What a weekend of Rugby. A near upset at Scotstoun, massive upset at the Sportsground, dominating displays in the Arms Park and Liberty Stadium, a red card and very sadly a season-ending injury. Here is my team from Round 5.
1: Tom Court (Ulster)
Tom Court and his front row compatriots destroyed Cardiff in the Arms Park. In defence they battled hard and in attack supported each other fantastically. Easy selection this week.
2:Richard Hibbard (Ospreys)
This is a hard selection. No front row lasts a game at this level and so consistency is often lost. For me the Ospreys hooker was the the most effective. In the five metre scrum on his own line he hooked cleanly and put the drive in, his lineout work was fantastic, and in the 70th minute his hard work paid off after he picked up a bouncing ball and dived over the Munster line.
3: John Afoa (Ulster)
Afoa is certainly enjoying his game time this season, and he was nearly over the whitewash in Cardiff. The beneficiary of a missed knock-on, he was able to recylce in a phase that saw Nick Williams score. So strong in the scrum he forced ill-discipline from the opposition.
4: Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys)
Alun Wyn Jones was back to old form, commanding at the breakdown and strong in attack. He led the Ospreys pack by the scruff and looked for the red shirts of Munster. Such was his confidence, he managed a decent clearing box kick from his own 22. A shoo-in for the Welsh side and in current form, perhaps Gatland’s Lions as well.
5: Tim Swinson (Glasgow)
Swinson crossed the line for the first time in a game for the Warriors, taking full advantage of the claim for a high ball by Sinoti. Throughout the game he picked and made the hard yards, and whilst the Warriors looked second best for large period of the game, Swinson stayed strong and knocked Zebre back in several big hits.
6: Ian Henderson (Ulster)
The first of the controversial selections. Henderson has huge boots to fill and on Friday night he had supporters asking ‘Ferris who?’ He punished the Blues attack and made a certain Jamie Roberts look ordinary. He was involved in making Ulster’s second try after running an excellent support line and setting the ball for Nick Williams’ first.
7: Justin Tipuric (Ospreys)
My second difficult decision is between Tipuric, Johnny O’Connor (Connacht), and Mauro Bergamasco (Zebre). All were fantastic – O’Connor bullied the European Champions and Bergamasco led his pack in a near vitory at Scotstoun. But Tipuric gets the nod as he out-Munster’d Munster; he drove and tackled hard and made the Munster back row look sub-standard.
8: George Naoupu (Connacht)
George Naoupu was simply unstoppable against a poor Leinster side. This was a choice between Naoupu and Nick Williams, who scored two tries but his one-handed style led to more than five lost balls. Naoupu worked hard in the whole game, giving Leinster runners a torrid time, and his work was rewarded in the 74th minute as he crashed over to score.
9: Tobias Botes (Treviso)
Another difficult selection this week. Botes played well against a strong Scarlets side. He sped up the play and commanded his forwards well, and was instrumental in Treviso’s victory. The Worcestershire-born scrum half may have just found his feet in the league.
10: Dan Parks (Connacht)
This is the position that I dont like writing. Dan Biggar (Ospreys) was outstanding against Munster, but Dan Parks nicks it for me as his positional kicking was second to none over the weekend games, and he commanded the midfield calling the plays. A man of the match performance and a fantastic debut.
11: Andy Fenby (Scarlets)
Andy Fenby scored twice in the defeat to Treviso. In a very close game, individual skills played a huge part, and this was true of Fenby’s second after he fly-hacked through twice and managed to dive on the ball before it went out of play. He came inside on defensive duties and cut Treviso down.
12: Graeme Morrison (Warriors)
Morrison rallied the Warriors’ defence after a shocking first quarter display at Scotstoun. Visting side Zebre, were ahead 13-0 after just 13 minutes, but he pushed hard in attack and was instrumental in the buildup for DTH to score. An easy selection at inside.
13: Paddy Wallace (Ulster)
Paddy Wallace came on early in the game to replace the injuried Michael Allen. In his first real defensive effort he sustained a head wound which was very quickly wrapped up by the Ulster medical team. This seemed to spur him on and he truly put his body on the line. Cardiff were well-beaten but they didn’t sit down – they attacked hard and Wallace was fearless in stopping them time and again.
14: Tommy Bowe (Ulster)
Bowe is a very easy selection here. It had been reported that he was unfit, selected too early, but there was no sign of that. He chased every kick hard, and beat the Cardiff defensive line twice. The choice on the wing for Gatland is not an easy one, but the performances of Zebo, Bowe and Visser will give him a pleasant headache.
15: Richard Fussell (Ospreys)
Fussell is a fantastic player. He is an intelligent full back and asked a lot of questions of the Munster line, and only Simon Zebo, and Keith Earls could get close to him. His try came from a great build up by the Ospreys forwards who ran the show.