It was a weekend to forget for the English clubs in the Champions Cup, whilst it offered much-needed lifelines for the two Welsh regions in the competition. The Irish provinces reaffirmed their strength and La Rochelle and Montpellier spearheaded a good round for the leading French sides.
Unfortunately, the weather conditions caused the flagship encounter between Saracens vs Clermont, a repeat of last season’s final, to be postponed, but there was still plenty of compelling action, from the snow drifts of Harlequins vs Ulster to the high-octane, free-flowing match-up between La Rochelle and Wasps.
We picked our team of the week from the nine matches, but do you agree?
- Dan Evans, Ospreys
The Ospreys’ Mr Consistent shone at Franklin’s Gardens, scything his way through the Northampton defence multiple times and was rewarded with two tries for his efforts. Not only was Evans a threat as a ball-carrier running lines off of Sam Davies and Owen Watkin, he was another playmaker further out wide, putting teammates through holes with accurate passes.
On another week, the performance from Benetton’s Jayden Hayward would have been enough to earn him this spot.
- Leonardo Sarto, Glasgow Warriors
The Italian was a notable silver lining in a disappointing defeat for Glasgow. He was always looking for work, coming off of his wing and testing the fringes around the breakdown, as well as chasing kicks with commitment and beating defenders with solid footwork. He was fair value for the two tries he picked up.
- Mathieu Bastareaud, RC Toulon
There was no shortage of impressive outside centres this weekend, with Jonathan Joseph, Sam Arnold and Kieron Fonotia chief among them, but Bastareaud reminded us all what he is capable of when used correctly. The Bath defensive line performed admirably on the Côte d’Azur, but if there was one player they struggled to contain, it was Bastareaud. He was either bullishly breaking the line or drawing so many defenders to him as to create space for his teammates.
— Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) December 10, 2017
- Pierre Aguillon, La Rochelle
Geoffrey Doumayrou may have caught the eye more in the 13 jersey for La Rochelle, but it was Aguillon’s work inside him that allowed him to thrive. Aguillon was powerful and ran well outside of Brock James, providing the go-forward that any team as eager to play with width as La Rochelle desperately need.
- Steff Evans, Scarlets
The Scarlets were well off the pace on Saturday, but Evans came alive at just the right time and not only saved his side from a humbling defeat, but also delivered a priceless win that kept alive their European hopes. His nimble footwork saw him dart inside for a late try, before he set up his side’s winning score, first by breaking from deep within Scarlets territory, then putting in the deft kick for Paul Asquith to collect and score.
Honourable mentions are due for Benetton’s Monty Ioane and Ospreys’ Jeff Hassler.
- Ian Keatley, Munster
There were certainly fly-halves who played with more carefree abandon this weekend, such as Brock James and Sam Davies, but the control Keatley exhibited was superb and, along with his half-back partner, identified just where to hurt Leicester. With the Munster pack delivering a rock-solid platform and complete dominance at the contact area, Keatley didn’t need to overplay his hand, just make the right decisions and consistently execute the basics.
His biggest challenge came from his countryman Jonathan Sexton, but contrary to their international rivalry, Keatley bags this one.
- Conor Murray, Munster
The term “floor general” is often reserved for basketball players, but that is exactly what Murray was against Leicester on Saturday evening. His measured box-kicks were always able to be competed for by his chasers, his passing was crisp and accurate, and he picked good holes in the Leicester defence and turned them into sizeable gains.
Murray was pushed close by Ulster’s John Cooney, who exhibited excellent control and decision-making in the wild tundra of the Stoop.
- Beno Obano, Bath
Nicky Smith came close in a dominant Ospreys pack, as did La Rochelle’s Dany Priso, but Obano just pips them both in what was arguably his coming out game at this level. The behemoth of a loosehead has been impressing in the Premiership as he continues to garner experience and he translated that to an even higher level on Saturday, coming out on top against a formidable Toulon pack. He defied belief with the work rate he showed in defence for a man of his size, too.
- Anthony Étrillard, RC Toulon
This could have easily gone to Étrillard’s opposite number, Tom Dunn, with both hookers excelling at the Stade Mayol on Saturday. The Frenchman shone in the absence of Guilhem Guirado, with a faultless display at the lineout, great work rate in defence and he seemed to always make a metre or two on his carries, helping keep Toulon on the front foot. He also played the full 80 minutes for his side and didn’t tire or fade out of the game, as can often be the case with Top 14 tight five forwards.
- Dmitri Arhip, Ospreys
The Moldovan tighthead was turning the screw in the scrum at Franklin’s Gardens and his team seemed to feed off that early scrum dominance and asserted themselves on a beleaguered Saints side. Put himself about in the loose, too, tackling and clearing at the breakdown industriously.
Just sees off Leinster’s Tadhg Furlong.
Almost too close to call.
Can I pick them both?
- Nico Janse van Rensburg, Montpellier
The big South African wreaked havoc on the Glasgow lineout, stealing three throws, as well as constantly disrupting the Scottish’s side ball at the set-piece. He carried and tackled forcibly throughout, too, in a fine overall performance that managed to see him just ahead of the Ospreys’ Bradley Davies, who also shone this weekend.
- Alun Wyn Jones, Ospreys
A real captain’s outing for Jones, who helped lift the Ospreys out of their recent slump and inspire them to a dominant 60-minute effort that blew Northampton away at Franklin’s Gardens. He was cruelly denied a 40m try by a teammate being offside, but he did more than enough elsewhere on the pitch to warrant his spot here.
Scott Fardy was a brick wall in defence and went a long way to shutting down Exeter’s power carriers, more than making him worth a mention here.
— Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) December 10, 2017
- Kélian Galletier, Montpellier
The flanker bagged himself a brace on Friday night at Scotstoun, playing a pivotal role in an equally pragmatic and dynamic Montpellier performance that Glasgow had no answer for. With plenty of defensive attention heading the way of Louis Picamoles, Galletier profited and was a constant source of gain-line success for the French side.
- Chris Cloete, Munster
A dominant display from Cloete in his Champions Cup debut, as the South African hounded Leicester at the breakdown for 80 minutes at Thomond Park. Tigers had no answer for him on the floor and he even turned his hand to holding up the Leicester carriers and forcing turnovers from the ensuing mauls. Capped his display with a well-earned try towards the end of the game and gave the home side perfect balance alongside Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander in the back-row.
Bath’s Paul Grant and La Rochelle’s Levani Botia were both right on Cloete’s heels.
- Maama Vaipulu, Castres Olympique
Victor Vito, Jack Conan and Louis Picamoles all had good games, but Vaipulu was the difference in a tight match between Castres and Racing 92. The Kiwi is one of the most underrated players in rugby and delivers consistently every time he takes to the pitch, particularly with his carrying. Really stepped up as a link man this weekend, shifting the point of contact and keeping the ball away from the jaws of Racing’s defence.
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now