We have our Champions Cup semi-finals.
We picked out our XV of standout players from this weekend’s quarter-final action, but do you agree?
- Chris Ashton, Toulon
There has been no shortage of classy performances from Chris Ashton down on the Côte d’Azur this season but to play to this level at a position he’s still becoming accustomed to, in a high-pressure game at a cauldron like Thomond Park, is certainly noteworthy.
Ashton defended excellently, posed a threat whenever he joined the line in attack and covered the ground effectively in answer to Munster’s peppering of Toulon’s 22.
Leigh Halfpenny is also worth of mention here, particularly for his goal-kicking masterclass.
- Andrew Conway, Munster
Conway produced a moment of magic on Saturday that will not quickly be forgotten at Thomond Park.
In addition to providing a result-defining try, Conway also chased hard and defended impressively against a Toulon side that certainly tested Munster in the wider channels through Ashton and Semi Radradra.
- Sammy Arnold, Munster
The young Irish centre was in fine form at Thomond Park on Saturday, putting in a remarkably impressive shackling performance on Toulon’s titanic midfield of Ma’a Nonu and Mathieu Bastareaud.
Not only did Arnold have both of those powerful carriers wrapped up defensively, he also shone with some smart carrying lines and dovetailed very successfully with Rory Scannell in a Munster back line shorn of several regular starters.
La Rochelle’s Arthur Retiere, usually a scrum-half, also shone at the position this weekend, as did Damian Penaud.
- Hadleigh Parkes, Scarlets
Nods to Scannell, Isa Nacewa and Brad Barritt, here, but Parkes was a class apart this week with his silky-smooth play outside of Rhys Patchell.
His performance on Saturday epitomised what a well-rounded centre Parkes has become under Wayne Pivac, with really no areas to significantly critique and the basic skills executed flawlessly.
- Marc Andreu, Racing 92
The diminutive wing sparkled at Stade Marcel Michelin on Sunday, causing Peter Betham all sorts of problems in defence.
In addition to running in a try, Andreu’s neat footwork and quick change of pace saw plenty of Clermont defenders commit to him and this created space and opportunities for the rest of his teammates.
Toulon’s Radradra was also in impressive form, despite being on a losing side in Limerick.
- Johnny Sexton, Leinster
A classy and efficient performance from the Irish fly-half, who dealt flawlessly with the pressure Saracens put on him.
It wasn’t a Leinster performance with the overt puppeteering we often see from Sexton, but the 32-year-old just quietly controlled the action with simple kicks and simple passes and allowed the execution and composure of those around him to shine through.
- Maxime Machenaud, Racing 92
The Frenchman was run close by his national teammate Morgan Parra and the ever-impressive Conor Murray.
Machenaud took his form from the Six Nations into the Champions Cup and controlled the tempo perfectly for Racing. He moved up and down the gears as required by his team, kicked accurately at goal and exposed holes with good, flat passing on the gain-line.
- Mako Vunipola, Saracens
Incredible work rate from the loosehead, who put in 77 minutes of non-stop carrying, tackling and rucking.
He was put under pressure from Leinster in the first two scrums but then responded strongly, dealing with the ever-present threat of Tadgh Furlong as well as possible. When Saracens’ handling and composure failed at times in Dublin, Vunipola’s stayed consistent and effective.
- Ken Owens, Scarlets
Pierre Bourgarit, Owen’s opposite number on Friday, had a very impressive game, but it was a tone-setting performance from the Welshman, with the captain leading from the front throughout for the Scarlets.
Owen’s lineout throwing was exceptional, he was tireless in defence over the entire 80 minutes and made some critical carries around the fringes to keep the Scarlets moving forward.
- Mohamed Boughanmi, La Rochelle
Boughanmi brought significant impact off the bench for La Rochelle and it had looked like he might be the spearhead for a French revival in Llanelli.
His carrying was impressive, but it was his scrummaging which really shone, as he helped the replacement La Rochelle front-row turn the screw on a Welsh unit which had previously had the number of the visitors.
Tadgh Furlong put in his accustomed multi-faceted performance, too.
- Tadhg Beirne, Scarlets
Beirne certainly rode his luck a little at Parc y Scarlets, with referee Luke Pearce erring on the side of caution on a couple of potential yellow card offences, and Beirne didn’t hesitate to make the most of that leniency.
The power he brought in the tight was critical to Scarlets’ game plan, he made himself known at the set-piece and for a man of his height, he had no right to win the turnovers on the ground that he did. Another accomplished, if slightly fortunate, performance from the Irishman.
- James Ryan, Leinster
He had no trouble engaging in the physical arm wrestle that the Saracens pack posed, and he won that duel in emphatic fashion. Set-piece contributions, neat handling and effective footwork all complemented a bruising physical performance.
- Peter O’Mahony, Munster
Munster’s talismanic flanker was a predator at the lineout, not only outright stealing two throws from a usually very reliable Toulon set-piece unit, but also constantly muddying the throws Toulon did connect on, making it very difficult for the French side to get any kind of quick and secure ball.
He was also highly influential at the breakdown, clearing out with power and accuracy throughout.
- Dan Leavy, Leinster
It took something special to outdo the all-round showing from Toulon’s Facundo Isa and that’s what Leavy delivered on Sunday.
He preyed on Saracens at the breakdown, either slowing their ball or exploiting holes in their defensive line on the rare occasions that the Londoners decided to commit extra men to the contact area. He was full value for the man of the match award he picked up.
- CJ Stander, Munster
Like Vunipola, a place earned by sheer, mountainous work rate.
It was far from the most dynamic performance that we have ever seen from Stander, but the No 8 refused to be budged on the gain-line, piling up jackhammer-like tackles and short, powerful drives around the fringes.
Yannick Nyanga also put in a good showing for Racing down in the Auvergne.
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