -- in Marcel Michelin, and Ulster when Brian McLaughlin's side looked like they had enough to win.

12: Paddy Wallace

(Ulster, 6)

This is the level at which he is most effective. His calming influence outside Ian Humphreys against Munster was key to Ulster's progress. And he did brilliantly for Dan Tuohy's try yesterday.

11: Timoci Matanavou

(Toulouse, 6)

He won't be winning awards any time soon for the quality of his defence, but what a killer from broken play. When he opened up Edinburgh in the quarters, it was hard to see Toulouse coming second. Eight touchdowns from six starts is the kind of stat wingers dream of.

10: Jonny Sexton

(Leinster, 8)

Terrific goal-kicking performance under pressure in Bordeaux kept Leinster in shape to avail of Fofana's late gift. And he was brilliant again yesterday

9: Ruan Pienaar

(Ulster, 7)

One of only four survivors in our side from last season (along with Nacewa, Sexton and Hines), Pienaar has moved on again significantly since then. Which makes him a shoo-in. Top-class service gets lost in the quality of his goal-kicking which calmed them against Edinburgh when Ulster had no ball.

1: Cian Healy

(Leinster, 8)

Three tries in any campaign is a decent return for a prop, particularly one who doesn't start every game. His score yesterday almost killed off Ulster.

2: Rory Best

(Ulster, 9)

If Brian McLaughlin needed a local man to balance the South African influence in his Ulster squad, then his inspirational hooker was the obvious candidate.

3: John Afoa

(Ulster, 7)

It's not often you get the full package at tight head -- more often than not the destructive scrummagers take time off elsewhere. Afoa contributes all over, and his experience of winning was vital in Ulster's season. Scooting back from NZ for the opener, against Clermont, was a good start.

4: Johann Muller

(Ulster, 9)

The biggest single influence on any team in the competition, Muller's place is secure among the best value buys ever to land here.

5: Nathan Hines

(Clermont Auvergne, 8)

Nothing summed up Hines' effectiveness more than the outrageous WWF clip against Ulster when he simultaneously took four players out of the game. Still a mystery why he was taken off against Leinster.

6: Stephen Ferris

(Ulster, 9)

Featuring in every round given the state of his knee is an achievement in itself. Ulster are a different team with Ferris on board, and the bigger the game the better he plays. Never gave up yesterday.

8: Netani Talei

(Edinburgh, 5)

Three man of the match awards (and three tries) in the pool phase, from only five appearances, tells its own story. Even when he was dropping ball in the semi-final against Ulster, the Fijian still looked a powerhouse with a bit of style about him.

7: SEAN O'BRIEN

(Leinster, 9)

Would have been trailing Chris Henry, who had a fine tournament, until yesterday. You can't argue with a performance delivered when it's really needed and overshadowing Henry put a hole in Ulster's boat.

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