The inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup is now done and dusted, with Toulon emerging victorious after a fantastic seven-month spectacle of rugby.
Rugby’s very own ‘Galacticos’ secured their third straight top tier European title, beating Clermont at Twickenham on Saturday and cementing their place in the history books.
We have compiled our XV of the tournament, obviously with healthy representation from Toulon and Clermont, but a number of Aviva Premiership and Guinness Pro 12 players also made the final cut.
Let us know what you think.
1. Matt Mullan, Wasps
For years, Wasps’ scrum has been their Achilles heel. Mullan has done a good job of reversing that trend in the Aviva Premiership, but an even better job in Europe, getting the better of experienced and savvy tightheads such as Carl Hayman and Mike Ross. His work laying the foundation at the set-piece was one of the key factors for Wasps’ unlikely march to the quarter-finals.
2. Jamie George, Saracens
Fresh from winning a place in TRU’s Premiership XV of the season, George also claims the same spot in this XV. The efficiency of Saracens’ set-piece not only saw them beat Clermont at home in the group stage, but also secure a hard-fought away win in Paris at the quarter-final stage. George’s work filling in for the injured Schalk Brits this season has been of the highest quality.
3. Davit Zirakashvili, Clermont Auvergne
The first inclusion from this year’s runners-up, Zirakashvili will be best remembered for his dismantling of Alex Corbisiero in the quarter-finals, but was a consistent terror to looseheads throughout the tournament. It shouldn’t be news to anyone that Georgia have a formidable scrum, but The Lelos could give New Zealand and Argentina some real set-piece problems at the Rugby World Cup, particularly if Zirakashvili is in form.
4. Devin Toner, Leinster
No matter how ungainly the 6’ 10” man from Dublin looks galloping around the rugby pitch, you cannot question the success he has. Toner utilises every inch of that height to be a terror at the lineout, as valuable stealing opposition ball as he is securing possession for his own side. His carrying and work in the loose has also come on leaps and bounds in recent years and that showed up for Leinster this year.
5. Ali Williams, RC Toulon
Following on from Zirakashvili, we now have our first inclusion from this year’s ERCC winners, and the only Kiwi to make the cut. He may have crossed the line of the law on an occasion or two, but Williams showed that at 34 years of age, he can still do everything asked of him on the rugby pitch. The former All Black contributed significantly, both at the set-piece and in the loose, to Toulon’s historic third European title in a row.
6. Damien Chouly, Clermont Auvergne
Peter O’Mahony came close to stealing this spot, but Chouly pips him to the post in a shuffled back row. The source of so much front foot ball for the Top 14 side, Chouly is one of the many French players who play significantly better for their club side than they do with Les Bleus. Chouly was as consistent as anyone in the competition this season and helped enforce Clermont’s fluid and relentless style on opposition sides.
7. James Davies, Scarlets
Davies is one of the rare inclusions in this side from a team which failed to make the knockout stages of the competition. The young openside announced himself to the world with aplomb this season, impressing in both the ERCC and Pro 12. A constant threat at the breakdown, he almost singlehandedly dismantled Leicester at Parc y Scarlets earlier this season.
8. Steffon Armitage, RC Toulon
This bulldozing, breakdown brigand moves to eight to accommodate Davies, but it’s also a position he regularly plays in Toulon’s star-studded back row. None in the northern hemisphere can match the dominance Armitage displays at the contact area and he complimented that this campaign with a number of barnstorming runs and four tries.
9. Ben Youngs, Leicester Tigers
Another rare inclusion from a team failing to make it to the quarter-finals, Youngs used the competition to rediscover some of his long-lost form and springboard himself back into England’s number nine jersey. Youngs has been credited with five assists, the most in the competition, and had considerable success against the defences of Toulon, Ulster and Scarlets during his six group stage appearances.
10. George Ford, Bath
Ford edges out Camille Lopez and Charlie Hodgson, after demonstrating he is the real deal at fly-half, capable of hurting teams in a multitude of ways. Ford was accurate from the tee, dangerous when challenging the gain line and frequently unlocked defences with his measured distribution to the likes of Jonathan Joseph, Kyle Eastmond and Anthony Watson.
11. George North, Northampton Saints
Dangerous from any position on the pitch, North led the tournament in tries this season, finishing with seven, despite just playing five games. Northampton did have the benefit of having Treviso in their pool, but it was against the Ospreys that North really worked his magic, scoring five tries in two games. With Northampton having already qualified for next year’s tournament and North’s try-scoring skills showing no signs of abating, he’s a sound long-term bet to overhaul Vincent Clerc’s record of 36 tries in the competition.
12. Ian Madigan, Leinster
The tournament’s leading points scorer with 113, Madigan was one of the primary reasons for Leinster’s advance to the semi-finals, despite never seeming to find top gear. Madigan’s ability to punish opposition teams’ indiscipline often proved the difference maker in a number of closely contested, crunch games for the province.
13. Darren Cave, Ulster
Ulster were handed an extremely unenviable group (Toulon, Leicester Tigers and Scarlets), but that didn’t prevent Cave from displaying his ability this past year, as he racked up an impressive five tries during Ulster’s short stint in the competition. His campaign will be remembered for his hat-trick against Leicester in Belfast, but he also gave Toulon and Scarlets plenty of defensive problems, too.
14. Bryan Habana, RC Toulon
There are a whole host of wingers with valid claims on this spot, including Chris Ashton, Juan Imhoff and Noa Nakaitaci, but Habana’s ability to come through in the clutch is unrivalled. The South African could see less of the ball next season with a bruising midfield of Ma’a Nonu and Mathieu Bastareaud brewing on the Côte d’Azur, but still expect him to pop up at opportune times and create moments of brilliance for his side.
15. Nick Abendanon, Clermont Auvergne
The slinky full-back has been in devastating form for Les Jaunards this season, leading the competition in metres gained and defenders beaten. His impressive performances have even sparked calls for him to be selected in England’s RWC squad and like the aforementioned Armitage, Abendanon’s game has certainly benefitted from his move to France.