RUCK’s Team of the Week: Jonny Sexton, Manu Tuilagi, Sam Warburton…
The RUCK Team of the Week (TOTW) is released by us each Sunday and represent players from the Northern Hemisphere that have played best in our opinion the previous week.
Fullback: ROB MILLER (Wasps)
Wing: CHRIS ASHTON (Saracens)
Ashton scored twice on his return from a 10-week ban as Premiership leaders Saracens beat Bath 30-10 on Friday night.
Centre: JOE MARCHANT (Harlequins)
The centre touched down as Harlequins boosted their Aviva Premiership play-off hopes with a six-try 46-25 victory over struggling Newcastle Falcons.
After determined rucking on Newcastle’s five-metre line, the ball was released quickly to find spare man Marchant, who had created an overload on the left-hand side to dive over for the crucial score.
His witty line running and energy throughout the contest made him a constant thorn in the side of the Falcons defence.
Centre: MANU TUILAGI (Leicester Tigers)
Leicester struggled at half-back, and their defence was often inexplicably porous, but Manu Tuilagi scored two tries and became an ever-greater influence as the match wore on.
The England centre was among Leicester’s chief destroyers, setting the impressive Veainu up for the game’s first try before getting on the end of an excellent bit of skill from Betham to cross for his first score.
The powerhouse then displayed trademark power and pace, taking an Owen Williams pass before shrugging off two tackles to spark the second-half revival with his side’s third try and personal second.
He then played a part in sending Betham over to secure the try-scoring bonus point in what was probably his finest display since his comeback from injury in February.
Wing: OLLY WOODBURN (Exeter Chiefs)
Exeter right winger Olly Woodburn also crossed three times as Rob Baxter’s men put last weekend’s defeat by Saracens behind them to consolidate their second-placed position in the table with an eight-try rout against Worcester.
Fly-half: JONNY SEXTON (Leinster)
The Ireland number 10 was the man of the match as Leinster overcame Munster and deservedly so.
Sexton scored every single one of Leinster’s points and was very confident with the ball in hand. Guided his team around the park but never actually opened up the defence. Exploited a Francis Saili misread before showing great acceleration to dart around the former All Black and score Leinster’s only try of the game.
Sale’s Danny Cipriani was also excellent this weekend but due to the importance of this Leinster victory, Sexton pipped him to the spot.
Scum-half: RHYS WEBB (Ospreys)
The Ospreys forward dominance against Newport provided Wales No 9 Webb with a great platform to dictate play, and he took full advantage, sniping over from close range on 18 minutes.
It was a classic Webb score, as he picked up from a ruck, delivered a half-dummy and stepped inside to the line, showing enough strength to shake off the tackle of Lewis Evans and just managing to get the ball down.
To see him fit and firing again after his long injury lay-off is a real plus, and it’s clear he’s lost none of his predatory powers as that trademark try showed.
Prop: JACK MCGRATH (Leinster)
A very solid scrum that provided an excellent platform for Leinster throughout the game was anchored by the ever-improving McGrath.
Now the first choice for both club and country, the Irish prop got through a mountain of work and was unarguably the best front rower on the park.
Hooker: RORY BEST (Ulster)
A try from skipper Best – on his return to Ulster from Six Nations duty – got Ulster over the line to halt a slide which had seen them lose three of their last four matches against league leaders Connacht.
Prop: WILL COLLIER (Harlequins)
Lock: JOE LAUNCHBURY (Wasps)
Lock: JONNY GRAY (Glasgow Warriors)
Gray scored Glasgow Warriors’ opening try as their Pro12 play-off push continued to gather pace after a 38-16 away win against Benetton Treviso.
The phenomenal young lock, who made 59 tackles in four games at the 2016 Six Nations, missing none, has continued to develop and is become the inspirational leader Glasgow need. This is all despite still being just 22-years-old.
Flanker: SAM WARBURTON (Cardiff Blues)
Wales captain Warburton had a hugely influential role as Cardiff overcame Scarlets and you could see he’s really enjoying the fast style of play brought in by new Blues coach Danny Wilson.
Flanker: SAM UNDERHILL (Ospreys)
Former England U18 skipper Underhill produced yet another stunning display as the Ospreys overcame Newport on their travels on Friday night.
The 19-year-old forward is shielded from media attention in Wales although the excellence of his performances for the club is making that increasingly difficult as he continues to be linked with an England call-up.
Richard Hill, the England World Cup-winning flanker, has been a regular in the stands for Ospreys matches as he is mentoring the youngster who is studying at university in Cardiff, which led to him switching from Gloucester to the Welsh regional side.
Underhill is set to be the next rookie fast-tracked into the England set-up, following the path is taken by Grand Slam winners Maro Itoje and Jack Clifford and, before them, Owen Farrell and George Ford.
Jones has spoken to Underhill, and the RFU are ready to make history by invoking their “exceptional circumstances” rule that would allow the flanker to play for England, even though he is based outside the country.
Number 8: THOMAS WALDROM (Exeter Chiefs)
Waldrom continued his remarkable try-scoring form with a hat-trick as Exeter Chiefs warmed up for next Saturday’s European Champions Cup quarter-final with a thumping win over Worcester.
The former England No 8, who played his last Test in 2013, completed his hat-trick inside 72 minutes to take his Aviva Premiership tally to 13 tries this season in front of watching England forwards coach Steve Borthwick as Exeter stayed firmly on course for a home Premiership semi-final.
An international recall during the summer Tests in Australia would be very much deserved…