Heineken Cup Team of the Week: Round 1
1: Andrea Lo Cicero (Racing Metro)
The horrific conditions in Paris on Saturday meant Racing’s game against European heavyweights Munster was always likely to be decided up front. And so Munster were probably just about favourites going into it, boasting a giant pack full of Heineken experience as they do. Lo Cicero has no little experience himself though, and he needed it all to help his Racing side to, unbelievably, their maiden home win in this competition.
2: Rob Buchanan (Harlequins)
Hooker looks to be a position that will be in rude health over the next few years for England, with lots of young talent about. Rob Buchanan can add himself to that list, scoring a well taken try here and fronting up against a typically physical Biarritz pack. A promising performance.
3: Davit Zirakashvili (Clermont Auvergne)
The Georgian prop is a superb operator in the tight, and he showed it against a hapless Scarlets pack. The Clermont outfit pulverised their opposition, culminating in a penalty try at scrum time, and that effort was spearheaded by the giant Eastern European.
4: Steve Borthwick (Saracens)
The ex-England captain was excellent against Edinburgh. Not only did he boss the lineout as he always does, he made his tackles and generally led from the front to inspire Saracens to a massive win in the Scottish capital.
5: Tommy Hayes (Exeter Chiefs)
What a story it would have been, if Heineken Cup new boys Exeter had beaten Leinster on their own patch. As it was they only managed a losing bonus point, which they can still be immensely proud of. Hayes was titanic in the engine room for them, part of a brilliant pack that once again refused to be bullied by their more illustrious opponents. He also put in the most audacious and frankly one of the best chips I’ve ever seen from a tight five forward.
6: Julien Bonnaire (Clermont Auvergne)
Bonnaire is a man who seemingly never runs out of steam, and is integral to the Clermont machine if they are to finally go all the way in this competition. He crossed the whitewash against Scarlets but his work rate is what is so impressive. Mention must also go to Tom Johnson who tackled and carried his heart out once again for Exeter.
7: Steffon Armitage (Toulon)
The forgotten man of English openside play reminded anyone who was watching that he hasn’t gone away. Away from his stellar work at the breakdown he can be like an extra centre around the park- his slick pass to send his brother over in the corner was proof enough of that.
8: Nick Easter (Harlequins)
Louis Picamoles is a man-mountain in the Toulouse back row and showed all his strength against the Tigers, and Richard Baxter was excellent for Exeter, but Nick Easter stole the show for Harlequins against Biarritz. He was never afraid to carry into the heart of a boisterous Biarritz pack and produced a couple of beautiful offloads to add a bit of sparkle to proceedings.
9: Paul Marshall (Ulster)
There were strong showings from several scrum halves this weekend; Danny Care was at his lively best and Morgan Parra was typically general-like for Clermont. Marshall gets the spot though, bagging a brace and showing power just as much as pace.
10: Charlie Hodgson (Saracens)
It was tempting to plump for a certain Mr Cipriani for inspiring an epic Sale comeback, but Hodgson pips him for his all round game and control of a Saracens team that finally re-found their try-scoring best. 25 points including a try isn’t a bad haul either.
11: Eli Walker (Ospreys)
There were too many strong wing performances to mention this weekend, but Walker particularly caught the eye. The young Welsh winger scored a sensational solo try against Treviso on Friday night to get the ball rolling for his province. A young man who looks to have a bright future- not that Wales are lacking in this area.
12: Gael Fickou (Toulouse)
What a talent this guy is. Only 18 years old, he scored a try that was as much about precision as pace. Scooping up a bouncing ball he sent a pinpoint grubber through, then stepped on the gas to collect and outpace 2 covering defenders. When you’re that young and in the team instead of a Toulousain legend like Yannick Jauzion, you must be special.
13: George Pisi (Northampton)
Northampton look a different team when Pisi plays. He adds a cutting edge that is otherwise lacking, and bagged a brace against Glasgow, continuing what could be a very potent partnership with brother Ken.
14: Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues)
A hat-trick from Cuthbert wasn’t enough for the Blues to beat a resilient Sale who registered their first victory of the season. The winger was typically strong though and rounded off some fine team moves.
15: Delon Armitage (Toulon)
Delon takes the full back spot to make it a one-two for the Armitage brothers from Toulon. He was superb on the counterattack all night, and scored a brace too, finishing off some good team moves. The French move has been great for him, finally allowing his rugby to do the talking. Mention should also go to Jared Payne, whose languid running style was a joy to behold for Ulster, and Alex Goode, who again showed why he will be in the mix for an England starting berth.