Top 5 Performances from the European Champions Cup Quarter-Finals
The European Champions Cup returned with a vengeance after the break for the Six Nations.
Which players most affected the outcome of the matches? Whose performances were especially commendable because of their lack of recent first-team action? And who was the player of the round?
The players ranked between second and fifth on this list were very hard to separate, so preference has been given to the mental strength of the players ranked second and third because they are fly-halves over 30 who delivered when many expected them to fold.
Reflecting the intensive, even and highly tactical contest between Racing Metro and Saracens, no players from that quarter-final make the cut.
Honourable mentions go to a Wasps pair: Joe Simpson for his pace from the base of the ruck and outside centre Elliot Daly for creating two tries for William Helu as the Coventry-based team fought back in the second half against Toulon.
5. George Ford (Bath)
George Ford had a mixed day at the Aviva but still put in a performance that made his stock rise. He squandered two relatively simple points off the tee and had a kick charged down, but his net benefit to Bath and England is enormous.
If running in a try from 35 metres out against Leinster is special (see video above), then his break that set up captain Stuart Hooper’s score was possibly even better, considering his outrageous blind pass was timed and placed perfectly for the onrushing lock.
4. Ian Madigan (Leinster)
Ian Madigan was Man of the Match for Leinster against Bath at the Aviva Stadium after kicking all of his team’s points in an 18-15 victory. No individual put in a peerless display in Dublin, but it was Madigan whose accurate boot most affected the outcome of the match.
Rugby correspondent Ruaidhri O'Connor pointed out that Madigan has scored all of Leinster's points in three out of their seven games in European competition this season.
3. Brock James (Clermont Auvergne)
Brock James gets in this list ahead of Ian Madigan and George Ford for negotiating a powerful wind at the Stade Marcel Michelin despite not having had a sustained run in the Clermont Auvergne side.
In European quarter-finals, rustiness at 10 can be a team's undoing. Moreover, James, who has struggled for game time this season after losing his place this season to Camille Lopez, put in a magisterial tactical kicking display against Northampton.
James also provided a smart miss pass to put Noa Nakaitaci over for his second try.
2. Frederic Michalak (Toulon)
Frederic Michalak: mercurial, mysterious and much-maligned. Against Wasps, however, the playmaker was Mr Reliable in Toulon’s 32-18 win.
As per Sky Sports: “The unerring accuracy of Frederic Michalak from the kicking tee was key for Bernard Laporte’s side. The fly-half made sure no Wasps error went unpunished, racking up 22 points.”
Like Brock James for Clermont Auvergne, Michalak made the most of his rare opportunity in the side. His consistency from the tee was especially important for Toulon, given the injury to Leigh Halfpenny and Matt Giteau only being able to make the bench following a groin operation.
1. Nick Abendanon (Clermont Auvergne)
Nick Abendadon was the undisputed player of the European Champions Cup quarter-finals.
For all the talk of England wishing Steffon Armitage were plying his trade for a Premiership club so he could be picked for the national team, the same should be said of the Clermont Auvergne full-back.
The former Bath man was sensational in a Man of the Match performance in Clermont’s 37-5 win against Northampton Saints. Put under pressure from a kick to the corner, Adendanon’s magical pirouette (see above) set Clermont up for a 75-metre attack that almost led to a breathtaking try.
Later in the first half Abendanon jinked his way through the Northampton defence before offloading to Wesley Fofana, who ran in for a try.
Then, when Northampton were just metres from the Clermont line, he demonstrated great game-awareness to rob George Pisi of the ball and run the length of the field to hammer another nail in the Saints’ coffin. In another defensive play, he dumped Christian Day onto his back when many would have fancied the big forward to cross the whitewash.
Abendanon, in short, had a complete game from full-back.
With Mike Brown struggling with concussion-related injury lay-offs, were he playing in the Premiership, Abendanon would certainly be worthy of a place in England’s matchday squad, if not a starting berth.