Champions Cup team of the weekend: Five Irishmen make the XV after a clean sweep for the provinces
The first installment of the halfway double-header brought eye-catching tries, upsets and some fine individual performances.
15. Simon Zebo
Brice Dulin started at full-back for Racing 92 against Leicester with Zebo shifting there during the second half. That was still enough time for him to win a high ball with a back-handed flick and demonstrate his defensive positioning, complementing his earlier try. Alex Goode and Matthew Morgan also enjoyed highlight reel moments on Sunday.
14. Cheslin Kolbe
Ulster’s Henry Speight deserves a mention for his lively display at Parc Y Scarlets and Santiago Cordero slipped past 17 of Gloucester’s would-be tacklers. But Kolbe’s superb first-phase try that lacerated Wasps epitomised his phenomenal footwork and deceptive strength. His support line drew away defenders for Sofiane Guitoune’s score as well.
13. Will Addison
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Addison’s versatility and poise will stand him in good stead as Joe Schmidt puts together his 31-man squad for Rugby World Cup 2019. He constantly troubled opposite number Jonathan Davies, who is an excellent midfield defender. He released Jacob Stockdale and cut a wonderful angle for his own try in the second half. Virimi Vakatawa, Alex Lozowski, Huw Jones, Manu Tuilagi and Garry Ringrose were all viable candidates.
12. Brad Barritt
Saracens’ aggressive defence and proactive pressing eventually overwhelmed Cardiff Blues. As ever, Barritt led that effort. He also unfurled a number of delicate offloads, most notably one that released Lozowski in the build-up to Richard Wigglesworth’s opening try.
11. Ollie Thorley
Toulon left wing Filipo Nakosi created havoc for Montpellier with 134 running metres and four clean breaks with a 76th-minute try. Thorley threw himself into everything with vim and vigour. His burst from the back-field prior to Willi Heinz try seemed to point the way for Gloucester. Another surge came before Jaco Visagie’s score and his tackling made Heinz’s box-kicking into a weapon that continually frustrated Exeter.
10. Anthony Belleau
Munster’s JJ Hanrahan and Adam Hastings of Glasgow Warriors steered their teams to comprehensive, if contrasting, wins. Toulon needed a result to avoid an embarrassingly early exit. They are still by no means guaranteed to progress. In fact, they are still up against it despite overturning Montpellier. But Belleau’s 111 running metres, plus a haul of 16 points from the tee, kept them in the fight.
9. George Horne
Bath’s Will Chudley and his former Loughborough University teammate Henry Pyrgos of Edinburgh would have been worthy inclusions. Horne is simply a razor-sharp attacker, intelligent and dynamic. He scored one and set up another for Adam Ashe with a snipe and a flick as Glasgow raided Lyon, leaving with five tries.
1. Pierre Schoeman
Mako Vunipola’s returned from injury and immediately hit the high standards we have come to expect of him. However, Schoeman did not only dismantle Newcastle Falcons’s makeshift scrum. He also made 16 carries and nine tackles. Ellis Genge’s rambunctiousness in Paris was a lot of fun to watch.
2. Sean Cronin
Leinster had to dig deep to haul their title defence back on track at The Rec. Cronin fed the driving maul that eventually brought his vital try on the half-hour and a handful of trademark charges gave his team impetus at important times. Even one laughably wonky lineout throw ended up well…
Jordan Larmour is lightning ⚡️— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) December 8, 2018
Leinster lead for the first time thanks to an intercept try!
You're just not catching him... pic.twitter.com/XZHxXxdrLF
3. Marty Moore
Fraser Balmain was one of the Gloucester forwards that stood up to the Exeter pack and overpowered them. Ulster’s sturdy scrum provided a platform for their dangerous backs and eked out penalties as well. After a difficult time with Wasps, Moore is returning to the form that made him an Ireland international.
4. James Ryan
Ryan actually wears the number five jersey when in partnership with Devin Toner but he can make do with four in this team. The 22 year-old will not want 2018 to end. Against Bath, he made more metres with ball in hand than any other forward on the field. His spring and handling skills make him a lineout menace and he topped the game’s tackle count with 17 as well.
5. Leone Nakarawa
Gloucester lock Gerbrandt Grobler must take credit for how Exeter’s lineout fell apart and Ed Slater was outstanding from the bench. Nakarawa’s loping stride and offloading again confounded Leicester Tigers. He threw seven passes out of contact on Sunday afternoon. The hush that descended when the towering Fijian committed a second-half handling error told its own story.
6. Adam Ashe
Baptiste Chouzenoux was awarded the official man of the match gong as Racing 92 outlasted Leicester in a shootout at Paris La Défense Arena. But let George Horne tell you about Ashe, who scored two tries in Glasgow’s win over Lyon: “The work he gets through is incredible. Most weeks he has been top of the tackles and carries. He is an absolute workhorse.”
7. Sam Underhill
Hamish Watson was unlucky here, as was another openside who spoiled and scavenged in a losing cause. Olly Robinson gave Saracens a scare at Allianz Park, picking up a try and five jackal turnovers. Gloucester’s Jake Polledri made 16 carries as well. Underhill shades it, though. He continued the robust running of his autumn with England, tackled well and produced a streetwise breakdown showing that stalled Leinster on numerous occasions.
8. Ben Morgan
Bill Mata of Edinburgh, Munter’s CJ Stander and Saracens super-sub Ben Earl could have taken this spot. Francois Louw annoyed Leinster as well. Morgan grew into a fractured contest at Sandy Park and impressed on both sides of the ball, helping Gloucester to a result that has turned pool two on its head. He ended up with 18 tackles to go with 12 carries, one of which brought a twisting, opportunistic try.