The42’s 2018 Champions Cup dream team

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.

2.  Camille Chat (Racing 92)

Shone most brightly in Racing’s quarter-final win away to Clermont, but his influence at the breakdown and tireless tackling efforts have ensured you are never in much doubt about the attitude the Paris club will bring to a contest.

3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster)

Tadhg Furlong preparing to face Bath this month. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

We’re running out of superlatives. We can stop arguing whether the Wexford man is the best tighthead in the game and start considering what forwards are better? Sublime playmaking ability and a force with ball-in-hand and at scrum time. The new bar for front rows.

4. Tadhg Beirne (Scarlets and Munster)

December didn’t quite work out the way Munster or Beirne wanted, but the dynamic lock has proven a brilliant acquisition for the southern province. All the physical explosiveness and subtle handling that helped bring Scarlets to the European semi-finals helped Munster to force their way top of pool 2.

5.  James Ryan (Leinster)

The pick of an astounding amount of brilliant second rows around Europe – from his team-mate (Devin Toner) in Leinster, to the man he replaced in the Ireland pack (Donnacha Ryan) and two men we’ve had to squeeze into this team elsewhere.

Ryan’s unbelievable winning run as a professional rugby player continued until Ireland’s Australia tour and he did not lose with Leinster until the October trip to Toulouse. It’s no coincidence, with each new challenge set before the 22-year-old, he dips his head and powers through with astoundingly little fuss.

6. Scott Fardy (Leinster)

Fardy scores against Glasgow in January. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Brings the old, grizzled hard edge that Leinster thrive on from overseas imports. The Australian added a calm, composed voice mixed with a fiery lust for work in the Champions’ pack.

7. Dan Leavy (Leinster)

The first half of the year marked Leavy out as a man on the verge of superstardom. Bounced back from a brilliant Six Nations to tilt the balance of the quarter-final away from Saracens. Ferocious at the breakdown and a nightmare for tacklers to deal with.

8.  Leone Nakarawa (Racing 92)

Okay, so we had a problem. Leinster were continually able to rotate their back row and still succeed. Their are a heap of brilliant second rows and Racing’s flankers are best left at six and seven. So we’re stealing an idea of Laurent Labit and Travers by sending the magnificent skills of Leone Nakarawa to number 8.

Who made your first XV in European competition?

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