European Team of the Week

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistDecember 16, 2013

European Team of the Week

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    International rugby is now firmly in the rear-view mirror after a fortnight of back-to-back Heineken Cup weekends came to a close in dramatic fashion this Sunday.

    Epic collisions were witnessed in nearly every corner of the rugby continent, with France, Ireland, England and Wales each hosting their contribution to a blockbuster few days.

    However, now that the action is laid to one side, it's time to think back on which stars impressed most, discussed ahead in the European Team of the Week.

Front Five

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    1. Marcos Ayerza, Leicester Tigers

    It's not often that Nicolas Mas gives up the scrum to his opposite man in direct competition, but Argentina's Marcos Ayerza would argue that was exactly the case at Montpellier this weekend.

    However, awesome as that feat may be, it was actually in the loose that the South American's biggest input came, deft hands paving the way for an assist on Vereneki Goneva's match-winning try. 


    2. Christopher Tolofua, Toulouse

    Only three members of the Toulouse squad managed to outrun hooker Christopher Tolofua in terms of carrying metres this weekend, the French club's No. 2 showing that he was in a free-flowing mood for the trip to Connacht.

    Scoring for the visitors just prior to halftime, the 19-year-old couldn't have crossed over at a more appropriate time than when his side would start their eventual breakaway, continuing his Toulouse development. 


    3. WP Nel, Edinburgh

    WP Nel remains one of Edinburgh's biggest leading presences and showed precisely why with a gritty outing at Kingsholm.

    The South African tighthead may have been a bit generous giving penalties away—a high four in total—but his work in defence made up for any grievances over how his game went.


    4. George Kruis, Saracens

    Having scored more than 60 points this weekend, Saracens may have hoped for more than one name in this weekend's line-up, but such a rudimentary victory over Zebre sees them boast just the one candidate, George Kruis.

    The lock beats Northampton's Courtney Lawes to a spot after making 16 tackles in Saracens' thumping of their Italian opposition so that others could get to the more glamorous pursuits.


    5. Graham Kitchener, Leicester Tigers

    Graham Kitchener's role at Welford Road has been a mixed one this season, but the second row showed no signs of unease with a steady outing in southern France.

    No signs of injury or absence were on show as the 24-year-old Tiger worked well in the line-out, missing only one take all day in Montpellier and contributing 11 tackles, which is just the workmanlike icing on the cake.

Back Row

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    6. Roddy Grant, Edinburgh

    Tom Wood's performance in the win over Leinster may have earned him a place in this weekend's side, but Roddy Grant's defensive presence at Kingsholm puts him as a priority.

    In total, the Edinburgh flanker made a magnificent 19 tackles against Gloucester—the highest of any player in the game—albeit at the sacrifice of having very little to say in attack.


    7. Mamuka Gorgodze, Montpellier

    For the second weekend running, Mamuka Gorgodze provided an exemplary demonstration against the Leicester Tigers, but again it wasn't enough to see the Top 14 representatives come out with the win.

    This weekend, the Georgian merely assisted a try instead of crossing over the line himself but was an ever-present force against the English side's challenge, always willing to pick up short yardage and carry momentum for his team across the pitch. 


    8. Damien Chouly, Clermont Auvergne

    Clermont's backs often make for easy watching themselves, but Damien Chouly shone out as the best of a very good forwards bunch at Par-y-Scarlets this week.

    The 28-year-old French international ran for a big 49 metres and was a fine all-round star for the Top 14 giants, adding seven tackles to the mix as well.


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    9. Ben Youngs, Leicester Tigers

    The Youngs brothers were both in fine form this weekend, but it's younger sibling Ben who makes it onto the Team of the Week line-up, regardless of the fact that it was Tom who crossed over the whitewash.

    Ben's one assist came on top of an 80-pass tally for the scrum-half, significant of the fast hands that he so often promotes within the Leicester ranks, this time to winning effect.


    10. Dan Biggar, Ospreys

    Keeping Ospreys' Heineken Cup hopes alive almost single-handedly, Dan Biggar kicked all 21 of the Welsh outfit's points during their win over Castres this weekend.

    Against, Steve Tandy's side looked somewhat timid going forward with ball in hand and lacked any clinical touch, but it's just as well their fly-half was in an accurate mood, doing his place in the Welsh squad no harm with an added bonus of eight tackles.


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    11. Napolioni Nalaga, Clermont Auvergne 

    Another week, another Team of the Week inclusion for Napolioni Nalaga, whom Scarlets will be glad to see the back of now that their two encounters against Clermont are through.

    As willing as ever to hit the direct channels, the Fijian ran for more than 60 metres off just nine carries, scoring two tries, the first of which came before there was barely a minute of play on the watch.


    12. Luther Burrell, Northampton Saints

    Luther Burrell's performance was at times made to look slightly more glamorous thanks to the talents of Ken Pisi and George North, but the No. 12 put in a typically solid shift for the Saints just when it was needed most.

    The 26-year-old added a crucial 13 tackles to the midfield cause, was reliable when called underneath any high ball and laid on some of the softest hands you'll see to link up well with his usually strong running ways.


    13. George North, Northampton Saints

    As if it wasn't good enough for the youngster to be making his name as one of the most talented wingers in the world, George North's career at outside centre took a considerable boost at the Aviva Stadium this weekend.

    Up against the considerable challenge of Brian O'Driscoll, the Welshman coped brilliantly, missing only the one tackle and teaming up fluidly with his inside partner, scoring a sole try in the process.


    14. Charlie Walker, Harlequins

    Charlie Walker proved his worth on the Sevens circuit over the summer, and the soon-to-be 22-year-old is now strutting his stuff well in the full XV, scoring Harlequins' crucial and only try against Racing Metro this weekend.

    The winger's tally of 102 metres set a strong precedent for the English hosts, with Walker's potent blend of pace and agility allowing him to make three clean line breaks, beating three defenders in the process. 


    15. Luke Arscott, Exeter Chiefs

    Arguably the performance of the weekend, Luke Arscott's display at full-back for Exeter Chiefs this weekend may not have been enough to give the visiting outfit a win in Toulon, but the Top 14 hosts did get a bit of a fright thanks to the 29-year-old.

    Although he didn't get on the score sheet during the 32-30 loss, 191 metres gained with ball in hand, 11 defenders beaten and no missed tackles is a pretty spotless outing by any standards.