With the semi-finals of this season’s Champions Cup over, we’ve sat down to pick our standout players of the European weekend.
Unsurprisingly there’s a good helping of Leinster and Racing 92 players but a couple from Munster make our team, with Scarlets missing out.
Champions Cup: Team of the semi-finals
15 Simon Zebo (Munster): The expected post-mortem of Munster’s loss has centred on Zebo’s non-selection. While Alex Wootton has been in solid form, maybe the Munster coaching team are regretting not going for the experience of Zebo in such a big game. He came on in the 43rd minute and thus started the Munster fightback. He was superb against his future side, making seven carries and scoring a try.
14 Teddy Thomas (Racing 92): That was some first-half performance from Thomas. Two predator-like finishes helped his side go 14-3 up after 20 minutes and then two minutes he later he should have had a hat-trick but instead popped to Maxime Machenaud over the line. The Munster defence was powerless to stop the Thomas threat as he once again oozed quality and pace to burn. Leinster will be wary of him.
13 Virimi Vakatawa (Racing 92): Played a key part in one of Racing 92’s tries and was a genuine threat with ball in hand in the opening half. Then, like his team-mates, the centre seemed to go into his shell, but had done enough to warrant a spot in our line-up.
12 Robbie Henshaw (Leinster): 10 weeks after having his shoulder reconstructed, Henshaw returned to the field in a Champions Cup semi-final. Not only did the Ireland centre get through it, he was outstanding, receiving praise from all quarters, even Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac. He made a team high 15 tackles at the Aviva Stadium, with his return to fitness a real boost ahead of the season run-in.
11 Fergus McFadden (Leinster): Harsh maybe on Steff Evans, who never gave up for the Scarlets, but we switch McFadden over here to include him. Such a reliable performer whether it be for province or country, McFadden emptied the tank and deserved his crossing.
10 Johnny Sexton (Leinster): Big game, big performance. Sexton always delivers especially for Leinster in key matches like this. Regularly a threat to the gainline, barking the orders and solid off the tee made it a perfect try-scoring performance from Sexton.
9 Maxime Machenaud (Racing 92): An assured presence as always at the base in one of the hugely anticipated personal battles of the weekend, against Conor Murray. While Murray came into his own in the second-half, Machenaud’s goal-kicking and game management in the first had done the damage. He is so reliable off the tee and in big games such as this it’s just one of the reasons why he’s included.
8 Yannick Nyanga (Racing 92): A superb performance from the former France international, who rolled back the years by impressing in attack and set-piece. The number eight was the French outfit’s best ball-carrier, gaining 64 metres from eight runs, and also significantly aided Camille Chat in the lineout, who was struggling with his throwing. As ever, both John Barclay (Scarlets) and CJ Stander (Munster) worked hard but Nyanga was easily the most effective eight over the weekend.
7 Wenceslas Lauret (Racing 92): Another Racing player in the back-row but unlike Nyanga, whose work in attack helped him get the nod, it was Lauret’s defensive effort that saw the flanker selected. They struggled to get much possession or territory in the second period but the Frenchman’s 20 tackles and ability to slow the ball down was crucial to the Parisians’ victory as he edged out Leinster’s Dan Leavy.
6 Scott Fardy (Leinster): The former Australian representative has been outstanding since signing for the Irish province and he underlined his quality here. Scored one try, carried well in the tight, and is always a useful option in the lineout. Fardy’s also remarkably effective at the breakdown as the Scarlets struggled to produce quick ball throughout their semi-final.
5 James Ryan (Leinster): Still undefeated in his professional career, the young lock is some talent. At the highest level of either the club or international game, Ryan has yet to be found wanting and he was once again dominant on Saturday. The 21-year-old is an incredible athlete but he is also technically proficient, which allows him to carry so effectively into contact. The Ireland international displayed that quality in the first try before he showed his range of skills in the second period by off-loading for Fardy to touch down.
4 Donnacha Ryan (Racing 92): Did a job on his former side by constantly disrupting Munster’s lineout and winning the battle against Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland and Peter O’Mahony. Also put in an excellent shift in defence, making 18 tackles, as Racing reached the Champions Cup final for the second time. Tadhg Beirne (Scarlets) was excellent in a losing cause but Ryan’s influence cannot be understated for the French outfit.
3 Stephen Archer (Munster): One of the few areas where Munster had any joy in the first half, the tighthead had Eddy Ben Arous in all sorts of trouble at the scrum. Unfortunately, the team’s lack of precision with ball in hand meant that they were unable to benefit from the prop’s good work in the set-piece. Tadhg Furlong’s continued excellence and the emergence of Andrew Porter means that another Ireland cap might be unlikely for Archer, but he has certainly added further depth following his performances in the Champions Cup this year.
2 Sean Cronin (Leinster): There were some decent moments from both Racing 92’s Camille Chat and Munster’s Niall Scannell in the loose but their lineout work let them down. We therefore go for sheer consistency with the Leinster hooker pinpoint at the set-piece and a decent option with ball in hand having made 20 metres from nine carries.
1 Cian Healy (Leinster): It was a good week for Ireland props as, alongside the performances of the tightheads, Healy and Munster’s Dave Kilcoyne both put in fine shifts. The Leinster man took the position in the team, however, after scoring a try, impressing in the set-piece and carrying well throughout his time on the field.