1: Cian Healy (Leinster)
Healy put in a man-of-the-match performance on Saturday evening, showcasing time and again the ball-carrying ability that has made him most people’s front-runner for the Lions jersey this summer. Solid if unspectacular in the scrum, he surely offers too much in the loose to be ignored.
2: Mike Sherry (Munster)
The Munster hooker was in the driving seat of many a monstrous maul against Racing, as the province’s pack put paid to a Racing unit that was a man short for most of the game. The hooker’s inclusion here is more a tip of the cap to the Munster pack in general, who set the platform for their team to romp to 5 tries and wrap up qualification in the process.
3: James Johnston (Harlequins)
How sad Harlequins fans will be to see this man leave. His was a performance of the highest quality on Friday night, at the forefront of a Quins pack that beat their Biarritz counterparts into the mud. A rock in the scrum, he was key to a Quins victory that built its foundations on solidity up front. Not a night for the fancy-dans in the backs, it is no surprise Johnston excelled.
4: Louis Deacon (Leicester Tigers)
In the swirling snow at Welford Road on Sunday, Deacon was at his boisterous best to lead the Tigers into the quarter finals in a tense affair against Toulouse. The lock hit everything as hard as he could, be it a ruck, maul or scrum, and played a part in disrupting the French lineout. Against a pack full of illustrious opponents it was Deacon, a largely underrated player whose work often goes under the radar, that excelled.
5: Mamuka Gorgodze (Montpellier)
The Georgian giant was switched to the second row for this game, and some feared the knock-on effect this could have on his ball-carrying game. Someone forgot to tell the man himself, however, as he proceeded to tear through would-be tacklers all afternoon, consistently the focal point for Montpellier attacks. A huge performance from a huge man.
6: Julien Bonnaire (Clermont Auvergne)
Clermont could have lacked motivation going into this game, needing as they did merely a losing bonus point. As it was, they played as if they needed all 5 points which, incidently, they duly picked up. Bonnaire, now 34, is seemingly tireless, and while he should be heading into the twilight of his career he has shown no signs of letting up. Another superb 80 minutes at the weekend led Clermont to a resounding victory in Wales.
7: Chris Henry (Ulster)
Ulster’s French voodoo finally came to an end over the weekend, as they beat Castres at the Stade-Pierre Antione. A large part of this was down to the efforts of Chris Henry, the young talisman who just refuses to quit. He has a hugely impressive engine on him, and his ability to leap up after the tackle and get over the ball, slowing down opposition ball in the process, is second to none.
8: Jamie Heaslip (Leinster)
Galvanised by the Irish captaincy announcement this week, Heaslip led from the front in a victory against a plucky Exeter outfit on Saturday evening. Sandy Park is never an easy place to win (just look at their Premiership record there), and Heaslip was titanic in whipping up the Leinster team into a try-scoring frenzy. He crossed the line himself, too, with a strong finish from short range.
9: Benoit Paillaugue (Montpellier)
The latest impressive scrum half to come out of France, Paillaugue comprehensively outshone his more illustrious opposite man in a Montpellier performance brimming with passion. Sniping and darting all afternoon, the diminutive Frenchman kept the galacticos of Toulon on the back foot, and even managed to cross for a try himself. Add to that a flawless kicking display, and it was quite an afternoon for the little man.
10: Charlie Hodgson (Saracens)
Owen Farrell may be the man of the moment for England, but it was that old stalwart Hodgson who confirmed Saracens’ home quarter final with what could turn out to be a crucial try. Showing a deft dummy before ghosting through the defence and over the line, Hodgson’s score meant his team avoided a trip to Ulster in the last 8, instead facing them at home. Mention to Toby Flood, whose kicking excellence in arctic conditions saw the Tigers across the line against Toulouse.
11: Simon Zebo (Munster)
Munster went into Saturday afternoon knowing exactly what they had to do: score 4 tries. So wing Zebo picked a fine weekend to score 3 of those himself. The first was a simple stroll over the line after some exquisite build-up play, the second a fine finish that involved a delicate grubber behind the defence, and the third a dive over in the corner whilst evading scrambling tacklers. Also starting to show more maturity in defence, he will be in the running to build on his 3 Ireland caps over the 6 Nations.
12: Sireli Naqelevuki (Exeter Chiefs)
The giant Fijian, wearing 13 on Saturday but normally found at 12, only started because of injury, and has been biding his time on the bench recently. This is somewhat baffling given the impact he has nearly every time he gets the ball. Up against O’Driscoll, a much smaller man who nevertheless has an excellent defensive reputation, he crashed through tackles all afternoon. One of the moments of the match was Naqelevuki swotting the illustrious Irishman aside as he crossed the gain line once again.
13: Thomas Combezou (Montpellier)
The Montpellier centre was every bit as fired up as his teammates in the wake of the tragic death of coach Eric Bezu in the week. He channeled his passion into a performance of the highest quality, picking a gorgeous line to slice through the Toulon defence for his side’s first try, before making a nuisance of himself in the build-up to the second. Industrious throughout, he also successfully thwarted the vast riches of talent in the Toulon back-line.
14: Max Evans (Castres)
The Scot makes the team courtesy of his role in one of the tries of the season so far. Gathering the ball in his own half after some swift hands inside him, he scampered over the halfway line before being scragged and throwing one of the most audacious offloads surely ever seen. A few passes later, Castres had crossed the line.
15: Peter Horne (Glasgow Warriors)
The replacement utility back lit up the Scotstoun Stadium with a last minute try of breathtaking quality to deny Northampton a chance at qualification. It was a world class finish that saw him brush off countless defenders with strong hand-offs before showing impressive pace to scamper under the posts. Exhilarating stuff.