1: Tom Court (Ulster)
The dreary, muddy conditions on Friday night at Ravenhill made it a front-row forward’s heaven, and Tom Court made the most of the conditions with a man of the match performance that included playing his part in the nullifying of a Scottish pack. Likely to be overshadowed by Cian Healy in Ireland colours, but a more than capable back-up should he fall foul of an injury.
2: Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers)
The barrel-shaped hooker reminded Stuart Lancaster that just because Hartley is back to fitness doesn’t mean he should be automatically shoved out of the starting England berth. More encouraging improvements in the line out, allied with a couple of carries that showed both his strength and his pace, added up to an excellent performance.
3: Matt Stevens (Saracens)
After announcing his retirement from international rugby, Stevens only has Sarries to occupy his thoughts. And with the confirmation today that they have signed Quins’ James Johnstone for next season, he may well need all that focus to keep himself in the starting shirt. A strong performance against a daunting Racing pack will have ensured that for the rest of this season at least, he is the man for Saracens.
4: Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)
Criticised in recent weeks for being too upright in the tackle, Lawes reminded everyone against Castres just what a handful he can be. A couple of barnstorming runs and neat offloads, as well as some athletic covering tackles, showed why he must be in the mix for a starting position in the 6 Nations.
5: Patricio Albacete (Toulouse)
The French giants’ star is on the wane at the moment, but you would be a fool to write them off just yet. With men of Albacete’s size and power they will more often than not come out on top up front, and that was the story against a valiant Treviso side. One galloping run in the second half was particularly devastating from the giant Argentinian.
6: Peter O’Mahoney (Munster)
As a string of impressive performances comes no closer to ending, O’Mahoney showed that there is life without Ferris for Ireland. In torrid conditions at Murrayfield the young flanker put in a performance that included an astonishing 19 carries to momentarily lift the gloom on what was not a vintage afternoon in the Scottish capital.
7: Justin Tipuric (Ospreys)
Tipuric showed the onlooking Rob Howley why he would be a fool not to select him to start for Wales in the 6 Nations. Surely one of the performances of the weekend, there was nothing missing from his game. A beautiful step to glide through the defence and a perfectly-weighted pass out wide were glorious, but equally important was his prowess at the breakdown where he nullified the usually-dominant Julian Salvi.
8: Joe Bearman (Ospreys)
A second brilliant individual performance from an Osprey sees Joe Bearman make the team. Sadly it wasn’t enough to beat the collective might of the Tigers, but Bearman showed a couple of surprisingly dainty touches for a man his size, as well as making the hard yards that all no.8s must. A talented man who has previously struggled with injuries, it was encouraging to see him put in such a strong performance. Mention to John Beattie who played his way back into the Scotland squad with a superb showing for Montpellier.
9: Kahn Fotuali’i (Ospreys)
This was an absolute masterclass from the Samoan scrum half. Emerging as one of the best in his position in the world, it is no wonder he has had offers from other clubs for next season. His brain seems to work twice as quickly as everyone else’s on the pitch, allowing him to make flawless decisions every time. Add to that his technical brilliance and you have a performance of the highest quality.
10: Owen Farrell (Saracens)
‘Timely reminder ahead of the Six Nations’ is a phrase certain to be overused over the next few weeks, but it does appear to fit rather perfectly here. Flood had a good game for the Tigers, but for his sheer nerve when faced with difficult, pressure kicks Owen Farrell gets the nod. Not everyone’s cup of tea, and still with a lot to work on in terms of his attacking game, it was nevertheless a brilliant performance from the young fly-half. Ironically, mention must also go to Farrell’s opposite number and absolute antithesis when it comes to style, the majestically mercurial Juan Hernandez. If entertainment equalled points Racing would have been even further out of sight than they seemed to be.
11: Ugo Monye (Harlequins)
Dropped by England and £10,000 poorer than this time last week, it hadn’t been a great few days for Ugo Monye. That was before Saturday afternoon, however, when he showed all the doubters that he still knows how to finish a try. After gliding through a gap he made the fullback look like he was standing in quicksand, rounding him with far too much ease. A poignant way to mark his 200th appearance for the club.
12: Wesley Fofana (Clermont Auvergne)
Hitting a worryingly rich vein of form as we approach the 6 Nations, Fofana confirmed himself as the preeminent Northern Hemisphere inside centre with a display that merged power and poise. Exeter’s defence was all at sea as he jinked his way to the try line in the first half, and he also carried over 100m during the game, a highly impressive tally for a centre.
13: Darren Cave (Ulster)
As O’Driscoll enters the twilight of his career and continues to struggle with injuries, Ireland fans will be pleased to see Cave putting in the type of performance that could see him become his long-term successor. A lovely grubber behind the defence in the first half showed great vision, and a fine finish for Ulster’s third try showed the potential of Cave, who despite being 25 only has 3 Ireland caps. If he continues this form he is likely to add to that. Mention should also go to both Toulon centres, Mermoz and Bastareaud, who were unlucky to miss out after fantastic performances.
14: Eli Walker (Ospreys)
The latest winger to take Welsh rugby by storm, Eli Walker dazzled the Liberty Stadium with mesmerising runs that were simply too good for the Tigers’ defence. His run in the dying minutes to set up the Ospreys’ second try was breathtaking, perhaps most so because he appears to expend very little effort while leaving flailing defenders in his wake. Mention to Juan Imhoff who continues to score tries from positions he really shouldn’t.
15: Rob Kearney (Leinster)
Fussell was calm and collected for the Ospreys, and Buttin grabbed a brace for Clermont, but Kearney makes the team for a romping return from injury that saw him dance his way to the line after cutting a superb line off Jamie Heaslip. Some of the telepathy with which the Irish backs used to play came back as well, as he linked well with Fitzgerald and O’Driscoll when he came on.