The penultimate round of the group stage of the Heineken Champions Cup played out this weekend, with Leinster, Exeter Chiefs and the French trio of Racing 92, Toulouse and Clermont all booking their places in the quarter-finals with a week to spare.
Elsewhere, Ulster remain in a strong position despite their loss to Clermont, whilst wins for Saracens, Gloucester and Northampton Saints put the three English clubs in the mix for the final spots in the knockout rounds.
Check out our XV of the week below.
- Dan Evans, Ospreys
The Ospreys may have slipped to a disheartening defeat at home to 14-man Saracens, though that does not diminish the standout display of Evans. The full-back’s consistency has never been in question and even in an Ospreys team that is struggling across the board, he continues to turn in excellent performances.
Silver – Jeremy Sinzelle, La Rochelle
Bronze – Brice Dulin, Racing 92
Continue reading below…
Watch: The Rugby Pod discuss Nigel Wray and the future of Saracens
- Louis Rees-Zammit, Gloucester
The upward trajectory continues for Rees-Zammit, as the Welsh youngster produced another skilful and clinical display at Kingsholm. Not only did he show his scintillating pace to score a try, he also set another up with excellent handling. The potential Six Nations call-up hype continues to grow around the wing.
Silver – Dave Kearney, Leinster
Bronze – Gabriel Hamer-Webb, Bath
- Garry Ringrose, Leinster
Ringrose was a constant threat with ball in hand against Lyon and he repeatedly made the most of the front-foot that his pack gave him. He didn’t get on the scoresheet himself, but his incisions into the Lyon defence laid the groundwork for the success that Dave Kearney and the rest of the Leinster squad had.
Silver – Virimi Vakatawa, Racing 92
Bronze – Fraser Dingwall, Northampton Saints
- George Moala, Clermont
Moala was superb at the heart of Clermont’s midfield against Ulster and he repeatedly barrelled and cut his way through the Irish province’s usually stout back line. A lot of Clermont’s success in the game came directly off the back of the line-breaks and territory gains that Moala was able to provide.
Silver – Paul Lasike, Harlequins
Bronze – Rory Hutchinson, Northampton Saints
- Ollie Thorley, Gloucester
Almost forgotten in the media furore around Rees-Zammit, Thorley may have even had a better game than the Welsh youngster on Saturday. Montpellier looked turgid and ineffective at Kingsholm and they had no answer for the raids of Thorley and Rees-Zammit in the wide channels. It’s one of the youngest wing combinations in European rugby, but it is also one of the most ruthless.
Silver – Taqele Naiyaravoro, Northampton Saints
Bronze – Gabriel Ibitoye, Harlequins
- Manu Vunipola, Saracens
With his side reduced to 14 men after just five minutes, Vunipola guided and managed Saracens to a very impressive win at the Liberty Stadium. His decision-making was excellent, as was his kicking at goal, both of which were vital in such a close game. He continues to shine in just his second professional season and the club will be a lot less worried about losing Owen Farrell during the Six Nations now.
Silver – Adam Hastings, Glasgow Warriors
Bronze – Finn Russell, Racing 92
- Tawera Kerr-Barlow, La Rochelle
Kerr-Barlow was a livewire against Sale Sharks, hurting the English side with not only his darting runs around the fringes, but also his crisp and accurate passing. With the La Rochelle back line given quick and precise ball like that, they were able to push the tempo against Sale and make the English side uncomfortable.
Silver – Nic White, Exeter Chiefs
Bronze – Luke McGrath, Leinster
- Dave Kilcoyne, Munster
It was a fruitless afternoon for Munster in Paris, although Kilcoyne distinguished himself with his work in the loose and at the scrum. The Irish loosehead was able to live with physicality of Racing and responded with plenty of his own.
Silver – Val Rapava Ruskin, Gloucester
Bronze – Cian Healy, Leinster
- Julien Marchand, Toulouse
A strong showing from Marchand at the set-piece and in the loose, with the Toulouse hooker laying the foundation for his side’s win away at Connacht on Saturday. He also grabbed a try to add further gloss to what was already an impressive outing from the 24-year-old.
Silver – Todd Gleave, Gloucester
Bronze – Luke Cowan-Dickie, Exeter Chiefs
- Tadhg Furlong, Leinster
A potent reminder of what Furlong can bring to the mix and it will have put all of Ireland’s upcoming Six Nations opponents on notice. The big tighthead was as effective in the loose as he was at the set-piece in a truly dominant game for Leinster’s pack.
Silver – Zander Fagerson, Glasgow Warriors
Bronze – Charlie Faumuina, Toulouse
- Paul Jedrasiak, Clermont
The French lock was in bullocking form with the ball in hand against Ulster and, along with Moala, helped provide the front-foot ball that Clermont were able to prosper with. In addition to providing punch with the ball in hand, Jedrasiak was physical around the fringes and was key to preventing Ulster having similar gain-line success to Clermont.
Silver – Florian Verhaeghe, Toulouse
Bronze – Joel Kpoku, Saracens
- Scott Fardy, Leinster
There is very little on the field that Fardy doesn’t do to an incredibly high standard. The Australian put in a typically refined and composed performance against Lyon and was influential as a carrier and ball-handler, facilitating the success of the players around him.
Silver – Jonny Gray, Glasgow Warriors
Bronze – Gavin Thornbury, Connacht
- Wenceslas Lauret, Racing 92
The Frenchman helped deliver a physical advantage for Racing in what was, for vast swathes, a very tight game with Munster. He had several crucial carries that broke Munster’s defensive line and kept the exciting Racing back line operating on the front-foot.
Silver – Rynhardt Elstadt, Toulouse
Bronze – Kevin Gourdon, La Rochelle
- Colby Fainga’a, Connacht
Connacht may have been outplayed by Toulouse in Galway, though that didn’t stop Fainga’a from continuing his sublime season on the flank for the Irish province. He was all over the pitch, influencing the game as a ball-carrier, defender and breakdown specialist. He was anything but outclassed by Toulouse.
Silver – Jacques Vermeulen, Exeter Chiefs
Bronze – Lewis Ludlam, Northampton Saints
- Alex Dombrandt, Harlequins
An encouraging performance from Dombrandt for Harlequins, who will need him to replicate the dynamism of his ball-carrying from Friday night if they are to move up the Premiership table. He had his way with the Bath defence at the Rec and it was a timely marker to put down, with Eddie Jones currently finalising his England squad for the Six Nations.
Silver – Gregory Alldritt, La Rochelle
Bronze – Marcell Coetzee, Ulster
Watch: Life After Rugby – Andy Powell
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now