European Team of the Week: Ospreys and Montpellier Thrashings Lay Base
With a break away from the pressures of the Six Nations, players were permitted to return to their club settings this week, with some using the respite more wisely than others.
A thumping Munster win over Zebre ensured that Rob Penney's side stayed atop the Pro12, while Northampton Saints and Saracens remained within a one-point distance of one another with triumphs of their own.
In France, four points is now all that separates first from fifth in the Top 14, with Clermont managing to take only a losing bonus point from their trip to Grenoble while the likes of Toulon and Montpellier claimed more amicable results.
With so much drama afoot, it's only natural that some individuals stand out more in the midst of our medley, making their way into the European team of the week.
1. Jack McGrath, Leinster
With Cian Healy out of the frame temporarily, Jack McGrath was allowed to take the spotlight on Leinster's loosehead this week as part of a pack that mauled its way to glory against Newport Gwent Dragons.
McGrath's highlight was an opportune pick and drive, bouncing his way over the try line, but six tackles and a 22-metre carrying total doesn't speak badly of the prop's night.
2. Ger Slattery, Munster
Having only made his Munster debut at the end of December, Ger Slattery is still settling into the senior setting at Thomond Park, but one wouldn't think it based on the youngster's confident display against Zebre.
Coming on early in the second half, Slattery's throwing was up to scratch, and grabbing a couple of tries from short range merely sits as the icing on the cake.
3. Paul Doran-Jones, Harlequins
There wasn't a wealth of impressive tightheads in Europe this weekend, so it's a tactically defensive choice this week, with Paul Doran-Jones' mobile frame getting about the Stoop to restrain Newcastle Falcons this week.
The 28-year-old made nine tackles and held his own in the scrum, capping off a secure and safe day's work if nothing else too extravagant.
4. Leone Nakarawa, Glasgow Warriors
Making just about as many runs as any of the other Glasgow forwards on Saturday, Leone Nakarawa's imposing frame grabbed a carrying sum of 32 metres against Cardiff Blues.
The summer arrival's most impressive work came with his sleight of hand, however, managing a massive nine offloads out of hand, making his presence felt at the line-out, too.
5. Billy Holland, Munster
Like the aforementioned Slattery, Billy Holland took to seizing a rare opportunity against Zebre this weekend, and while one might argue about the level of the competition, the towering lock left a mark all the same.
Making 11 tackles, Holland also carried for 19 metres but left the majority of the line-out duties to second-row mate Donnacha Ryan.
6. Dan Braid, Sale Sharks
It's strange that we should celebrate a Sale Sharks player when no victorious Saracens member manages to make the list, but Dan Braid was one of those who might have turned a 15-10 loss in the hosts' favour.
Individually, the back rower couldn't be held accountable for any defeat, making an outrageous 21 tackles, beating four defenders with ball in hand and giving a shining display as captain.
7. Tommy O'Donnell, Munster
Scorer of one try and maker of another, Tommy O'Donnell had a near faultless outing at Thomond Park, although a special mention goes to Wasps' James Haskell for his work in a tight loss to London Irish.
O'Donnell was a general nuisance at the breakdown, ever eager to make a difference going forward in the loose, and was an energetic figure for the hosts in defence.
8. Alex Tulou, Montpellier
Montpellier ran to an embarrassing victory of 50-19 over Perpignan on Saturday, with Alex Tulou finishing as one of two players who managed to grab a brace for his troubles (the other we'll discuss later).
The 26-year-old was ever eager to impress by his more natural, physical route, but Tulou showed just as much agility as he did muscle, popping up in extremely useful positions out wide to do some damage by different means.
9. Karl Dickson, Harlequins
Although Lee Dickson improved during his week away from international duty, it is younger brother Karl who gets the nod for this week's line-up after sparking Harlequins into an 18-14 win over Newcastle Falcons.
Strangely enough, both brothers carried for 36 metres apiece this weekend, but it was Karl whose quick ball laid the foundations for a much-needed Quins win, his 70-pass tally being one of the highest accumulated in the week.
10. Matt Giteau, Toulon
The Australian continues to lead Toulon's incredibly talented back line with aplomb, Matt Giteau once again shaping his game to meet the demands of the opposition this weekend.
A 19-13 win over Castres was set up by a 65th-minute Giteau try, but the veteran was a constant source of inspiration for Bernard Laporte's side, leaving fellow maestro Jonny Wilkinson to add the finishing touches while he made his probes from the centre.
12. Ashley Beck, Ospreys
Ashley Beck's starring role in the 75-7 win over Treviso didn't come without its sacrifices—the centre is now out of Wales' Six Nations clash with France due to injury—but all the more reason to pay homage to his fine work.
As has been said, the Italians may not have put a fight with their weakened reserves, but that won't have bothered a Beck figure who set up two tries, managing to score one himself, and carrying for 72 metres, but more importantly playing the role of catalyst for all those around him.
13. Richie Vernon, Glasgow Warriors
There was a lot of competition for the centre places this week, but flanker Richie Vernon has to be taken note of for playing a crucial role in Glasgow's 27-20 win over Cardiff Blues.
Assured in the tackle, Vernon opened up his usual skill set to show a nimble pair of hands at times, obviously using his strength to claim 64 carrying metres, managing three offloads and even setting up a try for his side.
11. Rene Ranger, Montpellier
Montpellier's battering of Perpignan this weekend was a perfectly balanced exercise in what Rene Ranger has brought to the Top 14 outfit, one of his two tries being a well-timed piece of technical prowess, the other a more bulldozer-like approach.
As ever, the utility was willing to come in at the breakdown and muck in when nobody else was in sight, and his relentless work rate paved the way for another exemplary performance.
14. Aisea Natoga, Ospreys
Weak opposition or not, 175 metres gained with ball in hand stands as a monstrous figure for Aisea Natoga to boast from Sunday's routing of Treviso, and the winger deserves all the praise coming his way.
The Fijian had to settle for just one try in the end but could have easily scored a hat-trick, especially given that one of his scores was disallowed.
In the end, though, Natoga will have to settle for 11 defenders beaten, six clean breaks, five offloads and a couple of try assists to boot.
15. Sam Davies, Ospreys
And Natoga's partner in crime this weekend was full-back Sam Davies, the scorer of two tries and one of the beneficiaries of his winger's piercing runs.
When Biggar wasn't at the tee, 20-year-old Davies was happy to prod over the additions and finished the game with 22 points to his name in total, his 134 carrying metres a much more direct sign of his influence.
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