AFTER A BRIEF period in disguise, 2018 was the year the Heineken Cup returned (with an added ‘Champions’ tagged on). Here are the players who we felt deserved a spot in the tournament dream team for their performances this year.
(NOTE: we tried to pick this team based on performances in the calendar year of 2018. So it takes in last season’s round five to the final and this season’s round one to four. We’d love to pick everyone in their best position, but sometimes you just have to get the best players on the field.)
15. Simon Zebo (Munster / Racing 92)
Began the year by helping Munster power out of the pool stages with a losing and winning bonus point against the best teams in France. Didn’t start the semi-final against his future employers, but emerged from the sideline to spark a valiant comeback attempt.
Zebo runs at Leone Nakarawa in Bordeaux. Source: James Crombie/INPHO
The Corkman has lit up Paris since moving to the Ciel et Blanc and his creativity has played a huge role in pushing last year’s beaten finalists to the head of the pack in the race for this season’s knockouts.
14. Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse)
Not involved last season, but his footwork through the four games of the current campaign have dropped jaws and left defenders grasping air.
13. Garry Ringrose (Leinster)
Knits together Leinster’s attack with the absolute minimum of fuss. A classy runner with a steely edge to his tackles.
Ringrose and Henshaw celebrate in Bilbao. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
12. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster)
A midfield powerhouse for the reigning champions and he has added a brilliant array of passing to his more obvious physical talents.
11. James Lowe (Leinster)
It’s a detestable headache for Leo Cullen every time he has to choose between Lowe, Jamison Gibson-Park and Scott Fardy for the very biggest games. The free-spirited Kiwi was notably left out of the final but each time he has taken the field he is an utter breath of fresh air. Already a leading contender for the 2018/19 European Player of the Year.
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10. Johnny Sexton (Leinster)
The best player on the planet right now. Sexton masterfully controls games and his full array of handling, kicking and mental talent was on full display in guiding Leinster to their fourth European crown in May.
9. Maxime Machenaud (Racing 92)
Machenaud lines up a conversion against Clermont. Source: James Crombie/INPHO
A close-run thing this. Both Machenaud and Conor Murray missed chunks of the season through injury and both were incredibly instrumental in steering their team to the latter stages last season. A toss of a coin and drawn straws later, we’re giving Machenaud the nod because he ended up on the winning side in both meetings with Munster in 2018.
1. Mako Vunipola (Saracens)
Another close call, but we’ve plumped for the England international over Cian Healy. Vunipola is enormously important to Saracens’ cause with solid scrummaging and breakdown work helping Mark McCall’s men back into top form.