European Team of the Week: Northampton and Leicester Stars Surge Forward
The winter period was well and truly with us this past week as the New Year's schedule was hit by ragged weather conditions in France, Scotland, England, Wales and other pockets of Europe.
However, the rugby fixtures nevertheless persevered for the most part, and the continent's big guns didn't fail to entertain as a result.
Read on for a breakdown of who entertained most from the Pro12, Aviva Premiership and Top 14 competitions, and we sieve through the team of the week.
1. Alex Waller, Northampton Saints
Will Collier struggled to cope with the onslaught that Alex Waller provided at the breakdown as the Saints' 23-year-old prop once again showed that he's able to mince it at the top level.
The young loosehead was also omnipresent in defence, getting about the park well to make seven tackles.
2. Dylan Hartley, Northampton Saints
Trudging through the muddy environment at Franklin's Gardens, Saints were able to rely upon their captain Dylan Hartley in what could have been a far closer encounter with Quins.
The England hooker pounced on some opposition profligacy from a line-out in dangerous territory, adding a vital score in the second half, but also adding five tackles to the mix and coping better than his opposite man in the line-out stakes.
3. Dan Cole, Leicester Tigers
There wasn't much that was pretty about Dan Cole's outing against Bath, but the Leicester Tigers' tighthead got the job done against his opposite man Paul James, constantly putting the visitors on the back foot as a result.
4. Alun Wyn Jones, Ospreys
Alun Wyn Jones again shone for Ospreys as they ran to a vital victory over Scarlets this weekend with his fine work at the set piece in particular coming to the fore, collecting seven clean line-outs.
Jones' 11 tackles were bested only by flanker Sam Lewis' tally of 13, but it was a leader's display from Steve Tandy's second row that paved the way to four points.
5. Gerhard Mostert, Stade Francais
Amidst some blustery conditions in the Bay of Biscay, Gerhard Mostert towered above his Biarritz counterparts to help lead his Stade Francais side to a valuable 18-6 triumph on Saturday.
The 29-year-old helped spoil matters at the set piece, and it was thanks to Mostert's initiative that a charge-down on the Biarritz line was turned into a try after the Parisian visitors had slipped back 6-0 initially.
6. Jamie Gibson, Leicester Tigers
One of the performances of the round, Leicester's 27-27 draw against Bath, came as a result of Jamie Gibson's first Premiership try of the season, not to mention an all-round busy display from the 23-year-old.
The flanker was reliable at the line-out and showed good eagerness to get about with ball in hand, but it's ultimately the last-minute match saver that he'll be remembered for.
7. Luke Narraway, Perpignan
The Englishman may not have started against Bayonne, but Luke Narraway will be vying for a more prominent role in Perpignan's plans after an impressive cameo this weekend.
Showing great physical strength as much as anything else, the back-row utility scrambled over for a superb try from the back of the scrum and was largely spotless in the win.
8. Jamie Heaslip, Leinster
There rests some uncertainty over where Jamie Heaslip will be playing his rugby next season, but Leinster will make full use of the No. 8's talents while they've still got them at their disposal.
The Irish monolith was typically rampant at Connacht, carrying often and well.
9. Ruan Pienaar, Ulster
Ruan Pienaar held a good account of himself after taking kicking duties from Paddy Jackson for this weekend's visit of Munster.
The South African's 19 points with the boot were vital in the 29-19 triumph, but it was the calm demeanour with which the seasoned veteran fed his backs that proved most valuable at Ravenhill.
10. George Ford, Bath
Back at Welford Road after leaving Leicester Tigers at the end of last season, George Ford held an extremely good account of himself at the site he used to call home.
The young Bath fly-half succeeded with all five of his kicking attempts and was very involved in two of his side's three tries, restraining the hosts with his seven tackles in the meantime.
11. George North, Northampton Saints
It took 44 minutes to come, but George North opened the try scoring against Harlequins this weekend, spotting Charlie Walker as a weakness and barrelling through his opposite number to touch down after collecting a visitors' clearance.
North's 65 metres carried was the most of any player in the match, beating three defenders and forcing three turnovers along the way.
12. Gordon D'Arcy, Leinster
Matters were tight against Connacht, but a late Leinster try courtesy of Gordon D'Arcy was the finishing touch that Leinster needed to win at the Sportsground and prevent the hosts from claiming even a bonus point in the end.
The Irishman carried for 52 metres in total, but more importantly, contributed more tackles than any other back on the day, notching 10 in what was a solid defensive outing.
13. Jared Payne, Ulster
And it was another Irish province star, Jared Payne, who comes into the centre this week after rampaging to a mammoth 136 metres carried in the 29-19 win over Munster.
Coming into his line time and again, the fullback finally got his just rewards when Paddy Jackson chipped through for Payne to touch down among a horde of visitors' bodies.
14. Ratu Alipate Raitini, Grenoble
In what was a monumental result for the Top 14's playoff hopefuls, Grenoble's shocking 22-21 away triumph over Toulon came thanks to an intercept try that Ratu Alipate Raitini will remember for the rest of his days.
The winger's awareness to break his line among strong opposition numbers was great, but the Fijian flyer had a constant buzz about him off the right wing, ever eager to get the ball in hand and do damage.
Special mention for Toulouse's Maxime Medard, who gave his side the means to cruise past Clermont.
15. James O'Connor, London Irish
Nobody shone brighter than James O'Connor at the Madejski Stadium this weekend as the Australian produced the kind of display that London Irish fans have been waiting for since his arrival was announced.
The utility back scored all 22 of his side's points in the victory over Worcester, which included a try as well as a lot of security from the kicking tee.
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