European Rugby Team of the Week
With all of the continent’s top rugby leagues now back in action, Europe has the widest assortment of talent on display that it could hope for.
Taking into account the elite pockets of stars in the Aviva Premiership, RaboDirect Pro 12 and France’s Top 14 division, compiled is a team made up of those who impressed most over the weekend.
Regardless of team result, each player included will have performed above and beyond in their respective dimensions, justifying their place in this week’s European Team of the Week.
Loosehead Prop: James Cronin (Munster)
In his first competitive start for Munster, James Cronin gave a performance worthy any well-weathered star, capping the display off with a first-half try in the win over Edinburgh.
The 22-year-old loosehead carried well and found himself engaged in the more head-to-head collisions, showing just why he was nominated the province’s Academy Player of the Year last season.
Thanks to Cronin, a lot of ground was made as a result of his graft in the scrum.
Hooker: Dylan Hartley (Saints)
Having been looked upon largely as the villain in his last appearance for Northampton, Dylan Hartley put all the ghosts of last season’s Premiership final with a fine return to top flight rugby.
Jamie George may have scored two tries in Saracens’ win over London Irish, but Hartley’s fine work across the 80 minutes that included a try of his own was far more essential in Jim Mallinder’s great start against Exeter.
Tighthead Prop: Nicolas Mas (Montpellier)
One of many summer recruits to have joined Montpellier over the summer period, Nicolas Mas pitched in with a superbly confident showing in the 25-0 win over Toulouse this weekend.
The tighthead made things assured on his side of the scrum and, while he might have offered more going forward, was one of several Montpellier pack members who put in a shift defensively against a frankly lacklustre Toulouse outfit.
Lock: Julian Pierre (Clermont Auvergne)
A dynamic showing from such a big man, Julian Pierre was unfortunate not to come out on the winning side in Paris after what was a gruelling encounter between Clermont Auvergne and Stade Francais.
The 32-year-old took his try well in the corner, touching down under great pressure, but was always on the move, looking to play a role at the breakdown and offer something more going forward.
Lock: Joe Launchbury (London Wasps)
Another lock who managed to get on the scoresheet this week was London Wasps’ Joe Launchbury, who crossed over in front of a Twickenham audience but was unfortunate to also be a part of the losing side.
Having said that, the England international was omnipresent in a game largely dominated by the forwards. What was most impressive about Launchbury’s output was his willingness to shift about the defensive line, especially in long stretches where Harlequins had Wasps pinned on their own try line.
Blindside Flanker: Billy Vunipola (Saracens)
Life at Saracens has started well for Billy Vunipola, who squeezed in at blindside flanker for his first competitive start for last season’s top-of-the-table side this weekend.
True to form, the former Wasps starlet picked up some major yardage and was ever eager to get on the ball, but also showed serious delight in his defensive shift during the win over London Irish.
Openside Flanker: Tom Croft (Tigers)
In perfectly customary fashion for one of his ability, Tom Croft slips in at openside flanker after a superb attacking display against Worcester, which saw him contribute in the buildup to several Leicester tries.
Though a blindside by nature, room is made for the England and British and Irish Lions star at the opposite side of the scrum following yet another supremely confident outing.
Number 8: Sergio Parisse (Stade Francais)
Unsurprisingly, Sergio Parisse gave a substantial hand in Stade Francais’ victory over Clermont this weekend, as eager as ever to propel his side up the field with his magnificent physical abilities.
As ever, the Italian made sure that his performance matched expectations, cutting a figure not just with ball in hand, but in recovering possession.
This weekend featured a number of impressive No. 8 showings, particularly Tom Palmer’s outing against Exeter, but Parisse can’t help but stand out.
Scrum-Half: David Mele (Tigers)
Despite being brought in largely as cover, David Mele looks set to offer Ben Youngs some competition for the No. 9 jersey this season after a constructive showing against Worcester.
During his first Aviva Premiership fixture, the Frenchman was keen to promote quick ball and even pitched in with a score of his own.
Fly-Half: Jimmy Gopperth (Leinster)
In the absence of Ian Madigan, Jimmy Gopperth was an excellent backup option against Scarlets and contributed with more than half of his side’s 42 overall points.
He and Devin Toner would combine brilliantly down the left flank for Gopperth to score one himself but the New Zealander was constantly fluid through the hands and allowed his backs to have an enjoyable outing as a result.
Ever the catalyst moving forward, Gopperth also did well to notch three penalties and four try conversions from the tee, finishing off a very fruitful evening in Wales.
Wing: Mark Cueto (Sale Sharks)
Though a Premiership veteran of some years now, Mark Cueto showed this weekend that he’s lost none of his scoring touch in those crunch occasions.
The 33-year-old crossed over early to begin his side’s eventual shock win at Kingsholm, but was a threat throughout and helped set up teammate Andy Forsyth to score thanks to a superbly timed chip through.
Inside Centre: Matt Giteau (Toulon)
Although he only played a little less than half a game this weekend, utility Matt Giteau steps into one of our centre spots having made extremely efficient use of what time he did have on the pitch.
Although playing at fly-half for the most part, the Australian showed his more physical side in the win over Biarritz, always looking to cut a line when the opportunity arose and putting Maxime Mermoz in for his second-half score accordingly.
However, Giteau managed to sneak over for a try of his own and once again provided the very advantageous presence from the tee, slotting several a couple of penalties and a conversion.
Outside Centre: Nick De Luca (Edinburgh)
While his side may have had a tough time in Ireland this weekend, Nick De Luca was one of only several bright sparks for Edinburgh in the loss to Munster.
Constantly on the lookout to fashion a chance, the Scotsman finally got his just rewards when going over in the first half to give his side some hope of rescuing points on their away trip.
Unfortunately for De Luca, he came up against a Munster side in strong attacking form, but did well to cope defensively at times, eventually simply being overwhelmed by the sheer onslaught of the hosts.
Wing: Vereniki Goneva (Tigers)
It seems almost impossible to describe a Vereniki Goneva try without using the words “physically imposing” or “like bludgeoning one’s way through masses and masses of players.”
However, the Fijian was on hand to assert his dominance once again against the Warriors, capping off some decent play with a finish of altogether more superb fashion.
Managing to keep the Worcester backs quiet for large portions of the match, Goneva’s performance ran deeper than strictly offence, too.
Full-Back: Denis Hurley (Munster)
One of several Munster offensive stars who couldn’t have looked more eager to carry the ball against Leinster, Denis Hurley was involved in just about everything his side engineered while in possession.
Stepping into the line whenever the chance presented itself, the full-back managed to slide in for one of his own, but was more encouraging as a playmaker, opening up acres of space for those around him and impressing in his kicking game.