Centre has always been a difficult position to fill for England and it is now becoming hotly contested. However, Saracens’ Brad Barritt did no harm to his hopes of holding down his place as he led his team to a 45-0 win over Edinburgh. Tom Brown felt the full force of Barritt’s intent after being on the receiving end of a thumping tackle. The unexpected flair that Saracens showed seemed to stun the Scottish side as they looked out of their depth for 80 minutes. This overpowering confidence was epitomised by Barritt as he sublimely flicked the ball out of the back of his hand to release Joel Tomkins. Whilst the likes of Jonathan Joseph are providing fierce competition, Barritt’s excellent displays this season have surely put him as a forerunner internationally.
The Harlequins scrum half seems to have put his previous misdemeanours behind him this season with excellent performances in the Aviva Premiership and now in the Heineken Cup. The diminutive number 9 is, for many, one of the best in Europe at the moment and his brilliant display at the weekend only served to reaffirm this belief. Care was instrumental in every exciting piece of play Harlequins put together including his team’s fantastic first try; receiving the ball of the top of the lineout before darting through the opposition defence and accelerating over the line. The Lions tour is beckoning but for now he is surely the number one contender for the England number 9 jersey.
Although the show was stolen by Danny Cipriani’s cameo, the real stand-out performer was young winger Alex Cuthbert. With the excess of talent coming up through the ranks in Wales, Cuthbert almost seems like an old head. This is something you could be forgiven for though due to the mature and cultured performances the Welshman has been turning out. To lose a match after scoring a hat-trick of tries must be the most gut-wrenching feeling. However, Cuthbert has certainly sent out a clear message to his competition with this classy demonstration that he is the man to watch. Now in his second season with Cardiff Blues first, team he is becoming one of the most wanted figures in European rugby. Despite the plentiful supply of Welsh wingers, this is a demand unlikely to dwindle if he continues to excite in the Heineken cup.
A key and highly positive feature of the Heineken cup is that it provides the perfect opportunity to see English players that may have slipped under the radar. Although I’m sure Stuart Lancaster is fully aware, the success of the Armitage brothers at Toulon is relatively recent news to me. Two well-taken tries from full-back Delon helped Toulon secure a 37-16 victory over Montpellier, whilst serving as a gentle nudge to the England coaching squad that the ex-international is still very much around. Excellent link up play with his brother saw the former London Irish full-back cross the line for his first and his second superb finish saw him come away as man of the match.
As Mark Anscombe stated, “he does what he does well” and the Ulster scrum half certainly earned his praise, coming away with two tries in an excellent individual performance. Last year’s runners up started the match well; however, a somewhat lacklustre second-half performance saw them luckily emerge with a bonus point. As Castres began to find some momentum a sharp blindside break from Marshall saw Ulster extend their lead and steady the Ulster ship. The small scrum half is yet to notch his first international cap and at 27 the moment may have passed, but with more performances like this he will not only keep Ruan Pienaar on his toes but may just find his way into the Ireland set up.