It was a blockbuster weekend of Champions Cup semi-final action. Two great games and we got the final we deserved with the two best teams in Europe, Saracens and Leinster, set to battle it out in Newcastle.
Last Word on Rugby has compiled the best XV from this weekend’s Champions Cup action as selected by David Challis.
1. Dave Kilcoyne
Kilcoyne’s Munstermen had a tough day against Saracens but he was one of few that impressed. He got through a mammoth amount of work on the day, making 15 tackles and missing none. He also pitched in with carries in a strong performance in a team that failed to get anything going.
2. Jamie George
The line out was always going to be an area of importance for Saracens. Making sure Beirne and O’Mahony could not steal ball was high on the priority list and George’s throwing made sure of that. He was also a real force in the loose with a number of tackles and carries to his name.
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3. Tadhg Furlong
Up against the likes of Faumuina and Castets, Furlong had a sizeable challenge on his hands. However his set-piece was solid and he got through a mountain of work in the process. Adding to this he outlasted his opposite men which made a significant difference to the up front battle on Sunday.
4. George Kruis
Pre-match, Kruis admitted he had paid specific focus to the line out this week and the threat of O’Mahony. He combatted the threat excellently leading his side to a 100% success rate. In addition he was industrious in the loose aiding his side win the gain line battle.
5. James Ryan
We run out of compliments to pay James Ryan’s rugby ability. He was characteristically workmanlike and was a big part of his side’s gain line domination. He carried the hard yards and made a number of important tackles leading his side in a typical performance.
6. Rynhard Elstadt
The South-African was one of the few Toulouse players that stood out on the weekend. He demonstrated the need for his side to stand up in the tight contests and won the majority of his own. If he was aided more ably by his teammates maybe we would have had a different game to watch.
7. Jackson Wray
Wray always does whatever is asked of him for Saracens and this weekend was no different. Moved to open-side, Wray demonstrated his skill at the breakdown and his engine in the loose. He came up with an important turnover early on in the contest. After that he was his typically understated self but he is a major cog in the Saracens machine.
8. Billy Vunipola
As much as everyone wanted this weekend to be about Vunipola’s controversy he forced us to talk about him as a number eight. He racked up a mountain of carries and yards. He was back to his bulldozing best and his try was a well-deserved bonus to end a difficult week.
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9. Ben Spencer
Spencer has recently ousted Richard Wigglesworth as Saracens’ starting scrum half and he showed why. His contestable kicks in the first half played no small part in gaining Saracens a lot of their possession. His distribution was excellent and he did well to pick Rhodes out for his try.
10. Johnny Sexton
It shows when Sexton is absent or not at his best and Leinster looked a different side on Sunday. Against Ulster they struggled to put shape on the game which he brought back allowing his side to control proceedings. Sexton is made for Champions Cup games of this magnitude and one cannot underestimate his importance on this Leinster side and they will be over the moon to have him back.
11. David Strettle
The Saracens winger turned back the years with a vintage performance at the Ricoh. His aerial ability was second to none and set the tone in the first 20 minutes for his side. He has managed to keep the likes of Alex Lewington out of the side this season and that is no mean feat for a man in his mid-thirties.
12. Rory Scannell
It is credit to the work or Scannell that Saracens had to work so hard for their scores in the second half. He put in an enormous defensive shift making 11 tackles in the midfield. He also carried successfully when given the opportunity. It was a tough day for his side but he showed his worth.
13. Gary Ringrose
This spot could have gone to either of the Leinster centres but the x-factor of Ringrose gets him the nod. He was not as openly obvious as he sometimes is but made a number of incisive breaks and carries as the second half progressed.
14. James Lowe
So often left out of Champions Cup owing to the IRFU’s overseas player policy, Lowe got his chance and seized it with both hands. His finish for the first try was sublime and he almost had two others on the day. Every time he touched the ball he looked dangerous and to stand out opposite the likes of Cheslin Kolbe is high praise indeed.
15. Rob Kearney
We only seem to notice Kearney’s worth when he is left out, his side struggled against Ulster but looked eminently comfortable in the back-field. Kearney is rarely spectacular but Ireland and Leinster are going to miss him when he retires.
We were treated to a wonderful selection of performances this weekend just gone and we have great final to look forward to. Do you agree with the team we have picked? Who would have made your best XV?
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