Picking a Heineken Champions Cup XV heading into the quarters
Eight teams remain in the Heineken Champions Cup and there are plenty of standout performers who have helped carry their side to this stage in the competition.
Some have scored tries while others have gone about the less glamorous duties with precision and diligence.
As we await the quarterfinals, RugbyPass has selected a composite starting XV of the best performers in the European competition so far.
1. Ellis Genge
The resurgence of the Leicester Tigers is largely down to the prowess of their pack. Leading that charge is England prop and team captain Ellis Genge. He is a true warrior that’s imposing in the tackle and dominant in the scrum. His performances have helped transform the Tigers into a European powerhouse once more.
2. Camille Chat
Racing 92 can lay claim to having the hooker with the biggest neck. That is not the only characteristic of Camille Chat’s which is worth a mention though, as the Racing hooker also brings ferocity when carrying the ball into contact and remains a strong lineout thrower.
3. Tadhg Furlong
Tadhg Furlong is one of the best tightheads in the world and has been showing as much this season. He continues to dominate the scrum and is a remarkably deft, agile runner with ball in hand. Leinster boast one of the best front rows in the world and Furlong is the cornerstone.
4. Ollie Chessum
Leicester have had some iconic second rows over the years but few have been as versatile as Ollie Chessum. The young Englishman can play as a lock, as well as flanker and is impactful wherever he finds himself. An unfortunate red card against Clermont last week has slightly marred his campaign but he remains a highly reliable figure in the lineout and a physical defensive presence.
5. Paul Willemse
No team has made more tackles in the tournament than Montpellier. The French side are fortunate then to have wrecking ball second row Paul Willemse in their ranks. He helps lead these defensive efforts and against Harlequins he remained a perpetual and giant nuisance in the midfield.
6. Peter O’Mahony
A key reason why Munster were able to brush aside the Exeter Chiefs is their brilliant work at securing turnover ball. Central to this was captain Peter O’Mahony who seemed to be putting pressure on every single Chiefs’ ruck, never giving an inch. He may no longer be first choice in Ireland’s back row, but O’Mahony has plenty left in the tank.
7. Josh van der Flier
Perhaps one of the most dynamic back row forwards in the game, Josh van der Flier can carry into traffic just as well as he can delay a pass before feeding a Leinster attack. He’s already scored four tries in five games and is showing no signs of slowing down. No player works harder off the ball, both in attack and defence, than van der Flier.
8. Grégory Alldritt
Most great number eights are at their most punishing when carrying the ball. Grégory Alldritt is no different, clocking 73 carries across the competition so far, the highest by any player this season. He keeps the La Rochelle attack moving and that, paired with his intelligence at the breakdown, makes him almost indispensable.
9. Antoine Dupont
Who else could it be? The Frenchman can do things no other player can and he always comes good in the crucial moments. With Toulouse trailing Ulster by six on aggregate last weekend, and little more than five minutes to play, the scrum half darted through a gap to score under the posts to clinch the tie.
10. George Ford
He may not be Eddie Jones’ first choice, but George Ford is having a stellar year in Europe and is arguably the main reason the Tigers remain unbeaten. Last weekend he spotted a mismatch in the Clermont defence and quickly changed the point of attack, threading the ball down the line for a score in the corner. The move illustrated just how impressive his distribution has become.
11. James Lowe
No player has scored more European tries this season than James Lowe. The Irish winger has eight to his name and picked up half of them last weekend, using his power, agility and ball-handling skills to rip apart the Connacht defence. He is so difficult to stop with the ball in hand and each week looks more imperious.
12. Damian de Allende
World Cup winner Damian de Allende is a force of nature in the midfield. Throughout this Champions Cup he has demonstrated a defensive ferocity and attacking gamesmanship which few inside centres can match. He’s beaten the second most defenders in the tournament so far and scored the pivotal try which sunk the Exeter Chiefs in the Round of 16.
13. Gaël Fickou
You’d be hard-pressed to find sub-par performance from Gaël Fickou. The Frenchman is a picture of consistency and has become an indispensable facet of Racing 92, marshalling their midfield like a legionary. He is defensively sound and perfectly complements the flair of Finn Russell, giving the Parisian side stability against a challenging Stade Francais side.
14. Jimmy O’Brien
Leinster possess a double-pronged attack on their wings, with Jimmy O’Brien (5) pushing James Lowe (8) hard in the race to claim the top try scorer title in this season’s Champions Cup. Like Lowe, O’Brien has scored four tries in a single game this season, his coming against Bath, and he always looks to threaten with his pace out wide.
15. Michael Lowry
Sometimes a player doesn’t deserve to be on the losing side. Michael Lowry is one such player. The Ulsterman has been in scintillating form in the Champions Cup, having beaten the most defenders and made the most metres and clean breaks this season. His electric feet light up any contest and it’s a shame he won’t be seen in the latter stages of the competition after Ulster lost to Toulouse.
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