This week was a difficult one for the league. The passing of Nevin Spence hit everybody in the rugby world hard, and there were just five games this weekend, with Zebre against Ulster postponed. We saw some absolute magic and some awful handling, and this is my team from week 4.
1: Nathan Trevett (Blues)
Trevett was replaced in the second half, but it was after some determined running and clearing out that Cardiff pressured Treviso into ill-disciplined errors. It is sometimes a thankless task as a prop, but I hope that the Blues thanked him. This was a close call this week with Duncan Jones of Ospreys.
2: Andy Kyriacou (Blues)
Andy Kyriacou did not have a quiet game – he is relishing his new club experience and is paying back the belief in him. Cardiff looked to be a team returning to old form and with the strength of Kyriacou in the front row they will continue to go hard. It will be interesting to see him against his former club this coming Friday.
3: BJ Botha (Munster)
Without a doubt, the Munster squad look to be back to their dominating best. In argubly the best game of the weekend, Munster punished the Dragons’ indecesion. Nowhere was this more obvious than in the scrum, where BJ Botha controlled proceedings and his match fitness got him to the breakdown quicker than some of the back row.
4: Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster)
O’Callaghan seems to be loving the fact that Paul O’Connell is still on the injured list. He commanded the pack and made several strong carries, clearing out well and outmuscling the dragons in almost every facet. The yellow card was Donncha of old, and he should cut this out of his game, but another linesman and referee on the night may have seen the lashing out incident differently. This weekend, every team would have wanted their own Donncha O’Callaghan.
5: Alistair Kellock (Warriors)
Alistair Kellock is a direct, one way rugby player. He leads his side from the front and keeps them moving forward. Glasgow had glimses of magic at Scotstoun but the victory was initially won by the hard graft of Kellock and his pack. He spoke calmly and got the guys in the right areas, and you get the feeling Glasgow may be on the turn.
6: Justin Tipuric (Ospreys)
This week showed the difficulty that the Lions selectors will face, and I have picked two of the best 7s in Justin Tipuric and Dave O’Callaghan. The derby against the Scarlets was always going to be tough and very hard-fought. The forwards needed to be on their A-game, as the defensive ability of both clubs is well known. Tipuric showed that he is not only one of the best in Wales but one of all the four Lions nations.
7:Dave O’Callaghan (Munster)
For backs to have open running rugby, the forwards need to create that space. Munster showed against the dragons that hard work in the pack opens up defensive lines. Dave O’Callaghan tackled hard in defence and hit hard clearing out at the rucks, allowing Peter Stringer (then Conor Murray) the all-important quick ball.
8: Robert Barbieri (Treviso)
For a side to get two tries against Blues is a good night’s work, but for a number eight is exceptional. Treviso were well beaten at the Arms Park, but Barbieri, after a yellow card, came back all guns blaring. If ever an example of how to play a game of Rugby, he showed it. Never say never.
9:Richie Rees (Edinburgh)
A number of strong contenders in the scrum half position but Richie Rees wins for me. He came in and certainly made the role his own against Leinster. He was quick to the breakdown and did not shy away from an intimidating Leinster back line, reminiscent of a certain Mike Phillips. A well-deserved pick at Scrum half.
10: Rhys Patchell (Blues)
Only one winner here. This number ten seems to have a very well-rounded game. He is trusted for the three points, he kicks well for position and more importantly he can tackle. His moment of the game was stopping a sure try by Giulio Toniolatti after an intercepted pass.
11: DTH Van Der Merwe (Warriors)
As with number ten this is an easy pick. DTH has it all: the South African Canadian showed clean heals against Connacht to score twice in the win at Scotstoun. He took a huge hit in the first half and waved off the medical staff who came on to treat him, he saw a threat reorganised and assited in launching another attack. A very well-deserved Man of the match. Simon Zebo of Munster, who seems to have learned soft hands, was a very close second choice.
12: Keith Earls (Munster)
I suspect that this selection will create a storm of controversery but Earls was outstanding this weekend. I have him in the at the inside centre due to my selection for 13. He sliced through the Dragons with relative ease as he did against Ulster last week, and on current form Declan Kidney will have a nice headache come the autumn internationals. Another well deserved Man of the Match performance.
13: Nick De Luca (Edinburgh)
De Luca was one of the shining lights of a poor Edinburgh side. He was strong going forward and hard in defence – on Twitter I was corrected that he had not had his Weetabix, but an extra helping of porridge. He looked to be the only outlet of attack for Edinburgh, and he had Leinster so concerned that they seemed to target him in the second half.
14: Sean Lamont (Warriors)
This was a difficult choice this week. George North, Dougie Howlett, Alex Cuthbert, and Sean Lamont all had a good game for their respective clubs. My choice of Lamont is justified by the way he ‘bullied’ the Connacht back line. The fast Scotland winger, not out of place in the second row, scored a fantastic try that required individual skill and the ability to back himself.
15: Ian Keatley (Munster)
Moved to the back by Penney to make room for Ronan O’Gara, he seemed unshakeable. He caught and ran expertly and looked like a constant threat. He provides an excellent option for Munster, and scored after linking well with Zebo and Howlett after just 90 seconds of the game.