European Team of the Week
Another week of European rugby brings with it another selection of elite performances worthy of being included in the Team of the Week.
In France, Stade Francais were given some breathing space at the summit of the Top 14 table thanks to Toulon’s loss at Oyannax while Saracens and Glasgow maintained their contention for top spot in the Premiership and Pro 12, respectively.
Read on to find out who profited most as a result of some fine displays across Europe this weekend, making their way into the best XV.
Loosehead Prop: James Cronin
James Cronin handled himself well in the Munster scrum and managed to get on the end of a superb passing move for the Irish province, ramming over from five yards out.
The 20-year-old has only a handful of senior appearances for Munster to his name but is already showing why he’s a candidate to see increased involvement.
Hooker: Rory Best
Another Irish front-rower to grab a score of his own this weekend, Rory Best showed superb support to finish a sequence set up by the Ulster backs.
The Irish hosts won all of their own throws with Best at the helm and the hooker also pitched in with a huge 15 tackles.
Tighthead Prop: Rabah Slimani
Club: Stade Francais
Rabah Slimani provided the opening try of Stade Francais’ titanic 18-11 victory over Montpellier, crossing over from short range after beating away the challenge of several defenders.
The tighthead came off with just over 10 minutes left to play but was pivotal in setting the foundations for a crucial home win, performing well in the scrum, too.
Lock: Alun-Wyn Jones
Notching a late score of his own, Alun-Wyn Jones put the icing on the cake of Ospreys’ 43-26 battering of Connacht on Saturday.
However, the score was merely a late reward for what was already a highly-impressive outing for the Welsh lock, where he also recorded 13 tackles and popped up all over the park for his side.
Lock: Joe Launchbury
Club: London Wasps
Joe Launchbury has and continues to be one of the more impressive players among Wasps’ pack this season, building on the good work put in last term.
Against Worcester this weekend, the 22-year-old carried well but was even more of an essential figure in defence, pitching in with no less than 20 tackles.
Blindside Flanker: Peter O’Mahony
As well as offering Munster a leading face at the breakdown, Peter O’Mahony’s show-and-go finish against Newport Gwent Dragons was a savvy injection of offensive input from the blindside.
The 24-year-old Cork man was always looking to pick up yards in the loose and put in a solid shift in terms of limiting the Welsh visitors’ chances.
Openside Flanker: Guy Mercer
Club: Bath Rugby
Guy Mercer was fortunate enough to be on the same wavelength as George Ford in capitalising on a lapse in concentration by London Irish, collecting a quick line-out to run over from 10 yards out in the first period.
That was before the 23-year-old collected on the wing once more in the first half, breezing through some poor hosts' defence for a second score.
Aside from that, however, Mercer did a fine job of his work at the breakdown and made a joint-high tally of 15 tackles in the match, tied with Leroy Houston.
Number Eight: Sam Dickinson
Club: Northampton Saints
With 92 yards gained with ball in hand and eight tackles made in defence, Sam Dickinson was an omnipresent face for Northampton as they trotted to victory over Sale Sharks.
Unfortunate not to score a try of his own on Friday evening, the 27-year-old former Rotherham star was among the most involved players on the ball.
Scrum-Half: Julien Dupuy
Club: Stade Francais
In what was a key match for the club in terms of keeping the hopes of Top 14 glory at their highest, Julian Dupuy led the Parisian club from the front foot but also managed to notch over eight points from the tee.
The Frenchman gave the Stade Jean Bouin club a steady supply of quick ball going forward, allowing them a reliable platform to launch from but also posing a running threat of his own.
Fly-Half: George Ford
Club: Bath Rugby
As high tempo an outing as you will have seen for a European fly-half last weekend, George Ford continued to shine in his new Bath surroundings against London Irish, playing the role of puppeteer for his side’s most recent triumph.
Assisting an early Guy Mercer try with some super initiative, Ford eventually went over for a magnificent try of his own and gave a relatively-assured presence when kicking but could have been better in defence.
Wing: Naipolioni Vonowole Nalaga
Club: Clermont Auvergne
With the rest of the Clermont back-line in good form, Naipolioni Vonowole Nalaga starred for the Top 14 giants in their 40-11 mauling of Bordeaux last weekend.
Nalaga showed great instinct on two almost identical occasions to pick up off the base of the ruck and leap over from short range twice in the second half.
Inside Centre: George Pisi
Club: Northampton Saints
Northampton’s 33-14 win over Sale was in no small part thanks to the fine central partnership of George Pisi and Luther Burrell.
Moving into the No. 12 shirt to accommodate his Team of the Week partner, Pisi was the catalytic duel of the Saints backs, making things tick for those around him but also finishing off a delightful move himself.
Outside Centre: Vereniki Goneva
Club: Leicester Tigers
Although he’s played off the wing of late, Vereniki Goneva shifts back into the centre this week after a powerful display against Exeter, scoring a runaway try through the central channel and punishing some lax passing from the home team.
As ever, Goneva was a physical presence for the Tigers attack to follow up on but also gave a good supply to those around him, as well as holding out defensively.
Wing: Byron McGuigan
Club: Glasgow Warriors
Byron McGuigan’s contribution of 10 points proved crucial in Glasgow’s 24-17 defeat of Zebre last weekend, twice getting on the end of some superb back-line play from the Scottish visitors.
McGuigan’s handling was a strong aspect of the Scot’s performance, helping his side push forward, although Sean Maitland’s 92 yards carrying was also something to be commended.
Fullback: Ian Madigan
At least an honourable mention at fly-half, Madigan fills in at full-back after a performance that showed Leinster’s other contender for the No. 10 shirt, Jimmy Gopperth, just who’s ahead in the race.
Strong from the tee as ever, kicking all of his attempts, Madigan again delivered a fine playmaker’s showing against Cardiff, running well with the ball but more importantly offloading when the opportunity arose.
A match-high of 55 passes told the story of how helpful the 24-year-old was to those outside him, as well as crossing over for a late try himself.