It’s time for our wrap of who has their name in lights at the moment… and who is making the headlines for the wrong reasons.
They’re on fire!!
CJ Stander and Conor Murray: Munster wiped the floor with Leicester at Thomond Park and the two Ireland internationals were at the heart of the whitewash, taking that form from the November Tests and after a week’s rest unloading on the Tigers. Stander’s work-rate this year has been off the charts, on both sides of the ball, while there was no contest in Conor Murray’s battle with Ben Youngs in a mini-Lions trial. They will be big favourites for the return leg at Welford Road next week.
Ulster: First things first, Clermont more than played their part in one of the games of the year. Ulster’s attacking display however was one of the finest of the season in Europe, Paddy Jackson playing full of confidence and getting the most out of his powerful centres Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall. Iain Henderson played out of his skin, Chris Henry too… and as for Charles Piutau, well, just watch the highlights below.
Glasgow Warriors: Special result from Gregor Townsend’s side that ends Racing 92’s tournament hopes pre-maturely. Glasgow showed plenty of heart, responding to Juan Imhoff’s early score. Alex Dunbar’s sharp line and Ali Price’s quick thinking were both rewarded with tries but this was about composure and defence, with Jonny Gray tackling out of his skin. Outstanding stuff, and the result of the round.
PRO12 sides: All in all a very memorable weekend for the PRO12, Saturday especially, given that eight teams picked up wins. Some deserve less praise than others – such as the Ospreys thrashing a second-string Grenoble side – but considering the stick the PRO12 often receives in comparison to the Premiership and Top 14, this was an exceptional few days.
England Sevens: One of their best performances for some time as England clinched the title in Cape Town. Dan Norton was on fire across the weekend, his outstanding score putting away Fiji in the quarter-finals. Vital conversion too from captain Tom Mitchell to give England that crucial two-point buffer against South Africa.
Rob Kearney: Rolled back the year at Franklin’s Gardens, resembling the 2009 version who dominated the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa. Kearney really set the tone for a ferocious attacking display when he carved through to set up the opening score, and generally impressed under the high ball. Fingers crossed his injury is not too serious.
Saracens: Half century of points over Sale and the champions are in the bottom of this section. How times have changed. Saracens are flying right now and the pre-planned attacking diamond caught the Sharks up in a net for Sean Maitland’s try. Good to see big Will Skelton getting his first run-out at the start of an intriguing stint at Allianz Park too.
Baby, it’s cold outside…
Dylan Hartley: Plenty to unpack here. No question Hartley deserved a red card. Jérôme Garcès and his eyebrows raised expression when he realised the perpetrator spoke volumes. The Six Nations is less than eight weeks away, making the length of Hartley’s ban of great interest. Even if classed as mid-range (six weeks), his record of 54 weeks may see more added on. More importantly, why do it? Tom Wood, speaking afterward to Planet Rugby, suggested it might have been Hartley trying to make an impact. He has led England exceptionally over the last year, putting his past record behind him, or so it seemed. This is the last thing struggling Northampton need.
Leicester: Has a Leicester pack ever been dominate in that fashion? Munster manipulated the Tigers all afternoon long at Thomond in what can only be described as a disaster. Next week will be better. It has to be. At least Richard Cockerill fronted up to the media, unlike his Sale counterpart Steve Diamond.
Pascal Papé: Oscar season is almost upon us, and we’re backing the former France lock to sweep the awards. Shameful.
Italian fog: No one expected a classic in Parma but still, having a fixture called off with 17 minutes to go due to dangerous fog is hardly going to help Zebre sell tickets. Then again, down 36-6, perhaps it’s better most sections of the stadium couldn’t see anything…
Raphaël Ibanez: We’ll be quick summing this up. UBB travelled to play Exeter on Sunday. Ibanez, their head coach, was not with the team. He was back in France. The reason? He was working for French television, covering the Toulon-Scarlets match that kicked off a few hours beforehand. Even in the age where television has a major say, this is completely bizarre. The fact that Bordeaux-Bègles won doesn’t help either, because it makes it seem excusable.