1 – Dany Priso (La Rochelle)
I’m very excited by this French prop, his loose play can be frightening at times as shown when he made that pulsating break versus Wasps. His scrummaging can be devastating too and he made his French debut versus Ireland coming off the bench and continued to feature for Les Bleus for the rest of the tournament as a substitute. I really hope this raw gem gets a starting cap soon as he has the athleticism and potential to be a French favourite in the years to come.
Notable mentions go to Ellis Genge who was instrumental in Leicester’s destruction of Castres but was injured for the rest of the tournament.
2 – Ken Owens (Scarlets)
My notable mentions created holes in defences but I’m going to go for Ken Owens of Scarlets. His leadership, determination and willingness projected his side to a first semifinal appearance in a decade. As ever, the Lions tourist was top notch when throwing at the lineout which enabled the Scarlets backline to thrive off the setpiece.
Both notable mentions go to France with Pierre Bougarrit of La Rochelle and Camille Chat of Racing 92 who have been such powerful weapons for their respective teams this season.
3 – Tadhg Furlong (Leinster)
In my opinion Tadhg Furlong has been streets ahead of any other competitor for this coveted tighthead position. He is generally one of the strongest players in rugby which basically means he can hand you off into oblivion pretty much whilst also being a world-class operator in the scrum. He is, without a doubt, the only tighthead in World Rugby with such a great all-round game. Sekope Kepu can carry, John Afoa can offload but none of them are nowhere near as good as the Wexford Bull.
Notable mentions go to Osprey’s Dmitri Arhip who had an excellent outing for Ospreys in the pool stages and to Wyn Jones of Scarlets whose skillset is quite impressive.
4 – Tadhg Beirne (Scarlets)
My player of the tournament and a person who inspires me greatly, as I am a lock too with a similar frame. He’s torn oppositions apart in the lineout and is a real bugger at the breakdown with his long strong arms difficult to move off the ball. Finally, he will always be remembered in Scarlets folklore for that sidestep that dumbfounded Anthony Watson as he finished off one of the tries of the season. He will be sorely missed in Llanelli but will be a welcome addition to both Munster and Ireland.
Notable mention to Munster’s Billy Holland for being the ultimate grafter, playing from round 1 all the way to the semifinal. La Rochelle captain and former All Black Jason Eaton was also putting in hard-working shifts until he got injured.
5 – Leone Nakarawa (Racing)
Absolutely blew apart round 1 with his single-handed destruction of Leicester as his combination of power and supreme offloading ability proved too much for defenders and he has been one of the driving forces in the Racing team, whether in the second row or in the back-row. His form has rarely dipped since then, finishing off one of the tries of the season against Clermont in the quarterfinal. Everything that’s been good about Racing has usually been centred around this fellow and I can’t wait for his contribution next season.
Honourable mentions go to James Ryan who couldn’t have had a better debut Champions Cup season and I can’t stop talking about him, integral to Leinster’s title-winning campaign.
6 – Scott Fardy (Leinster)
A talisman for both the Wallabies and the Brumbies, he has settled in so quickly at his new club, getting man of the match with a try to his name in Leinster’s semifinal thrashing of Scarlets. He has been a physical presence either at blindside flanker or at lock and he is one of those players who you want leading your side through thick and thin as he was a menace at the breakdown, tackled fearlessly and carried relentlessly.
Notable mentions go to Wencelas Lauret of Racing 92 who has reestablished his international career with his performances in the Champions Cup.
7 – Levani Botia (La Rochelle)
Whether at inside centre or at openside flanker, Botia is a total bulldozer and when he runs at you at full steam you are in trouble. But it’s his rugby brain that also makes him so threatening, as signified by his try versus Wasps, he knows where there are weak gaps and when soft shoulders appear and will target them ruthlessly. And maybe if he hadn’t have injured himself earlier in the semifinal, that result might have been slightly different; he is that big an influence on the French club. I can’t wait to see more of him in either the Champions Cup or Challenge Cup next season.
Honourable mentions go to Dan Leavy of Leinster who has undoubtedly been the breakthrough of the season while Chris Cloete of Munster was a force to be reckoned with at the breakdown.
8 – Victor Vito (La Rochelle)
Last year’s Top 14 Player of the Season was a joy to behold until an untimely injury meant that we only witnessed his brilliance in the pool stages. Some of his handling skills has been magnificent, while his commitment and supporting lines clearly stress that he genuinely believes in his club and isn’t there just for the pay check. Unfortunately we did not see the excellence of Vito into the quarterfinal but his impact in the group stages is enough for him to garner my rearguard position.
Notable mentions to Zach Mercer who was undeniably excellent for an inconsistent Bath Side and to Yannick Nyanga who has excelled as the rampaging number 8 for Racing whose athleticism was clearly emphasised as the former French international certainly wasn’t playing as if he was 34. What an engine!
9 – Maxime Machenaud (Racing)
A horrible knee ligament injury meant that Machenaud sadly missed the Cup final, and he might just have made the difference. His control and mastery has been proven this season to be one of the best in Europe. Not only has the French international shown typical scrum-half awareness to score tries like he did versus Leicester but also sublime service from the breakdown and utter coolness to slot over multiple penalties and conversions. Racing fans adore him, and it’s simple to see why!
My notable mention goes to Conor Murray of Munster who looked class at times this season with some cheeky scrum-half tries.
10 – Jonny Sexton (Leinster)
From his last-minute drop goal for Ireland to his excellent goal-kicking for Leinster in the semifinal, it seems that everything that is going right in Irish rugby at the moment has something to do with the flyhalf. In my opinion, he is the best flyhalf in the world at the moment, and while he didn’t have the opportunity to play against one of the best players that has ever graced a rugby field in the final (Dan Carter), he steered his side to glory in the final.
A worthy mention to Christian Lealiifano who continued his utterly remarkable recovery from leukaemia with a stunning stint for Ulster in the Group Stage before he returned to the Brumbies.
11 – James Lowe (Leinster)
Some competition rules regarding usage of non-EU players meant that Lowe was unable to play in the final but that didn’t dent his chance of making my Team of the Tournament. His finishing ability is definitely first-rate but his support play and willingness clearly shows that Lowe is all-round great player and generally enjoys being at Leinster, he isn’t just there because of the cash or the fact that the All Blacks won’t pick him. Another great signing from the champions and I look forward to seeing more of him both domestically and on the European stage.
Notable mentions go to to Olly Woodburn who produced some outstanding finishes for Exeter, especially in the home fixture against Montpellier (those two tries were world class).
12 – Isa Nacewa (Leinster)
How fitting that in his last season, Nacewa (who has played at both inside centre and winger) nailed the cup-winning penalty to win his 4th, yes 4th, Champions Cup/Heineken Cup trophy. It cannot be overstated as to how significant this walking legend of a man has been to the Irish Province all these years, his engine and stamina is unbelievable.
Notable mentions to Hadleigh Parkes of Scarlets who is not only powerful and pacy but also incredibly consistent therefore proving that he has become a valuable acquisition by the Scarlets and he has had a fine season for both the Llanelli-based club and Wales.
13 – Josua Tuisova (Toulon)
Although Tuisova played on the wing for the entirety of Toulon’s involvement in the tournament, he can play outside centre therefore I am putting him there to accommodate Lowe and Nadolo. The Fijian, like Botia, can be unstoppable when going at full steam with his strength and power and can bounce players into oblivion.
Honourable mentions to Garry Ringrose who if it wasn’t for injury would have been on this list and for Virimi Vakatawa who has found a new position at outside centre and was irresistibly good against Munster in the semifinal.
14 – Nemani Nadolo (Montpellier)
To be honest, it doesn’t matter that big-spending Montpellier underperformed this season. What does matter is that Nadolo was once again a bruising presence to behold on the wing, with powerful runs reminiscent of his Super Rugby days for the Crusaders.
Honourable mentions to Teddy Thomas who was absolutely brilliant for Racing this season but has failed to make my XV of the Year because he drank a bit too much on a night out in Edinburgh with France and landed himself in some trouble.
15 – Dan Evans (Ospreys)
Fullback was a difficult selection for me, Halfpenny did nothing wrong but hasn’t set the world on fire for Scarlets while Chris Ashton has scored a lot of tries for Toulon this season in both Europe and Top 14. However my most picked fullback from my ERCC Teams of the Week, is Dan Evans. His individual brilliance almost dragged Ospreys to a surprise pool stage qualification. Some of the tries he scored and set up were just magnificent.
As I’ve mentioned above, Halfpenny and Ashton were within touching distance of getting my 15 jersey and while Rob Kearney was mentioned by other papers the fact that I didn’t see him pass once during the final ruled him out of my side.
Do you agree? Who do you think should be in this Team of the Tournament?
By Jacob Bassford