by Ben Coles
IN A competition packed full of Europe’s finest players, certain talents will always stand out. Here are five stars set to make a big impression in this season’s Heineken Cup:
Ireland’s young blindside, cum lock, followed up an impressive breakthrough season with Munster by going on tour to New Zealand and holding his against the world’s best side, the All Blacks. Hugely competitive when it comes to the contact area, his prowess at the breakdown has won him plenty of plaudits throughout last year and O’Mahony will be at the core of Munster’s assault on Europe this term.
Dubbed the “Welsh Jonah Lomu” North has a lot to live up to after cementing himself as one of the world’s biggest stars. Last season his reputation was enhanced by several star turns during the Rugby World Cup and Six Nations. In simple terms, his imposing 6″4, 17 stone frame will always cause damage to opposition defences, yet he has soft hands and a remarkable agility for his size. With five tries in as many games in the Pro 12, the wing will surely make a big impact if the Scarlets pack can provide him with enough ball.
The Top 14 Player of the Year last season according to respected rugby bible Midi Olympique, Armitage’s move to the Côte d’Azur has been an unqualified success. Toulon are desperate to be part of Europe’s elite and having lost both the Top 14 and Amlin Challenge Cup Finals last season, they will be hungrier than ever for some silverware to line flamboyant owner, Mourad Boudjellal’s trophy cabinet. An outside bet for a spot on the 2013 Lions tour, Armitage’s stellar form has so far been ignored by England but performing on the big stage can only boost his chances.
Undoubtedly Scotland’s find of the Six Nations last season, Hogg is an exciting talent either at full-back or on the wing. Seen by man as the long-term option in the No 15 shirt, the 20-year old has returned ahead of schedule after an ankle operation in August and dazzled last season with his excellent footwork, pace and ability to find space. Part of a Glasgow side looking to emulate Edinburgh’s achievements in last season’s Heineken Cup, expect to find him regularly crossing the whitewash.
Just named the Aviva Premiership Player of the Month, Hartley has had made an explosive start to the new season leading Northampton to the top of the league. Such have been his inspirational displays as captain of the Saints that he’s being talked about as a candidate for the England captaincy. His bravery has come at a cost, however, as he recovers from a hairline fracture of the eye socket picked up against Wasps. Once back fit and firing, expect Castres, Glasgow and Ulster to be sick of the sight of him by the end of the Pool stages.
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