European Team of the Week: Saracens Sail to Victory Across Two Matches
With the Six Nations ready to take centre stage next week, it's not long until club rugby slinks into the shadows for a while, save for the squad tournaments that will still give playing time to those not internationally involved.
However, Europe's best and brightest came into the continental competition with a bang, some of those involved still hoping to warrant some Six Nations inclusion in some capacity, even.
Saracens fielded two sides this weekend, one more senior line-up to welcome South Africa's Sharks to Allianz Park, whereas a less-seasoned squad would fly the club's flag in the LV Cup.
With both attempts being successful, the Londoners had twice as productive a week as any other club, but that doesn't mean the individual stars were prevented from making it into the European team of the week.
1. Aretz Iguiniz, Bayonne
With the weather wet and windy, a lot of Bayonne's surprise win over Clermont Auvergne came thanks to those matters that were kept tight, the set piece being of particular significance.
Aretz Iguiniz kept up his side of the bargain at loosehead, turning the screw on Vern Cotter's pack and putting Bayonne in several superb kicking positions.
2. Luke Cowan-Dickie, Exeter Chiefs
Two tries rounded off a great day's outing for Exeter Chiefs starlet Luke Cowan-Dickie, who can be glad of competitions like the LV Cup, where he can really show his talents.
The 20-year-old bossed his way to 33 carrying metres, the five tackles in addition just balancing out his contributions without ball in hand.
3. Gareth Denman, Northampton Saints
The presence of George North has obviously been rubbing off on others in the Northampton Saints squad, with Gareth Denman showing all the comfort of the Welsh winger in gliding over for his try from the right wing this weekend.
The tighthead found himself in space from 10 metres out and made no mistakes with the crescendo, and proved dominant in the scrum, helping the Saints to spotless set-piece record.
4. Mouritz Botha, Saracens
Evidently, the promise of playing against such a giant from his home nation evoked a powerful response from lock Mouritz Botha, who came second only to Schalk Brits in terms of carrying metres made by a Saracens forward this week.
The 31-year-old ran for 16 of his own, but was reliable in almost all aspects, taking the ball well at the line-out and making 11 tackles.
5. Christian Day, Northampton Saints
With both sides struggling to keep the ball in play fro great periods, Christian Day clutched down no less than 12 line-out balls in Newport this weekend.
The Saints' second row wasn't quite as eager as lock partner Rob Verbakel in the loose, but his 12-tackle contribution by no means went astray in restricting the Dragons' attacking options.
6. Jackson Wray, Saracens 'A'
While a wealth of the first team were in action at Allianz Park in the friendly fixture against the Sharks, a number of faces were held back for the LV Cup visit of the Newcastle Falcons the following day.
Jackson Wray was one of those glad to have been of use, and the No. 8 moves on to the flank despite his two-try contribution, following on from a rampaging effort against the Premiership strugglers.
7. Fabien Alexandre, Grenoble
A brace of tries from Grenoble's openside was enough to put the hosts out of reach against Perpignan.
The boot of James Hook meant that the Stade Lesdiguieres visitors were clinging on to take more than a bonus point from the game, but two scores in four minutes from Fabien Alexandre pushed Grenoble into winning parameters.
8. Tom Guest, Harlequins
Harlequins' LC Cup title defence still lies in rags, but the Londoners finally got a win on the board this weekend, where they managed to stage a surprise against Leicester Tigers.
Tom Guest's fine intercept try saw him gallop home from 40 metres out, but it was far from the only testing run that the No. 8 made in the loose, carrying for a magnificent 89 metres in total.
9. Ben Spencer, Saracens 'A'
In the end, Saracens' cup win over Newcastle Falcons this weekend was a dominant, battered effort, but it didn't always look so clinical.
Before halftime, the Londoners had failed to notch even a single try, and Ben Spencer's five penalties were all that was keeping them in competition.
Add to that three of four attempted conversions and some very fluid hands in attack, and you've got an extremely impressive scrum-half's day out.
10. Martin Bustos, Bayonne
It was far from the prettiest victory, but Bayonne's underdog win over Clermont this weekend was a long slog, helped greatly by the boot of Martin Bustos.
With tries difficult to come by in the swirling conditions, the Argentinian scored two thirds of the match's total points haul from the tee, and held a safe pair of hands despite the slippery surroundings.
Special mentions for Saracens' Charlie Hodgson, who led the march in his team's friendly against the Sharks.
12. Andre Esterhuizen, Sharks
The north-south experiment contested this weekend between Saracens and the Durban-based Sharks wasn't always a joyful experience for the South African visitors, who were at one point reduced to 13 men in the fixture.
That being said, second-half try scorer Andre Esterhuizen remained one of the more reliable figures in the team, cutting inside his markers to finish off his chance, as well as leading with finer example when it came to defence.
13. Rene Ranger, Montpellier
As he has done since arriving at Montpellier earlier this season, Rene Ranger featured off the right wing for his Top 14 team this weekend, but Bordeaux's centres found themselves up against the speedster as much as any other.
Cutting in from the wing with startling frequency, the New Zealander tormented the opponent's defence on the way to a 28-23 win, making massive yardage with ball in hand, brilliantly combining a physical assault with more deft traits.
11. Marc Andreu, Racing Metro
On the same day that he was announced as an injury replacement for the French Six Nations squad, Marc Andreu held a very good account of himself on the way to a 25-5 win over Toulouse.
Among the Racing Metro winger's highest priorities in Paris will have been to ensure that Vincent Clerc gained as little ground as possible in Racing territory, and while doing so, Andreu managed to finish off a very well-taken effort of his own.
14. Waisea Vuidravuwalu, Stade Francais
Though things were made relatively simple for the mammoth figure on the right wing, Waisea Vuidravuwalu nonetheless showed great composure to finish with a two-try haul against Castres.
The young Fijian denied Remy Grosso or Geoffrey Palis from having any luck down his side of the pitch, and took any chances well that were afforded to him going forward.
15. Hugo Bonneval, Stade Francais
Hugo Bonneval orchestrated a superb try for Vuidavuwalu to finish later in the second period last Friday, showing some ridiculously good stepping to cut his way into a threatening position from short range.
Aside from that telling impact, however, the Castres defence were unable to outwit Stade Francais' stout defence, and Bonneval had free license to lend a hand by coming into the line very frequently.
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