RaboDirect Pro12 Team of the Week: Round 2
This side has been extremely difficult to pick this week with several contenders in most positions across the pitch, but here is my Pro12 Team of Round 2.
1: Wian Du Preez (Munster)
Wian Du Preez managed to almost bully his opposite number, Cittadini (Treviso), through the majority of this game, he was regularly first to the breakdown and cleared several defenders. He carried into contact well and presented the ball for Duncan Williams to be cleared with ease.
2: Matthew Rees (Scarlets)
With Speculation already starting over the lions squad, Rees started to show his form of old, and after only round 2 is the standout hooker so far. Whilst Liam Williams won man of the match, Rees must have been a very close second.
3: John Afoa (Ulster)
After Round 2, Afoa is still favourite in the tighthead position. Mark Anscombe must have been concerned about the strength of the Ospreys pack, and he changed the whole front row. As soon as Afoa came on, the scrum turned and Ulster looked to dominate the set piece in the remainder of the second half. As he dived for the tryline, he was superbly held back, but he had the presence of mind to lay it back for Paul Marshall to score.
4: Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh)
This was a tight call between three excellent contenders, Leo Cullen (Leinster), Bradley Davies (Blues), and Gilchrist. I have picked Gilchrist as his work-rate surpassed the others, from open play to the breakdown. I am sure we will see more of this lock throughout the year.
5: Mike McCarthy (Connacht)
McCarthy led the Connacht pack at Zebre, and his efforts around the pitch certainly made him one of the standout performers of the weekend. He topped off his contribution in the 80th minute with a well-worked try.
6: David Denton (Edinburgh)
The hardest positions for the Lions selectors, I believe, will be 6, 7 and 8. There are many players that lift their respective squads, but not like David Denton. This will be a great headache for Gatland as Denton’s last outing against Cardiff was by far the best back row performance of the weekend.
7: Sam Warburton (Blues)
Warburton is getting close to his RWC form where he captained arguably the third best team in the world. He was absent from a number of big games for the Blues at the end of last season, but the prospect of the Lions shirt and the potential to be captain may be the injection he needs. He was excellent in the game against Edinburgh and as such is the my choice on the openside.
8: Nick Williams (Ulster)
As with John Afoa, it is the second time Williams has been chosen, although he is not an obvious choice on appearances and would not be regarded as the epitome of fitness. However this game highlighted the Kiwi’s skill in the loose. He stole more ruck ball than the Ospreys combined and received the Man of the Match award.
9: Paul Marshall (Ulster)
Paul Marshall started the second half for Ulster in an attempt to tidy up the game for them. Michael Heaney was seemingly slow at the breakdown which allowed a strong Ospreys defence to push over and create turnover ball. Marshall dictated the speed and dominated his forwards to pick and drive, and it was his score that clinched the win in the last five minutes.
10: Ian Keatley (Munster)
Keatley was Man of the Match in a game that showed a Munster team returning to form. New captain Doug Howlett was excellent in attack as was Munster favourite Laulala, but Keatley dominated the midfield and directed the attack. A possible first choice for Ireland?
11: Tim Visser (Edinburgh)
It’s difficult not to have Visser in any side. He is a prolific finisher and is already the top try scorer in the league. Against the Blues he showed great tenacity to beat Halfpenny into the corner after excellent build-up play from the Edinburgh forwards.
12: Noel Reid (Leinster)
Reid made Leinster’s first game of the season at the RDS a successful one, spotting weak links in the Newport line and exploiting them well. He made a serious error throwing a silly pass which was easily intercepted by the Newport fly-half, but this will make him more thoughtful in the future and he will be a decent threat for Leinster this year.
13: Darren Cave (Ulster)
Ospreys v Ulster was fought up front, and the back lines were forced into defence regularly, and no outside centre was as good in this regard as Darren Cave. The Ulsterman stood up and was counted; he tackled hard and forced a penalty for holding on, and the work carried out was not pretty but it was effective.
14: Alex Cuthbert (Blues)
As with many positions this week it is a tight call: George North, Andrew Conway, or Doug Howlett. For me Cuthbert just noses out in front due to the great running and defence, and he certainly warmed the crowd at ‘The Arms Park,’ the permanent old home of the Blues. Again a great headache for Gatland in this position.
15: Gavin Duffy (Connacht)
Duffy earns this spot for two reasons: the first is how the Connacht captain held a poorly-disciplined side together in the last twenty minutes; and the second as a full back that has seemingly mastered this position. He was instrumental in the Connacht victory and I suspect we will see him here again before the season has ended.