Planet Rugby

Heineken Cup: Team of the Week

10th December 2012 09:53

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Jared Payne Ulster scoring a try against Northampton Heineken Cup - round three

On fire: Jared Payne

Now that the dust has settled in Europe, it's time to dish out the kudos for outstanding performances in Round Three of the Heineken Cup.

Harlequins, Toulouse and Ulster all picked up important victories last weekend, with Ulster's demolition of Northampton Saints away from home standing as the pick of the results in a brilliant performance.

In France, Clermont edged out Leinster in another brutal battle following on from last year's semi-final, handing Clermont the advantage in Pool 5 ahead of the return leg at the Aviva Stadium next weekend.

The surprise winners of the weekend however were Connacht, who took down a star-studded Biarritz side for a memorable win in Galway.

Team of Round Three:

15 Jared Payne (Ulster): After missing last season with a ruptured achilles tendon, Payne was on fire against Northampton, producing both a try and an assist in Ulster's dominant performance away from home.

14 Fetu'u Vainikolo (Connacht): Two weeks after helping Tonga to a famous win over Scotland, Vainikolo has another famous try to add to his collection after his early score helped pave the way for Connacht's upset victory over Biarritz.

13 Aurélien Rougerie (Clermont): Mr. Clermont was on fine form as his side remained unbeaten at the Stade Marcel Michelin, containing the Leinster attack and producing plenty of offloads.

12 James Downey (Munster): Facing familiar opposition in Saracens after his days with Northampton, Downey was at his physical best at Thomond Park on both sides of the ball.

11 Andrew Trimble (Ulster): The Ireland winger clinched the first try against Northampton with a brilliant finish in the corner, beating out England full-back Ben Foden in a sign of things to come.

10 Dan Parks (Connacht): Plenty of competition for the 10 shirt this week from Gareth Steenson, Johnny Sexton and others, but Parks gets the nod after his 17-point haul against Biarritz, which included four penalties and a drop goal.

9 Benoit Paillaugue (Montpellier): Ruan Pienaar impressed again for Ulster but Paillaugue edges him out after leading Montpellier to victory over 14-man Cardiff Blues away from home. The scrum-half kicked six penalties after being tip-tackled by Cardiff scrum-half Lloyd Williams, who saw red as a result.

8 Louis Picamoles (Toulouse): The France number eight continued his rich vein of form against the Ospreys, making more metres than any other player and producing a brilliant offload out the back for Census Johnston's bonus-point try. Credit to Nick Easter and Jamie Heaslip.

7 Julian Salvi (Leicester Tigers): The second half may have frustrated Leicester boss Richard Cockerill but he can have no complaints about the first half, with Salvi crossing for two tries including the bonus point score before the break. Leicester have felt unbalanced in the back row during his absence, underlining his influence on the side. Credit to Ulster's tackling machine Chris Henry.

6 Iain Henderson (Ulster): A rising star of the Irish game, Henderson has returned from winning his first caps with Ireland in November and shone alongside Henry and Roger Wilson against Northampton. Beating defenders and weighing in with plenty of tackles, he is worth keeping eye one.

5 Nathan Hines (Clermont): The former Scotland second row played his part in the battle against Leinster, topping the tackle charts again and emphasising to Lions coach Warren Gatland that he still offers the physicality that will be needed on the Lions tour.

4 Tommy Hayes (Exeter): The leadership behind Exeter's first ever Heineken Cup win, Hayes as ever was in the thick of the action, making acquaintances with the opposition and also producing more tackles than any other player on the pitch with 11.

3 Census Johnston (Toulouse): The Samoan giant crossed over for Toulouse's fourth try to leave the losing bonus point out of reach for the Ospreys in the south of France. Part of a dominant performance from the home pack.

2 Rory Best (Ulster): When you're a hooker and make 16 tackles, how can you not make the team of the week? Best typified his side's physical dominance at Franklins Gardens on a memorable night for Ulster.

1 Cian Healy (Leinster): Another strong scrummaging performance alongside Ireland team-mate Mike Ross, Healy was not daunted by the Clermont scrum and carried well again in the loose, keeping him in contention for the Lions loosehead spot.

by Ben Coles

@bencoles_

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