Touted as the best last eight line-up ever, the four Heineken Cup quarter-finals did not disappoint. Here’s our team of the weekend.
15. Rob Kearney (Leinster)
When a full-back tops your tackle-count, you know your backs have been against the wall. Kearney senior was a shining light in Leinster’s defeat, epitomising their desperate scramble defence in the first half while also scaring the Heineken Cup champions with a couple of counters. He was one of the very few Dubliners to deliver on thoroughly underwhelming day.
14. Simon Zebo (Munster)
The organisation and power of Munster’s forwards was frighteningly effective. However, their backline also demonstrated accuracy and desire for the less glamorous facets such as the kick-chase. While Keith Earls was a threat throughout, his wing colleague Zebo gets the nod for a wonderful pass ahead of the the hosts’ first try and a smart finish for the fifth.
13. Mathieu Bastareaud (Toulon)
Toulon’s mammoth midfielder was turned over once following a dopey decision to carry around the fringes. Even so, he produced close to his best against Irish opposition for the second time in a row. Bastareaud started like a train and careered through challenges all afternoon, most decisively in the build-up to Drew Mitchell’s score.
12. Wesley Fofana (Clermont)
Fofana still provided sparkle though Clermont ousted Leicester with a performance that was more mechanical than magical. His slick try split the sides after a typically gliding break had handed Tigers a stern warning. A simply wonderful player.
11. Tommy Bowe (Ulster)
Bowe beat a staggering nine defenders and it was a pleasure to see him on the big stage once again. His strong, tackle-busting carries were the catalyst for a raucous Ravenhill to believe their brave side could pull off something special.
10. Owen Williams (Leicester)
Warren Gatland must bring this man to South Africa. Amid a hugely hostile atmosphere, he delivered once more to confirm his temperament will thrive in the Test arena. Nailed four from the tee – including two from halfway that had another 15 metres in them – and set up Leicester’s solitary try with a perfect cross-kick. Ian Keatley deserves a big mention for leading Munster’s attack at Thomond Park.
9. Conor Murray (Munster)
Exceptionally dangerous behind Munster’s bludgeoning pack, Murray directed his team’s dismantling of Toulouse with aplomb. Two snipes directly foreshadowed tries, while crisp distribution allowed the runners in red to pose serious problems.
1. Xavier Chiocci (Toulon)
He got pinged a few times – one occasion allowing Jimmy Gopperth to reduce Leinster’s deficit – but Toulon’s homegrown prop was directly responsible for ten points that changed the game. Clamping over a ruck to win a penalty that Matt Giteau landed just after half-time, he barged over three minutes later to give the hosts a 16-6 lead. It was a mountain for Leinster to climb from there.
2. Schalk Brits (Saracens)
Without Brits’ effervescent display, Saracens would have been comfortably overturned. The hooker made 91 metres, skating past defenders to defy the claustrophobic atmosphere in Belfast, and did his set-piece duties flawlessly. How he only has five Springbok caps remains a mystery.
3. Logovi’i Mulipola (Leicester)
Leicester’s attempt to derail European rugby’s most intimidating home record, spearheaded by their hairy tighthead, was exceptionally brave. Having made ten crunching tackles and run himself into the ground, Mulipola was exhausted as Alain Rolland blew to signal the end of Tigers’ challenge.
4. Johann Muller (Ulster)
At half-time, Muller told his troops that beating Saracens with 14 men would have been the biggest achievement of his career – that from a 2007 World Cup-winner with South Africa. As he always does, the lock poured his soul into the white shirt and inspired Ulster so close to an unthinkable victory.
5. Paul O’Connell (Munster)
This is the last version of the Heineken Cup as we know it, so it feels very fitting that a true icon of the tournament is sticking around. O’Connell’s leadership – especially in the absence of injured Peter O’Mahony – was superb. Six lineout takes (one on Toulouse’s throw) and the last of Munster’s six scores punctuated his fantastic day in Limerick.
6. CJ Stander (Munster)
Munster were already ahead 10-3 when O’Mahony left the pitch. That didn’t stop his replacement having a massive influence on the quarter-final with some imposing physicality – not least in the driving lineout maul. Eleven carries and ten tackles complemented a bulldozing try.
7. Damien Chouly (Clermont)
Clermont stretched their sensational home run to 75 consecutive victories on the back of an immensely muscular forward effort. Chouly was integral to that for the entire 80 minutes, although opposite number Julian Salvi worked extremely hard.
8. Steffon Armitage (Toulon)
Billy Vunipola – wearing six yet playing at eight – put in an outstanding shift for Saracens. Armitage utterly terrorised Leinster, though. He probably won’t ever play for England again, but the 28 year-old was brilliant, barreling around to devastating effect and causing havoc at every turn.