RUCK’s Team of the Week: Armitage, Haskell, Waldrom
It has been a dramatic final round of European Champions Cup pool fixtures, where Exeter clinched a quarter-final place at the death.
But who were the stand-out performers? After much debate here is our final selection – do you agree? Comment below.
Fullback: JARED PAYNE (Ulster)
Payne put his hand up for Ireland selection at fullback with a masterful display as Ulster put their best foot forward with a 56-3 bonus-point victory against Oyonnax. The 30-year-old saw plenty of ball, carrying for 157 meters, beating seven defenders and was also keen to keep the play alive after he was tackled by executing five perfect offloads. Payne was instrumental in three of Ulster’s tries before crossing for the teams eighth and final try late on.
Wing: RONAN O’MAHONY (Munster)
The winger played well without much reward against Stade Francais last week, but this week he gained 87 meters with ball in hand, and scored two tries came courtesy of running ingenious support lines as they romped to an impressive 28-5 win against Treviso. The 26-year-old also ended the game with a well-deserved man of the match award.
Centre: ELLIOT DALY (Wasps)
Daly will head to England’s Six Nations training camp on Sunday off the back of a man-of-the-match performance which included a sensational try. The Wasps outside centre, as yet uncapped at international level, raced diagonally from 40 metres out, beating Rob and Dave Kearney, to touchdown his side’s third score of the game.
Centre: HARRY MALLINDER (Northampton)
Mallinder, son of head coach Jim, stole the headlines last weekend with a match-winning try in the Champions Cup on his European debut. This Saturday the teenager was on hand to pick up the man of the match award yet again as his score set Saints on their way to a crucial 22-10 win against Scarlets. Mallinder also caught the eye due to his quality range of passing and clever kicking.
Wing: JAMES SHORT (Exeter Chiefs)
Short dived over for two of Exeter’s five tries as they qualified for the Champions Cup quarter-finals for the first time. The winger, who joined from London Irish in the summer, has been a revelation this season after years of struggling to make his mark. Hopefully, Short can continue to improve and develop as at the age of 26 he has time on his side.
Fly-half: JIMMY GOPPERTH (Wasps)
Wasps’ experienced fly-half Gopperth put in a display we all knew he was capable of, perfect. The 32-year-old veteran converted his own try before slotting another 12 points from the tee to take his haul up to 19 points, which isn’t a bad total, especially against his former employers. Consistency is the key now for both the number and Wasps in general as they look to improve upon what has been a poor start to their Aviva Premiership campaign.
Scrum-half: BAPTISTE SERIN (Bordeaux-Begles)
Two penalties from Serin either side of half-time put Bordeaux 20-14 in front before his pin-point passing and rugby intelligence helped the complete the unlikely victory in a stunning second-half performance. The playmaker has been Mr. consistent for the French Top 14 side and will now be key to their chances of a high finish in the league.
Prop: SAKARIA TAULAFO (Stade Francais)
Hooker: ROB HERRING (Ulster)
Herring, who came in for new Ireland captain Rory Best, did a fantastic job for Ulster throughout the game. Captain for the day, the hooker was on top form as he showed why he deserves a place in Ireland’s Six Nations squad. Busy in the loose, he carried for 59 meters, while crossing for a try and also completing seven tackles.
Prop: PAUL HILL (Northampton Saints)
Following his surprise selection in Englands Six Nations squad, Hill put in another solid scrummaging performance as well as getting over the gain line regularly for Saints to be in our Team of the week for a second consecutive week. It wasn’t his best performance this season but the win, which guaranteed Northampton a spot in the final eight, was the icing on the cake of what has been a fantastic couple of weeks for the prop.
Lock: JOE LAUNCHBURY (Wasps)
The second-row, who has won his fitness race to be available for the Six Nations, returned with a performance that will surely rank among his best in a black and gold jersey this past weekend. His first half try added to his solid performance at the set-piece made him a central pillar in Wasps fantastic performance. Even if he is overlooked to captain England in favour of the often ill-disciplined Dylan Hartley, you can bet your life savings Launchbury will have a crucial role to play for Eddie Jones, men for the substantial future.
Lock: JONNY GRAY (Glasgow Warriors)
Scotland international Jonny Gray performance showed sophistication and patience far beyond his young years as he kept Glasgow Warriors very much in charge throughout as the Pro12 side bowed out of the Champions Cup with a morale-boosting 22-5 victory over Racing 92 at a wet Rugby Park in Kilmarnock. The 21-year-old, who has already accumulated 19 Test caps for Scotland, is another player that is starting to find his best form ahead of the fast approaching Six Nations.
Flanker: JAMES HASKELL (Wasps)
The athletic specimen showed he isn’t just all brawn with an intelligent display against Leinster, exhibiting precisely why he has been tipped by Lawrence Dallaglio to be a central cog in England’s Six Nations campaign. Eddie Jones men will also sure benefit from his bravado and confidence
Flanker: STEFFON ARMITAGE (Toulon)
Relentless back-rower Armitage, whom Bath had tried to sign last year prior to the World Cup, starred as Toulon beat Mike Ford’s men 19-14 at the Recreation Ground as the reigning champions booked their place in the knockout stages of the Champions Cup. The 30-year-old was his usual menace at the breakdown spooking Bath every time they went into contact while his shot put like hand-off to power past George Ford for his try was also a magic moment. Eddie Jones is unquestionably missing out by not having him available for selection.
Number 8: THOMAS WALDROM (Exeter Chiefs)
Waldrom, the overlooked England No 8, inspired Exeter Chiefs to a superb five-try 33-17 win as pool two was thrown into chaos on the final day of the Champions Cup group stages. The back-rower powered his way over to give Exeter a 14-7 lead at the break before sniffing out another try from near the line to make sure it was the Aviva Premiership club who booked their place in the quarter-finals. Waldrom has been consistently excellent and has been extremely unfortunate to get an international recall.