By Charlie Morgan
15. Luke Arscott (Exeter Chiefs)
With characteristic defiance, the Chiefs carried the fight to the European champions in their own back yard at times. Statistics for full-backs can often have an inflated look about them, but 191 running metres with four clean breaks and an incredible 11 defenders beaten reflect Arscott’s attacking prowess. There was a nice looping pass in the build-up to Don Armand’s opener and he would have had a late try too without the superb intervention of Drew Mitchell.
14. Charlie Walker (Harlequins)
With Marland Yarde and Christian Wade set to miss the Six Nations, this is a perfect time for young English winners to be catching the eye. Walker is certainly doing that, and brushed off Dan Lydiate on the way to the line yesterday in a performance full of excellent evasion, pace and deceptive strength. One seriously exciting 20 year-old.
13. Niki Goneva (Leicester Tigers)
While not quite hitting the explosive heights of last weekend’s Welford Road masterclass in midfield incision, the Fijian was a constant threat in the south of France. He was also opportunistic enough to be on Marcos Ayerza’s shoulder in the dying seconds, cannily scampering under the posts to secure another great escape for Leicester.
12. Luther Burrell (Northampton Saints)
Somewhat shell-shocked as his side were ruthlessly dismantled by Leinster at Franklin’s Gardens, Burrell stormed into the second leg of the halfway double-header with renewed intent. Perhaps helped by the distracting presence of new centre partner George North – whom he set up for an early score with a neat pass – the burly Saint was also solid in defence opposite Gordon D’Arcy, making 13 thumping tackles.
11. Napolioni Nalaga (Clermont)
A try after 17 seconds is a pretty good way to begin an afternoon, and such an early score took the wind from Scarlets’ sails. As the clock ran down, Nalaga completed his brace with another powerful, predatory close-range barge to ram home Clermont’s superiority.
10. Lionel Beauxis (Toulouse)
Out of contract at the end of the season, Beauxis gave a convincing audition for budding suitors – ensuring in the process that there would be no repeat miracle at Showgrounds. A pair of kicks into space behind the Connacht rush-defence handed Maxime Médard a double, while he also bagged 12 points from the tee.
9. Benoit Paillaugue (Montpellier)
Ben Youngs grew in influence at the end of Leicester’s sensational smash-and-grab, but that was only after this five foot seven throwback of a half-back had departed the scene. Before making way, the diminutive Montpellier scrum half produced a display full of spark and imagination, laying on a try for Enzo Selponi with a rapid run and extremely unselfish pass.
1. James Cronin (Munster)
Munster’s last-gasp success in Perpignan added another chapter to their vast history in this tournament, but while it was JJ Hanrahan’s stunning, stepping score that clinched it, Cronin was the real star. Along with BJ Botha, he demolished the Catalan set-piece and was spritely enough to make 22 metres with ball in hand.
2. Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers)
Montpellier made seven changes to their pack, but their insane squad depth still meant they gave Tigers a hefty, hungry set of forwards to deal with. Youngs was the heartbeat of that first victorious Channel-hop for Leicester since 2006. A try, 11 tackles, 13 carries, decent lineout throwing and some typically tenacious ruck-work gives you an idea of the hooker’s simply immense effort. Oh, and he picked a fight with Mamuka Gorgodze.
3. Jon Welsh (Glasgow)
Welsh must still be wondering how Glasgow contrived to be beaten by Cardiff Blues at Scotstoun on Friday evening. Alongside Ryan Grant, he gave the hosts a fine platform with some hugely destructive scrimmaging that sent opposite number Sam Hobbs to the sinbin on the half-hour mark. There were also six carries, none of which added to Glasgow’s suicidal tally of 23 turnovers.
4. Christian Day (Northampton)
Eye-watering physicality was the order of the day in Dublin and this unsung Saint stepped up to the plate magnificently. Day never receives the column inches reserved for Courtney Lawes’ Hollywood hits, but his presence at the lineout and combative industry elsewhere allowed Jim Mallinder’s men to secure sweet revenge and stay afloat in the competition.
5. Dan Tuohy (Ulster)
A trip to Treviso has long been considered a perilous banana skin in European rugby. However, Ulster negotiated a potential tricky tie – not to mention a farcical amount of fog – with relative ease. On his 100th game for the province, Tuohy laid the foundations for a consecutive bonus-point win that puts keeps a tough pool in his team’s hands.
6. Calum Clark (Northampton)
Another of Dylan Hartley’s pack to thrive in the most intense fixture of this round, Clark demonstrated why he should probably have started last weekend. Granted, the late withdrawal of Sean O’Brien was a bonus, but he epitomised Saints’ ferocity at the breakdown and in the contact area, topping the tackle-count with 14.
7. Roddy Grant (Edinburgh)
Gloucester boss Nigel Davies used his post-match interview to hand out some thinly-veiled criticism to his half-backs, but with Grant yapping at their heels it was never easy for them. The Edinburgh openside made 19 tackles without missing once, and hopes of a Scottish quarter-finalist are still alive.
8. Robin Copeland (Cardiff Blues)
Having secured a move to Munster that will fuel international ambitions nicely, Copeland proved he still has plenty to offer his current employers with a gritty, scrapping night of effective graft that somehow held off a woefully wasteful Glasgow. “It was a dogfight,” asserted the back-rower at the end – just how he likes it.
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