1. Phil John (Scarlets)
Credited to a large extent with turning round the Scarlets’ fortunes at the scrum this season, the veteran John is a tough prospect to handle – particularly under the latest scrum directive. For his age and size, he still gets through a power of graft around the pitch.
2. Richard Hibbard (Ospreys)
A constant presence in the loose, the British and Irish Lions tourist punched hole after hole in the Dragons defence with some excellent carrying work. Aided by several Lions colleagues, he caused the visitors problems with ball in hand, and was generally too much for them to handle.
3. WP Nel (Edinburgh)
Nel crashed over for what proved to be the match-winning try at Murrayfield, a feat all the more impressive given the number of minutes on the clock when he breached the Treviso line. Though he can be something of a penalty-magnet at the scrum, he was solid at the set piece and busy as ever in the loose on Friday.
4. Tim Swinson (Glasgow Warriors)
The Scotland international has been outstanding for the Warriors in the opening rounds of the season, even bagging himself a few tries. On Friday night, he defied his relatively small second-row stature to once again get through plenty of work in the loose both with and without the ball. Zebre’s veteran Marco Bortolami was similarly busy as his side came close to a first home win.
5. Dan Tuohy (Ulster)
Two tries is always a noteworthy feat for a second-row; all the more so when they are separated by nearly sixty-five minutes of rugby. The Ulster lock was happy as ever to do the dirty work at the breakdown, but was also found popping up in midfield to challenge the Blues defence as the hosts took control at Ravenhill.
6. Peter O’Mahony (Munster)
While O’Mahony’s remonstrating with referee Ian Davies may not have done the Ireland back-row many favours, he was one of the primary reasons Glasgow were suffocated and frustrated in attack. Aided by CJ Stander, he contrived to slow the hosts’ ball down well at the breakdown, and shackle those who ran at him.
7. Justin Tipuric (Ospreys)
Tipuric showed just what a fine footballer he is with two excellent tries in the Ospreys’ demolition derby victory over the Dragons. Though the first was the result of dogged openside support play, the second chip-and-chase effort was more in the maverick mould of the Welsh breakaway. Hugely effective in the loose, and one large marker laid down to the Welsh selectors.
8. George Naoupu (Connacht)
A typically powerful display from the big Connacht number eight, who was both tenacious and abrasive in the loose. Facing a much-vaunted Leinster back-row, the Kiwi was one of the visitors’ most potent ball-carriers, and defended manfully until his late substitution.
9. Kieran Marmion (Connacht)
The youngster keeps getting better and better, and much like the Connacht side he represents, seems to revel in the role of underdog. He grabbed another fine opportunist try, and was a constant menace to the Leinster fringe defence with his pace and trickery. Though his evening was soured by a late yellow-card, cries for his call-up to the Ireland November Tests squad do not look without merit.
10. JJ Hanrahan (Munster)
The young Irishman controlled a tight and ugly encounter masterfully from the pivot position. His kicking from hand was intelligent given the conditions, and he nailed important points from the tee – in particular, one beautiful long-range effort. Hanrahan offered what proved to be one the game’s few moments of class, taking advantage of poor Glasgow defence to ghost through for a classy solo try.
11. Richard Smith (Cardiff Blues)
Though utilised by the Blues on the right wing at Ravenhill on Friday, it was from the opposite touchline that Smith executed a great finish to bring the Welsh outfit back into the game. A physical presence in attack, the 26-year-old will look to kick on and add to his handful of Pro12 appearances.
12. Gonzalo Garcia (Zebre)
The Italian international fronted up against what was a much-vaunted and in-form Scarlets midfield. He took his chance well to scoot over for an important try, and did his best to keep a dangerous visiting backline under-wraps.
13. Nick De Luca (Edinburgh)
Much-maligned in national colours, De Luca looks to be regaining his best form with Edinburgh, after a trio of influential performances. He is a real threat with ball in hand, and troubled the Treviso midfield aplenty. Not necessarily known for his defensive work, the Scot made what appeared to be a try-saving tackle early in the match, and was uncompromising throughout. Special mention to Ulster’s Jared Payne, who after being shifted to 13 from full-back, is being touted by some as a long-term replacement for Brian O’Driscoll.
14. Andrew Trimble (Ulster)
Another week, another try for a resurgent Trimble. After Heineken Cup heroics in Montpellier, the winger crossed again in the first-half at Ravenhill. Continuing to show himself to be a dangerous finisher, the Ulsterman must feel he has a point to prove having been omitted from his country’s November Tests squad.
15. Stuart Olding (Ulster)
Utilised by boss Mark Anscombe in the unfamiliar role of full-back, the youngster turned in an impressive display in the fifteen jersey. Dangerous in attack, he burst through the Blues defence to put Luke Marshall over the line, then sent a beautifully weighted ball out to Andrew Trimble to wrap up the bonus point try.
By Jamie Lyall (@JLyall93)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images