Heineken Cup Team of the Week: Quarter-Finals


15. Jean-Marcelin Buttin (Clermont Auvergne)
There wasn’t really a stand-out (for the right reasons, anyway) performance from a fullback this weekend, but Buttin’s calmness and composure for Clermont were certainly important to his side as they hung on to beat a spirited Tigers team. He showed flashes of real class on a sunny afternoon in the Massif Central, coping with the Tigers’ kicking game with aplomb.

14. Chris Ashton (Saracens)
Ashton’s first try harked back to the days when he burst onto the scene, some superb tracking play allowing him to make the most of a smart inside ball from Charlie Hodgson before rounding the flailing cover defenders on his way to the line. Mention also to the Tigers’ Blaine Scully, who makes up for a slight lack of pace with a superb understanding of the game and workrate.

13. Mathieu Bastareaud (Toulon)
Toulon’s bowling ball in the midfield was at his skittling best as part of a Toulon backline that properly clicked against Leinster. Aside from his usual string carrying there was an impressive awareness to his game – the offload for Drew Mitchell’s decisive try was proof enough of that.

12. Wesley Fofana (Clermont Auvergne)
The man simply oozes class. It is almost ironic that he complete’s France’s Six Nations midfield combo in this team, despite it being so ineffective in that competition. Against the Tigers Fofana was always dangerous, making linebreaks at will and crossing for a try that ultimately took the game out of Leicester’s reach.

11. Tommy Bowe (Ulster)
Nine defenders beaten makes Bowe (statistically) the most dangerous player of the weekend. After spending most of the season on the sidelines it is great to see him back to his best on the pitch, and against Saracens he came so close to inspiring his side to what would have been the most memorable of wins for some time in this competition.

10. Matt Giteau (Toulon)
Do not underestimate how difficult it is to step into the primary playmaking role early on having spent the week training one position further out. And when the man you are replacing is Jonny Wilkinson, whose calm guidance makes Toulon tick, it is even more impressive that Giteau managed the game so well. Aside from looking dangerous with ball in hand, he controlled matters well and kicked his goals. Mention to the Tigers’ Owen Williams, who came of age in the Montferrand bear pit.

9. Conor Murray (Munster)
With a dominant pack in front of him Murray had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon on Saturday. He is rapidly becoming one of the best in the world in his position, and again he showed against Toulouse that there is little he cannot do – his box-kicking was accurate, his sniping dangerous and his service always fizzing.

1. Xavier Chiocci (Toulon)
He may had a few issues at times in the scrum but Chiocci’s overall afternoon was overwhelmingly positive. There were a couple of influential interventions in the ruck – one of which lead directly to three points – as well as showing great strength and technique to barge his way over the line at the beginning of the second half.

2. Schalk Brits (Saracens)
A flawless throwing performance, an astonishing 90 metres made and five defenders beaten with ball in hand and twelve tackles are proof of Brits’ brilliance against Ulster. It wasn’t just the fancy stuff that impressed though – there was also an important chase back to stop Tommy Bowe as Ulster threatened to break away in the first half. Superlative stuff from the South African, and a mention for his compatriot Craig Burden who was almost as effective in the loose.

3. BJ Botha (Munster)
As pointed out in commentary, Botha chewed up and spat out three loosehead props over the course of this game. The Munster scrum was consistently on top despite conceding a fair weight disadvantage to their opponents from the south of France – testament to the technique of Botha. As if that weren’t enough, he was his side’s third top tackler with seven. Mulipola was unlucky to miss out after running himself into the ground for the Tigers in Clermont.

4. Danie Roussouw (Toulon)
Roussouw was an absolute monster against Leinster, barrelling his way over the gainline time and again to leave Irish defenders strewn all over the pitch. When he was finally stopped he offloaded intelligently, and also weighed in with a turnover at the breakdown.

5. Paul O’Connell (Munster)
Ulster’s Johann Muller is unlucky to miss out but the Munsterman gets the nod for his role in an inspirational display from Munster’s pack. Losing your captain in the early exchanges is never ideal but if there is one man you want to step into the leadership breach, it is O’Connell. He was even rewarded for his monumental efforts with a try.

6. CJ Stander (Munster)
There are many in Ireland who believe Stander should feature for regularly for Munster; this weekend proved why. He tackled anything that moved in a black shirt to finish top of the stats with ten, and carried to greater effect that anyone else in a red shirt, ending the game having beaten three defenders. Scored a try to top it all off.

7. Damien Chouly (Clermont Auvergne)
It was a quiet weekend for opensides, but Chouly was the pick of the bunch in Clermont’s dogged win over the Tigers. He was an integral part of les Jaunards’ pack, particularly in the first half when they exerted their dominance over the Tigers, and always carried strongly when the ball popped into his hands.

8. Steffon Armitage (Toulon)
The debate will rage on as to whether he should get a look in for England, but one thing no one can deny is that he is good enough. A terrier at the breakdown as usual, he has added a hugely impressive ball-carrying element to his game, which is why Toulon regularly use him at number eight these days in Chris Masoe’s absence. He smashed through would-be Leinster defenders at the weekend, ending with 63 metres made from just nine carries. Mention to Billy Vunipola who was at his monstrous best for Saracens despite just returning from injury.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

12 thoughts on “Heineken Cup Team of the Week: Quarter-Finals

  1. Ashton probably deserved his spot on the basis of his two tries (but what else did he do?) but I just cannot stand the man and his despicable, ridiculous swallow dive. If Stuart Lancaster wants an environment of selflessness and humility, he should never pick him again regardless of any ability he might have. In addition, I still have real doubts over his tackling ability and temperament; he’s a loose cannon. When all are fit and in form I would always pick Wade over him. He may lack tackling technique and size but at least he is brave, unlike Ashton. Same with Nowell who I also prefer. I would love to see Sivivatu rampaging over him in the semis. And yes, I am an ulster fan!

    1. I believe that’s 3 tries in 2 games against Ulster, all of which were scored without a single hand being laid on him. I would imagine that would be pretty frustrating for someone who’s not a fan of his.

    2. I don’t think Ashtons attitude off the pitch is as bad as it appears on it. I personally have absolutely no issue with the swallow dive, as long as he gets the ball down I could not care less!

      SL had set up an environment fully of togetherness long before Ashton was dropped, and there was never rumours that he disrupted that, so I can not see that as a reason for his exclusion.

      He was dropped because he is about as useful in defence as a turnstile.

      Whilst Wade is small, it isn’t his bravery that stands him out (strange trait to pick international players on). Wade can actually defend. People look at him and assume because he is small that he can not defend. Whilst he is not going to be smashing people back in defence, he can tackle.

  2. @Jacob: you say that getting the ball down is what matters, but in the game against Ulster, for his first try he had enough room to go round under the posts and give Farrell an easier conversion but he was too fixated on showboating. Farrell missed the conversion which could have proved to be vital. You also say that bravery is a strange trait to pick international players on, and I do agree that technique is more important. What I meant about Wade is he is willing to hurl himself at anyone regardless of size- I once saw him take down the 20 stone giant No. 8 Onua singlehandedly! Ashton on the other hand is prone to moving out of the way of incoming players as though they have a deadly contagious disease. See Wesley Fofana 2013 Six nations. Simply put, he is not the long term solution to England’s wing problem. Long term it ought to be Yarde and Wade.

    1. I do agree, but as I said, the ball was down.

      I don’t think you can seriously suggest Ashton moves out the way of tackles. The Fofana one annoys me, it gets blamed on him but it was Lawes fault. Defending Ashton trusted his inside man (Lawes), as he would have been trained to do. I guess his error was flailing at Fofana once Lawes had slipped off him, then maybe he wouldn’t be blamed.

      Ashton’s tackling issues are technical. He gets flat footed, and his feet are too close together. So when a player gets tight to him he is easy to step. He needs to go away and work on that.

      By the way, should say I wouldn’t pick him before Wade or Yarde. Or even Nowell. But for me, he is next in line after that.

  3. Like him or not when he’s on form he scores a lot of tries. Even with a couple of years of poor form playing in a team that for a season and a half didn’t know a try existed as a scoring possibility he’s still got a 57% premiership strike rate. 9 tries in this year’s HC alone (more than Nowell has scored in his entire first team career).

    I’m not suggesting a recall or anything (we need to look at Wade). The mistake was to keep on picking him when he was so badly out of form (rather than looking at Wade), but if he keeps scoring I can see him being back in contention for the RWC.

    1. And yet in an England shirt Nowell beat more men on his debut against France, than Ashton managed in the entirety of 2013.

      Ashton finishes chances created by others, but he isn’t very good at creating his own chances, and I’ve not seen much of his tracking skills recently, most his tries seem to be receiving the ball on the wing and taking it over the line, something any winger with international aspirations should be capable of.

      1. Ashton’s first try was a comparable situation to the Nowell break against Wales. Nowell lacked the gas to take his man on and cut inside, Ashton took the man on and scored an excellent try. Ashton also called the move, so although he needed a pass to put him through he spotted the opportunity and called the play. He’s not a something from nothing (Wade) type winger but he offers a lot more than dotting down from 2m when unopposed.

        We need to look properly at Wade and Yarde, they only have 1 proper cap between them (Yarde didn’t look anything special in that game either), but we can’t know for sure that these guys will prove to be the answer. If Ashton keeps scoring (and demonstrates progress in defence) he could come back into the mix if Wade/Yarde don’t work out or aren’t fit.

        1. Ashton thrives in a team that is playing well. It’s no coincidence his bad run of international form occurred when England were playing an unvaried, unimaginative game. Every game he has scored in for England, England have won. Yes lots of his tries came against Italy and Romania, but he’s also scored against NZ, Aus and Wales. He doesn’t create chances in the same way as Wade does, but when on form is head and shoulders above any other England winger at reading the game, and finishing chances created by others. He’s also really quick, you rarely see him get closed down once he makes a break.

          But, his defence is bad. His positioning is pretty good, he is just really weak in the tackle, and this alone is probably enough to prevent him from playing for England.

  4. Can we have a new thread for bitter, twisted Leinster fans like me?

    I have been trying to be grown up about the loss but I have this overriding feeling that money talked on sunday.

    That “Toulon” team would have beaten most international sides (that’s without Habana, Bakkies Botha and Ali Williams). Don’t get me wrong Leinster were crap/weren’t allowed to play..yada yada yada.. Next year, with even more money at their disposal, what will the french clubs be like? My french friends are bemoaning the damage to their national team. Is this going to become a world club rugby tournament through default? Should we have limits? Just thinking out loud here…..

    Can a neutral tell me whether I’m just being petulant? Am I losing my marbles as well as my toys or am I making some sense?


    P.S. I did notice Steffon Armitage through my desperation – impressive

    1. The home team won (who also happen to be a rich team of all stars). Losing at home to Saints is the result that cost you. A home QF and it may well have been a different story.

      Personally I would be in favour of financial fair play rules. Having wallet warriors pumping vast sums into some clubs isn’t good for the sustainability of the game.

      1. Totally agree Matt.

        DDD, yes you are being alittle petulant as the home team won. But that is what fans are supposed to do.

        And I agree with Matt and yourself regarding the salary packets of top 14 clubs. Personally I think it is the biggest threat to world rugby at the moment. I don’t expect the IRB to do much, given their current chairman.

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