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Champions Cup XV of the Week - Round 2

By Alex Shaw
Manu Tuilagi gets a high five from Matt Toomua (Getty Images)

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The first block of Heineken Champions Cup fixtures of the 2018/19 season are in the books and Saracens, Racing 92 and, perhaps less expectedly, Newcastle Falcons all continued their perfect records heading into the next set of games in December.


Among the more noteworthy performances this week was Leicester Tigers’ bounce-back, 45-27, win against the Scarlets, a result which significantly diminishes the Scarlets’ hopes in the tournament, as well as Castres’ resilient 29-25 victory over Exeter Chiefs, a match in which the French side were reduced to 14 men for 43 minutes.

We have rounded up the most impressive players across another busy weekend of European rugby.


  1. Simon Zebo, Racing 92

After a competitive start to the game, Racing began to cut loose against Ulster and the incisive Zebo was at the forefront of the Parisians’ efforts. Zebo’s dancing feet lit up the U Arena and, in a game as loose as the one with Ulster was, he was the perfect full-back to bring linebreaks and link up with Racing’s dangerous threats out wide.

Silver: Alex Goode, Saracens

Bronze: Gareth Anscombe, Cardiff Blues

  1. Darcy Graham, Edinburgh

In a week when Christian Wade left rugby and concerns were raised about whether or not it is still a game for all shapes and sizes, Graham put down a marker to show Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend that is still is. The former Scotland U20 standout shone opposite none other than Julian Savea and caused the 54-times capped All Black plenty of problems at Murrayfield.

Silver: Semesa Rokoduguni, Bath


Bronze: Liam Williams, Saracens

Continue reading below…

Watch: Darren Cave discusses his Irish and British identity, as well the anthems at Ireland games.

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  1. Manu Tuilagi, Leicester Tigers

This display shouldn’t come as a surprise given the flashes he showed in Belfast last weekend, but if you’re of the Leicester or England persuasion, you can be quietly optimistic that Tuilagi is returning to something close to his best. The centre made some hard yards coming back in against the grain, but it was his work in the wider channels that really impressed, where he was able to run at space and break arm tackles.


Silver: Olivier Klemenczak, Racing 92

Bronze: Sofiane Guitoune, Toulouse

Manu Tuilagi of Leicester Tigers is tackled by Gareth Davies (L) and Ioan Nicholas during the Champions Cup match between Leicester Tigers and Scarlets at Welford Road. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

  1. Johnny Williams, Newcastle Falcons

The inside centre has taken his impressive Gallagher Premiership form into the Champions Cup, with back-to-back outstanding performances. A balanced running and passing game outside of Joel Hodgson kept the Montpellier defence guessing and Williams was consistent in his ability to spot gaps in the Top 14 side’s defence and keep Newcastle moving forward.

Silver: Florian Vialelle, Castres

Bronze: Matt Scott, Edinburgh

  1. James Lowe, Leinster

On a day when Leinster were uncharacteristically flat for vast periods, Lowe provided a much-needed spark plug. In addition to the offensive skill he brought to the game, he also marshalled the dangerous threat of Cheslin Kolbe well and helped the reigning champions deal with the early Toulouse powerplay, despite ultimately falling to defeat.

Silver: Maxime Medard, Toulouse

Bronze: Jacob Stockdale, Ulster

  1. Finn Russell, Racing 92

The Scotsman continues to enjoy a high-flying start to his European career at the Parisian club, orchestrating a free-flowing and composed Racing performance against Ulster. He mixed up his game well, taking a number of opportunities to run with the ball, as well as getting the ball into the hands of his outside backs quickly and accurately. It was a display fitting of the bright lights of the U Arena.

Silver: Joey Carbery, Munster

Bronze: George Ford, Leicester Tigers

  1. Joe Simpson, Wasps

The performances of Dan Robson over the last couple of seasons have seen Simpson overshadowed somewhat in the West Midlands, but his outing against Bath showed that the scrum-half still has plenty to offer. Simpson had a hand in all five of Wasps tries at the Ricoh Arena, impressing with his support-running and the tempo that he brought to the game.

Silver: Gareth Davies, Scarlets

Bronze: Ben Spencer, Saracens

  1. Richard Barrington, Saracens

It’s next to impossible to replace a player like Mako Vunipola, but Barrington did as impressive of a job as you could expect. The loosehead tore into the Lyon scrum and gave Saracens a strong advantage in that area for the majority of the game. Without that foundation, Lyon struggled to build anything to consistently challenge Saracens with.

Silver: Guram Gogichashvili, Racing 92

Bronze: James Cronin, Munster

  1. Camille Chat, Racing 92

With the emerging Teddy Baubigny breathing down his neck, Chat responded emphatically on Saturday evening, making the hard yards and putting in the unseen work that allowed the dangerous Racing back line to thrive. The hooker was difficult for Ulster to stop on pick and goes and as a one-out runner, whilst his work clearing out at the breakdown was equally efficient.

Silver: Julien Marchand, Toulouse

Bronze: Jack Walker, Bath

  1. Dan Cole, Leicester Tigers

Other than a couple of soft penalties in the loose that blotted the copy sheet, Cole was in fine form at Welford Road on Friday night. He tore into Wyn Jones in an aggressive scrummaging performance, carried powerfully around the fringes and made himself a nuisance at the breakdown, both stealing and slowing Scarlets ball, as well as clearing out efficiently for Leicester.

Silver: WP Nel, Edinburgh

Bronze: Dan Kotze, Castres

  1. Steve Mafi, Castres

With Castres reduced to 14 men in the first half and having to defend doggedly for 43 minutes, Mafi gave the French side a valuable pressure valve, often breaking off powerful carries beyond the gain line and earning Castres some breathing room. He took his try well, too, dancing through five would-be Exeter tacklers, a score which helped take the game beyond the English side.

Silver: Harry Wells, Leicester Tigers

Bronze: Iain Henderson, Ulster

  1. Tadhg Beirne, Munster

The Munster lock was instrumental for his side for the second week running on Saturday, as he dealt superbly with the gritty work at the contact area. He was a constant threat to Gloucester’s ball security, carried strongly and made a nuisance of himself at the lineout, either stealing ball or disrupting Gloucester mauls.

Silver: Leone Nakarawa, Racing 92

Bronze: George Kruis, Saracens

  1. Maro Itoje, Saracens

If Beirne has been the physical spark up front for Munster over the first two weeks of competition, then Itoje has provided a similar role for Saracens. His try came from the flanker ripping the ball out of contact at the 40m line, before outrunning the entire Lyon team to the try line. His dynamism with ball in hand, as well as his usual contributions at the lineout, breakdown and in the defensive line, were what separated Itoje from the chasing pack this week.

Silver: Blade Thomson, Scarlets

Bronze: Mark Wilson, Newcastle Falcons

  1. Hamish Watson, Edinburgh

Watson was in dynamic form against Toulon, flourishing in the loose against a pack that couldn’t live with his energy. His carries gouged the French side and he was busy in the defence, bringing enviable line speed and efficient one-on-one tackles, all the whilst making his typical impact at the contact area.

Silver: Thomas Young, Wasps

Bronze: Baptiste Delaporte, Castres

  1. Viliame Mata, Edinburgh

‘Big Bill’ is going from strength to strength in the Scottish capital and he simply looked like a man who is relishing his rugby in Edinburgh’s dismantling of former European heavyweights Toulon on Saturday. Mata was consistently able to break the gain-line at Murrayfield and his teammates were regularly in support, allowing him to free his arms and get the ball away.

Silver: Matt Fagerson, Glasgow Warriors

Bronze: Zach Mercer, Bath

Watch: Eddie Jones explains the Danny Cipriani omission from the England squad for the autumn internationals.

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