This past weekend brought the final round of Heineken Champions Cup action for 2019 and a particularly competitive form XV, as the tournament prepares for the final weekends of pool play in early January.
Leinster booked their place in the quarter-finals with two games to spare as they trounced Northampton Saints, 50-21, in Dublin, whilst Toulouse and Ulster continued to position themselves for similar with important away wins over Montpellier and Harlequins respectively.
Elsewhere, Saracens kept alive their hopes of qualification by beating Munster in a fiery encounter for a number of reasons, whilst Exeter Chiefs continue to look England’s best chance of success, having gone four from four with back-to-back wins over Sale Sharks. Check out our XV of the weekend below.
- Jordan Larmour, Leinster
If you’re looking to market rugby to a larger audience and engage new fans, simply show them a highlight reel of Larmour. The full-back’s footwork on Saturday was electric and although he didn’t trouble the scoresheet himself, it was his counter-attacks and link work between the midfield and the wings that kept creating opportunities for Leinster to strike.
Silver – Simon Zebo, Racing 92
Bronze – Jacob Stockdale, Ulster
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- Lesley Klim, Ospreys
A rare outing for a player from the Welsh regions in this XV, Klim gave Racing plenty of problems out in Paris. When the Ospreys were able to generate tempo and width, Klim was on hand to make big gains and was able to grab two tries in the process. Unfortunately for the Ospreys, they were out of the game early in the second half.
Silver – Dave Kearney, Leinster
Bronze – Louis Rees-Zammit, Gloucester
- Garry Ringrose, Leinster
The Northampton Saints defence will be having nightmares of Ringrose for weeks to come, after the Irish centre ran in three tries against them. He created opportunities by being in the right place at the right time and it was as clinical a finishing performance as you’re likely to see this season.
Hat-trick hero ?
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) December 15, 2019
Silver – Damian Penaud, Clermont
Bronze – Virimi Vakatawa, Racing 92
- Bundee Aki, Connacht
Despite Connacht almost losing the game when Gloucester came on strong in the second half, Aki’s ability to break through the Cherry and White defensive line gave the Irish province the platform to strike back. Aki’s power inside of Kyle Godwin’s ability to bring the wings into play was an enjoyable combination to watch on Saturday.
Silver – Mark Atkinson, Gloucester
Bronze – Luca Morisi, Benetton
- Juan Imhoff, Racing 92
The Argentine bagged a brace of tries against the Ospreys, in what was an electric match-up with Lesley Klim. The wing was incisive out wide and caused the Welsh region plenty of problems with his speed and footwork, as well as his ability to sniff out space and opportunities when he looked for work in the midfield.
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) December 14, 2019
Silver – James Lowe, Leinster
Bronze – Alivereti Raka, Clermont
- Romain Ntamack, Toulouse
Not always utilised at fly-half by his club, Ntamack showed on the weekend that it doesn’t matter if he’s at 10 or 12, he’s just a highly effective rugby player. For Toulouse to compete for Champions Cup, they’ll need to perform on the road and Ntamack reinforced on Saturday that he is capable of orchestrating those performances with good decision-making, composed execution and an appreciation of space on the pitch.
Silver – Ross Byrne, Leinster
Bronze – Conor Fitzgerald, Connacht
- John Cooney, Ulster
A 19-point haul from the livewire scrum-half, who grabbed two tries and kicked nine points in a thoroughly impressive performance. At this point in the season, Cooney is surely leading the race for European Player of the Year, not to mention putting down a strong marker that he should be Ireland’s starting scrum-half moving forward.
Not one but TWO tries for @JCooney09 last night ?
The @UlsterRugby scrum-half now has 5?? in total and has pretty much won every game for the Northern Irish province ?
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) December 14, 2019
Silver – Maxime Machenaud, Racing 92
Bronze – Nic White, Exeter Chiefs
- Mako Vunipola, Saracens
Not only did Vunipola hold his own in the set-piece, he tallied 35 combined carries and tackles at Allianz Park on Saturday, as his energy and work rate was key to delivering a win that keeps alive Saracens’ hopes of making the quarter-finals. Munster couldn’t deny him those one or two metre forays around the fringes that laid the foundation for Saracens’ attack.
Silver – Eddy Ben Arous, Racing 92
Bronze – Cherif Traore, Benetton
- Luke Cowan-Dickie, Exeter Chiefs
The England international continues to spearhead Exeter’s drive for European honours. He was sharp at the set-piece, as well as bringing his trademark physicality in the loose on both sides of the ball. His ability to power through contact and stopping opposition carriers in their tracks in the defensive line.
Silver – John Ulugia, Clermont
Bronze – Dave Heffernan, Connacht
- Tadhg Furlong, Leinster
If there were any critiques that Furlong were showing some fatigue after a number of taxing and exemplary seasons, the tighthead dispelled them in Dublin on Saturday. He looked back to his best in the loose, giving the Northampton defence more than they could handle, whilst his scrummaging helped keep the Leinster set-piece on top throughout the game.
Silver – Vincent Koch, Saracens
Bronze – Harry Williams, Exeter Chiefs
- Rory Arnold, Toulouse
It’s rare that a lock’s influence as a try scorer proves pivotal in a game, although that’s exactly what it was as Arnold’s two tries were enough to give Toulouse a valuable 26-18 win away at Montpellier. Montpellier struggled to deny Arnold in the loose as a ball-carrier and the Australian kept Toulouse moving forward, allowing the club’s incisive back line to go to work on quick and clean ball.
Silver – Stephan Lewies, Harlequins
Bronze – Ultan Dillane, Connacht
- Iain Henderson, Ulster
A captain’s outing from Henderson, who shone physically on the gain-line on Friday night, as well as with the work rate of his performance. His efforts at the contact area helped deliver secure ball for Cooney to work with and Quins struggled to live with his intensity in that facet of the game.
Silver – Jonny Hill, Exeter Chiefs
Bronze – Boris Palu, Racing 92
- Fabien Sanconnie, Racing 92
In a contest that was all about Racing’s remarkable offensive execution, Sanconnie was a scything presence in defence, chopping down Ospreys ball-carriers around the midriff. The Welsh side could not find a way through his energetic and physical defence, which paved the way for short possessions, quick turnovers and more opportunities for Racing to attack the beleaguered PRO14 side.
Silver – Semi Kunatani, Harlequins
Bronze – Patrick Sobela, Lyon
- Paul Boudehent, La Rochelle
It was a highly forgettable game at Scotstoun on Saturday evening, though young flanker Boudehent showed his burgeoning ability as a ball-carrier and breakdown operator. His impact was arguably the difference between the two teams and was enough to deliver La Rochelle a rare away win in Europe.
It's one of rugby union's most polymorphic positions, and that's reflected in the average height and weight of 7s across the three leagues.https://t.co/0jVKAidDsq
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) December 15, 2019
Silver – Lewis Ludlow, Gloucester
Bronze – Liam Gill, Lyon
- Braam Steyn, Benetton
Steyn was the driving force behind a memorable win for Benetton in the Champions Cup, as the No 8 was the Italian side’s primary ball-carrier in the pack. It wasn’t just the volume of work that he got through in the loose that was impressive, it was the quality, as he consistently broke the gain-line and kept the Lyon defence retreating and unable to get off the line and shut Benetton down.
Silver – Sam Simmonds, Exeter Chiefs
Bronze – Lewis Ludlam, Northampton Saints
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