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