European Team of the Week
With the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup making their triumphant returns this weekend, it’s now Europe’s chance to shine after the summer extravaganza that was the Rugby Championship.
Three-time Heineken Cup champions Leinster, reigning titleholders Toulon and last year’s European Challenge Cup finalists Stade Francais all emerged as victors in their Continental returns, but it wasn’t such a happy opening for other giants.
Looking solely at individual performances, read on to find who soared and who slumped in the European Team of the Week.
Loosehead Prop: Cian Healy, Leinster
Going up against Adam Jones is never an easy task for any loosehead, but Cian Healy handled himself tremendously against his Welsh counterpart as Leinster recorded a memorable victory at the Liberty Stadium.
The Irish visitors didn’t lose a scrum in their trip thanks largely to the good work of their front row, with Healy also playing a big figure in the loose, carrying four times in a good display.
Hooker: Dylan Hartley, Northampton Saints
Munster’s Mike Sherry goes down as an honourable mentioned after scoring at Edinburgh, but Dylan Hartley pitched in with another try of his own, helping Northampton earn a losing bonus point at Top 14 champions Castres.
Throwing as well as ever, the Saints hooker didn’t lose a lineout on his trip to France and made 15 metres with ball in hand, a tally only flanker Tom Wood could beat in the visiting pack.
Tighthead Prop: Dan Cole, Leicester Tigers
Another front-rower on the losing side of things this weekend, Dan Cole provided one of the few glimpses of hope in Leicester’s loss at Ulster.
There were relatively slim pickings in terms of impressive tighthead displays this weekend, so the England international was more the best of a bad bunch than anything else.
Lock: Ali Williams, Toulon
Second rows may not be known for their mobility, but you wouldn’t have thought it considering the ease with which Ali Williams glided about for Toulon this weekend.
The New Zealander managed to make eight tackles, the joint highest of any home player in the win over Glasgow, also managing six passes and 19 metres made in the carry.
Lock: Dean Mumm, Exeter Chiefs
Adding to the three tries he’s already got in the Premiership this season, Dean Mumm carried his scoring form to Europe this weekend, crossing the whitewash in the first half for the first time this term.
The Exeter captain again proved a spearhead at the Sandy Park Stadium, pushing the Chiefs into a considerable lead, although more could be said of some defensive lapses in the second period.
Blindside Flanker: Aaron Shingler, Scarlets
Scarlets’ win at Harlequins this weekend was a surprise that came as a result of numerous dazzling individual performances from the Stoop’s Welsh intruders, among which Aaron Shingler ranked very highly.
The 26-year-old was a constant source of bother at the breakdown and managed to get into the tackling double digits with 10, the most of any player that featured in the fixture.
On top of that, Shingler also carried for 46 metres and matched Liam Williams with a team-high of two offloads.
Openside Flanker: Sean O’Brien, Leinster
Scorer of the only try in Leinster’s win against Ospreys, Sean O’Brien showcased some of his finest attacking ability this weekend as the Tullow Tank raced around his South Wales surroundings for 13 carries and 11 tackles.
Aside from his try, another fine highlight of O’Brien’s outing was the monstrous hand-off dished out to the hosts’ Dan Biggar, which has since been making the rounds on social media.
Number 8: Dave Ewers, Exeter Chiefs
Carrying no less than 18 times in the 44-29 win over Cardiff Blues, Dave Ewers was quite simply everywhere against the Welsh intruders, evidently keen to reject their advances.
With Ewers propelling the home side up the pitch, the Blues barely had a chance to catch their breath as the No. 8 ran for 21 metres, beating three defenders along the way.
Scrum-Half: Greig Laidlaw, Edinburgh
There aren’t many other half-back candidates who matched Edinburgh’s Greig Laidlaw in terms of constant intensity this weekend, with the Scotsman proving Munster’s main nuisance in their unsuccessful trip to Murrayfield.
Slotting home seven of an attempted eight kicks, Laidlaw scored 19 points of his own and was the leader that Alan Solomons’ side needed in such a tough fixture, orchestrating the pack well but also providing a smooth transition in the backs.
Fly-Half: Matt Giteau, Toulon
Having never lost at home in the Heineken Cup, Toulon began their title defence in admirable fashion, with Matt Giteau crossing over for his first tries in the competition.
The Australian utility man was a consistent catalyst against the Glasgow Warriors, offering a launchpad for those around him, as well as bagging 12 points for himself, kicking one conversion.
As they ran to a 51-28 victory over the Scottish visitors, Toulon beat 11 defenders, five of which Giteau accounted for.
Wing: Sitveni Sivivatu, Clermont Auvergne
Clermont’s unsuccessful trip to Paris this weekend didn’t provide too many positives, but Sitveni Sivivatu is certainly up there if there was one, pitching in with his customarily strong abilities.
On numerous occasions, the New Zealander made the break through Racing Metro’s defence only to find he lacked the sufficient support to make any use of it, but it was a strong performance nonetheless.
Inside Centre: Scott Williams, Scarlets
One of the stories of the weekend, Scott Williams was the driving force that Scarlets needed on a difficult trip to London, easily the most impressive of the three Williams scorers.
From inside centre, the Welsh hopeful cut through the Harlequins line time and time again, carrying for an incredible 66 metres from just five carries.
Williams’ own try was a thing of beauty and Warren Gatland will undoubtedly be paying even more attention to the 23-year-old after such a proficient outing.
Outside Centre: Maxime Mermoz, Toulon
The other Toulon back to have bagged a brace against Glasgow this weekend was Maxime Mermoz, who enjoyed an almost seamless display in the No. 13 jersey.
The Frenchman made 53 metres from just 11 carries, boasting a metre-per-carry ratio that only Delon Armitage could top but also putting the finishing touches on the ends of considerably more difficult chances.
Mermoz was an ever-present force moving forward but, like the rest of his side, could have allowed for less complacency in the last 40 minutes.
Wing: William Helu, London Wasps
What better way to cap your London Wasps debut than by grabbing a hat-trick for the club in their Challenge Cup opener, just as William Helu did this weekend?
The Tongan winger was a livewire out wide against Viadana, scoring 15 points for the English visitors on their way to a 90-17 routing of the Italian minnows.
Special mention for Fetu’u Vainikolo, who gave Exeter reason to be less saddened about the injury to Tom James against Cardiff.
Fullback: James Hook, Perpignan
James Hook took little time in attempting to heap European woes upon Gloucester this weekend, scoring for Perpignan with less than a minute gone to demoralise the Kingsholm hosts.
Even though the Cherry and Whites would rally to win, there are few who could put down Hook’s own showing, where he put all of Perpignan’s 22 points on the board, converting his own score, four penalties and a drop goal just for good measure.