Who’s hot and who’s not: Leinster lay down a marker, Thomas Ramos shines for Toulouse but South Africans disappoint

Colin Newboult

It’s time for our Monday wrap of who has their name in lights and who is making the headlines for all the wrong reasons after the weekend.


Leinster, Garry Ringrose and the fans: The Irish province once again proved that they’re going to be so difficult to beat this season. Make no mistake, Leicester are a good side – among the best in the competition – but they were completely outplayed by Leinster. Even accounting for the Tigers’ midfield reshuffle, which caused them no end of problems, the English outfit were simply unable to match the pace and intensity that the hosts threw at them. They battled for a while but it seemed inevitable that at some point the floodgates were going to open. Ringrose was generally the player wreaking havoc in the visitors’ defence in what was an impressive return after recovering following a head injury. Inspired by the Ireland centre, Leinster ended up winning 55-24 in front of an incredible 27,000 supporters at the Aviva Stadium. Although there were fewer people there than in the last-16 tie with Ulster, they only had six days to sell tickets and logistically that was all they could fit into the stadium for this match – an outstanding effort from all involved with the Irishmen. A word too for the 500 Leicester supporters, who managed to make their way to Dublin despite the short turnaround.

Thomas Ramos: It takes a lot to overshadow Antoine Dupont nowadays but the Toulouse full-back was their best player in Saturday’s Champions Cup quarter-final victory over the Sharks. The France star was pretty much unplayable as he scored a staggering 29 points in all, which included two tries, three penalties and five conversions. Ramos‘ audacious kick-pass on his own line in the opening exchanges set the tone and he continued to play with confidence throughout. The 27-year-old is in career-best form and only getting better.

Benetton: For the first time in the sport’s history an Italian side has made it to the semi-finals of either the Champions Cup or Challenge Cup following the Treviso-based outfit’s 27-23 triumph over Cardiff. It is a magnificent achievement for Benetton and another indication that Italian rugby is trending in the right direction. They were excellent on Saturday, receiving praise from opposition boss Dai Young for their performance, as Marcus Watson’s try sealed a deserved victory. The emotions were evident at the final whistle as everyone realised what an important win it was for the sport in the country.

Richie Mo’unga becomes a Crusaders legend: The All Blacks fly-half made his 100th appearance for the Christchurch outfit on Friday in a 38-21 triumph over Moana Pasifika. Mo’unga, as ever, was superb in the victory, stepping up when they needed him in the second half with the Pacific Islanders 21-17 in front going into the final 40 minutes. It was not necessarily a vintage performance from the Crusaders but the fly-half did well to knit together a much-changed backline, while he was also accurate off the tee. The franchise’s upturn in form in 2017 basically coincided with the arrival of Mo’unga and he has been a key part of the Scott Robertson dynasty.

Ethan de Groot makes long-term commitment: Continuing with the New Zealand theme and there was good news during the week when the outstanding loosehead prop committed his future to the governing body and the Highlanders. With De Groot only 24, he still has plenty to give the sport and, crucially for the All Blacks, he will do it in his home country. No doubt overseas sides would have been keen to bring in a player of his quality, but the front-row still sees his foreseeable future in New Zealand, which is good news for the soon-to-be head coach Robertson.


Flat South African performances: The Sharks’ and Stormers’ preparation was disrupted going into their respective Champions Cup quarter-final clashes and they quite frankly played like it at the weekend. We feel the Durban outfit has the better excuse, given that they matched Toulouse for 66 minutes before tiredness set in and the French team ran rampant in the latter stages. Against a side other than Le Rouge et Noir and Leinster, they perhaps could have forced the win, but it was still a disappointing way to lose as Neil Powell’s men imploded. The Stormers, meanwhile, can’t really say the same as they simply never showed up at Sandy Park. There was no intensity or tempo to their play as the Cape Town side failed to live with the highly motivated Devonians, who themselves would have been fatigued following their extra-time victory over Montpellier. It has been a good debut from the South African franchises, however, and they now know some of what it takes to compete with Europe’s best at this level.

Champions Cup damp squib: After the excitement of the last-16 stage, the quarter-finals were a disappointment. La Rochelle’s encounter with Saracens on Sunday was the closest, but ultimately the French outfit were far too good on the day. It just did not work having a separate knockout round a week after the previous one and hopefully organisers EPCR will take note. Logistically, it was a failure with Leinster forced to have a reduced capacity, while the South Africans had their preparations disrupted due to travel complications. That had an impact on the quality of the rugby and the ability of the away sides to compete with the hosts.

World Cup concerns for injured Springbok duo: It was revealed during the week that Frans Steyn and Eben Etzebeth would be out of action for a lengthy period of time. It is particularly bad news for the utility back, whose injury is worse than first feared and makes him touch and go for the upcoming global tournament. As for Etzebeth, he should be available to play in France, with July seen as a likely return date, but it certainly impacts his preparation for the World Cup. We wish them both all the best in their recovery and hope they can make the South Africa squad.

Angus Blyth’s recklessness: We’re still not quite sure what the Reds lock was trying to do. Sure, try and charge down the kick but, with the way he did it, there was only ever going to be one outcome. He effectively ended up flinging himself head first into unfortunate Brumbies back Corey Toole in what has been described as a ‘flying headbutt.’ Blyth was initially given a yellow but that was soon upgraded to red in what was the option open to the officiating team. We very much hope that Toole is okay after the second-row’s reckless actions.

Wales exodus begins: Or continues, depending on how far you want to go back. Players such as Dan Biggar, Cory Hill and Will Rowlands have taken up offers abroad, but this past week has shown that plenty more could follow. It was announced that youngster Joe Hawkins, who only made his debut in November, had signed for Exeter Chiefs, which is a huge blow for Welsh rugby. Hawkins was seen as a key part of the national team going forward but he could now be ineligible for Wales, with his World Cup prospects dependant on a technicality – whether the playmaker signed his Chiefs contract before or after he played his first Test. That wasn’t the only bad news for the regions as Ross Moriarty soon followed suit. He will still be available for Wales, given that he is above the new 25-cap threshold, but it is just another indication as to where the sport is at in the country.

READ MORE: Sunday Social: Terrific Toulouse, Richie Mo’unga and cross-kicks aplenty