This weekend played host to Round 3 of the Heineken Champions Cup, the beginning of the vitally important December back-to-back games, which often prove crucial to a team’s chances of qualifying for the quarter-finals, and we have selected our form XV from the contests.
By the conclusion of Round 4 in a week’s time, we will have a strong idea of which eight teams are favourite for the knockout rounds and we could also have a good idea of which of them will be securing home quarter-finals, with Racing 92, Toulouse, Leinster, Exeter Chiefs and Ulster having all positioned themselves well so far.
Take a look below at our pick of the players from a busy weekend of European rugby.
- Jean-Marcellin Buttin, Lyon
The French full-back was at his incisive best against Benetton, helping shred the Italian side’s defence as both a counter-attacker and a link-man between the midfield and the wings. His early try got the Top 14 side going and they did not look back, securing a try bonus point and nilling Benetton in the process, with Buttin making a couple of key one-on-one tackles.
Silver – Tom Marshall, Gloucester
Bronze – Jordan Larmour, Leinster
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- Samuel Ezeala, Clermont
The 19-year-old Spaniard provided the moments of class that elevated the Bath vs Clermont game from the doldrums and ultimately gave his side a relatively comfortable win at the Rec. Not only did he grab two tries himself in a frenetic 10-minute period, he also teed up one of his teammate’s scores. Without Ezeala, Clermont would not have left Bath with the bonus point and might not have even left with the win.
Silver – Nikola Matawalu, Glasgow Warriors
Bronze – Teddy Thomas, Racing 92
- Virimi Vakatawa, Racing 92
Vakatawa is as destructive an outside centre to opposition defences as there currently is in world rugby. He tormented the Ospreys as a ball-carrier and playmaker and so many of Racing’s potent attacks on Saturday stemmed from breaks that he made.
Silver – Matt Proctor, Northampton Saints
Bronze – Jonathan Joseph, Bath
- Stuart McCloskey, Ulster
One of, if not the most influential performance of the weekend by an individual, McCloskey was the difference between victory and defeat for Ulster. Harlequins gave Ulster all they could handle in Belfast and were it not for the consistent gain-line advantages that McCloskey brought, and Ulster’s subsequent ability to get on the front foot and attacking a retreating Quins defence, the province would have fallen to a rare home defeat.
Silver – Romain Ntamack, Toulouse
Bronze – George Moala, Clermont
- James Lowe, Leinster
Lowe exploited every bit of space and time that the Northampton defence gave him and was a crucial component in taking the opportunities that presented themselves earlier in the game. He Kept Leinster going blow for blow with Northampton in the first half, which enabled them to then race away after the interval as their class showed and Saints’ focus wavered.
Silver – Xavier Mignot, Lyon
Bronze – Maxime Medard, Toulouse
- Adam Hastings, Glasgow Warriors
Scottish playmakers are en vogue right now, whether it’s Hastings guiding Glasgow to an impressive away win in La Rochelle or Finn Russell executing a dismantling of the Ospreys in Swansea. Hastings facilitated his side’s attack with accurate passing on the gain-line and an eagerness to get around the corner of the French side’s defence, whilst also not overplaying his hand, instead opting for control when required.
Silver – Danny Cipriani, Gloucester
Bronze – Finn Russell, Racing 92
- Maxime Machenaud, Racing 92
Machenaud really is the perfect foil to Russel at 10. He is ambitious and skilful enough to go stride for stride with the Scot when Racing are in control of a game, whilst he also knows when to rein it in and slow down the tempo for the good of the team. His accurate goal-kicking is just a further string to his considerable bow.
Silver – John Cooney, Ulster
Bronze – Aled Davies, Ospreys
- Raphael Chaume, Lyon
A consummate and refined scrummaging performance from Chaume, who managed to get the better of Tiziano Pasquali on multiple occasions. With a strong set-piece platform in place, Lyon were able to go to work, with Chaume’s ball-handling helping shift the point of contact and allow the club’s forwards to have success as carriers, too.
Silver – Dany Priso, La Rochelle
Bronze – Joe Marler, Harlequins
- Elia Elia, Harlequins
The Samoan hooker grabbed two tries in a strong set-piece performance from Harlequins in Belfast and he was honestly unlucky to end the game on the losing side. He was typically busy in defence, too, helping prevent the Ulster forwards from getting over the gain-line and giving their backs a solid platform to perform from.
Silver – Luke Cowan-Dickie, Exeter Chiefs
Bronze – Akker van der Merwe, Sale Sharks
- Andrew Porter, Leinster
Leinster’s set-piece work was clean and efficient on Saturday and helped lay the foundation for their competitiveness in the first half and their dominance in the second half. He grabbed a try, too, with a powerful carry close to the ruck, as Leinster exerted their muscle in the tight.
Silver – Demba Bamba, Lyon
Bronze – Finlay Bealham, Connacht
- Niccolo Cannone, Benetton
The 21-year-old lock was a standout player in a poor overall Benetton performance, as the Italian side fell to a 28-0 defeat. Though the PRO14 side were unable to trouble the scoreboard, Cannone did stand out with the physicality of his play and the energy and work rate he brought in defence. He was the busiest Benetton player on Saturday afternoon and more displays like that will do his chances of an Azzurri cap the world of good.
Silver – Scott Cummings, Glasgow Warriors
Bronze – Bryn Evans, Sale Sharks
- James Ryan, Leinster
The lock helped Leinster win the physical contest at Franklin’s Gardens, finding joy and gains as a ball-carrier around the fringes. Similarly, he kept the Leinster defence strong and physical close to the ruck and Northampton’s attacking success tended to come when they moved the ball wide quickly and tried to get outside of Leinster’s defence.
Silver – Franco Mostert, Gloucester
Bronze – Elliott Stooke, Bath
- Kevin Gourdon, La Rochelle
Gourdon was sublime for La Rochelle in their home loss to Glasgow and along with Victor Vito, gave the Scottish side plenty of problems on Saturday afternoon. He was consistently able to evade defenders and keep La Rochelle moving forward, whilst his work rate in defence was amongst the best on show this weekend.
Silver – Nick Isiekwe, Saracens
Bronze – Sebastian Negri, Benetton
- Josh van der Flier, Leinster
Similar to Lowe, van der Flier was pivotal in Leinster’s tight first half with Northampton. His turnovers created vital attacking opportunities and he was every bit as clinical in his execution as the likes of Lowe, Henshaw and Larmour were, albeit in a different context. He did the dirty work so that Leinster could kick it up a gear in the second half and deny the prolific attack of the English side.
Silver – Jake Polledri, Gloucester
Bronze – Yacouba Camara, Montpellier
- Matt Fagerson, Glasgow Warriors
It’s a mark of a good competition at No 8 these days if Ulster’s Marcell Coetzee can’t even crack the top three, which is to the credit of Fagerson, CJ Stander and Alex Dombrandt. All three impressed in their own way but with Fagerson’s carrying, speed in the defensive line and contact area work having proven crucial to a rare win for Glasgow away in France, he just pipped the other two to top spot.
Silver – CJ Stander, Munster
Bronze – Alex Dombrandt, Harlequins
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