Jacob Whitehead has been glued to the opening rounds of the Heineken Cup and here’s his standout XV
Team of the European Champions Cup – so far
This year’s Champions Cup has already had its share of stunning individual performances and classic European nights. The atmosphere at Kingsholm on the first Friday night, in Belfast a week later and at a febrile Thomond Park has underlined why this tournament is the pinnacle of club rugby. But who has shone brightest over the first two rounds? Here is the Rugby World Team of the Tournament so far…
15. Elliot Daly (Saracens)
Daly only made his Saracens debut against Ospreys, luckily missing the pasting in Paris by Racing 92, but gave the standout full-back performance of the competition so far against the Welsh region. He teed up two tries for Rotimi Segun, the first after gathering an inspired Tom Whiteley chip, and the second from a clever offload, whilst his aerial prowess – sometimes questioned for England – was of the highest quality.
14. Tom O’Flaherty (Exeter)
Frighteningly quick for his try against Glasgow, making Tommy Seymour look like a slouch. He also showed his power against La Rochelle in the first round, holding off two defenders to acrobatically score from a looping Ian Whitten pass. He’s showing the form which made him undroppable at the tail-end of last season.
13. Rory Hutchinson (Northampton)
Unlucky to miss out on World Cup selection for Scotland, the centre scored a silky try against Lyon in the first round before pulling the strings for Saints in Treviso this weekend as they battled to a win. Impressive how he’s standing out in a team with so many in-form backs.
12. Jan Serfontein (Montpellier)
Rohan Janse van Rensburg ran his fellow South African close for this spot, but Serfontein has consistently oozed class over the past two weeks. Finishing a brilliant Montpellier move early in the game against Gloucester, he also made 17 tackles and won two turnovers in a massive defensive performance.
11. Alivereti Raka (Clermont)
Chipped by John Cooney for the Ulster try but unstoppable against Harlequins at home the week before. He scored two tries and assisted Peceli Yato, showing his often unsung opportunism and soft hands in his involvements.
10. Finn Russell (Racing 92)
We didn’t think Russell could better that try against Saracens, where he made two line breaks in 20 seconds with a magic offload in between. But against Munster he managed it. Taking the ball in the face of the blitz, grubbering the ball between Rory Scannell’s legs and gathering to score under the posts. The best front-foot ten in the world?
9. John Cooney (Ulster)
Cooney’s performances over the past few weeks have seen calls for him to start at scrum-half in the Six Nations. His nerveless kicking and excellent game management mean that Ruan Pienaar is now missed less than ever, whilst his solo try against Clermont showed some incredible attacking flair.
1. Joe Marler (Harlequins)
Eddie Jones said one of his World Cup final regrets was not starting Marler for his scrummaging ability. Marler showed that off against Bath in a niggly, tight game, as he won two kickable scrum penalties, and led the pack in a dominant forwards performance. The horse realised what he wanted to do.
2. Epalahame Faiva (Benetton)
Benetton put in an excellent performance against red-hot Northampton, only losing to a last-minute Dan Biggar penalty, 35-32. Faiva scored two tries, the first from an improbable carry through three Northampton defenders, whilst his second brought his team level with minutes left.
3. Harry Williams (Exeter)
Forward dominance has been at the heart of Exeter’s wins against Glasgow and La Rochelle, and tighthead Williams has been irrepressible in both. Always resplendent with his billowing hair and scrumcap, the prop will look to force his way into the England’s match-day 23 ahead of an ageing Dan Cole come the Six Nations.
4. Jonny Hill (Exeter)
When Hill goes well Exeter tend to go well – look at his try during Chiefs’ incredible first-half performance in this year’s Premiership final. He scored again against Glasgow to kick-start the Exeter performance, and has recently shown himself to be one of the best maul defenders in the country.
5. Iain Henderson (Ulster)
Ulster’s away win at Bath in the first round was built on small victories – a loose ball gathered here, an offload affording an extra couple of metres there. This is Henderson’s bread and butter, and he backed up a fine performance in the West Country by negating the Clermont pack at a rainy Kingspan as Ulster sealed an impressive 18-13 win.
6. Wenceslas Lauret (Racing 92)
For all the panache of the Paris backs, they need both ball and linkmen to shine. Lauret gives them that, always seeming to be first to the ruck or the key offload in the chain. A try against Saracens was a fine reward for his efforts.
7. Ben Earl (Saracens)
One of the youngsters who is really taking advantage of the opportunities afforded him by Saracens this year. Beginning to develop a highly effective carrying game to match his jackaling, he stayed resolute against the Racing 92 tsunami and then made hay against the Ospreys.
8. Caleb Timu (Montpellier)
Sunday’s game between Gloucester and Montpellier saw a titanic back-row clash, as the ball-carrying of Timu and Jake Polledri were the heartbeat of their respective teams. Timu’s carry for his try was truly frightening, so he gets the nod.
Relive every moment of the 2019 World Cup in the December 2019 issue of Rugby World magazine – in shops now.
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