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Dublin: 18 °C Monday 28 July, 2014

Here’s our Irish XV of the Heineken Cup weekend

We have selected the best team from the four Irish provinces and the smattering of Irishmen playing abroad.

Keith Earls and Tommy O'Donnell have made the cut.
Keith Earls and Tommy O'Donnell have made the cut.
Image: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

THE GREEN SWEEP happened for the third time this Heineken Cup season as all four Irish provinces won. With Round Six and the Six Nations looming large, many Irish players are finding form at the right time.

It was a losing weekend for the Irish abroad as Jonny Sexton [Racing Metro], Robin Copeland [Cardiff], Ian Whitten [Exeter] and Shane Monahan [Gloucester] with Niall Morris [Leicester] the sole success story.

Let us know what you think of the Best XV in our comments section below.

15. Jared Payne (Ulster)

The New Zealander remains pivotal to Ulster’s Heineken Cup chances and features in all of their best attacking plays. Heavily involved in the Robbie Diack and John Afoa tries and made 13 carries for 65 metres on a night that many of his teammates were under-par.

14. Keith Earls (Munster)

While teammate Johne Murphy made more ground than Earls over on the left wing, the Moyross man made his moments count. Made two clean breaks in the backline and was always willing on the kick-chase, a crucial part of Munster’s plan to squeeze Gloucester. Sharp as a tack to latch onto Ian Keatley’s grubber and score in the first-half.

13. Robbie Henshaw (Connacht)

While he is still learning the ropes at 13, a question remained over whether Henshaw could provide a scoring threat. He answered that with a fine step inside his man and held off George Biagi to score. Superb kick-chase from his on 22 line led to Connacht winning a lineout 10 metres from the Zebre line in the second-half. Made seven defensive tackles too.

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12. James Downey (Munster)

The stats sheet reveals Downey made ’0′ attacking yards but the inside centre made two offloads in the tackle to send teammates off on breaks and was invaluable in defence. Downey was his team’s third most effective tackler [12] and he threw himself into rucks, and supported the many, many mauls, with gusto. Eoin Griffin put in a decent shift for Connacht.

11. Matt Healy (Connacht)

The former Lansdowne player continued his impressive second/breakthrough season out west and displayed great strength and awareness to score a first-half try. Made 119 metres for his team and came close to a wonder score in the second-half before he was tackled around the ankles near the tryline. Will be disappointed with his knock-on with the tryline gaping with 10 minutes on the clock.

10. Jimmy Gopperth (Leinster)

The Kiwi looks to have nailed down the 10 jersey for a while after his two-try performance. With Leinster reeling at 14-0 and 17-7, Gopperth backed himself to make the difference, stepped his marker and powered over. Added 11 points from the boot with the only serious flaw being a high number of missed tackles [seven].

9. Ruan Pienaar (Ulster)

Almost delivered another fairytale solo performance to claim a bonus point for his team. Started off with a shaky penalty and finished by being held up over the Montpellier tryline but was majestic in the interim. Scored a poacher’s try in the first-half, kicked from the hand superbly — setting up Afoa’s try — and added 12 points off the tee.

1. Dave Kilcoyne (Munster)

The Leinster front row wilted for most of their encounter in Castres but Munster’s unit held firm under periods of immense pressure in Kingsholm. Kilcoyne put in a serious shift around the park and landed seven tackles while negating the threat of Sila Puafisi at the scrum.

2. Damien Varley (Munster)

Made a remarkable recovery to start at hooker and showed no signs of injury or fatigue. Varley gave away one penalty, which was missed, but was otherwise impeccable at the breakdown. Made an astonishing 10 tackles and his lineout throwing was a perfect 10… from 10.

3. John Afoa (Ulster)

Not for the first time this season, BJ Botha is unfortunate to miss out. Who could deny Afoa his place, however, after he sprinted 50 metres after a Pienaar box-kick, snatched the ball from the grasps of Anthony Floch and Lucas Dupont and glided through for a vital score. Made three other carries and tackled well around the fringes.


YouTube credit: TheUAFC

4. Devin Toner (Leinster)

The low point of Toner’s performance at Stade Pierre Antoine was allowing Remi Lamerat to bounce off him before Richie Gray got the first Castres try. The big man pulled up his socks after a slow start, making 12 tackles and six carries as Leinster forced their way back into the contest.

5. Paul O’Connell (Munster)

The outstanding Irish player of the weekend. O’Connell was in vintage form at the lineout as he caught comfortably and caused chaos when it was Gloucester’s turn. The lock was a force from start to finish and secured four turnovers for his team while connecting with 11 tackles. As Gloucester boss Nigel Davies espoused at the final whistle, “Phenomenal.”

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‘Yoink!’ INPHO/Dan Sheridan

6. Robbie Diack (Ulster)

The South African edges out Peter O’Mahony but it was a tight call. The Munster captain scored a vital try but was outshone by back-row colleagues Tommy O’Donnell and James Coughlan. Diack was the best Ulster forward on show as Mark Anscombe’s men recovered from a slow start to get agonisingly close to a bonus point. Showed up on the left wing and powered over for a first-half try to get the ball rolling. Won two turnovers for his team and made nine tackles across the park.

7. Tommy O’Donnell (Munster)

The Tipperary native had one brief for the evening in Kingsholm — tackle. O’Donnell did so with vicious aplomb as he shut down the threats of Matt Kvesic and Matt Cox in close. Won his team a turnover to relieve pressure and was excellent at slowing the home team at the breakdown. Leinster’s Jordi Murphy made a decent showing on his Heineken Cup debut and scored a try late in the piece at Castres.

8. Jamie Heaslip (Leinster)

Continuing to put his hand up for ball carries and attacking bursts in the absence of Sean O’Brien. With Kevin McLaughlin and Jordi Murphy tasked with rucking duties, Heaslip picked and pumped as often as possible. He made eight carries for 106 metres and threw in nine tackles while he was at it. Once again, he finished out the full 80.

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