Now that the dust has settled in the northern hemisphere, we thought it right to hail those who shone in the Heineken Cup semi-finals.
Now that the dust has settled in the northern hemisphere, we thought it right to dish out praise to those who shone in the Heineken Cup semis.
Heineken Cup: Team of the semi-finals
15 Alex Goode (Saracens) – Saracens fans may have been forgiven for feeling a little uneasy as it emerged pre-match that 'Ice Man' Owen Farrell would be unable to kick the points at Twickenham. They needn't have worried. Goode was unfazed off the tee, and in fact turned in an impressive all-round showing, with his lovely, languid running style and well-timed appearances at first-receiver and in midfield causing Clermont problems. If there's one position England have real depth, it's full-back, with Goode, Mike Brown and Ben Foden all hitting form as the season climaxes. Then there's Delon Armitage, who impressed again for Toulon but is unlikely to see international action.
14 Chris Ashton (Saracens) – There is a perennial hype surrounding the performances of Ashton, with viewers either queuing up to rave about him or relishing the chance to stick the boot in when his form dips. Rightly ousted from the England setup, Ashton has come roaring back for Sarries, and was a stand-out on Saturday – two tries, four clean breaks and 81 metres made from six carries. Always able to sniff out a scoring opportunity, he looks back to something like the standard of his first international season.
13 Mathieu Bastareaud (Toulon) – Brad Barritt and company will have their work cut out stopping this man in Cardiff, or indeed shifting his incredible bulk from its customary position blanketing an opponent and the ball at the breakdown. 'Basta' only made 26 metres with ball in hand, but more importantly, nailed a perfect ten out of ten tackles and won several turnovers for the French giants. A mention for the classy Puma Marcelo Bosch of Saracens.
12 Brad Barritt (Saracens) – Where English media are concerned, it can be difficult to put one's finger on a Test back who can be labelled 'underrated'. Barritt certainly fits that bill, with his strong-running style and astute offloading ability coming to the fore at Twickenham, where he created two tries and defended resolutely. Beats out Munster's James Downey who made two superb tackles as Toulon threatened.
11 Simon Zebo (Munster) – Was it a try? We're not sure, but we were certainly impressed by Zebo's powerful finish, and his energetic Marseille display. Before scoring at one end, the Ireland wing saved a try at the other by hauling Steffon Armitage into touch at the corner, was a dangerous runner making 26 metres, and made all of his nine tackles.
10 Owen Farrell (Saracens) – Ian Keatley was composed and mature off the tee in semi-final number two, but naÃ¯ve and lateral in attack, where Munster played too much rugby deep in their own half. Jonny Wilkinson was more controlling, but then you'd expect nothing less. Farrell, admittedly up against awful defence, proved to be the pick of the bunch, taking his try well, kicking notably from hand despite his injury, and finishing with 37 metres made.
9 Conor Murray (Munster) – It was Murray's excellent work down the short side that made Zebo's score, and he stood up well in the face of typically brutish Toulon defence. His kicking was good, easing the pressure on Keatley, and he used his own size and physicality well both with and without the ball. A mention for Neil de Kock who injected some pace and fluidity into Sarries' play.
8 James Coughlan (Munster) – A truly heroic effort from the Munster veteran, with his goalkeeper-esque chargedown of Wilkinson's late drop-goal the embodiment of his tremendous work rate in Marseille. By a distance, he made more metres than any of his team-mates with 46, and finished joint-top of the carry charts with 11. As is now expected of him, Saracens' Billy Vunipola was a thunderous presence with the ball in his grasp, especially when running at limp Clermont tacklers.
7 Jacques Burger (Saracens) – 'Manic' is the most fitting term to describe Burger's Twickenham performance. As part of a huge Sarries defensive effort, Burger had racked up nearly 20 tackles by half-time, finishing with a whopping tally of 27. The only criticism we can level at him is his reckless and often dangerous 'charging' clear-outs at the breakdown, where shoulder and head fly in and arms or control are at a premium.
6 CJ Stander (Munster) – There weren't many outstanding candidates on the blindside flank this weekend, but Stander beats out Scotland skipper Kelly Brown – who tackled and jackaled brilliantly for Saracens – in our team thanks to a super defensive effort and his prowess at the breakdown against the strong trio of Armitage, Juan Smith and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.
5 Jamie Cudmore (Clermont) – Woeful Clermont's only representation comes in the sizeable form of the veteran Canadian, who unlike many of his team-mates did not give up the ghost at Twickenham. He carried bravely, making one first-half rampage in particular that caught the eye, and finished with 36 metres. A mention for Paul O'Connell who battled bravely against the red tide.
4 Steve Borthwick (Saracens) – The Sarries skipper may be limited and ageing, and barely got his hands on the ball with his backline so rampant in the wide expanses, but he chipped in with a very impressive 17 tackles on Saturday, and made five line-out takes.
3 Carl Hayman (Toulon) – Hayman is not the force he was when wearing black several years ago and ruling world rugby's tighthead roost, but he quite literally folded Dave Kilcoyne in two on several occasions in Marseille. The Kiwi veteran won a number of penalties for Toulon, and made a none too shabby ten tackles in the loose.
2 Schalk Brits (Saracens) – Ever the complete player, Brits was in his element in the Twickenham sunshine. He combined the nimble, free-running football for which he is famous with a ferocious defensive effort, maintaining his line speed and the brutality of his tackling throughout the game. He finished up with two beaten defenders and 13 tackles.
1 Mako Vunipola (Saracens) – His scrummaging still needs work, and going head-to-head with Hayman will offer a stern test next month, but in the loose, Vunipola snr is a real handful. He made 20 metres on Saturday, beat a pair of defenders, and wound up one shy of his captain with 16 tackles.