European Team of the Week
The Northern Hemisphere returned to domestic rugby action this weekend, with many stars hoping to leave some last impressions ahead of the November internationals.
From this point, the standing of every European league could well take on a phase of metamorphosis, with some sides set to lose more of their star talent than others.
Northampton Saints and Ospreys were particularly impressive in their attempts to climb the Premiership and Pro 12 tables, respectively, but there were a host of other assets who stood out in their own regard.
Loosehead Prop: Alex Waller, Northampton Saints
Matt Stevens was made to look almost infantile in the scrum at times thanks to the work of Alex Waller, filling in for the absent Alex Corbisiero.
Waller’s work at the set piece will have given Jim Mallinder an enviable dilemma to consider when Corbisiero eventually does return to play.
Hooker: Richard Hibbard, Ospreys
Once again showing an unquenchable thirst to get forward with ball in hand, Richard Hibbard gave Newport Gwent Dragons a raft of issues this weekend.
Alongside the likes of Alun-Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric, Hibbard was one of several stars from the Ospreys pack.
Tighthead Prop: Luc Ducalcon, Racing Metro
Capitalising on the fine work of Jonny Sexton, Luc Ducalcon crashed over from short range to set Racking Metro on their way to a vital victory against Stade Francais.
The Parisian encounter was a tough contest at the scrum and line-out, but Racing’s tighthead stood up well to the challenge of Hendrik van der Merwe.
Lock: Dean Mumm, Exeter Chiefs
Yet again showing his attacking nuance in spades, Dean Mumm led Exeter from the front foot and crossed over the whitewash for his fourth league try of the season against Worcester Warriors.
The 29-year-old continues to show an extraordinary will to get forward in support of his teammates, which was again the story behind his wonderful score this weekend.
Lock: Dan Tuohy, Ulster
Weighing almost 18 stone, Dan Tuohy was an appreciated presence in the Ulster midfield as the Bristol native popped up time and again hoping to carry into the fray.
Not only did Tuohy add his first two tries of the season against Cardiff Blues, but the towering lock showed great stamina at Ravenhill, playing the full 80 minutes for the fourth game in a row.
Blindside Flanker: Ben White, Exeter Chiefs
Shifting to the blind, Ben White put in a terrific performance in Exeter’s No. 7 jersey this weekend, contributing excellently to the attack and adding his third and fourth tries of the campaign.
Granted, Worcester’s defence may not have been up to scratch, but White still managed to excel above most of his fellow Chiefs, also assisting for a fine score late.
Openside Flanker: Justin Tipuric, Ospreys
Arguably the performance of the weekend, Justin Tipuric showed the guile reminiscent of a 2011 Bryan Habana when he carried at the Newport Gwent Dragons defence before chipping over, collecting and gliding over for one of the best individual tries he’s bagged in his career to date.
Ahead of an international series, the Welshman couldn’t have hoped for a better performance to showcase his talents to Wales management.
Number 8: Samu Manoa, Northampton Saints
Although he played in his natural position of lock over the weekend, Samu Manoa’s mobility in the loose earns him a spot at No. 8 to accommodate the second-row choices in this week’s line-up.
This agility was perfectly summed up in the Northampton giant’s sidestep to cross over for his try, one of the five defenders that Manoa beat on the day.
Scrum-Half: Jano Vermaak, Toulouse
Coming up with the goods when it mattered most, it was the smallest man on the pitch who made the biggest difference as Toulouse ran to an incredibly tight 13-12 win over Toulon.
Jano Vermaak’s 71st-minute score was the only try of the match and capped off a good performance from the South African, ultimately winning the match for the hosts.
Fly-Half: Andy Goode, London Wasps
In his first Team of the Week appearances this season, Andy Goode stood up superbly not only to the hefty challenge of Leicester Tigers, but to the swirling Adams Park conditions, too.
Playing against his former club, the veteran fly-half converted Christian Wade’s early try before hitting home two of his three penalties and a vital brace of drop goals, sending Wasps on their way to a 22-12 triumph.
Wing: Naipolioni Vonowale Nalaga, Clermont Auvergne
In customary fashion, Naipolioni Vonowale Nalaga’s brute strength again stood out as his greatest asset in this weekend’s win over Brive.
The Fijian finished off almost everything that was fed to him and was constantly looked to break the gain line for last year’s Heineken Cup finalists.
Inside Centre: Luke Marshall, Ulster
Excelling further into his role as Ulster’s premier playmaker, Luke Marshall continues to show great promise with the Irish province and urged those around him onto a 39-21 win over Cardiff Blues.
As well as crossing over for a try of his own thanks to the work of his fellow backs, the 22-year-old was once again the creative, catalytic core of Ulster’s midfield.
Outside Centre: Luther Burrell, Northampton Saints
Luther Burrell was another who held a good account of himself ahead of what could be his England debut next week.
The Saints centre maintained the prolific partnership he’s enjoyed with George Pisi of late to run for more than 10 metres per carry against Saracens, time and again probing the opposition defence and grabbing a late try for himself.
Wing: Geoffrey Palis, Castres
Scoring no less than 19 points, Geoffrey Palis started his performance against Biarritz as he meant to carry on this weekend.
After scoring a finely taken try in the match’s opening minute, the winger converted all scores, added another couple of penalties and was a defensive force to be reckoned with as Castres ran to a 39-0 victory over the Top 14 strugglers.
Full-back: Ben Foden, Northampton Saints
Stuart Lancaster will have been left with no chance other than to admire Ben Foden’s last club outing prior to the Guinness Series, pushing the Northampton man further into the international reckoning.
Up against fellow England fullback candidate Alex Goode, Foden reigned supreme with a second-half performance that showcased both brains and brawn as he ran over for two tries.