Champions Cup XV of Round 2
From Exeter’s historic 27-24 victory over Montpellier in the south of France to Munster’s tight, ferocious and emotionally-charged 14-7 win against Racing 92, round two of the Champions Cup delivered in abundance.
Pace-setters Saracens and Leinster ensured a maximum haul of 10 points from their opening two fixtures, whilst Clermont and La Rochelle also reaffirmed their statuses among the favourites to make the quarter-finals.
Read on for our XV of the round.
- Telusa Veainu, Leicester Tigers
The full-back carved up the Castres defence with a hat-trick at Welford Road, as he picked and timed his moments to join the attacking line to perfection on Saturday. Tigers were constantly on the front foot against the French side, dominating the gain line and that allowed Veainu to isolate and exploit the retreating Castres defenders.
- Christian Wade, Wasps
The English wing just pipped Liam Williams and Tommy Seymour, both of whom were solid, with a strong all-round game, including a showcase in the clinical and opportunistic finishing that he and Wasps have become known for. Wade lit up a one-sided game at the Ricoh Arena on Sunday evening with his searing pace and attacking instincts.
- Henry Slade, Exeter Chiefs
Saracens’ Nick Tompkins had a decisive impact off the bench but couldn’t quite eclipse Slade, who is rapidly becoming the full package at outside centre. A Jonathan Joseph-esque outside break in the first half was a fine example of his excellent and threatening ability with ball in hand, whilst his work as a second playmaker in the back line helped make Exeter a cohesive and dangerous proposition for Montpellier all over the pitch.
- Owen Watkin, Ospreys
The Ospreys gave Saracens everything they could handle on Saturday night and young centre Watkin was the spearhead of their impressive effort. With the aggressive line-speed and outside blitz Saracens employ, it often limits the effectiveness of inside centres, who are forced back inside into a wall of black jerseys, but not so for Watkin. His footwork, power and running lines caused Saracens plenty of problems and though the Ospreys lost the game, his stock rose significantly at Allianz Park.
- Nemani Nadolo, Montpellier
A brace and industrious performance was nearly enough from Jonny May, but the big Fijian just steals in ahead of him, with a world class finish and a solid all-round showing against Exeter. His physics-defying try was glorious to watch and he was a constant threat to the Exeter defence, just as he had been a week previous against Leinster, but with far fewer of the defensive errors that plagued him in Dublin.
- Rhys Priestland, Bath
Priestland put on a masterclass in wet weather rugby at his old stomping ground on Friday night, kicking all 18 of Bath’s points in their tight win over the Scarlets. In addition to his points contribution, the Welshman also managed his team expertly around the field, probing the Scarlets’ defence, whilst never overreaching his hand in the horrendous conditions.
Johnny Sexton also deserves a nod, orchestrating an excellent Leinster performance away at Glasgow Warriors.
- Ben Youngs, Leicester Tigers
Clermont’s Charlie Cassang came close, grabbing a brace, but Youngs was the Petit General guiding a revved-up Tigers side around Welford Road and besting Castres in every facet for a dominant 50 minutes. The scrum-half barely put a foot wrong all game.
- Cian Healy, Leinster
Ellis Genge’s thunderous performance against Castres has to be mentioned, but it was two tries from Healy that proved decisive in Leinster’s win against Glasgow, as well as ensuring they picked up another try bonus point and accumulated a maximum of 10 points from their opening two games. The Irishman also fronted up at the scrum and helped give Leinster the platform for their talented back line.
- Tom Dunn, Bath
As soon as the rains begin to fall and the wind moves in, a hooker’s job is clear – keep it simple. Dunn had 100% success at the lineout at Parc y Scarlets and throughout the game, Bath had confidence in their ability to control the field position and maintain possession through their set-piece.
- Rabah Slimani, Clermont Auvergne
An honourable mention for Simone Ferrari, who came close to locking up this spot for the second week in a row, but Slimani had a dominant outing against Northampton Saints’ Alex Waller. The French tighthead helped make up for the injury to Camille Lopez by giving his side a dominant scrum and industrious performance in the loose, helping lay a foundation for impromptu fly-half, Morgan Parra.
- Charlie Ewels, Bath
As with Priestland, Ewels excelled with his control in the torrential rains of Friday night. The lock ran the lineout with aplomb, enjoying 100% success and complete chemistry with his hooker and lifters, as well as marshalling the fringes and captaining his side well in testing conditions.
- Don Armand, Exeter Chiefs
If there were an award for player of the week, it would go to Armand for his herculean effort against Montpellier on Sunday. He was on the blindside in that game but slides into the row here to make room in the loose forwards on a particularly impressive weekend of performances from back rowers. Armand’s two tries were a just reward for an outing that saw the Zimbabwe-born back rower go head-to-head with the behemoths of the Montpellier pack and physically best them.
- Rhys Ruddock, Leinster
Zach Mercer was hovering around this spot for a second week, whilst Courtney Lawes is fast becoming that player that turns in stellar performance after stellar performance, even with his side struggling again in the competition.
Ruddock just nipped in ahead of both players, playing with the abrasiveness that he has become well-known for. Glasgow couldn’t stop him around the fringes and then the extra men they had to commit to bringing him down ultimately created space for other Leinster players in subsequent phases. He provided plenty of quick ball with his clear-outs, too.
- Braam Steyn, Benetton Rugby
Sam Underhill, Luke Hamilton and Sam Cross weren’t far off, but Steyn’s incredibly physical performance was one of the driving forces behind a Benetton performance that almost claimed the historic scalp of Toulon. It was an all-action performance with the flanker proving his worth as a carrier, leading the defensive line and making an impact at the contact area.
- Victor Vito, La Rochelle
Vito oozed class in La Rochelle’s 41-17 triumph over Ulster and he needed to in order to see off the challenges of Taulupe Faletau, CJ Stander and Nathan Hughes. The All Black’s strong carrying and intelligent link play was rewarded as he crossed the try line himself, as well as setting up one of his teammates.
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