RUCK’s Team of the Week: Gaskell, Strettle, Veainu
Wasps stunned everyone with their thumping of the reigning champions; Clermont showed they still have what it takes and Leicester made it successive wins in an exciting weekend of European rugby action.
But who were your stand-out performers? After much debate here is our final selection – do you agree? Comment below.
Fullback: TELUSA VEAINU (Leicester Tigers)
Saturday’s match in Italy only confirmed that Leicester Tigers have found an absolute gem in Tongan fullback Veainu. The 24-year-old displayed some magical footwork to score two tries for the Premiership side, helping them to a bonus point win against Benetton Treviso.
Wing: DAVID STRETTLE (Clermont)
In a game that showcased a mouthwatering array of attacking flair, the ex-England man stood out. His two tries came courtesy of superb individual pace and footwork, and the former Warrington Wolves Academy man, now ineligible for England after his summer switch from Saracens, can count himself unfortunate not to have finished the afternoon with a treble, but more than played his part in Clermont’s 34-29 win at home to Ospreys.
Centre: ELLIOT DALY (Wasps)
If you’re a Wasps fan, there can be no better sight than Daly’s monstrous long-range kicking, which was on show again as the Coventry-based side shocked everyone with their thumping of Toulon. You get the feeling something rather special is happening down at the Ricoh and you would imagine their skilled centre is going to play a major part in that.
Centre: WESLEY FOFANA (Clermont)
The French international is synonymous with his extreme power and he showed that in abundance as he secured the bonus point for Clermont as they saw off Ospreys. The 27-year-old’s presence and stoic authority for club and country are fast becoming his greatest strengths. He is a player to certainly keep an eye on at the Six Nations
Wing: OLLY WOODBURN (Exeter Chiefs)
The 24-year-old wing appears to be settling well into his new surroundings after a January move from Bath. The 6ft 2in wing or centre finished a successful night’s work with two well-taken tries that proved crucial in the Chiefs 34-19 win against Bordeaux at Sandy Park.
Fly-half: GEORGE FORD (Bath)
Ford was instrumental in his side’s 19-16 victory against Leinster on Saturday, showing real maturity under pressure with his kicking game. The fly-half didn’t miss from the tee and showed great composure to kick the winning penalty from a difficult angle. He also was able to control the game and keep the ball down in Leinster’s half with his tactical kicking, taking the pressure off his side at some crucial times.
Scrum-half: BENOIT PAILLAUGUE (Montpellier)
What an impressive performer Paillaugue is proving to be for Montpellier these days. The 28-year-old has amassed over 130 appearances for the French side since joining from FC Auch Gers in 2009 and showed exactly why he is one of the highest rated uncapped French players with his accurate kicking throughout their 64-0 drubbing of Calvisano and concluded his almost-perfect performance with a well-finished try.
Prop: MARCOS AYERZA (Leicester Tigers)
The seasoned internationals great scrummaging was the rock in which Leicester built their exciting performance in Italy on Saturday. Ayerza, who was a key part of Argentina’s Rugby World Cup squad, showed his brute strength to force his opposite number to spend 10 minutes in the sin bin, which Leicester took full advantage of to go clear.
Hooker: ASHLEY JOHNSON (Wasps)
Not many hookers played on the same level as the Wasps man this weekend. The South African-born utility forward came on for Carlo Festuccia after just 21 minutes but didn’t take long to get up to speed with his steady throwing and ferocious tackling proving key to the hosts limiting Toulon to just six points.
Prop: KIERAN BROOKES (Northampton Saints)
Although Saints have not started the season in the manner that they would have liked, Brookes has been one bright spark. The England prop has excelled since joining from Newcastle Falcons during the summer and was deservedly named the man of the match in the win at Glasgow on Saturday.
Lock: JAMIE CUDMORE (Clermont)
Since his return to first-team action following the Rugby World Cup, he has been superb. The hulking Canadian, a Clermont stalwart having served the club since 2005, put in a manful shift for the French side in their impressive win over Ospreys on Sunday. The 37-year-old played the full 80, got through a mountain of work and was unlucky to have a try chalked off by the TMO.
Lock: JAMES GASKELL (Wasps)
The second-row, who was a late addition to the Wasps starting XV, put in a sensational performance from start to finish for Wasps as they beat Toulon. He showed his carrying ability when he played a part in the opening score before being seemingly everywhere to shut down any potential opportunities for the visitors. It seemed whenever the ball became available Gaskell was there to pick up the pieces or stop the danger. An absolute rock.
Flanker: JOHN HARDIE (Edinburgh)
The New Zealand-born Scotland international has already proved to be an excellent purchase for Edinburgh, adding some steel to their scrum while he can also actually play with the ball in hand, getting over the gain line regularly. The 27-year-old, part of arguably one of the best, 6, 7, 8 combinations in the Challenge Cup this year, once again proved his quality with a try and an assist when Edinburgh overcame Agen on Friday night.
Flanker: DAVE WARD (Harlequins)
The hooker, a veteran of over 150 career appearances, will have played very few of those games at Number 7, but Quins’ openside flanker for the night proved to be a crucial cog in a clinical second-half performance as Harlequins machine overcome Cardiff Blues 32-20 on Thursday evening.
Number 8: NATHAN HUGHES (Wasps)
The massive number 8 starred as the Premiership club won their second consecutive European Champions Cup match. His brace of tries secured Wasps a bonus point while his marshalling of the scrum and ability to get over the gain line was also crucial in what was a fantastic individual display.