European rugby headed off into the Christmas break in fine fettle this weekend, as Saracens, Toulouse and Racing 92 all maintained their 100% starts to the competition.
There were important wins elsewhere for the likes of Leinster, Glasgow Warriors and Ulster, all of whom are still in the mix to top their pools or qualify as best runners-up. Munster were dealt a blow with a tough loss in a feisty encounter with Castres, whilst Exeter Chiefs bounced back, beating Gloucester, a pair of results which have thrown Pool 2 wide open.
We have rounded up the top performers from Round 4 of the Heineken Champions Cup below.
(*) denotes RugbyPass Index score
- Thomas Ramos, Toulouse (89)
Ramos is rapidly becoming one of the premier full-backs in northern hemisphere rugby and his accuracy with the boot is the cherry on top of that for Toulouse. He matched the likes of Stuart Hogg and Wille le Roux this weekend as a playmaker linking the midfield with the wide channels, whilst his strike running was in the same league as the likes of Jason Woodward and Jordan Larmour. The full-back has been one of the most consistent performers in the competition so far.
Silver – Jordan Larmour, Leinster (87)
Bronze – Francois Steyn, Montpellier (78)
- Henry Speight, Ulster (71)
The Australian might not have crossed the whitewash on Friday evening, but he was a consistent source of attacking incision and gain-line breaks that allowed Ulster to succeed at home to the Scarlets. The usually effervescent Steff Evans was kept quiet and in return the Welshman was challenged by the power of Speight.
Silver – Yoann Huget, Toulouse (84)
Bronze – Sean Maitland, Saracens (84)
- Will Addison, Ulster (80)
The Scarlets will be thankful they don’t have to see Addison again this season, with the Ulster outside centre having tormented them for the last two weeks. Again, he was incisive in wider channels, predominately as a runner, and the dynamic between himself and Stuart McCloskey was difficult for Scarlets to deal with. When McCloskey punched it up in the middle and drew defenders to him, Addison would use his pace to thrive in the next phase.
Silver – Garry Ringrose, Leinster (90)
Bronze – Manu Tuilagi, Leicester Tigers (78)
- Sam Hill, Exeter Chiefs (82)
Hill delivered an ability to break through Gloucester’s defensive line and keep Exeter moving forward, something that had been sorely lacking in the previous fixture between the two. He targeted the channels in the midfield between Danny Cipriani, Owen Williams and Billy Twelvetrees and once he had planted his foot and ran hard at those gaps, there was little Gloucester could do to stop him. Hill kept his head on a swivel once he made those breaks, too, always aware of where his support was.
Silver – Stuart McCloskey, Ulster (82)
Bronze – Brad Barritt, Saracens (86)
- James Lowe, Leinster (92)
The awareness of Lowe to take a quick tap penalty and exploit a Bath side who had turned their backs to the ball was the perfect example of a player confident in his abilities and with the self-belief to back his decision-making. Lowe will have statistically better games, but he was a constant threat and helped create multiple Leinster tries, as well as grabbing a score himself from the quickly tapped penalty.
Silver – Nikola Matawalu, Glasgow Warriors (78)
Bronze – Juan Imhoff, Racing 92 (82)
- Adam Hastings, Glasgow Warriors (86)
Back-to-back selections for Hastings in this XV, with the Scotsman hammering home his credentials as the man to start at 10 for Scotland in the Six Nations. Finn Russell will be feeling the heat in Paris, despite having a strong season himself, as Hastings once again dissected the Lyon defence with a clinical attacking performance. His ability to make split-second decisions close to the gain-line allowed him to repeatedly find holes and were it not for some very resilient Lyon defending, Glasgow would have added a bonus point, as they bid to chase down Saracens.
??? @GlasgowWarriors flexing their muscles with consecutive victories against @LeLOURugby ?@adamhastings96 piercing the defence and proving why he's the name on every Scots' lips ?@NMatawalu,the consummate finisher gratefully sliding in for a cracking #ChampionsCup try pic.twitter.com/o47dxSvVDC
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) December 16, 2018
Silver – Owen Farrell, Saracens (92)
Bronze – Finn Russell, Racing 92 (86)
- Antoine Dupont, Toulouse (87)
A masterful performance from a ‘Petit General’ that is surely right at the top of French rugby’s envious hierarchy of gifted scrum-halves. Dupont was an attacking spark against Wasps, orchestrating his pack excellently and mixing up his game with ball in hand, both bringing into play his back line and making his own sniping breaks. His two tries were fitting reward for an outstanding performance.
Silver – John Cooney, Ulster (79)
Bronze – Ruan Pienaar, Montpellier (88)
- Alec Hepburn, Exeter Chiefs (76)
The Exeter loosehead was a big part of his side being able to turnaround the disappointing result from a week before at Sandy Park. He tore into Fraser Balmain at the scrum right from the word go and never relented, with Exeter enjoying a significant advantage in that area for the entire 80 minutes. He also played his part in a well-functioning lineout and carried strongly close to the ruck.
Silver – Mako Vunipola, Saracens (91)
Bronze – Guram Gogichashvili, Racing 92 (78)
- Jamie George, Saracens (92)
Connecting on all 16 of your lineouts in the blustery conditions of Cardiff on Saturday afternoon would probably be enough to earn this spot alone and that’s exactly what George did. In addition to that, the hooker was his usual busy self in Saracens’ defensive line, tackling efficiently in testing conditions, as well as grabbing the try in the final five minutes that killed the game off and ensured the visitors picked up four points.
Silver – Ken Owens, Scarlets (88)
Bronze – Jaco Visagie, Gloucester (59)
- Tomas Francis, Exeter Chiefs (84)
You could almost copy and paste what was said about Hepburn, here. Francis contributed significantly to Exeter’s major dominance up front and Gloucester simply had no counter for it. Along with Hepburn, Francis forced a mass of scrum penalties out of Gloucester, before Ben Moon and Harry Williams came on and carried on the effort in the second half, with Gloucester coughing up a total of seven penalties at the set-piece.
Silver – John Ryan, Munster (86)
Bronze – WP Nel, Edinburgh (83)
- Iain Henderson, Ulster (82)
Two tries for the lock at the Kingspan and a second brutally physical performance in as many weeks. Henderson helped Ulster control the battle for the gain-line and from there, they were able to stymie Scarlets in defence and expose the Welsh region in attack. He’s coming under pressure from Tadhg Beirne for his spot with Ireland – and in this line-up – but is responding in perfect fashion.
Silver – Tadhg Beirne, Munster (90)
Bronze – Jake Ball, Scarlets (78)
- Joe Tekori, Toulouse (75)
There was incredibly fierce competition at the five spot this week, but Tekori and his integral role in a surging Toulouse side was just enough to see off the other contenders. He was impacting the game against Wasps as a ball-carrier, set-piece operator and defender, bringing an old school enforcer-type performance and marrying it with the skill and ambition to be an important cog in attack, too.
Silver – James Ryan, Leinster (92)
Bronze – Jonny Gray, Glasgow Warriors (89)
- Sean Reidy, Ulster (78)
A non-stop performance from Reidy, who did plenty of the gritty and unseen work that allowed Ulster to thrive on Friday night. He was unrelenting in defence, constantly shutting down Scarlets carriers on or before the gain-line, whilst he also offered momentum around the fringes, both as a one-out runner and on the pick and go. You would struggle to find a busier back row than the one he, Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee formed at the Kingspan this week.
Silver – François Cros, Toulouse (84)
Bronze – Bernard Le Roux, Racing 92 (64)
- Patrick Sobela, Lyon (76)
Lyon may have been beaten at Scotstoun on Saturday afternoon, but that didn’t stop Sobela from putting in a very polished performance. It was the stereotypical captain’s outing from the flanker, who led from the front throughout. He was the most dynamic forward in the Lyon side with ball in hand and his work in the defensive line and at the contact area helped deny Glasgow what looked as though it would be a certain bonus point win early in the first half.
Silver – Thomas Young, Wasps (80)
Bronze – Yacouba Camara, Montpellier (65)
- Jack Conan, Leinster (91)
Conan delivered the grunt work at a rainy and windy Aviva that helped win Leinster that arm wrestle at the gain-line, something which had eluded them in their match against Bath a week earlier at the Rec. He and Ryan were the two consistent sources of that front-foot ball, which then allowed the star-studded back line to take Bath apart as the game went on.
Silver – CJ Stander, Munster (90)
Bronze – Antonie Claassen, Racing 92 (84)
Watch: Exceptional Stories: Ian McKinley.
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