The penultimate round of the Heineken Champions Cup pool stage didn’t bring too many shocks, but it did bring plenty of absorbing and compelling rugby.
Munster got the ball rolling with a dominant victory over Gloucester, giving them control of Pool 2, whilst Leinster and Ulster continued the good weekend for the provinces with victories over previously undefeated sides that gave Leinster similar control of Pool 2 and put Ulster into prime position for a best runners-up spot.
Exeter Chiefs kept their hopes alive with a bonus point win over Castres, Montpellier and Edinburgh moved themselves into likely quarter-finals and Saracens maintained their 100% record in this season’s competition with a win over Lyon, and are now the only side left to boast such a record.
Below is our pick of the top performers from the 10 games this weekend.
(*) denotes RugbyPass index score.
- Jack Nowell, Exeter Chiefs (84)
A performance that should delight Exeter and England fans equally, with the livewire full-back scoring a great solo try and consistently tormenting Castres on the counter-attack. He was a nightmare for Castres defenders to track and anytime he planted his feet and straightened up, he was more often than not leaving a would-be tackler grasping at thin air. Positioned himself well defensively, too.
Silver – Frans Steyn, Montpellier (83)
Bronze – Alex Goode, Saracens (88)
- Darcy Graham, Edinburgh (80)
The former Scotland U20 and sevens star had an unenviable match-up against one Julian Savea on Saturday, but emerged from the clash with all of the bragging rights. Graham’s pace was tough for Toulon to contain and he linked up well with his back three teammate, Blair Kinghorn. He kept Savea under wraps well, too, with the Kiwi unable to make the most of the size advantage he boasts over the Scotsman.
Silver – Adam Byrne, Leinster (86)
Bronze – Owen Lane, Cardiff Blues (67)
- Kieron Fonotia, Scarlets (78)
Fonotia ran rampant through the Leicester defence on Saturday afternoon, creating and utilising space with his feet and his hands. He broke through Tigers’ defensive line multiple times and was often aware enough to know where his support was and composed enough to execute the pass or the offload. He also helped shut down Leicester’s ability to get wide with good line-speed and decision-making.
A breath-taking team move which started from deep in their own half put the Welsh side up 24-0 ?
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) January 13, 2019
Silver – Nick Tompkins, Saracens (84)
Bronze – Henry Slade, Exeter Chiefs (74)
- Rory Scannell, Munster (86)
A Swiss army knife of a performance from Scannell, who didn’t necessarily excel in any one particular area, but provided Munster with exactly what they needed at just the right time. His passing was accurate and crisp, allowing Munster to get around the corner when the opportunities presented themselves, whilst he straightened the line when it looked as if the province might be beginning to crab. He didn’t run riot through the Gloucester midfield himself but set up his teammates to succeed in the subsequent phases.
Silver – Yvan Reilhac, Montpellier (69)
Bronze – Henry Chavancy, Racing 92 (80)
- Jacob Stockdale, Ulster (84)
The wing crucially swooped to grab two tries and seal victory for his side, who are now in with a very good chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals of the competition. Racing controlled Ulster for much of their game at the Kingspan and created more scoring opportunities than their hosts, but it was the clinical play of Stockdale and a number of others that allowed Ulster to profit, despite being put under considerable pressure.
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) January 13, 2019
Silver – Cheslin Kolbe, Toulouse (91)
Bronze – Steff Evans, Scarlets (82)
- Joey Carbery, Munster (88)
The Ireland fly-half contributed 26 points at Kingsholm, the most of any opposing player at the ground in the professional era, with two tries complementing 16 points from the boot. He was in rampant form, shredding the Gloucester defence with his passing, running and kicking. He manipulated and utilised space exceptionally all evening long and showed an almost telepathic chemistry with his teammates.
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) January 12, 2019
Silver – Johan Goosen, Montpellier (75)
Bronze – Ross Byrne, Leinster (89)
- Conor Murray, Munster (78)
Murray was the perfect foil to Carbery’s exuberant and energetic play among the back line. The scrum-half turned his box-kicks into an art form at Kingsholm, putting enough hang time on for his players to successfully compete for the ball, as well as measuring the distance perfectly, forcing the Gloucester back three to have to travel to attempt to receive the kick. He harassed Callum Braley extremely proficiently, too, as well as mixing up his play from the rucks, blending a cocktail of miss-passes, one-out runners and occasional darts around the fringes.
Silver – Luke McGrath, Leinster (83)
Bronze – Antoine Dupont, Toulouse (89)
- Dave Kilcoyne, Munster (89)
The Munster theme continues at loosehead, with Kilcoyne having his way with the Gloucester scrum on Friday evening. The Irishman tore into Fraser Balmain and put the Cherry and White set-piece under all kinds of pressure. His work in the lineout was impressive, too, and he was a key part of giving the rest of his side a solid platform from which to hurt Gloucester with front-foot ball, as well as on the scoreboard.
Silver – Grégory Fichten, Montpellier (69)
Bronze – Pierre Schoeman, Edinburgh (79)
- Stuart McInally, Edinburgh (86)
Toulon might not be the force they used to be but visiting teams to the Mayol still need to be very efficient and that’s just what McInally provided. His lineout throwing was almost faultless, and he was consistently a willing carrier in the tight, helping tie in the Toulon defence before the Scottish side would go wide in the next phase and find space to run into.
Silver – Sean Cronin, Leinster (89)
Bronze – Grant Stewart, Glasgow Warriors (76)
- Jannie du Plessis, Montpellier (68)
There is still life left in the old dog yet, as du Plessis went to work on the Newcastle scrum at the GGL Stadium. He showed plenty of his ability at the contact area, too, muddying Newcastle ball and denying them the quick service they needed to try and catch Montpellier off-guard defensively.
Silver – Stephen Archer, Munster (84)
Bronze – WP Nel, Edinburgh (82)
- Scott Fardy, Leinster (91)
A performance from the Australian that will give the Leinster coaches selection dilemmas. His opportunities have been limited this season due to the form of James Lowe and Jamison Gibson-Park and the foreign player rules the Irish provinces have to operate under, but he was everywhere against Toulouse. His contributions at the set-piece, at the breakdown and as a physical carrier and tackler around the fringes were all excellent.
Silver – Nico Janse van Rensburg, Montpellier (84)
Bronze – Joe Launchbury, Wasps (73)
- Tadhg Beirne, Munster (92)
Beirne was a constant threat at the lineout, helping to disrupt any sort of platform that Gloucester tried to build at the set-piece. He also raided the contact area and made ball security as difficult for Gloucester in the loose as it was at the set-piece. He combined excellently with Peter O’Mahoney in the first half and then became tormentor-in-chief when the flank left the game early in the second half.
Silver – Leone Nakarawa, Racing 92 (81)
Bronze – Jonny Hill, Exeter Chiefs (87)
- Rhys Ruddock, Leinster (83)
A busy performance from Ruddock, who excelled alongside Fardy in doing the dirty jobs well and allowing other players in the Leinster side to flourish around him. He kept Leinster moving forward, battled physically at the breakdown and was able to make more than one tackle that drove the ball-carrier back on the gain-line.
Silver – Taulupe Faleatu, Bath (65)
Bronze – Ryan Wilson, Glasgow Warriors (82)
- Hamish Watson, Edinburgh (85)
Watson dovetailed nicely with his fellow back rowers in the south of France, bringing the work rate in the defensive line and at the breakdown that allowed his teammates to prosper in other areas. He was a thorn in Toulon’s side at the contact area, slowing down their ball, as well as bringing a ruthless efficiency on the clear-out, allowing Edinburgh to play at pace and with a tempo that Toulon were not comfortable with.
Silver – Jordi Murphy, Ulster (74)
Bronze – Schalk Burger, Saracens (77)
- Viliame Mata, Edinburgh (81)
The remarkable offload (below) is what will get the headlines from Mata’s outing at the Mayol, but in the context of a full, 80-minute performance, there were few more impressive than Mata this weekend. The Fijian was a force with ball in hand and delivered all the front-foot ball Edinburgh needed to control their contest with Toulon. Despite the audacity of said offload, this was actually one of Mata’s more reserved showings, in terms of attempting to keep phases alive.
Big Vili Style. pic.twitter.com/jO4YrYJv6V
— Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport) January 12, 2019
Silver – Marcell Coetzee, Ulster (77)
Bronze – Deon Fourie, Lyon (69)
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