Players thrive on euro stage
January 21, 2013
Munster's Simon Zebo was among the tries as his side swept Racing Metro aside © Getty Images
The countdown to the eagerly-awaited British & Irish Lions tour to Australia intensified at the weekend with the final round of pool action in the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup.
As we all tick off the days until the team depart Down Under, ESPNscrum will cast an eye across the action and pinpoint those players eligible for the elite tourists who are pushing their selection claims with strong performances. But luckily there is still a lot of rugby to be played until the squad board the plane for Hong Kong and plenty of time for hopes to rise and fall.
15. Stuart Hogg (Glasgow)
His team-mate Peter Horne may have stolen the headlines with a match-winning try against Northampton, but he could not completely overshadow the contribution of Hogg who shone on his return to the Glasgow line-up.
14. Chris Ashton (Saracens)
The England winger didn't see a great deal of the ball during his side's crucial Heineken Cup victory over Edinburgh but when he did he made it count with a try in each half - the second a majestic score courtesy of an Owen Farrell cross-kick.
13. Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster)
The veteran centre shrugged off the disappointment of seeing the Ireland captaincy pass to Jamie Heaslip by returning to what he does best - inspiring those around him with his own endeavour. There's still plenty of life left in BOD who also notched his 32nd Heineken Cup try in the process.
12. Paddy Wallace (Ulster)
Ulster may have been some way from their best in edging out Castres, but Wallace did not shy away from the task and his efforts helped to wear down their hosts at the Stade Pierre Antoine.
11. Simon Zebo (Munster)
The Ireland international grabbed a hat-trick of tries as Munster powered past Racing Metro at Thomond Park and grabbed a place in the last eight of the Heineken Cup at Leinster's expense. Just the latest eye-catching display from one of the rising stars of Irish rugby.
10. Jonathan Sexton (Leinster)
Sexton orchestrated a vital bonus point win for Leinster at Exeter that may not have been enough to keep their euro hopes alive but it did serve as the latest example of his superb game management - with the odd bit of sublime handling thrown in for good measure.
9. Conor Murray (Munster)
Murray get his side on their way with the opening try at Thomond Park and was pivotal in making sure the hosts made the most of their one-man advantage and notched the bonus point that would prolong their Heineken Cup campaign.
1. Cian Healy (Leinster)
Neil Clark burrows over for Exeter © Getty Images
The all-action loose-head produced a Man of the Match performance against Exeter - solid at the set-piece and a dynamo in loose and most devastatingly with ball in hand.
2. Neil Clark (Exeter Chiefs)
Clark typified the gutsy showing from Chiefs against Leinster at Sandy Park with the hooker also burrowing over for a try. This was Exeter's first Heineken Cup appearance and they have not looked out of place once thanks to the efforts of Clark and co.
3. Matt Stevens (Saracens)
The Sarries tight-head delivered an assured performance in difficult conditions at Vicarage Road. A steadying force at scrum time, Stevens also got on the end of an excellent driving move to claim a try.
4. Steve Borthwick (Saracens)
The Sarries skipper led by example as his side bowed out at Vicarage Road with victory over Edinburgh. His usual steadying presence at lineout time, Borthwick was just as active in the loose as spurred his side on to their eventual bonus point triumph.
5. Donnacha Ryan (Munster)
Singled out for praise by Munster boss Rob Penney following their victory over Racing Metro, Ryan looms large as real Lions prospect - sure to be at the heart of Ireland's forthcoming Six Nations campaign.
6. Kelly Brown (Saracens)
Brown's hunger for work during his side's Heineken Cup victory over Edinburgh could not be questioned with the Scotland international racking up an outstanding 15 tackles to help stop his countrymen in their tracks.
7. Tommy O'Donnell (Munster)
The up-and-coming Munster back-row racked up some pretty impressive stats against Racing Metro - galloping a match-leading 72m with ball in hand to put his backs to shame while getting his hands dirty elsewhere.
8. Jamie Heaslip (Leinster)
If you were in any doubt as to why Heaslip was handed the Ireland captaincy for the Six Nations, the player himself offered a powerful reminder of his prowess as his side saw off Exeter. A try was due reward for his standard-setting work rate.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
"It does sometimes get tough as you get older, but there's nothing else I'd rather do." Tom Hamilton talks to fly-half Dan Carter
Stingers, a rampaging Fijian and two Dannys looking to be champions of the world - Monday Maul looks at some key talking points
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the Top 14, Super Rugby and the Aviva Premiership with fireworks and monsters both featuring
Firdose Moonda looks at the moves towards greater integration within South African rugby ... and what the future holds