European Team of the Week
It was a week to behold for European fly-halves this week as playmakers from France in particular showed that there's more to their craft than just the kicking game.
That being said, hundreds of players from dozens of the Continent's top teams stood out as particularly powerful, all for a range of reasons.
Read on for a breakdown of this weekend's strongest European XV, with the Aviva Premiership accounting for a decent portion of the star lineup.
Loosehead Prop: Joe Marler
Despite touching down for a try from short range, the true highlight of Joe Marler’s bright performance against Worcester was a fleet-of-foot side step that will leave the England backs fearing for their international futures.
Despite playing just one half of the victory, Marler put in a rounded and even display, making impressive yardage in the loose and doing more than his bit in the set piece.
Hooker: Richard Hibbard
Two tries in the bonus-point win over Edinburgh from Richard Hibbard showed off the more offensive flair of the British and Irish Lion.
The blonde bruiser threw into the line-out well and was consistently strong when carrying the ball, albeit against a timid-looking Alan Solomons defence.
Hibbard’s eagerness to get on the ball from the breakdown was on show for all to see and the hooker showed the Ospreys’ thirst for points perfectly.
Tighthead Prop: Dayna Edwards
While his score on the stroke of halftime was the highlight of his performance, Dayna Edwards’ display in the win over Biarritz ran far deeper than his 40th-minute try.
The Grenoble front-rower stayed on top of Thomas Synaeghel in the scrum and was a consistent nuisance in heaping a sixth defeat of the season on Biarritz.
Lock: Dean Mumm
Club: Exeter Chiefs
Another scoring forward this weekend, Dean Mumm put in a captain-worthy display as he led from the front foot in Exeter’s hard-fought 29-23 win over London Irish.
The towering Australian set the wheels in motion for the Chiefs triumphant comeback and shoved over for his side’s first try in the 66th minute, but he was also one of the visiting team’s brighter presences in defence.
Lock: Graham Kitchener
Club: Leicester Tigers
Leicester’s 31-6 victory Newcastle was a fairly rudimentary lesson in just how clinical the reigning Premiership champions can be when they get into their stride.
In the star-studded cast of Welford Road, Graham Kitchener hasn’t been one of the more glamorous faces in recent months, but the 18-stone behemoth put in a flashy shift over the weekend. As well as picking up a try of his own early on, Kitchener had the silky skills necessary to set up a couple of scores for his teammates, too.
Blindside Flanker: Thomas Waldrom
Club: Leicester Tigers
One of Kitchener’s numerous partners in crime this weekend was Thomas Waldrom, who also managed to score in the shooting down of the promoted Falcons.
The flanker’s first try of the season wasn’t pretty by any means after crashing down off the back of a Tigers maul, but it was the ease with which Waldrom went about his duties in defence that impressed most, as well as the support offered to the likes of Manu Tuilagi.
Openside Flanker: Chris Fusaro
Club: Glasgow Warriors
Leinster’s loss in Glasgow was in no small part due to the stubborn defensive graft of the Scottish hosts, of which Chris Fusaro was a major component.
The 24-year-old darted about the pitch in busy fashion, giving the Warriors a terrier-like presence at the breakdown, as well as bundling his way through numerous opponents to grab the game’s opening try.
No. 8: Sisaro Datu Koyamaibole
A marauding show from the Brive No. 8 set the foundations for a terrifically encouraging win over Perpignan, albeit helped by the visitors’ three sin binnings.
Early in the first half, Sisaro Datu Koyamaibole rampaged through the centre of the pitch and set the tone for a scoring play before crossing over for a score of his own in the second period.
Scrum-Half: Jonathan Pelissie
This weekend, it’s an all-Top 14 half-back pairing that stood out most amongst Europe’s elite, with Jonathan Pelissie’s two-try haul against Clermont enough to book his spot at scrum-half.
The 25-year-old Montpellier star functioned excellently alongside Francois Trinh-Duc and managed to score a gargantuan 31 points in the 43-6 win, 21 of which came from his proficient boot.
Fly-Half: Riaan Swanepoel
This weekend was an incredibly fruitful week for fly-halves and, in particular, the playmakers of the French top flight.
Although he didn’t kick for his side, Riaan Swanepoel was cutthroat in capitalising upon the yellow card troubles of Perpignan and guided his Brive side to a massive win over the Catalan outfit.
Far more extravagant than your average outside-half this week, the South African carried when necessary but made sure to unleash the powers of those around him too.
Special mentions to Racing Metro’s Jonny Sexton, Montpellier’s Trinh-Duc and Ospreys’ Matthew Morgan for a superb length-of-the-field try.
Wing: Marc Andreu
Club: Racing Metro
Jonny Sexton’s game-saving introduction may be praised as the catalyst behind Racing Metro’s win over Bordeaux, but it was the scores of Marc Andreu that actually gave the hosts their victorious impetus.
The pint-sized hit man crossed over twice from close range to capitalise upon the work of his half-backs and contributed a crucial 10 points to give his side an 18-10 halftime lead.
Inside Centre: Billy Twelvetrees
Gloucester’s first win of the season couldn’t have come in sweeter fashion than with a victory over Northampton, and Billy Twelvetrees was an unsurprising leader in that vein.
The England international took the game directly to the opposition and did well to make the ground he did considering Luther Burrell and James Wilson have been incredibly stingy so far this season.
Irrespective of the fact that he picked up for an impressive short-range finish, Twelvetrees made the jobs of Charlie Sharples and co. far easier as the Cherry and Whites ran out as deserved 26-24 victors.
Outside Centre: Mark Bennett
Club: Glasgow Warriors
Far from the most dazzling of performances, but Mark Bennett’s defensive contributions were vital in limiting Leinster to just six points in their trip to Scotstoun Stadium.
As well as hitting the crossbar with a long-range effort from the tee, Bennett restricted the Leinster backs to having a minimal input in matters, tackling tremendously and communicating well with his fellow defenders.
Wing: Ludovico Nitoglia
Club: Benetton Treviso
While not his usual hunting ground, space is made for Ludovico Nitoglia on the right wing after an assured and clinical couple of scores against Munster paved the way to a landmark win over the Irish opponents.
The Italian finished just about anything that was given to him with space ahead and made several clean breaks to open up the field for his side on occasion.
Fullback: Mike Brown
Mike Brown may not have been the first name linked with England’s No. 15 shirt after recent weeks but once again put his name right up there for candidacy with an offensively flawless display against Worcester.
As well as giving Joe Marler the tools to score, Brown bagged a try of his own and outshone several other dazzling fullback displays.