Champions Cup Team of the Week: Finalists Leinster and La Rochelle dominate the line-up

·7-min read
Champions Cup Team of the Week Credit: Alamy
Champions Cup Team of the Week Credit: Alamy

Now that the dust has settled on the semi-finals of the Champions Cup, we have sat down for a conversation and picked our Team of the Week.

After dominant wins over Toulouse and Exeter Chiefs respectively, it’s no surprise that our line-up is littered with Leinster and La Rochelle players.

Scroll to continue with content

So without further ado, let’s take a look at who made the cut in our selection.

Champions Cup team of the semi-finals

15 Hugo Keenan (Leinster): Rarely, if ever, has a bad game and was typically impressive in the Irish province’s semi-final victory over Toulouse. Carried well, ending with a team-high 74 metres, and was outstanding under the high ball, neutralising the kicking threat of Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamack and Thomas Ramos. Stuart Hogg was excellent when he came on for Exeter Chiefs, albeit the game was lost by that point.

14 Dillyn Leyds (La Rochelle): Not really a weekend for the back threes but every touch the South African had was positive. Leyds didn’t miss a tackle, chased hard and also won a priceless two turnovers as La Rochelle forced Exeter into errors. We considered switching Jimmy O’Brien over after his efforts for Leinster but Leyds did enough to take this slot.

13 UJ Seuteni (La Rochelle): A huge talent as a youngster, it has taken him a while to fulfil his potential but he has been particularly excellent in the past two Champions Cup rounds. Able to play fly-half, centre and full-back, his ability to switch between the positions seamlessly is outstanding, especially when it comes to playing at 13. It is the toughest position to defend in but he made some excellent reads, while he was also both physical and creative in attack, with that magic off-load for Tawera Kerr-Barlow’s try the highlight.

12 Charlie Ngatai (Leinster): No Robbie Henshaw, no problem for the Irishmen as Ngatai fitted in perfectly. Despite playing little rugby recently, the New Zealander showed the type of class which got him so close to the All Blacks. Concussion issues ultimately deprived him of being a regular for New Zealand, but he has forged an outstanding career overseas, firstly with Lyon and now at Leinster. He is such a good decision-maker and shone at the weekend, edging out La Rochelle’s Jules Favre and Toulouse’s Pita Ahki, who was one of Les Rouge et Noir’s better players.

11 Raymond Rhule (La Rochelle): Showed superb footballing skills to score the French outfit’s first try as they responded immediately to a setback which saw the Chiefs take the lead. Rhule then completed his brace early in the second period as La Rochelle ran riot against Exeter. Can play at centre but struggled defensively in the Champions Cup last-16 tie with Gloucester, forcing his move to the wing where he has since excelled.

10 Ross Byrne (Leinster): La Rochelle’s Antoine Hastoy played well overall but there were a few odd decisions, which will concern Ronan O’Gara in the final if Leinster manage to put him under pressure. Byrne, meanwhile, seems much more composed, and controlled Saturday’s semi-final magnificently. At the moment, everything is operating so smoothly with the 28-year-old at fly-half that it is almost Johnny Sexton-like.

9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow (La Rochelle): An extremely tough decision as Ireland’s Jamison Gibson-Park was brilliant for Leinster, directing operations from the base wonderfully well, but Kerr-Barlow just about edged him. The La Rochelle half-back had that bit more influence on his team, ending with a brace and, rather impressively for a number nine, 11 tackles, which was the second most in the team.

8 Jack Conan (Leinster): A hotly contested jersey as the try-scoring Gregory Alldritt and Sam Simmonds both starred for La Rochelle and Exeter respectively. However, a brace from Conan in a hugely determined performance sees him edge it as he was the standout forward for Leinster which, in their pack, takes some doing. His 11 carries for 65 metres were backed up by a decent defensive showing too, finishing with 17 hits in an impressive afternoon.

7 Josh van der Flier (Leinster): Who knows what might have happened with our openside position had Levani Botia not failed his HIA as he was ticking along in impressive fashion against Exeter. But the door for this jersey was left ajar and Leinster’s Van der Flier had already done plenty in Dublin to be considered. He ended the win over Toulouse with 20 tackles and a try off the back of a maul as the World Rugby Player of the Year once again showed his quality. Jack Willis also emptied the tank for Toulouse.

6 Ultan Dillane (La Rochelle): His move to France in 2022 has certainly been worth it as the former Connacht forward has pushed his game on to the biggest club stage and looks right at home. O’Gara clearly saw quality and promise in the flanker-cum-lock and it is paying off for both coach and player as Dillane impressed in an 80-minute showing on Sunday.

5 James Ryan (Leinster): Has developed into one of the best locks in the game over the past year. Always puts in a shift defensively and is solid at the set-piece, but he’s added brute power in the carry, which was evident in Dublin. He made nine carries against Toulouse and also 20 tackles in an honest performance.

4 Will Skelton (La Rochelle): The hulking Wallaby is an incredible specimen and has proved a wonderful signing for La Rochelle since joining them from Saracens. His size and power are complemented by soft hands and intelligence and while he wasn’t as prominent in open play as usual, his force in the scrum behind his tighthead was evident as La Rochelle turned the screw at the set-piece against Exeter. Eddie Jones will have been a delighted spectator Down Under.

3 Uini Atonio (La Rochelle): One of the players of the weekend in our eyes, Atonio was a wrecking ball for La Rochelle in their demolition of the Chiefs in Bordeaux. He gave Scott Sio a torrid time at the scrum and was equally impressive around the park, with his beaming smile summing up a good day’s work.

2 Dan Sheehan (Leinster): Throw Sheehan into that player of the week bracket. Once again the hooker demonstrated just what a special talent he is as his ability to be a dominant hooker in his standard duties was dovetailed by skills and pace an outside back would envy. His lineout throwing was outstanding too with a well-taken try part of the 73 metres he made in possession. Perhaps only Samisoni Taukei’aho can compete for the world’s best hooker tag right now.

1 Reda Wardi (La Rochelle): Alongside Atonio and Pierre Bourgarit in the La Rochelle front-row, Wardi enjoyed a solid match at the coalface. His four carries for 23 metres impressed but once again it was the work in the scrum that caught our eye. Even a tiring Wardi and Atonio dominated Exeter’s replacement props in Bordeaux before the former pair eventually took their leave to applause from the fans. The standout loosehead of the semi-finals for sure.

READ MORE: Champions Cup: Two Cents Rugby picks his top five players of the semi-finals

The article Champions Cup Team of the Week: Finalists Leinster and La Rochelle dominate the line-up appeared first on