It's time for our weekly wrap up of who has their name in lights at the moment…and who is making the headlines for the wrong reasons.
It's time for Planet Rugby's weekly wrap up of who has their name in lights at the moment…and who is making the headlines for the wrong reasons.
They're on fire!
Toulon: The game itself may not have been one for the purists, but the Heineken Cup holders' blend of irrepressible power and telling subtlety proved too much for a brave Sarries side to handle. The tries from Matt Giteau and Juan Smith were superb, especially given the intensity and quality of the defence they were up against, while the trophy proved a fitting final act in the Ballad of Jonny Wilkinson on British soil.
Northampton Saints: Unlike Sarries, Saints are still on track for a domestic-European double as the Challenge Cup winners set their sights on Premiership glory this weekend.
Hurricanes and Crusaders: There are now three Kiwi Super Rugby sides in the top six of the overall standings. A thumping win over reigning two-time Super Rugby champs for the Canes and a cracking victory away from home against one of the comp's early high-flyers for the Crusaders in what could go down as the game of the year. We've got a feeling there is more excitement still to come.
London Wasps: Against a Stade team packed with talent, including returning eight Sergio Parisse, Dai Young's side produced a clinical, disciplined performance to ensure they will dine at Europe's top table next season. James Haskell in particular will have done his chances of an England recall no harm.
Waratahs: The 'Tahs have struck form at the right time. Their thrashing of the Rebels in Melbourne has moved them into the top spot of the Australian Conference scoring six tries in the process. The Sydneysiders have now notched up try-scoring bonus points in their last three matches after crossing the whitewash on five occasions in their victories over the Lions and Hurricanes.
Japan: The Brave Blossoms booked their place at Rugby World Cup 2015 after being crowned Asian 5 Nations Champions with a 49-8 win over Hong Kong. They join Pool B South Africa, Samoa, Scotland and USA
Steffon Armitage: Surely, if England are to harbour any genuine ambition of World Cup glory, this man must make Stuart Lancaster's squad? It's a tired old debate, we'll admit, but few can argue it will take a breakdown specialist of Armitage's quality to take on the Francois Louws, Richie McCaws, Michael Hoopers and Thierry Dusautoirs of this world and emerge victorious. Is there any better exponent of the turnover in Europe right now?
Nemani Nadolo: The Crusaders' Fijian wing was unreal against the highlanders, scoring a try and playing a role in setting up two others.
Matt Hodgson: The Force skipper has been magnificent all season and capped a superb week – in which he was recalled to the Wallabies squad for their upcoming series against France – by scoring a brace of tries in the Perth-based side's win over the Lions.
Nigel Owens and the TMO: “This is the problem with this protocol,” bemoaned Nige as the French broadcasters took their time in showing footage of an alleged eye-gouge by a Stade player on the Jean Bouin big screen (though they were suspiciously swift in finding clips of Andrea Masi's knock-on in the build-up to a Tom Varndell “try” later on in the play-off). For the good of the game, Owens rightly refused to stand on ceremony and ordered play to continue, but it meant Wasps did not gain any in-play benefit from a potentially serious act of foul play. Quite what the IRB can do to cut down on delay and ensure the right clips are found in a timely fashion when the host broadcasters are in control, we're not sure. But when the world's best referee displays such public exasperation over one of its new, flagship protocols, the game's governing body ought to investigate.
Get these guys a cup of warm soup!
Stade FranÃ§ais: Simply woeful. Fielding a strong side, touted as comfortable favourites for Saturday's play-off, and trailing by just a point on aggregate, Stade conspired to shoot themselves in the foot at every conceivable opportunity. Passes were launched wildly into touch with no pressure on passer nor on receiver, with Julien Dupuy doing his best Mauro Bergamasco impression at one point to send Jules Plisson chasing a looping, wayward throw over his own dead-ball line. The errors were compounded by the ill-discipline that often sets in among French ranks when things are not going to plan – there were three yellow cards doled out to the home team, two for especially nasty acts of foul play.
Chiefs: A terrible weekend for the defending champs saw them drop from first to fourth in the New Zealand conference and eighth overall. One can't help feeling the spanking they got in Wellington has been brewing for a while. They've escaped from tight situations a handful of times but the constant tickering with starting XV finally caught up to Dave Rennie and co. Will they make the play-offs?
Brumbies: Things have gone pear-shaped for last year's other Super Rugby finalists too. After beating the table-topping Sharks in Round 13, the two-time champions set off on their tour to South Africa brimming with confidence. After defeats to the Cheetahs and