As the door closes on the 2023 portion of the Investec Champions Cup season, club rugby’s biggest competition bids farewell to some remarkable action.
Whether it was the Premiership club’s exceptional form through the opening two rounds, La Rochelle’s winless start, or the abundance of away wins, the opening fortnight had it all.
Whittling down so many exceptional individual performances from round two of the competition has been a significant challenge, but someone had to do it! So, without further ado, here is Rugbydump’s Investec Champions Cup team of the week for round two.
15. George Furbank – Northampton Saints: Thought Freddie Steward had the England number 15 shirt sewen up? Think again! Furbank has been front and centre for quite possibly the team of the opening two rounds in Northampton. Once again to the fore as the Saints held off Toulon to go 2 from 2 and, with it, nab the top spot in pool 3. At 27-years-old Furbank is entering his prime and has all the skills to usher in a new era of attacking English rugby.
14. Damian Penaud – Bordeaux-Begles: Need we say more? The French international is undoubtedly in the top five in his position in international rugby, and playing in a star-studded backline, he shines brightly as the biggest star. Scoring yet another try, Penaud also topped the meters run charts with 130…
13. Henry Slade – Exeter Chiefs: For the second week in a row, Slade was the match-winner for Exeter, who overcame a 9-point deficit at home against Munster to secure an unbeaten start to the season. Clearly still smarting from his Rugby World Cup snub, Slade must surely be the key challenge to Ollie Lawrence for the England number 13 shirt.
12. Damian Willemse – DHL Stormers: Tasked with handling La Rochelle powerhouse Jonathan Danty, the double Rugby World Cup winner gutted it out all afternoon in the sweltering Cape Town sun. Setting up the Stormers first try with a brilliant crossfield kick, Willemse showed he is not just razzle-dazzle but has rock-solid fundamentals.
11. Joe Cokanasiga – Bath Rugby: Big Joe is steaming through the Champions Cup and looks to be back to his physical best. Getting the first try of the evening minutes after Josh Adams scored for Cardiff was significant. Crucially his defence looks to be sharp and just 26-years-old he looks to be primed for a big four years heading towards the 2027 World Cup.
10. Thomas Ramos – Toulouse: Traditionally played at Fullback for for France and Toulouse, Ramos has shifted back to his original position in the absence of Romain Ntamack. Simply put, Ramos looks better than ever as the first receiver and may well be causing Fabien Galthie headaches heading into the Six Nations.
9. Antoine Dupont – Toulouse: Head and shoulders above the rest and looks to be back to his best form following his World Cup injury. The French captain was unplayable at the Stoop on Sunday as he set up some pearls of tries, as he his team dominated.
8. Matthew Rea – Ulster: A superb outing for a player who has struggled to get consistent game time in the hyper-competitive Ulster back row. Scoring a try just before half-time, Rea and Ulster put a real dent in Racing 92’s designs on a comeback.
7. Courtney Lawes – Northampton Saints: Yes, we are aware that big Courtney played in the 6 jersey, but our two flankers were sublime, so we needed to fit him in somewhere. At 34-years-old, Lawes has not lost an ounce and played a crucial role in shutting down a certain Toulon try as the Saints marched on to a 3-point win.
6. Thomas Ahern – Munster Rugby: The 6’9″ powerhouse is quickly becoming the most exciting prospect in Irish Rugby. Freed from the burden of being a scrummaging second row, Ahern’s shift to the back row has been a masterstroke by the Munster coaching staff. As a former fullback, he has exceptional ball skills, which Munster has utilised in the wider channels to great effect.
5. Tadhg Beirne – Munster Rugby: Munster’s captain just always turns up when it is needed most. Unfortunately for him, he could not prevent the URC champions’ implosion to close the match, but he had some magical moments and big turnovers. If Munster are to get their campaign back on track, he will be a key cog.
4. Rusi Tuima – Exeter Chiefs: One of a plethora of talented youngsters to come through at Exeter this season. Cousins to Joe Cokanasiga, brother to Lagi Tuima and nephew to Akapusi Qera, Rusi comes from a true rugby family. The 6’5″ and 130kg powerhouse is the new enforcer in town for the Chiefs. Don’t let his size fool you; he is a dynamic freak who moves like a lightweight backrow but with the punch of, well, someone his size!
3. Carlu Sadie – Bordeaux-Begles: A key candidate to be a future Springbok, the 140kg Sadie is one of the toughest scrummaging tightheads in the Champions Cup. His ability around the park is criminally underrated as he always backs yards in the tight exchanges. South African fans may be surprised to be reminded that he is still just 26-years-old and has yet to truly hit his prime. No doubt, Rassie Erasmus will be watching to see if he can keep this form.
2. Peato Mauvaka – Toulouse: One of the new generation of uber dynamic hookers, Mauvaka was a ball-carrying pinball against Harlequins. Crossing for a try in the first half, the 26-year-old remained on the pitch for 70 minutes and was a key cog in the Toulouse wide attacking game as both a carrier and a distributor.
1. Steven Kitshoff – Ulster Rugby: The two-time Rugby World Cup winner is quickly becoming a fan favourite in Belfast. Following a challenging start in a team that had stuttered in previous weeks, Kitshoff dominated his Springbok teammate Trevor Nyakane in their head-to-head clash. Setting a solid platform at scrum time, Kitshoff did exactly what Ulster brought him in to do.