Team of the week: Irish provinces dominate after Champions Cup clean sweep
By Sky Sports Rugby Union
Last Updated: 14/01/19 12:37pm
The Irish provinces feature the most in our team of the week after a clean sweep in the fifth round of the Heineken Champions Cup...
15. Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs)
Jack Nowell made his return to action in Exeter's 34-12 victory over Castres at Sandy Park on Sunday.
Playing for the first time since injuring himself on England duty in November, Nowell started at full-back and made an immediate impact by scoring the game's first try with less than five minutes on the clock.
The Chiefs flyer continued to trouble the Castres defence after that score, and was subsequently named man of the match.
14. Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse)
Toulouse's hopes of finishing top of Pool 1 were dealt a blow as they were beaten 29-13 by Leinster in Dublin on Saturday. There were several players who impressed for the visitors in defeat, but none more so than Cheslin Kolbe, whose try with no time remaining made no impact on the result but showcased his quick feet.
Over the course of 80 minutes the Springbok beat an incredible 13 defenders and made four clean breaks, making 122 metres from his 13 carries.
13. Virimi Vakatawa (Racing 92)
Another player to shine in defeat was Virimi Vakatawa, who carried 16 times for his team, making three clean breaks and beating 10 Ulster defenders.
Ultimately the Ulstermen ran out 26-22 winners thanks a big impact from Jacob Stockdale - more on him later - but Vakatawa was full value for his try-scoring performance at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
12. Ollie Devoto (Exeter Chiefs)
Nowell was one of many Exeter ball carriers to create havoc at Sandy Park, and Ollie Devoto was another to constantly punch holes in the Castres defence.
Devoto pulled the strings in the Chiefs midfield; his offload to Joe Simmonds for Exeter's second try was a moment of absolute magic.
11. Jacob Stockdale (Ulster)
Stockdale helped Ireland to a famous victory over the All Blacks in November thanks to a brilliant chip and chase, and on Saturday against the visiting Racing 92, he did the same thing.
The 22-year-old took the ball on the left touchline and kicked ahead. There were three Racing defenders around the ball but the bounce favoured Stockdale, who raced over for his second try of the night.
Incredibly, Stockdale has now scored tries in all five of Ulster's Champions Cup matches this season, and is certainly one of Ireland's form players heading into next month's Six Nations.
10. Joey Carbery (Munster)
Munster arrived at Kingsholm on Friday night needing a win to keep the chasing Chiefs at bay in Pool 2, and they delivered an emphatic victory led by Ireland international Joey Carbery.
The fly-half converted all five of his side's tries - two of which were his own - and slotted two penalties for a personal tally of 26 points in a man-of-the-match display in his side's 41-15 win.
Thanks to the victory, Munster now only need two bonus points from this weekend's showdown with the Chiefs in order to top the pool, but Carbery will no doubt be aiming to lead his side to victory against the Gallagher Premiership leaders.
9. David Shanahan (Ulster)
Shortly before kick-off in Belfast, Ulster's John Cooney was forced to withdraw from the game due to injury, and in stepped David Shanahan.
The 25-year-old stepped up superbly, marshalling his side's attack and setting the tempo with his passing game. Cooney is still the No 1 scrum-half in the province, but it will please Ulster to have depth in such a key position.
A mention for George Horne, who scored the match-winning try in Glasgow's 33-24 victory over the Cardiff Blues on Sunday.
1. Rob Evans (Scarlets)
This spot could easily have gone to Mako Vunipola, who was heavily involved in Saracens' attacking play while also contributing to his side's cause in the set piece.
However, even though it was essentially a dead rubber, Rob Evans' two tries in Scarlets' 33-10 victory over Leicester at Parc y Scarlets earns the Wales loosehead the nod this week.
2. Sean Cronin (Leinster)
Sean Cronin was like a man possessed in Dublin on Saturday, hitting rucks at pace and carrying the ball 10 times for Leinster. The hooker also scored a try, but his biggest moment of the day was surely his hit on Thomas Ramos.
Cronin flew out from the defensive line following a Toulouse lineout feed, and timed his tackle to perfection as he levelled Ramos just as the fly-half received the ball, and forced a penalty for his side when the Toulouse forwards flocked to limit the damage. Cronin's reaction when the whistle blew for the penalty showed pure emotion.
3. Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs)
A second Welsh prop to make it into our team of the week, but this one is for scrum prowess rather than try-scoring heroics.
The Chiefs forwards had the Castres pack going backwards at the set piece at Sandy Park, and for spearheading the efforts, Francis is our tighthead prop of the week.
4. Leone Nakarawa (Racing 92)
"Leone Nakarawa is playing a different sport for Racing 92," Sky Sports' Rupert Cox said of the second rower last week, and based on recent performances it would be hard to argue with him.
Nakarawa wasn't even at his best in Belfast, but he still managed some outrageous offloads against Ulster, while also providing two lineout takes for his team.
5. Tadhg Beirne (Munster)
Tadhg Beirne is more than happy to perform his tight-five duties - he took more lineout throws than any of his team-mates against Gloucester - but still manages to be one of Munster's most influential men at the breakdown.
Beirne made an impressive 15 tackles, but his work over the ball at the tackle is what gets him into our team.
6. Rhys Ruddock (Leinster)
With Johnny Sexton out injured it was down to Ruddock to skipper Leinster in their revenge mission against Toulouse, and the flanker led from the front. While the Frenchmen were flashy, the Irish were patient, and Ruddock epitomised that.
Ruddock made 15 tackles and carried the ball 20 times in Dublin as his side wore down Toulouse to claim five points and take control of Pool 1.
7. Josh Navidi (Cardiff Blues)
If Ruddock led from the front for Leinster, it was Rynhard Elstadt who did it for Toulouse; the South African could easily have made it into the team - but for his contributions in Glasgow, Josh Navidi gets the nod.
The flanker made 12 tackles and a turnover to go with the try he scored in Cardiff Blues' losing cause against the Warriors at Scotstoun.
8. Bill Mata (Edinburgh)
Though we would have loved to give this spot to Ken Owens, who scored a try in the Scarlets' demolition of Leicester, there is no question that Bill Mata provided the performance of the weekend in the No 8 jersey.
Mata's biggest impact came shortly after the hour mark, running the ball from inside his own 22 and making it into the Toulon half before throwing the softest of offloads over his left shoulder to find the supporting James Johnstone, who took the pass and raced to the posts for one of the tries of the season.
Johnstone's try took the game away from Toulon, who were beaten 28-17 at home, with Edinburgh go into the final round of group games at the top of Pool 5.