HEC Team of the Season

Everyone else is doing it, so why can’t we? Here’s our Heineken Cup XV of the season.

If Leinster dominate the selections, then it’s probably no surprise. Toulouse lacked a little of their usual pizazz, Perpignan ran out of juice in the semi-final and Munster weren’t their usual selves. Leinster overcame the toughest group with a game to spare, securing a home QF in the process, beat two heavyweights in the knockouts, before winning in memorable style in the final against a hard-nosed Northampton team.

15 Isa Nacewa (Leinster) – The key to Leinster’s counter-attacking game. Not the quickest full back but is a visionary player in how he exploits the space in front of him. Try against Leicester was unforgettable.
Honourable mention: Ben Foden (Northampton).

14 Shane Horgan (Leinster) – No longer in demand at international level, but Shaggy had his best season in years for Leinster. Ability at restarts particularly impressive.
Honourable mention: Morgan Stoddart (Scarlets), Andrew Trimble (Ulster).
Dishonourable mention: Matt “4 tries against Aironi” Banahan (Oooooooooohhh Bath) – what were Planet Rugby thinking?

13 Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster) – Few things left to say about the great one at this stage, but his ability to come up with the goods when his team needs it are unparalleled. Witness match-winning try against Toulouse.
Honourable mention: Manu Tuilagi (Leicester)

12 Clement Poitrenaud (Toulouse) – Dismissed by Matty Williams as a poor selection for Toulouse’s visit to the palindrome (and of course by Lievremont for RWC11), he proved the doubters wrong. Can be flakey, but has magic in his hands and feet.
Honourable mention: Maxime Mermoz (Perpignan), Ooooooooooohhh James Downey (Northampton)

11. Alesana Tuilagi (Leicester) – Oooooooooooooh, that’s a whole lot of Tuilagi. Rescued Leicester when they alsmost lost to Treviso in the opening round, and should have scored when he flattened BOD in Lansdowne Road.
Honourable mention: Vincent Clerc (Toulouse)

10. Jonny Sexton (Leinster) – Haul of five tries and phenomenal kicking percentage was one thing; that performance in the final was another. Looks a player set for the world stage.
Honourable mention: Ian Humphries (Ulster), Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon)

9. Ruan Pienaar (Ulster) – A classy footballer who brought a winning mentality to Ulster. Distinctly un-South African in that he can pass and run as well as boot the ball into the air.
Honourable mention: Lee Dickson (Northampton), Dmitri Yachvili (Biarritz)

1. Soane Tonga’uiha (Northampton) – Raw power helped the Northampton scrum become one of the most feared in the competition. His first half in the final was simply astonishing.
Honourable mention: Perry Freshwater (Perpignan)

2. Richardt Strauss (Leinster) – His throwing and scrummaging were good enough to get in, but his open field play secured the position – how many times was he right on the shoulder of the ball carrier?
Honourable mention: William Servat (Toulouse), Dylan Hartley (Northampton)

3. Mike Ross (Leinster) – Europe’s premier tight-head right now, his intelligence and tactical nous put him a class apart. Hard to believe that he (or Strauss) couldn’t get a game last year.
Honourable mention: Nicolas Mas (Perpignan), Brian Mujati (Northampton)

4. Courtney Lawes (Northampton) – Phenomenally athletic young lock who packs a serious punch. His patrolling of the ruck against Ulster got Northampton out of a sticky patch.
Honourable mention: Leo Cullen (Leinster)

5. Nathan Hines (Leinster) – Absolutely everywhere this seaseon. Line-outs, rucking, carrying ball, and scoring in the final. Knits the Leinster team together.
Honourable mention: Jerome Thion (Toulouse)

6. Sean O’Brien (Leinster) – Man of the match 3 times in the group stages and his barrelling ball carrying ensured Leinster had go-forward ball all-season. The 40 metre run in the final with defenders hanging off him will live long in the memory.
Honourable mention: Tom Wood (Northampton)

7. Thierry Dusautoir (Toulouse) – Classy operator who appears to make a tackle every 2 minutes. Toulouse’s leader, he chipped in with 4 tries.
Honourable mention: Phil Dowson (Northampton)

8. Jamie Heaslip (Leinster) – Gets the nod for his latter performances after a patchy and injury-affected group stage.The stand out player in the knock-out stages.
Honourable mention: Joe van Niekerk (Toulon), Roger Wilson (Northampton)

And finally, a nod to our top 3 players in the Amlin Vase, or whatever its called. He might be regarded by some as an honest journeyman, but the performances of Chris Robshaw in the knock-out stages, especially at Thomond Park, were of the highest quality. We also doff our caps to Nick Evans and Sergio Parisse – class is permanent in both cases.

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