Now that the dust has settled across Europe, Planet Rugby thought it was only right to hail the star players of the 2012/13 Heineken Cup.
Now that the dust has settled across Europe, Planet Rugby thought it was only right to hand out some praise to the stars of 2012/13's Heineken Cup.
Without further ado, here comes our offering – be sure to send in your own 15-1 team selections.
Heineken Cup, Team of 2012/13
15 Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues) – Yes he was part of a Blues team that fell short of making the knockouts, but for what he did in those six Pool games we had to go for Halfpenny. Scored two tries in Toulon, kicked very well, was safe under the high ball and was such a threat in open play.
14 Sitiveni Sivivatu (Clermont) – Once considered to be a big-money buy not fulfilling his price tag for Les Jaunards, Sivivatu has produced some of his best form this season and been outstanding in Europe. Reminiscent of when he was in his pomp for the All Blacks, Sivivatu was unlucky to lose out on the ERC European Player of the Year award to Jonny Wilkinson, with his try in the quarter-final against Montpellier a tournament highlight.
13 AurÃ©lien Rougerie (Clermont) – While he did not feature in the semi-final due to injury, Rougerie was in excellent form all campaign for his side. Labelled by many players as being notoriously difficult to tackle, the French centre sees off Mathieu Bastareaud to this jersey. We also believe that Racing Metro's Henry Chavancy was another to go well, forming a slick partnership with Fabrice Estebanez.
12 Wesley Fofana (Clermont) – Unlucky in defeat, Fofana has developed a sidestep that enables him to always get past the first man. He was doing it all the way through to the final against Toulon, once again making a mockery of Philippe Saint-AndrÃ©'s persistent selection of him out on the wing during the Six Nations. On form, arguably the best inside centre in the world right now. Credit to Matt Giteau for his outstanding playmaking skills, as always.
11 Naipolioni Nalaga (Clermont) – His ill-fated stint with the Western Force forgotten, Nalaga's home is Clermont and on his return to France he has never looked better. His try in the final alone made him worthy of an inclusion in this side, delicately balancing his robust frame down the left touchline with the skill of a tightrope walker. Abrasive, physical and a try-scoring machine, his combination with Sivivatu and Lee Byrne at times was frightening. Credit to Juan Imhoff, who burst onto the scene with his deadly finishing.
10 Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon) – All hail the King. Few could begrudge Wilkinson the chance to add to his criminally sparse trophy cabinet, but the former England fly-half made it all happen on his own. Not missing a kick in the quarter-final, semi-final and final, Wilkinson scored 56 of Toulon's 61 points in the knockout stages. His capture of the ERC European Player of the Year award is no surprise. He is quite simply now and always will be, the master. With a Top 14 title to contend for and another season of Heineken Cup rugby awaiting him, he may yet pick up a few more medals before he signs off for good.
9 Benoit Paillaugue (Montpellier) – Twice made our weekly selection, Paillaugue was an impressive general of the Montpol side. France are blessed with quality at the base right now as this intelligent number nine puts pressure on Maxime Machenaud and Morgan Parra. Danny Care, along with Parra deserve mentions. As the French prefer, the game management comes from the scrum-half and Montpellier have a real gem in Paillaugue.
8 Louis Picamoles (Toulouse) – A tough call to leave out Toulon number eight Chris Masoe after consistently strong performances in the Pool stages. We can also put Quins veteran Nick Easter in that bracket but in the end it had to be Picamoles. He was the recipient of several selections in our weekly offering and truly is a unique talent at number eight.
7 Gerhard Vosloo (Clermont) – Every great side has its unsung hero, and Vosloo is Clermont's. The South African has made his home in France and flourished. Vosloo missed the semi-final but his inclusion for the biggest match in Europe ahead of Julien Bardy spoke volumes of his value. No one made more tackles in the quarter-final victory over Montpellier.
6 Kelly Brown (Saracens) – How he was left out of the British and Irish Lions touring squad remains a mystery. Brown is a workhorse and has been doing the unseen work for Sarries all season. We also feel that Munster's Peter O'Mahony deserves a firm pat on the back.
5 Nathan Hines (Clermont) – Another to count himself extremely unlucky not to be a Heineken Cup winner. Hines has been consistently superb for Clermont during 2012/13 and his mixture of grunt and athleticism also saw calls for him to be included in the Lions squad. Speaking of the upcoming tourists, Geoff Parling was excellent for Leicester Tigers.
4 Bakkies Botha (Toulon) – Love him or loathe him, Botha's CV speaks for itself as the Heineken Cup now joins the Rugby World Cup, Tri-Nations, Lions series win, Super Rugby and Currie Cup triumphs on his list of feats. Another veteran, Steve Borthwick, also shone.
3 John Afoa (Ulster) – A tightly contested area with Davit Zirakashvili, Matt Stevens and Census Johnston all putting their hands up, but the vote goes to Ulster's Afoa. A wrecking ball at tighthead on his day, the former All Black once again underlined his importance to Ulster with a stellar tournament, including teaching Mako Vunipola a lesson at Twickenham despite minimal preparation time due to flying back from New Zealand. A class act.
2 Tom Youngs (Leicester) – The Aviva Premiership Player of the Year also gets our vote for the Heineken Cup XV of the Year, despite Leicester crashing out in the quarter-finals. Youngs has come of age this season, remarkable considering that not so long ago he was playing at inside centre in the Championship, with his particular highlight coming against Toulon when he was at his physical best. More than worthy of his Lions spot. Mentions go to Montpellier's Agustin Creevy and Clermont's Benjamin Kayser for consistently strong efforts.
1 Cian Healy (Leinster) – Despite Leinster not making the knockout stages, Healy did enough in the group stages to warrant inclusion in our XV. Having been selected in Rounds 3, 5 and 6 for our XV of the Week, the Ireland and Lions loosehead impressed as always with his pace and power in open play, whilst holding his own at the scrum. Credit to Toulon's Andrew Sheridan, who seems to not only be relishing his stint in the south of France but also playing consistently after years dogged with injuries, much like Wilkinson.
By Ben Coles and Adam Kyriacou
@bencoles_ and @PlanetRugbyAK