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Individual Player Watch: Rhodes, Smith and Ashton deliver in Europe

Individual Player Watch: Rhodes, Smith and Ashton deliver in Europe

Saracens emerged triumphant on a rollercoaster weekend of European action for the remaining Gallagher Premiership Rugby sides as they reached the Heineken Champions Cup final.

Mark McCall’s men delivered a sensational performance to defeat Munster 32-16 at the Ricoh Arena and secure their return to Europe’s showpiece showdown for the third time in four seasons.

But England’s representation in the European Rugby Challenge Cup was ended as Sale Sharks and Harlequins lost their semi-finals against La Rochelle and ASM Clermont Auvergne, respectively.

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Sale Sharks were narrowly beaten 24-20 at Stade Marcel Deflandre while Clermont ensured it would be an all-French final by edging out Harlequins 32-27 in another thriller.

And following an action-packed weekend in the two European competitions, here’s a look at the individual players who played a starring role for their teams.


While Billy Vunipola was given the official man of the match award for his performance against Munster, it was his fellow try-scorer Michael Rhodes who really starred for Saracens.

The flanker was outstanding for the Men in Black from start to finish, setting the tone with his powerful carrying and robust defensive display all afternoon in Coventry.

He ensured Saracens always got over the gain line and capped off a fine display with the first of his side’s two tries during a relentless period of pressure after the break.

Rhodes was not the only player from the Gallagher Premiership champions who deserved praise, though, with Alex Goode, Ben Spencer and Liam Williams also impressing.


Saracens suffered a blow at the break when captain Brad Barritt was forced off – but his stand-in Nick Tompkins ensured he wasn’t missed with his showing at centre.

The 24-year-old made an instant impact as he instantly made his side look more threatening, with the opening try of the game from Rhodes following soon after his arrival.

He continued to look dangerous in attack, making ground every time he received the ball, while he made a telling contribution to Saracens’ rearguard effort with nine tackles.

Considering the game was arguably won in the 15-minute period after the restart, Tompkins deserves plenty of credit for helping to turn the momentum decisively in Saracens’ favour.


Harlequins gave ASM Clermont Auvergne a huge scare as they pushed the Top 14 outfit close in their semi-final clash despite going into the break 26-8 behind in France.

Paul Gustard’s side almost staged a stunning fightback thanks to tries from Mike Brown, Chris Robshaw, James Lang and Alex Dombrandt as they closed the gap to one score.

And two of those tries came from brilliant pieces of skill from Marcus Smith as he pulled the strings effortlessly, providing the decisive assist for Brown’s score just before the break.

But it was his excellent grubber kick through to Lang that stole the show, weighting it perfectly as the ball bounced up suitably for Lang to latch onto and dot down.


Again, it has to go to Marcus Smith for his influential role in Harlequins’ fightback.

The outside-half showed all of the skills in his locker as the visitors strived to overcome their 18-point half-time deficit, also kicking two penalties and one conversion.

His show-and-go in the build up to Brown’s try on the cusp of the interval was sublime, while his grubber through for Lang to run onto was equally well executed.

It was by no means a flawless showing from the 20-year-old, with his accuracy from the kicking tee below his high expectations, but he continues to go from strength to strength.


Sale enjoyed a dream start to their last four clash against La Rochelle as they took the lead after 14 minutes with a powerful lineout drive.

Denny Solomona and Chris Ashton had combined well on the right before the latter – playing his tenth game for the Sharks – chipped ahead.

Ashton’s kick was gathered by the covering La Rochelle defender just in time, but from the ensuing 5m lineout Sale formed a driving maul and charged towards the line.

It was cynically dragged down by the hosts and resulted in Nigel Owens awarding a penalty try, before showing Victor Vito a yellow card for his role in collapsing the maul.


Where to start? England international Chris Ashton put his case forward on his return to action for Sale, scoring an opportunistic try in his side’s hard-fought defeat.

Fellow Red Rose stars Mike Brown, Chris Robshaw and Marcus Smith also played key roles for Harlequins as they look to impress Eddie Jones before he decides on his squad for Japan.

Meanwhile, Saracens’ international heavyweights all came to the party as they secured their place in the Heineken Champions Cup final with a stellar performance against Munster.

Owen Farrell kicked 22 points, Alex Goode was impressive throughout and Billy Vunipola was awarded man of the match after the No.8 scored a late try.

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