15. Sean Maitland (Glasgow Warriors)
The “kilted Kiwi” was making his first Pro12 appearance of the season after returning from the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia. He didn’t look to have missed a step, with some intelligent offensive play, and typically accomplished handling. Provided both assists for Byron McGuigan’s tries, the second via well-weighted grubber kick.
14. Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues)
Another Lion, the powerful Cuthbert showed both his brawn and pace in attack, standing up Rob Kearney, and powering his way up the touchline to score a brilliant solo try. He almost added another moments later, but Kearney this time was able to bring him down inside the Leinster 22. The Welshman will, however, be disappointed with his missed tackle on Ian Madigan leading to the fly-half’s try.
13. Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster)
On his return to the Pro12, the great man showed no signs of rustiness with the sort of classy performance we have come to expect over the past thirteen years. A constant threat in attack, his running lines and distribution were as astute as ever, providing both impetus and assists for several of Leinster’s tries on Friday night.
12. Luke Marshall (Ulster)
The Ulsterman has been in fine form in the opening rounds of the Pro12, and added to his impressive early-season outings with another notable performance. He made a number of dangerous line breaks from inside centre – a key feature of his game – and was on hand to take a nice offload from full-back Jared Payne to go over for his own try.
11. Byron McGuigan (Glasgow Warriors)
Two well-taken tries for the Warriors’ wing helped his side to victory on Friday night. The first was a run-in courtesy of good hands from Gabriel Ascarate and Sean Maitland, and the second a neat take and finish from Maitland’s deft kick through.
10. Ian Madigan (Leinster)
New signing Jimmy Gopperth had impressed with his early-season form, but Madigan staked his claim to the number ten jersey with an excellent all-round performance on Friday night. He controlled things from the pivotal position, releasing a dangerous set of outside backs, and kicking well from hand and at goal. A deft “show-and-go” late on saw him beat the tackles of Lions Cuthbert and Leigh Halfpenny, and bag himself a five-pointer.
9. Tito Tebaldi (Ospreys)
The Ospreys’ scrum-half has enjoyed an excellent start to the season and his career at the Welsh region. On Saturday, the Italian scorched the Sportsground turf with a superb solo try – his first for the club – and secured his side a bonus point. His distribution was largely slick throughout, and he showed typical tenacity both in attack and defence.
8. Samuela Vunisa (Zebre)
The Kiwi number eight showed some wonderful handling skills in attack, frequently popping up in midfield to cause the Warriors defence problems. His try was borne more of power and tenacity than outright skill, but he provided a lovely assist for team-mate Leonardo Sarto to scoot over and salvage a losing bonus point for the Italians.
7. Chris Henry (Ulster)
Ulster’s openside has been in fine form in the opening Pro12 fixtures, and continued in the same vein on Friday night with some great work in the loose. His carrying caused the Treviso defence plenty of problems, particularly around the fringes, and he demonstrated some nice handling skills to set up Michael Allen’s try.
6. Peter O’Mahony (Munster)
The Munster skipper turned in his best performance of the season so far, grabbing a try in his side’s dominant victory over the Dragons. He took his opportunity well, diving over the whitewash to capitalise on Welsh indiscipline, and was a menace at the breakdown from the blindside flank.
5. Ian Evans (Ospreys)
The Lions tourist is known for his dynamism around the field, and his excellent bullocking first-half run led to a try for Richard Fussell, and laid the foundations for a solid all-round performance. He worked hard at the breakdown, and carried well during his side’s heavy victory.
4. Devin Toner (Leinster)
The Leinster second row was a constant presence in the loose, making plenty of good carries. His mobility and work-rate saw him appear with ball in hand all over the pitch, and make inroads into the Cardiff defence in Friday night’s open affair.
3. Samson Lee (Scarlets)
Powerful scrummaging from the Scarlets tighthead added to a sound evening’s work at Murrayfield on Friday night. Caused Alasdair Dickinson plenty of problems at the set piece, and offered a good carrying option in the loose – particularly round the fringes of the breakdown.
2. Sean Cronin (Leinster)
The powerful Leinster hooker turned in a solid performance against Cardiff Blues on Friday. His throwing was secure, and he worked hard in the loose – particularly with ball in hand, making plenty of carries. He gathered Brian O’Driscoll’s pass to romp in from fifteen metres, and set the tone for an excellent evening’s work.
1. James Cronin (Munster)
A powerful try for the Munster prop capped an accomplished all-round performance in his side’s victory over the Dragons on Saturday evening. He was solid in the scrum, and showed up very well in the loose with a number of strong carries that caused the Welshmen problems.
By Jamie Lyall (@JLyall93)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images