Heineken Cup Team of the Season, Using Only One Player from Each Club
Team of the tournament selections usually revolve around the hubs of two or three successful sides in that competition.
You would expect to see certain clubs provide a clutch of players based on how well they performed as a unit.
Which makes the extra ruling applied to this XV a tough guideline to stick to.
With only one player from each club allowed, we need to look back through the tournament as a whole, seeking out those performances in the pool stages from sides who didn’t even make the knockout stages.
Who shone in losing efforts? Who raged away against the dying of their chances in this year’s Heineken Cup?
Those players, coupled with some of the men who have spearheaded their team’s charge into the latter stages of the competition and a sprinkling of men you just wouldn't want to leave out, gives you the team of the tournament, B/R style.
1. Cian Healy, Leinster
After Schalk Brits, the Leinster prop is the best ball-carrying front row forward in Europe.
Healy can do the dark arts stuff well at the highest level but also acts almost as another back row player with his willingness to get on the ball and charge at the opposition.
He returned from an early season injury to score a typical try in Castres and was prominent for Leinster in their run to the quarter-finals.
2. Ross Ford, Edinburgh
Ford is something of a Hobson's choice for this position.
Saracens livewire hooker Schalk Brits should be here, but the try-scoring form of Chris Ashton in this season’s competition means the England wing takes the Sarries slot in this side.
So Ford fits the bill.
A Lion, a huge man, capable of running and handling superbly.
He was in the Edinburgh side who beat Munster in the opening round of pool matches and again when they went to Kingsholm and got a win.
3. Nicolas Mas, Montpellier
Mas is still one of the planet’s premier tight head props.
An expert scrummager and lineout lifter who has taken a little time to adapt to the law changes that flummoxed a lot of seasoned front row campaigners.
Nevertheless, with the likes of Matt Stevens, Carl Hayman and Mike Ross ruled out by the appearance of their team-mates elsewhere in this XV, Mas is the go-to man.
4. Paul O’Connell, Munster
O’Connell was as pivotal for Munster as ever in yet another run to the semi-final stages.
When he does eventually call it quits, there will arguably be a bigger hole in the Munster and Ireland set-ups than the one left behind in Leinster by Brian O’Driscoll’s departure.
His pack was eventually overpowered by Toulon in the semi-final, but it has been another year of high standards for the second row
5. Patricio Albacete
He didn't play that often in this year's Heineken Cup, but for the definition of a hard, seasoned, all action lock, see Patricio Albacete.
The Argentine was used sparingly by Guy Noves in this season's competition, but he remains one of the most fearsome sights on European rugby fields.
One tough hombre.
6. Tom Wood, Northampton
Back in the depths of winter, Wood travelled with Northampton in December to Dublin.
A week earlier Leinster had ripped the Saints apart in front of the Franklin’s Gardens faithful and were expected to do the same back on home turf.
Jim Mallinder’s wounded men clearly hadn’t read the script, especially Tom Wood.
The England flanker was in rampaging form, tackling anything that moved and carrying the fight to Leinster all night long. Wood inspired the Saints to an 18-9 win.
Not enough to hoist them into the knockout stages but a memorable display all the same.
7. Tom Johnson, Exeter Chiefs
Exeter battled gamely in a tough pool, thumping Cardiff at home to get their campaign off to a great start. It was Tom Johnson who got them going that day with an early try.
The flanker is so often at the heart of the good things Rob Baxter's side does and he has blossomed in the rarefied atmosphere of the Heineken Cup, looking comfortable in the company of the likes of Sam Warburton and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.
The Toulon man would probably be my pick here were we allowed more than one player per club, but Johnson deputises manfully.
8. Ben Morgan, Gloucester
Steffon Armitage deserves a mention here but under the rules Ben Morgan is the pick.
Morgan delivers consistently high performances for Gloucester and did so in the group stage of this season's competition.
With Billy Vunipola likely to be involved in the final of the Aviva Premiership, Morgan will be the first choice No. 8 for England's first Test in New Zealand this summer.
9. Ruan Pienaar, Ulster
Ulster’s South African scrum-half is a talismanic figure for the men from Ravenhill, urging them on and setting their tempo.
He kicks goals as well, which makes him doubly valuable.
Pienaar was a star in Ulster's 100 per cent winning pool phase and was not alone in being desperately unlucky to lose to Saracens at the quarter-final stage.
10. Jonny Wilkinson, Toulon
The Toulon skipper was flawless with the boot once again in his side’s semi-final win over Munster.
Wilkinson has shown himself capable of making tricky kicks in the highest pressure situations look easy, which makes him the first name on the team sheet for this side.
There is no one you would put money on ahead of him to come through with a crucial three points when you need them.
11. Nicki Goneva, Leicester Tigers
Goneva scored the winning late try away to Montpellier that kept Leicester in the hunt for a quarter-final spot.
He has had a strong season for the Tigers, bringing all that Fijian power and pace to both the Premiership and the Heineken Cup.
In a side without selection restrictions, he would find himself behind Napolioni Nalaga of Clermont and maybe George North.
12. Wesley Fofana, Clermont Auvergne
Fofana has had some injury woes this season, but he is still the best No. 12 in Europe.
He takes his place in this side more as a testament to the old maxim that form is temporary and class is permanent.
Shackled by that all-smothering wolf pack defensive mentality deployed by Saracens, we didn't see the best of him in the semi-final.
13. James Hook, Perpignan
Hook may have fallen from favour for Wales but he has had a fine season for Perpignan.
He can play fly-half, centre or full-back and is the perfect player to slot into this side.
Should Perpignan suffer relegation from the Top 14, Hook is reported to be wanted by Lyon, per Andy Howell of Wales Online, who will pass the Catalan club on the way down.
14. Chris Ashton, Saracens
Ashton is leading try scorer in this year’s competition by a country mile with 11.
The next highest total is five. Given the cold shoulder after a run of dismal displays in the colours of England, Ashton has rejuvenated himself at Saracens and is knocking on the door of the Red Rose team once again.
Ironically, Sarries' success will exclude him from playing in their first Test in New Zealand should the Fez Heads make the Premiership final.
15. Mike Brown, Harlequins
Combine his club form with his dazzling England performances and Mike Brown might just be the European player of the season.
Quins took an early exit from the Heineken Cup, but even in those early pool defeats, Brown was playing well in a struggling team.
What came then in the Six Nations was quite breathtaking from the Quins full-back, and he merits a place in this side on that form.