Premiership Rugby

Investec Champions Cup: Team Of The Week From Round 1

Investec Champions Cup: Team Of The Week From Round 1

Champions Cup Round 1 Team of the Week: Exciting performances and stunning plays define European club rugby's return. Check out the standout players.

Dec 13, 2023
Investec Champions Cup: Team Of The Week From Round 1

The long wait for European club rugby all feels worthwhile following the sheer entertainment of the first round of the Champions Cup last weekend.

Blockbuster ties saw last year’s finalists La Rochelle and Leinster go head to head in biblical conditions on the coast of France, while three other fixtures were decided on the final plays.

In the end, though, it was a weekend to remember for the English contingent, as seven of the eight Premiership teams competing all came away with wins.

1. Beno Obano (Bath)

In the face of a fierce Ulster pack, Bath refused to back down, meeting fire with fire to control the scrum. 

Matches are won on fine margins, and this was the crucial facet of the game, spearheaded by Beno Obano, who physically dominated his side of the scrum to provide the perfect platform for Bath to attack from.

2. Dan Sheehan (Leinster)

The thundering rain in La Rochelle made for treacherous lineout conditions, yet Dan Sheehan still managed to keep the set piece slick and efficient. 

He was part of a lineout core that won 12 throw ins, crucially containing a La Rochelle outfit that is used to bullying opposition packs.

3. Luke Tagi (Bayonne)

The introduction of Luke Tagi early into the second half gave Bayonne a new lease of life against Munster. 

Having been on the field for only a couple of minutes, the prop cut a brilliant line to breach the Munster defense and score, setting in motion the Bayonne comeback.

4 Janko Swanepoel (Bulls)

The Bulls’ systematic demolition of Saracens was helped in large part by the performance of Janko Swanepoel. 

The sprightly second row was a powerful presence throughout the game, consistently thwarting Saracens' attack. He also topped off his performance with a try.

5. James Ryan (Leinster)

Despite getting on the wrong side of referee Matthew Carley, James Ryan’s overall performance against La Rochelle was simply sublime. 

The co-captain topped the Leinster tackle count, making 18 hits in total, held the ball up to prevent a La Rochelle try and kept the lineout flowing in extremely wet conditions.

6. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)

The Champions Cup commenced with a dominant performance from the resurgent Northampton Saints against the Glasgow Warriors, and Courtney Lawes was at the center of it all. 

His pullback passes to Fin Smith were a key component of the Saints' attack, demonstrating the level of versatility the flanker possesses. To top it off, he picked up his first club try in five years in the first half.

7. Will Evans (Harlequins)

Will Evans was a ball of energy for the duration of the clash at La Défense Arena. 

His tireless tackling was integral to Harlequins’ eventual win over Racing 92, not least because it was his final shot that dislodged the ball from Racing's hands to give Quins the victory with the clock in the red.

8. Cameron Hanekom (Bulls)

The Champions Cup can unnerve even the most seasoned athletes, so it’s sometimes surprising when youngsters such as Cameron Hanekom stand up and show their worth. 

The 21-year-old No. 8 was relentless against Saracens, causing all sorts of problems at the breakdown, giving the Bulls an edge in the contact zone.

9. Nolann Le Garrec (Racing 92)

He may have been on the losing side, but Nolann Le Garrec still was a cut above Sunday. 

His speed of delivery from the breakdown was unfathomable and gave Racing some much-needed go-forward whenever they had possession. 

His crowning achievement, though, was scoring a brace as he got on the end of two clinical attacking forays.

10. Marcus Smith (Harlequins)

There were a few standout fly-halves over the weekend, but none shone quite as bright as Marcus Smith. 

Over the course of 80 minutes, the Harlequins playmaker put in one of his greatest club performances, using his footwork to score a try, slotting a drop goal from near the halfway line and making two try-saving tackles. 

Paris was Smith’s playground.

11. Gabriel Ibitoye (Bristol Bears)

Not many players can match the flair of Gabriel Ibitoye. 

Against Lyon, he showed Europe just what makes him so dangerous, stepping past defenders with relative ease, before unloading one-handed offloads over defenders, like a basketball shot. 

When he’s at full tilt and playing in that way, he’s a true joy to watch.

12. Solomone Kata (Leicester Tigers)

Solomone Kata was another player who managed to grab two tries over the weekend. 

His first was a routine crashball finish, but his second was a lot more refined, beginning with his own flick pass, which helped send Ollie Hassell-Collins down the wing. 

Kata then provided the support line for his winger and eventually finished off his second try of the game.

13. Tommy Freeman (Northampton Saints)

Tommy Freeman’s move to the outside center quickly is beginning to bear fruit. 

Against Glasgow, he showed his more physical side, crashing through tacklers on two occasions to dot down for Northampton early in the first half and remained a nuisance throughout the game, always looking like a threat with the ball in hand.

14. Joe Cokanasiga (Bath)

Everything good about Bath over the weekend was characterized by the performance of Joe Cokanasiga. 

He was physical, controlled and clinical when he needed to be, scoring two tries to help Bath to a win at the Rec. 

His first came from a Ben Spencer miss-pass, while the second came from a well-timed support line off a trademark Ollie Lawrence break.

15. Romain Buros (Bordeaux Bègles)

Scoring two tries usually is enough to get you onto any team of the week. 

However, for Romain Buros, that’s not the reason why he makes this XV, as both of his tries were relatively easy finishes.

Instead, it’s because of the two other tries he helped create and the countless offloads he delivered, which helped pierce the Connacht defense.