15. Alex Goode (Saracens)
Goode is arguably England’s classiest footballer and put forward a robust case for Six Nations involvement on Saturday. While Connacht rolled over with embarrassing ease, Saracens’ full-back complemented his excellent basic skill-set with impressive energy. A try, two assists, 177 running metres and eight beaten defenders is a fine haul by anybody’s standards. Stuart Lancaster can consider himself nudged.
14. Rene Ranger (Montpellier)
Treviso were pretty appalling on the way to missing 34 tackles. That said, they had one of the most evasive runners in the world to contend with and Ranger punished some loose Italian kicking on the counter-attack. He dotted down for a first
Montpellier try and laid on another as Fabien Galthié’s charges ended an underwhelming Heineken Cup campaign well.
13. Jonny May (Gloucester)
Unsung Leicester stalwart Matt Smith was very close here after a hugely industrious effort at Welford Road. However, Gloucester’s blockbuster siege of Perpignan needs acknowledgement. May ‘s trademark stunner from 60 metres with just 13 minutes on the clock was the catalyst and more mazy, crazy, elusive running followed.
12. Scott Williams (Scarlets)
Of course Wesley Fofana was electric amid the Stade Marcel-Michelin monsoon, but Williams gave further fuel to the notion that he’s overtaking Jamie Roberts as Wales’ premier inside centre. Ten tackles, a short-range try and a rapid-take-and-give to release Jordan Williams punctuated a well-rounded outing.
11. Johne Murphy (Munster)
Spinning Simon Zebo lit up Limerick from the bench as Edinburgh disintegrated in the face of Munster’s muscle. Murphy was quieter late on, but had earlier set up the magnificent James Coughlan and stepped past Roddy Grant for the hosts’ second score. Working off his wing midfield, he was the link-man for many flowing moves and sturdy under the high ball too.
10. Gareth Steenson (Exeter Chiefs)
Rob Baxter’s enterprising Exeter deserved to finish their competition on a winning note, and stand-in skipper Steenson guided the Chiefs to victory at a ground where Glasgow and the mighty Toulon had already fallen over the course of this campaign. Accurate and nerveless from the tee, he also looked after a young centre pairing of Henry Slade and Sam Hill nicely.
9. Ruan Pienaar (Ulster)
The easiest call of all. Pienaar’s combination of icy, clinical temperament and tremendous talent is perfect for high-stakes occasions. The South African gave a virtuoso masterclass in game-management and opportunism and three match-winning moments – his charge-down try and two 50-metre place-kicks – were sublime.
1. Cian Healy (Leinster)
This is what stir-crazy looks like. Clearly driven insane by his injury lay-off, Healy produced something close to his frightening best on a first start since returning from an ankle complaint. Typically rumbustious in the loose – one rumble from the back of a lineout will still be giving Rhys Webb nightmares – he also stood up strongly opposite Adam Jones at scrum-time too.
2. Dave Ward (Harlequins)
Both Scarlets and Harlequins warrant immense credit for staging a flowing, open match despite driving West Wales rain. In the form of his life, Ward turned in another all-action showing to celebrate his call-up to the England Saxons squad last week. Small, dexterous and tough to shift at the ruck, he fits into Conor O’Shea’s fast-paced gameplan flawlessly.
3. John Afoa (Ulster)
Kingsholm-bound Afoa was given a rough welcome by Marcos Ayerza and buckled once to hand a penalty to Tigers. Heavyweight Heineken Cup contests always seem to be decided in the final quarter though, and Ulster’s cornerstone became a big influence late on. When he shunted Leicester off their own ball at the decisive scrum, the visitors’ victory was secure.
4. Devin Toner (Leinster)
Ian Evans’ early sending-off meant Friday evening encounter at the RDS descended into a disjointed, scrappy affair. Still, Toner quietly maintained his solid standards and was a constant source of clean possession at lineout time. He also added his considerable frame to two drives that brought penalty tries.
5. Paul O’Connell (Munster)
Forty minutes of freakish athleticism from Graham Kitchener nearly battered the door down. Then a Heineken Cup icon continued his unreal run. At 3-0 down, Munster needed waking up. No longer the captain in name, O’Connell’s towering take from the ensuing restart was talismanic enough to supercharge his team. As you’d expect, there was fearsome physicality throughout as well.
6. Billy Vunipola (Saracens)
There is a photograph of Vunipola junior as an amusingly oversized schoolboy that has been doing the rounds on social media for a while. The enormous back-rower had similar lasting power at the weekend. From a sternum-crunching hit on Connacht loosehead Rodney Ah You to numerous destructive carries, he was at the heart of the Allianz Park massacre.
7. Chris Henry (Ulster)
One needless penalty aside, this was an outstanding display that highlighted Henry’s credentials as a worthy replacement for Sean O’Brien this spring. Mammoth in defence – racking up a monstrous 20 tackles – he also added weight to Ulster’s powerplay attack in the East Midlands with eight carries and a prominent role in those splintering, surging lineout mauls. A tour de force.
8. Steffon Armitage (Toulon)
Robin Copeland continued his wonderful tournament and Nick Williams rocked Welford Road to its foundations, but Armitage’s contribution out of position at a saturated Scotstoun was impossible to overlook. England’s forgotten man consistently barged Toulon onto the front foot and was a relentless livewire in defence.