Three huge games over the weekend saw the culmination of the Amlin Challenge & Heineken Cups, with Northampton Saints and Toulon respectively taking the spoils, and Wasps putting in a strong performance against Stade Francais to cement their place in next year’s top flight of European rugby, the European Champions Cup. Here are our stand out players from the three games:
1. Alex Corbisiero – big scrummaging display from the returning loosehead, making light work of David Wilson and earning his side a number of penalties.
2. Craig Burden – brought a huge physicality to the Toulon game in the first half, camping on the verge of the offside line and at one point flooring his opposite man, and fellow South African, Schalk Brits.
3. Matt Stevens – put huge pressure on his opponent Chocci, who conceded three penalties for collapsing the scrum before being subbed early on in the second half.
4. Manu Samoa – huge runs from the big American to repeatedly get the Saints over the gainline.
5. Steve Borthwick – on a bad day when his team mates were generally being out-muscled, Borthwick retained his composure and kept the Saracens forwards ticking with varied lineout ball and his own resolute rucking and tackling game.
6. Juan Smith – would have been MOTM if it weren’t for Steffon Armitage. The South African epitomised Toulon’s power with huge hits in defence and strong carries including the try that sealed off the game.
7. James Haskell – carried and rucked hard but has developed a more rounded game, the extra off-loading dimension allowing him to combine with his fellow back-rowers to set up the try.
8. Steffon Armitage – monstrous in the loose and immovable in the tight. He made 13 highly effective carries and made a mockery of the efforts of big names such as Jacques Burger and Kelly Brown to effectively retain Saracens’ ball, winning four turnovers. Named ERC Player of the Year to cap off an exceptional season.
10. Jonny Wilkinson – who else? A flawless kicking display in closing an effortlessly struck drop goal off the right boot. In his post-match interview he called it a ‘shot to nothing’ but there was no doubt it was going over.
Deserves a mention: Stephen Myler kept Northampton’s scoreline ticking over with his own accurate kicking display to claim 20 points and read George Ford’s pass well to take an interception and set up a try.
11. Drew Mitchell – in a generally quiet weekend for wingers, Mitchell was busy in attack and was on hand at the crucial moment to set up the try for his fellow Aussie Matt Giteau.
12. Matt Giteau – showed his class and vision by chipping into space and following his kick to take the offload from Mitchell and bag the game’s first try. A very smooth operator.
14. Tom Varndell – troubled the Stade Francais defence with an energetic display, including a try, to help his side claim the 20th spot in next year’s Champions Cup.
15. Ben Foden – kept busy by the boot of George Ford but fielded the ball well and was in support of Luther Burrell after the Myler break, getting the all-important last touch of the ball to score the decisive try.