Team of the week: Victorious Champions Cup semi-finalists feature heavily
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 23/04/18 2:04pm
Players from victorious Champions Cup semi-finalists Leinster and Racing 92 feature heavily in our XV this week...
15. Warrick Gelant (Bulls)
If you haven't heard of this guy yet, you will do soon.
The 22-year-old Bulls full-back has been ripping it up in Super Rugby this season, and though he didn't score in their 28-10 victory over the Rebels on Saturday, he did just about everything else.
From 13 carries - no Bulls players made more - he beat a staggering 10 defenders and created chances at will. He has been a virtual ever-present in Super Rugby teams of the week so far this year.
Expect to see him for the Springboks against England this summer, and expect to see him cause a problem or two...
14. Teddy Thomas (Racing 92)
When Thomas plays as he did against Munster on Sunday in Racing's Champions Cup semi-final win in Bordeaux, he is near undefendable.
The 24-year-old's pace and feet are sensational and inside 20 minutes against Munster, he had already seared over for two tries. He then turned down a hat-trick after slaloming his way into the in-goal area again, handing skipper Maxime Machenaud a simple try.
If Thomas brings this form into Bilbao's final, he might be too much even for Leinster to contain.
13. Virimi Vakatawa (Racing 92)
Like Thomas, Vakatawa was another Racing back to run absolute riot against Munster.
The Fijian-born France international was too pacy and powerful for the men in red to contend with, as he steamrolled through to set up Thomas' second score.
Defensively Vakatawa was also fantastic, however, as he chipped with a couple of crucial breakdown penalties and defended that most difficult of channels - the outside-centre berth - oppressively. Munster never looked like going through or round him. Very, very impressive.
12. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster)
On Saturday, centre Henshaw made his return for Leinster against the Scarlets in their Champions Cup semi-final after suffering a serious shoulder injury playing for Ireland against Italy on February 10.
To come back and start a game of such magnitude a mere 10 weeks after such a serious issue defied both logic and medical science - yet if anything, Henshaw looked even better than before.
He looked quicker, more agile, the same bundle of energy as ever. The 24-year-old made more tackles than any other Leinster player (15), carried the ball nine times, and was part of a suffocating defence in midfield.
11. Mattia Bellini (Zebre)
Despite it being a European Cup weekend, two rearranged PRO14 games also took place, one of which saw Zebre destroy the Ospreys in Italy.
The Italian clubs have been far more competitive this season in the PRO14 and in Parma on Saturday, winger Bellini took the game by storm as Zebre put 37 points past their Welsh visitors.
The 24-year-old scored a hat-trick of tries, made a game-high 15 carries and romped around the park for 110 metres with ball in hand. He's fully deserving of his place in our XV.
10. Johnny Sexton (Leinster)
He may be turning 33 this July, but Leinster's playmaker is showing no signs of slowing down.
On Saturday, he controlled things superbly with the boot as he so often can do, chipping in with a try of his own and 61 metres with ball in hand.
His presence for Leinster and Ireland is priceless. What a player he is.
9. Maxime Machenaud (Racing 92)
As is customary these days, Machenaud's kicking from the tee was metronomically accurate against Munster, but it's his all-round game which is pushing him into the conversation for best scrum-half in the world.
The 29-year-old's clearing kicks have improved to such an extent that they are now a key relieving weapon for the Racing pack in defence, with the Racing skipper regularly gaining huge distance.
Defensively strong, rapid around the corner, exceptionally aware as to any openings and an underrated breakdown threat, Machenaud has to be in the equation for the best player in Europe this season and is absolutely critical to all that Racing do.
A note too for Leinster's Jamison Gibson-Park, who came in for the injured Luke McGrath and performed brilliantly with pressure heaped upon his shoulders.
1. Cian Healy (Leinster)
Even as recently as a year ago, Healy was behind Jack McGrath for Leinster and Ireland and struggling to earn starts in the biggest games of the club and Test calendars.
This last 12 months though has seen a return to form for Healy back to the player which exploded onto the scene almost a decade ago.
Once regarded as the best loosehead prop on the planet, Healy is slowly reaching that same level and on Saturday he was huge again.
A monstrous carrying option, the 30-year-old contributed 11 at the Aviva Stadium, and his work can be summed up in the microcosm of his try on 27 minutes: an absolutely immense cleanout on John Barclay to stave off a certain steal of possession one phase, he barrelled over for a seven-pointer two attacks later.
2. Malcolm Marx (Lions)
Is there a better hooker in world rugby at the minute than Malcolm Marx?
If that question remains open to some degree of interpretation, then what surely doesn't is whether he is the best hooker in world rugby at the breakdown.
Once again this weekend, Marx was an absolute nuisance in this area earning four clear turnovers and disrupting far more.
The 23-year-old also made nine carries, for which he earned a hefty 62 metres and beat five defenders in victory at the Waratahs in Sydney.
3. Thomas du Toit (Sharks)
The 22-year-old Sharks prop has largely struggled while trying to convert from loose to tight over the last few years, but on Saturday he was well worthy of plaudits.
Tu Doit, who enjoyed a loan spell with Munster under Rassie Erasmus last season, played the entire 80 minutes as the Sharks beat the Stormers 24-17, made nine carries, eight tackles and scored the game-clinching try with just eight minutes left.
Crucially, he was also part of a scrum which had a 100 per cent success rate on their own ball. Maybe it's not time to abandon this experiment after all...
4. Ed Slater (Gloucester)
Gloucester faced Newcastle at home in their Challenge Cup semi-final on Friday night, fully aware that the last time they welcomed the in-form Falcons to Kingsholm in March, it was the away side who were victorious.
Performances of the calibre provided by Slater saw the Cherry & Whites book their place in Bilbao with a convincing 33-12 success.
The lock made a game-high 16 carries - a phenomenal total for a second row - while also contributing 13 tackles in an all-action display.
5. James Ryan (Leinster)
Though Scott Fardy was the official man of the match on Saturday, Ryan must have run him mightily close.
The 21-year-old second row has enjoyed a spectacular season and against the Scarlets he was outstanding once again, scoring the vital first try, setting up Fardy's effort with a nifty offload, topping the carrying charts with 16 and adding 13 tackles - the second most of anyone in Blue. What an engine, what a player.
He also still hasn't lost a professional game!
6. Scott Fardy (Leinster)
As overseas signings go, this guy has rocketed right to the top of the best there has been in Ireland.
Former Wallabies back-row Fardy has been magnificent for Leinster all season and is in with a real shout of picking up the European Player of the Year. Indeed, there is a whiff of Rocky Elsom 2008/09 to Fardy's impact in Dublin.
Signed as a second row, he has appeared more recently at blindside due to injuries to Rhys Ruddock, Sean O'Brien and Josh van der Flier limiting back-row stocks.
His work around the pitch is tireless, and it's clever too, as was once again on display against the Scarlets on Saturday, when the Aussie gained Stuart Barnes' pick for the man of the match award.
7. Ellis Jenkins (Cardiff Blues)
Another PRO14 side who booked their ticket to Bilbao this weekend was the Cardiff Blues, after their impressive 16-10 win over Pau, and skipper Jenkins was magnificent on the openside.
Wales have an embarrassment of riches to pick from in the flanker positions, but judging by his display at Arms Park, Jenkins could find himself starting regularly in red before long.
Up against 2014 European Player of the Year, expert poacher Steffon Armitage, Jenkins and the Blues back-row made a mockery of the breakdown, winning four turnovers himself.
His performance was so good, British & Irish Lions skipper Sam Warburton joked on social media afterwards about getting an Ellis Jenkins tattoo!
8. Yannick Nyanga (Racing 92)
Rumour has it, Nyanga is thinking of calling it a day at the end of this season. His performances for Racing would seem to suggest he may want to have a rethink!
The 34-year-old was everywhere against Munster on Sunday, disrupting the breakdown, stealing lineout balls, rushing up in defence, putting his hand up for big carries.
On several occasions, Nyanga was the man claiming restarts for Racing, and it's hard to recall a single occasion where he didn't break through a tackle. He was absolutely brilliant.