The Irish provinces enjoyed a great weekend in the thrid round of the Champions Cup with Leinster throttling Northampton at Franklin’s Gardens, Munster shutting out Leicester at Thomond Park and Ulster edging Clermont in a shootout at the Kingspan.
Connacht fought valiantly against a Wasps side buoyed by the scintillating debut of Kurtley Beale, but ultimately faded late as Dai Young’s side ran in a couple of late tries to pull away with a win at the Ricoh Arena.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt would have been very impressed by what he saw from his captain Rory Best in Belfast on Saturday, but who else would have grabbed his attention this weekend?
1. Jack McGrath
Continued his strong form from the November internationals with another impressive display against the Saints. Carried and scrummaged well and is really starting to assert himself as one of the most dominant looseheads in world rugby.
2. Rory Best
Has developed a steady penchant for rising to the big occassions and Saturday was no different. Best got through his usual industrious workload making 10 tackles and hitting on all of his line-out throws. Incredibly, at 34 he’s in the prime of his career.
3. Tadgh Furlong
Leinster’s man of the match and a player that is making a very strong case as the best tighthead prop in the world at the moment. Furlong was outstanding again on Friday night and was part of a Leinster front-row that dominated their Northampton counterparts.
4. Iain Henderson
Outstanding. Has struggled with injury for most of the season but had his best game since the summer on Saturday. Looks to have finally put his shoulder problems behind him and was a rock for Ulster. Hopefully can carry this momentum into next week and beyond.
5. Devin Toner
Dominant in the air. There are few, if any lineout jumpers in the world at the moment that are as consistently dominant as Toner is at the line-out. The Ireland lock snatched 12 throws against Northampton and carried the ball well with five carries for 11 metres, the most of any of Leinster’s tight five.
6. Peter O’Mahony
Being dropped from the Irish pack last month has really seemed to light a fire under O’Mahony since his return from a torn ACL. Led from the front against Leicester and won a pivotal first-half turnover when it looked like the Tigers were just about to get back into the game.
7. Josh van Der Flier
Numbers always do better than words when summarising van Der Flier’s gargantuan performances. Nine carries, one linebreak, two defenders beaten and a team high 15 made tackles at a 100% success rate. Phenomenal.
8. CJ Stander
Van Der Flier’s description segways nicely into CJ Stander’s performance against Leicester. You can almost carve Stander’s name in stone into any Irish team of the week as the South African’s performances have been just that good. Carried the ball a whopping 18 times and rarely failed to get over the gainline. Superb performance.
9. Conor Murray
In the form of his life right now and outplayed Ben Youngs in what many consider will be a direct battle for the Lions number nine jersey next summer. Set up Simon Zebo for a brilliant try with a delightful inside ball and was once again outstanding for Munster.
10. Paddy Jackson
Came under fire for his performance against Australia last month but was exceptional for Ulster on Saturday. Got on the scoresheet with a brilliant solo try after showing some nifty football skills and scored 19 of Ulster’s 39 points. Great afternoon for the Irish fly-half.
11. Niyi Adeolokun
Connacht’s best performers on Sunday were either non-Irish or in positions where they were outplayed by players from other provinces, but having said that, Adeolokun was a bright spot for Pat Lam’s side. Made six tackles from the right wing and picked up 42 metres from 14 carries. Solid outing for Adeolokun.
12. Robbie Henshaw
Bundee Aki may come under consideration for this spot next year if he pulls on a different kind of green jersey, but for the moment, this spot belongs to Henshaw. Carried the ball reasonably well but was a force for Leinster in the midfield defensively shutting down a lot of Northampton’s attacking opportunities.
13. Garry Ringrose
Ran a superb line for his opening minute try and is starting to really flourish alongside Henshaw in what many predict will be next season’s Irish midfield. The Saints defence never really had an answer for Ringrose as the Blackrock product ran amok in Northampton.
14. Darren Sweetnam
Has made a big leap this season in his progression as a converted rugby player and had another fine outing on Saturday in Limerick. Ran for 55 metres at just over six metres a carry and was solid defensively down Munster’s right hand side.
15. Simon Zebo
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) December 11, 2016
Says everything you need to know. Ran a brilliant line for his try and will once again put real pressure on Rob Kearney to be Ireland’s starting fullback next year.
This week on the Oval Office Podcast, we speak with Section Paloise number eight Paddy Butler, and hold an in depth conversation with Geraint Powell about what the future holds for regional rugby in Wales.
Jack O’Toole, Pundit Arena
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Read More About: champions cup, CJ Satnder, connacht, conor murray, Darren Sweetnam, Devin Toner, garry ringrose, Irish team of the week, jack mcgrath, josh van der flier, Leinster, Munster, Niyi Adeolokun, peter o'mahony, robbie henshaw, Rory Best, Simon Zebo, tadgh furlong, Top Story, ulster