Team of the Week: Standout performers in final round of Champions Cup pool stage

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Several England internationals made an impact ahead of the Six Nations with fine performances for their clubs during the final pool games in the Champions Cup.

15. Jonny McNicholl (Scarlets)

The Scarlets full-back impressed during their entertaining 46-33 defeat to Racing 92. Jonny McNicholl scored two tries for the visitors as they gave the Top 14 side a major scare.

McNicholl made 82 metres and produced 12 carries for his side as he beat 10 defenders during the contest. His attacking performance stood out as the Scarlets bowed out of the competition with a spirited performance in France.

14. Ollie Sleightholme (Northampton)

Ollie Sleightholme deserves his place in the side, just ahead of Simon Zebo, after scoring four tries in Northampton’s 111-3 Challenge Cup drubbing of Timisoara Saracens. The standard of opposition may not have been up to much but the winger still made the most of his opportunity.

Sleightholme covered 136 metres during the one-sided match and he produced an exhibition of potent finishing. The 18-year-old has certainly done his cause no harm as he bids to earn the chance to feature more regularly for the Saints.

13. Virimi Vakatawa (Racing 92)

Virimi Vakatawa again demonstrated his physical strength as he bulldozed his way over for a try during Racing 92’s win over the Scarlets.

The versatile centre carried too much power, beating three defenders during the match, as he underlined his attacking qualities. Vakatawa could be a key player in Racing’s Champions Cup hopes this season after reaching the knockout stages.

12. Joshua Matavesi (Newcastle)

Newcastle may have ended their European campaign with defeat to Toulon but Josh Matavesi made a big impact for the Falcons at Kingston Park. The Fijian opened the scoring after just three minutes when he scored from 30 metres after being set up by Tom Arscott.

The inside centre covered 64 metres during the 80 minutes and managed to beat three defenders. Matavesi was unlucky to be on the losing team but his performance offered encouragement for Newcastle’s battle to remain in the Premiership.

11. Juan Imhoff (Racing 92)

Juan Imhoff again demonstrated his clinical finishing ability during Racing 92’s win over the Scarlets. The Argentina winger took advantage of a kick through from Henry Chavancy to score the Top 14 side’s opening try after 10 minutes.

Imhoff took his tally to five tries in as many Champions Cup games this season and the 30-year-old will form a key part of their attack during the quarter-final tie against Toulouse.

10. Finn Russell (Racing 92)

Scotland fly-half Finn Russell again made a significant contribution in Racing 92’s bonus-point win in Paris. Russell produced a deft cross-kick which enabled Simon Zebo to score his second try of the game.

It was an example of Russell’s creativity and vision which has won him plenty of admirers across Europe. His vision is so critical to Racing’s attacking game and he will have a major role to play if they are to challenge for a first Champions Cup triumph.

9. John Cooney (Ulster)

John Cooney deserves his place after making the difference from off the bench. Ulster appeared to be heading for defeat against Leicester but the scrum-half’s arrival after 49 minutes gave them fresh impetus.

Cooney scored both conversions which proved crucial in their 14-13 win at Welford Road. He certainly helped galvanise his team-mates and turn around a tight contest to clinch their place in the quarter-finals. Ali Price is also worthy of a mention after an impressive showing for Glasgow at Saracens.

1. Dave Kilcoyne (Munster)

Munster were involved in an intense arm-wrestle against Exeter at Thomond Park with the hosts’ defensive effort seeing them through to a 9-7 victory. Dave Kilcoyne made a major contribution to their cause with 17 tackles for Munster.

The prop did not miss a tackle during a gripping contest and helped Munster win four scrums. It was a brutal contest and Exeter put Munster under pressure throughout, but the defensive strength of the likes of Kilcoyne helped tip a tight match in their favour.

2. Sean Cronin (Leinster)

Sean Cronin underlined his impact, not only defensively but as an attacking force, during the defending champions’ win at Wasps. Cronin finished off two drives to take his total to an exceptional six tries in this season’s competition.

Cronin once again highlighted his importance to Leinster as he helped them clinch a home quarter-final with a dominant performance at the Ricoh Arena.

3. WP Nel (Edinburgh)

Edinburgh have been one of the success stories in the Champions Cup and Scotland prop WP Nel made another big contribution in their decisive home win over Montpellier. The 32-year-old made 15 tackles during their physical clash on Friday night at Murrayfield.

The Edinburgh forward was involved in three pick-and-go carries for Richard Cockerill’s side as he helped them reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2012.

4. Maro Itoje (Saracens)

Eddie Jones will have been pleased to see England forward Maro Itoje produce such an impressive display during Saracens’ win over Glasgow. Itoje profited from a counter-attack by the Premiership champions to score in the closing stages of the match.

The 24-year-old made 14 carries for his side and also made 20 tackles in a fiercely-competitive clash. Itoje won six lineouts and his dynamic performance bodes well for the Six Nations campaign.

5. Tadhg Beirne (Munster)

Munster’s victory over Exeter was settled by fine margins and Tadhg Beirne played his part, completing eight tackles for the hosts. He also won a vital penalty deep inside their own half when Exeter were threatening to build a healthy lead at Thomond Park.

It was not just his defensive qualities, though, which earned the plaudits as he made five carries and helped his side build momentum as the match progressed. Ulster’s Iain Henderson also stood out in this position for his performance at Leicester.

6. Peter O’Mahony (Munster)

It was difficult to single players out, such was the collective effort of Munster, but Peter O’Mahony was instrumental in seeing his team home. The flanker made 16 tackles as Exeter threw everything at them.

O’Mahony did not miss a tackle throughout the contest and won three lineouts. His leadership came to the fore again with the Munster captain helping his side extend their winning run at home in the Champions Cup to 12 matches.

7. Don Armand (Exeter)

Exeter came away with plenty of credit in defeat as Rob Baxter’s side pushed Munster all the way. Don Armand gave the visitors a first-half lead after finishing off a catch and drive.

Armand made 10 carries for the Chiefs, beating four defenders as he proved a valuable asset. He won three lineouts and completed six tackles as Exeter came agonisingly close to pulling off a memorable victory at Thomond Park.

8. Billy Vunipola (Saracens)

Another boost for England is the form of Billy Vunipola after the Saracens No 8 proved his fitness with an influential performance. He has been dogged by injury problems but Vunipola looked sharp as he helped Saracens maintain their 100 per cent record in the competition this season.

Vunipola blasted over from a five-metre scrum in the first half at Allianz Park. His carrying ability again stood out as he made 17 – the most from any player during the game. His strength will be an asset to England and also Saracens as they attempt to reclaim the Champions Cup this season.

(c) Sky News 2019: Team of the Week: Standout performers in final round of Champions Cup pool stage

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