The 2018/19 Heineken Champions Cup opened up on Friday night in emphatic fashion, with reigning champions Leinster putting Wasps to the sword in Dublin, in a landslide 52-3 victory.
A couple of other results of note included Cardiff Blues’ impressive 30-21 win away in Lyon, as well as Munster subduing Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park, leaving the south-west with a valuable two points from a 10-10 draw.
We have rounded up the top three performers at every position as the Irish thrived and the English wilted, in a busy weekend of rugby.
- Thomas Ramos, Toulouse
The former France U20 full-back was in creative and efficient form at the Rec, setting up Sofiane Guitoune’s second score of the game, as well as contributing with the boot in a tight match. His play as a first and second receiver joining the back line was particularly impressive, as was his ability to keep phases alive and stretch Bath defensively.
Silver – Blair Kinghorn, Edinburgh
Bronze – Gareth Anscombe, Cardiff Blues
- Semesa Rokoduguni, Bath
Rokoduguni was unlucky to be on the losing side at the Rec, with the England winger’s powerful runs down the right wing frequently taking Bath deep into Toulouse territory. Not only did he have joy as a carrier, he steps inside would invariably bring Toulouse defenders flooding over to stop him, creating space in the subsequent phases when Bath were able to generate quick ball.
Silver – Cheslin Kolbe, Toulouse
Bronze – Charlie Sharples, Gloucester
- Sofiane Guitoune, Toulouse
Clinical is probably the best word to describe Guitoune’s performance against Bath. Toulouse didn’t dominate possession or territory and for large periods of the match, it looked as if the Premiership side were going to edge the contest, but Guitoune took his chances well and managed to evade the clutches of Bath defenders on numerous occasions. He also made a couple of key tackles that prevented the home side from linking with their threats on the outside and having one-on-one opportunities.
Silver – Garry Ringrose, Leinster
Bronze – Manu Tuilagi, Leicester Tigers
- Robbie Henshaw, Leinster
Not only did Henshaw send out a warning message to Leinster’s European rivals, he also sent one out to Ireland’s upcoming opponents in the autumn internationals. His chemistry with Johnny Sexton inside him and Ringrose outside was unsurprisingly exceptional and he provided Leinster with both a direct-running threat at 12, as well as good distribution game when they wanted to move the ball wide quickly and involve their back three.
Silver – Stuart McCloskey, Ulster
Bronze – Matt Scott, Edinburgh
- James Lowe, Leinster
The Kiwi was in flying form for Leinster in Dublin on Friday evening, bagging two tries and generally running Wasps ragged for 80 minutes. His eye for a gap was evident, as was his awareness of his support players, as he continuously broke through Wasps’ defensive line and kept phases alive, stretching their defence throughout.
? @jameslowenz was on fire last night ?
The Kiwi dotted down twice, his second via an incredible through-the-legs pass from the one and only @JohnnySexton ?
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) October 13, 2018
Silver – Maxime Medard, Toulouse
Bronze – Jordan Olowofela, Leicester Tigers
- Finn Russell, Racing 92
Russell’s debut European performance for his new side could not have gone much better, as he helped guide the Parisian club to a priceless away win over pool rivals Scarlets. He took gaps when they were offered to him by the Welsh defence, but it was not the cavalier type of performance that has haunted him in the past. The fly-half was calm and composed and invariably made the right decisions throughout the game in Llanelli.
Silver – Johnny Sexton, Leinster
Bronze – Joel Hodgson, Newcastle Falcons
- Tomos Williams, Cardiff Blues
A livewire performance from Williams, who sparked an impressive Cardiff performance in Lyon. His footwork and speed made him a consistent threat with ball in hand throughout the game, but his distribution was effective, too. He was one of the decisive difference-makers in the region’s win away in France.
Silver – Calum Braley, Gloucester
Bronze – Luke McGrath, Leinster
- Ben Moon, Exeter Chiefs
Moon gave Stephen Archer a thorough working out at Sandy Park and came out on top in the compelling contest. In a game of such fine margins as the one between Exeter and Munster, the impact Moon had at the set-piece was vital in saving Exeter some blushes, with the home side dogging out a hard-fought draw against the Irish province.
Silver – Tudor Stroe, Castres
Bronze – Oli Kebble, Glasgow Warriors
- Rory Best, Ulster
A typically industrious performance from Best and his throwing at the lineout was bordering on flawless. In addition to the lineout being a solid foundation from which Ulster could launch their attacking forays, the hooker made himself known in the loose with a number of really impressive tackles on the gain-line.
Silver – Luke Cowan-Dickie, Exeter Chiefs
Bronze – Sean Cronin, Leinster
- Tadhg Furlong, Leinster
Aside from a couple of early calls in Wasps’ favour, Leinster dominated the scrum battle at the RDS, with Furlong spearheading their efforts. The tighthead was also very valuable in the loose, imitating an outside centre with his support play, dominating the collisions with and without the ball and played at an incredible tempo for the 55 minutes on he was on the pitch.
Silver – Dan Cole, Leicester Tigers
Bronze – Samson Lee, Scarlets
- Nico Janse van Rensburg, Montpellier
The South African was sledgehammer as both a carrier and a tackler for Montpellier. He was in a great duel with his opposite number, Ben Toolis, at the lineout, too, and was the perfect fit for the power game that Montpellier tried to impose on Edinburgh for much of the match.
Silver – Ben Toolis, Edinburgh
Bronze – Dave Attwood, Bath
- James Ryan, Leinster
The young Leinster lock is going from strength to strength with the province and he has well and truly transitioned from a player of impressive physical size and potential, to a bona fide go-to man for the Dubliners. He carried powerfully against Wasps and executed everything he did with composure, whilst playing at considerable pace.
Silver – Iain Henderson, Ulster
Bronze – Glen Young, Newcastle Falcons
- Maro Itoje, Saracens
A fierce display from the flanker, who carried and tackled with purpose throughout the game at Scotstoun. Showed no lack of mobility in a heavy back row for Saracens and got through a mountain of work over the course of the game. Given the abrasive nature of the game with a number of clashes between the players, Itoje was tailor-made for this match.
Maro Itoje troll level = ?
• Glasgow steal the ball
• Ref blows for penalty
• Glasgow players don't hear whistle, score try, celebrate wildly…
• Maro Itoje joins in! pic.twitter.com/ULOkgYcLga
— Watch #ShoulderToShoulder on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) October 14, 2018
Silver – Rhys Ruddock, Leinster
Bronze – Mark Wilson, Newcastle Falcons
- Ellis Jenkins, Cardiff Blues
Jenkins’ performance at the highest club level will have been a welcome sight to Welsh rugby fans, who are preparing for their first international window since the retirement of Sam Warburton. Jenkins was in domineering form at the contact area on both sides of the ball, operated well as a link man in attack and made a couple of thunderous tackles. In short, Lyon struggled to live with the dynamism he brought to the game.
Silver – Francois Louw, Bath
Bronze – Mike Rhodes, Saracens
- CJ Stander, Munster
In a tight encounter like the one at Sandy Park, the battle around the fringes can be pivotal. Stander excelled in those tight confines, helping his side maintain possession against Exeter with pick and goes, as well as running off of nine, whilst he frequently drove Exeter carriers back. There were more eye-catching performances from number eights this weekend, but none quite as effective.
Silver – Matt Kvesic, Exeter Chiefs
Bronze – Viliame Mata, Edinburgh
Watch: Dai Young comes to terms with Wasps’ largest ever European defeat.
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