Champions Cup team of the weekend: Seven players from the Irish provinces make the XV
European rugby returned with a weekend full of incident and intrigue. There were statement wins and upsets.
Here are the individuals that stood out over round one of this seasons’s Champions Cup.
15. Gareth Anscombe
Ulster youngster Michael Lowry was sprightly and sliced apart Leicester Tigers early on. Anscombe’s scything run to score was breath-taking, though. He also kicked 15 points as Cardiff Blues returned a wonderful result in Lyon. His intelligence and poise will be valuable to Wales over the next year.
14. Cheslin Kolbe
Saturday’s game at The Rec did not contain too many moments of quality, but Kolbe’s sizzling footwork – despite the damp surface – confounded many Bath defenders. The Springbok’s assist for Sofiane Guitoune’s try, also featuring a clever trailing line to block Dave Attwood, was superb. We can forgive him a fumble into touch at the end.
13. Garry Ringrose
Will Addison is settling at Ulster. However, Ringrose’s customary diligence either side of the ball for Leinster in an imperious win over Wasps brings him this berth. Distribution, footwork, accuracy in the contact area, offloading – he has it all. The 23 year-old is already one of the best outside centres on the planet.
12. Johnny Williams
Ian Whitten fought tremendously hard for Exeter Chiefs. Try-scoring Robbie Henshaw went well, as did Edinburgh’s Matt Scott. Williams was a central figure in Newcastle’s famous triumph at the Stade Mayol. He racked up 12 carries and seven tackles without missing one.
11. James Lowe
Maxime Médard of Toulouse deserves a mention here, as does the explosive Sinoti Sinoti. Newcastle’s fast-twitch wing made a telling run against one of his old sides, ending in a yellow card for Toulon full-back Daniel Ikpefan. Lowe’s special display comprised 184 running metres. Wasps managed 123 as a team.
10. Joel Hodgson
Fourteen points from the tee and a lovely break to set up Newcastle’s pivotal penalty try against Toulon sees Hodgson selected – in spite of a sin-binning. Johnny Sexton oozed class as well, obviously.
9. Tomos Williams
Wales have depth everywhere. Williams’ running game constantly troubled Lyon. His support play brought a try and made another for Anscombe. Five defenders fell off him. A chief protagonist in a stirring victory, he also made 15 tackles, Another Williams, Munster’s Duncan, made a sensational double tackle to save his province at a vital stage of the second period at Sandy Park. Luke MGrath deserved his two tries. John Cooney is yet another Ulster back to narrowly miss out. Callum Braley had a tidy outing for Gloucester, too.
1. Oli Kebble
It is not easy to trouble Saracens’ set-piece operation, but teams that manage to do so often unsettle Mark McCall’s team. Kebble helped Glasgow to win a couple of scrum penalties out of Vincent Koch. He also complemented six carries with 11 tackles and leant his weight to an effective lineout maul.
2. Rory Best
This one was tough. Jody Jenneker of Castres and Exeter Chief Luke Cowan-Dickie – fantastic at the breakdown – contributed plenty over the weekend. Best’s industry, skills and leadership underpinned a morale-boosting success for Ulster.
3. Tadhg Furlong
This one was easy. Furlong is redefining expectations of tighthead props in the loose. His one-handed offload to James Lowe will live long in the memory. He also seems to relish the less glamorous responsibilities – from hitting rucks to lineout lifts via carrying in heavy traffic.
4. James Ryan
Ryan amassed 16 touches at first-receiver as Leinster bullied Wasps mercilessly. As if to underline his work-rate, the 22 year-old added nine tackles to that tally. Leinster only made 78 as a team. There were towering, sharp lineout interventions too. Iain Henderson highlighted Leicester Tigers’ frailties.
5. Tadhg Beirne
At one point in the second half of Munster’s 10-10 draw with Exeter, Beirne swooped to steal a turnover before flicking away a pass away to link Munster’s counter-attack seconds later. BT Sport’s commentators momentarily struggled to comprehend what they had just seen. The former Scarlet is some player.
6. Peter O'Mahony
Sam Warburton rates Olly Robinson for good reason. Lyon will certainly hold Cardiff Blues’ back-rower in high regard now. O’Mahony just nips ahead of him here. His steals – on the floor and in the air – confounded Exeter. He played Jerome Garces expertly. Munster arguably deserved to win, which is testament to their skipper’s tone-setting efforts.
7. Ellis Jenkins
One barnstorming break, a try assist, tireless tackling and breakdown disruption characterised Jenkins’ Sunday afternoon in Lyon. Alongside Josh Navidi and Robinson, he will cause some serious issues for Cardiff Blues’ Champions Cup opponents. Watching him for Wales this autumn will be a lot of fun. Jenkins’ compatriot Thomas Young scrapped admirably for Wasps, snaring three turnovers.
8. Louis Picamoles
From Jack Conan on Friday evening to Ben Morgan on Sunday lunchtime through Nick Timoney on Saturday, a few number eights stood up this weekend. Matt Kvesic and CJ Stander staged an epic head-to-head. Viliame Mata, Edinburgh’s offloader supreme, inspired his side in Montpellier. But Picamoles’ output, punctuated by 65 running metres and 23 tackles, was monumental.