World Rugby's Team of the Weekend: Billy Vunipola Soars in Saracens Triumph
Playoff mania continued to run rampant across Europe's top divisions this week as victories for Northampton Saints and Saracens set up what promises to be a spectacular Aviva Premiership finale.
In the Pro12, Glasgow Warriors and Leinster got the better of Munster and Ulster, respectively, to book their places in a Celtic climax of massive proportions, whereas Castres and Toulon will be the sides meeting in France's Top 14 equivalent.
In a bid to become the first team ever to enter the newly constructed European Rugby Champions Cup via the playoffs, London Wasps take a one-point aggregate lead into their second-leg duel against Stade Francais, too, following an entertaining 30-29 win at Adams Park.
Those semi-finals played this weekend account for the majority of our line-up this weekend, but a tremendously tough showing from the Sharks in Christchurch, as well as the Waratahs' routing of the Lions this weekend, ensures that there is some Super Rugby influence on world rugby's team of the week.
1. Matt Mullan, London Wasps
Wasps' one-point win over Stade Francais on Sunday wasn't the large-margin triumph that Dai Young's side will have been hoping to take back to Paris, but with figures like Matt Mullan firing in this mode, the Londoners may yet be hopeful of reaching rugby's elite European contest next season.
At the scrum, the first leg's hosts were resolute in winning all 10 of their own feeds, not to mention nicking a couple of the opposition's and though Mullan's carrying presence wasn't particularly impacting, his ability to get around the park, making seven tackles and missing none, certainly was.
2. Damien Varley, Munster
Saracens' Schalk Brits also brought a leaders' input to the table against Harlequins on the weekend, but Munster captain Damien Varley took to the role with an assured manner at Scotstoun, even if it did end with a 16-15 loss in the end.
The Limerick veteran was relentless in the build-up to his own try inside nine minutes, burrowing over after a barrage of rucking pressure against Glasgow Warriors, but shone throughout as he missed just one line-out throw and registered 13 tackles.
3. Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Hurricanes
The Hurricanes' pack let itself down at the set piece in Friday's only Super Rugby fixture, but if there was one member of the hosts' front eight that stood up to the Highlanders' test, it was Jeff Toomaga-Allen.
The tighthead made an average of just under five metres per carry in a 30-metre haul from seven runs, adding two turnovers and a couple of offloads to his impressive running game. However, it was Toomaga-Allen's 13 tackles that perhaps speak most highly of his display.
4. Jonny Gray, Glasgow Warriors
RaboDirect Pro12 Man of the Match for a reason, Jonny Gray made a gargantuan 25 carries against Munster on Friday evening as part of a performance that Vern Cotter may have looked at with some intrigue.
The Scotland international beat two defenders in the process and managed three offloads thanks to some even slicker handling, but Gray was busy everywhere, making 13 tackles and taking the ball well come line-out time.
5. Will Skelton, Waratahs
Will Skelton's rise as one of Australia's most promising lock prospects went through further development as the 22-year-old grabbed his sixth start of the Super Rugby campaign this Sunday.
The man with Goliath-esque proportions carried more than any other forward in the fixture, managing 47 metres with ball in hand from 12 attempts, but his defensive chops came to play as well in the midst of an eight-tackle performance.
6. Tom Wood, Northampton Saints
One of the two Premiership Man of the Match award winners to be included in our back row this week, Tom Wood's season carries on largely thanks to his own hand.
The England international's last-minute, game-winning try was the perfect piece of attacking brilliance to cap off an otherwise quiet display in the ball-carrying sense, although he did beat three defenders from those few carries he did have, per the official Premiership website.
7. Sean Dougall, Munster
A Sean Dougall try in the 51st minute of Munster's Scotstoun examination meant that the Irish visitors could hold onto some hope of claiming a place in the Pro12 final, but it wasn't meant to be.
However, that score was just one aspect of a fine day's work from the flanker, who made 15 tackles on the night, bested only by back-row partner CJ Stander.
8. Billy Vunipola, Saracens
Boom Prinsloo's input for the Cheetahs in overcoming the Brumbies in Bloemfontein may have seen him elected for team-of-the-week honours, but Billy Vunipola's Man of the Match showing at such a crucial time for Saracens means that the youngster can once again not be ignored.
Shortly after being recognised as Aviva Premiership Discovery of the Season, the back-row behemoth was back doing what he does best in the playoff semi-final win over Harlequins, making 44 metres from 10 carries and adding nine tackles, per the official Premiership website.
9. Luke Burgess, Rebels
Special mentions go to Joe Simpson for his 70-metre run-in against Stade Francais and Rory Kockott for leading Castres in their win over Montpellier in Lille, but two tries from the Rebels' Luke Burgess see him slip in at No. 9 this week.
The 30-27 away win over the Reds heaped further woe upon the Queensland outfit's deepening miseries and Burgess was responsible for a great deal of that woe on Saturday, picking up 67 from 13 carries and fashioning a display of centre-like dimensions.
10. Bernard Foley, Waratahs
The Waratahs' back line was responsible for a hefty majority of the damage done to the Lions this weekend, and Bernard Foley's astute link-up play was a large component as the New South Wales outfit ran out 41-13 victors.
Bernard Foley showed some shimmying feet and a more physical tough to reach out for a score of his own in the first half before then chipping through for Kurtley Beale to dot down, and the fly-half ended up with 77 carrying metres to his name, along with seven tackles.
12. Ian Madigan, Leinster
He might have only played for 30 minutes, but even that was enough to earn Ian Madigan a Man of the Match gong for his influence in easing Leinster past a stubborn Ulster outfit this weekend.
The fly-half might be considered for more duties at centre in the future after replacing Brian O'Driscoll on 50 minutes, barging his way through for what would be the match-settling try just eight minutes from time, beating five defenders and making six tackles in the short amount of time afforded to him.
13. Nayacalevu Vuidravuwalu, Stade Francais
Granted, the Wasps back line could have put up a sterner barrier this weekend, but the Fijian might of Stade's Nayacalevu Vuidravuwalu would have undoubtedly come across similar success against almost any opposition as he did on Sunday.
Forcing his way through a gap of his own creation to score a crucial try seven minutes from time, Vuidravuwalu finished the game with 92 carrying metres, beating four defenders and missing no tackles in a very collected display.
11. Rob Horne, Waratahs
Rob Horne hasn't always been the star name in the Waratahs' headlines this season, but the winger outshone Israel Folau against the Lions after showcasing a wider array of assets in Sydney.
First, it was the physical as Horne's first score comprised of beating away his defenders to touch down with space about, before then displaying a more agile approach in scoring for a second, ending up with 106 metres from just nine carries, beating six defenders and making 10 tackles, missing none.
14. Sean Maitland, Glasgow Warriors
The Rebels' Tom Kingston deserves some mention for his graft against the Reds this weekend, but Sean Maitland came back into a starting place on the Warriors' right wing as though he had never been away from the role.
The New Zealand-born flyer was constantly involved in plugging away at the Munster defence, making his way past Simon Zebo on more than one occasion and putting the Warriors on the front foot in their attacks, not to mention not missing any tackle attempts of his own.
15. SP Marais, Sharks
There were more dazzling displays from the world's fullbacks this week, admittedly, but SP Marais' part in seeing the 14-man Sharks notch a historic win at the Crusaders' headquarters is sufficient in seeing him take our No. 15 jersey this week.
The 25-year-old's four-tackle tally doesn't speak highly enough of the fine positioning work which allowed the Sharks to breathe a sigh every time he was about to cover any Crusaders probing that came as a result of their advantage in numbers.
All statistics come courtesy of ESPN Scrum.
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