Champions Cup: Team of the Week

Date published: April 7 2015

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The Champions Cup was back with a bang this weekend as we got three tight quarter-finals and a blowout in Clermont.

Leinster and Saracens both battled through despite not scoring tries, while Toulon needed a late try to finally kill off Wasps' challenge.

Clermont meanwhile, were majestic in thrashing Northampton, so it's no surprise they dominate our team.

Champions Cup Quarter-Finals Team of the Week

15 Nick Abendanon (Clermont): No problems here, Abendanon was arguably the player of the weekend. Watching him excel in France has been enough people to call for England to take another look at him, and on this form it’s hard to disagree. Abendanon tore Northampton to shreds, making Wesley Fofana’s try and then ripping the ball from George Pisi before racing 90 metres to score himself. Nine carries, 143 metres and five defenders beaten.

14 Noa Nakaitaci (Clermont): Carrying on from where he left off at Twickenham playing for France, Nakaitaci was another Clermont back to give Northampton all sorts of problems. Two tries for the international winger who was full of running, making ten carries and beating six defenders.

13 Marcelo Bosch (Saracens): Ten years after his last winning kick, Bosch stepped up and sent Saracens through to the semi-finals of the Champions Cup at Racing's expense. The Puma is much more than a big boot though, and produced a vital defensive display as Sarries did just enough to edge through. That gets him the nod ahead of Wasps' Elliot Daly, who looked very much at home on the big stage as Toulon were given a fright in Mayol.

12 Wesley Fofana (Clermont): Showing no ill-effects from his latest injury, Fofana topped 100 metres with the ball in hand against Saints in one of his best performances for some time. Carved through the opposition’s defence with real ease by making four line breaks and beating five defenders. Vintage Fofana.

11 Will Helu (Wasps): We're cheating a little bit by shifting him across from the right wing, but Helu deserves his spot after his two tries almost saw Wasps spring a surprise. Replacing Christian Wade, there was a worry that Wasps would lose some of their attacking threat out wide, but Helu finished off two excellent moves, the second with a nice sidestep to beat the sliding Toulon cover defence.

10 Frédéric Michalak (Toulon): Michalak has had his fair share of critics over the last couple of seasons, so it's only fair to reward what was an excellent performance. As well as knocking over eight from eight from the kicking tee, Michalak showed no ill-effects from his major shoulder injury as he got stuck in both in attack and defence. That's enough to see him sneak past Brock James, simply outstanding for Clermont, and George Ford, the star for Bath in Dublin.

9 Maxime Machenaud (Racing-Métro): Machenaud will still be wondering why he didn't just boot the ball away and take the decision out of Nigel Owens' hands on Sunday, but despite that late mistake, he earns a spot thanks to the previous 79 minutes. He scored Racing's only try, took over kicking duties from an ill Jonny Sexton, and made a fool of Chris Ashton with one lovely burst down the right. As a result he edges out Joe Simpson, who was as dangerous as ever for Wasps, even when he moved to the wing!

8 Jamie Heaslip (Leinster): A real captain’s innings from Heaslip who is gunning for his fourth European title with Leinster. 13 carries, four lineout wins and a threat at the breakdown, he does it all whether for Leinster or Ireland. Still showing an impressive engine too after many seasons at the top of the game. A mention for Clermont’s wrecking ball Fritz Lee.

7 Steffon Armitage (Toulon): Nick Abendanon might have been the Englishman stealing the headlines this weekend, but yet again Armitage was at the heart of things for Toulon. Twice he was stopped just short of the line with his powerful bursts, while a couple of key turnovers ensured Wasps couldn't get quick ball. He also led the way with 13 tackles for Toulon, winning his personal battle with James Haskell.

6 Wenceslas Lauret (Racing-Métro): It might be a surprise to see two Racing players included, but Lauret really impressed on Sunday. With Bernard le Roux out, the French international was Racing's go-to man in the lineout with five catches, while also making a couple of clean breaks and leading the tackle count.

5 Sebsatian Vahaamahina (Clermont): Won the physical battle with Samu Manoa and Courtney Lawes, not an accomplishment many second rows hold, as the France lock made his presence felt around the breakdown and in defence, contributing nine tackles. He also chipped in with a couple of key turnovers on the rare occasions that Saints got into Clermont territory.

4 Ali Williams (Toulon): Dai Young was understandably furious at Williams' tug back of Elliot Daly that should have seen him sin-binned. It was almost enough for us to leave him out of this team, but even if you ignore the try he scored when he should have been on the sidelines, Williams had quite a game. He racked up 13 tackles, ten carries and claimed six lineouts including one important steal. A busy afternoon's work for the former All Black.

3 Davit Zirakashvili (Clermont): A very good scrummaging day for both the Georgian tighthead and Clermont, as he also weighed in with seven tackles before departing after 63 minutes at the Stade Marcel Michelin. Part of an excellent front row unit alongside Benjamin Kayser and Vincent Debaty.

2 Guilhem Guirado (Toulon): One of the bright spots for France during the Six Nations, Guirado seems to have come of age this season, and is right up there with the best hookers in Europe. As active as ever around the park, he appears to have solved his lineout problems and is now very reliable in the set-piece. It was his break in the first half that led to Rob Miller being sin-binned as Toulon piled on the pressure.

1 Mako Vunipola (Saracens): Vunipola's influence around the park has never been in doubt, but he showed that his scrummaging has come on as well after giving Luc Ducalcon a tough time of it on Sunday. While Vunipola didn't have it all his own way, he edged the scrum battle, and that was key for Saracens, as were his ten tackles. He edges out Cian Healy, who scrummaged excellently for Leinster but missed four tackles as well as watching George Ford stroll past him for Bath's second try.

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