Champions Cup Team of the Tournament: Furlong and Ryan stand tallest in adversity

Peter Jackson picks his XV for the Heineken Champions Cup Team of the Tournament.

15 Alex Goode (Saracens)

A classic example of a prophet without honour in his own land. England, under Eddie Jones, have studiously pursued a policy of picking anyone as their last line defence other than the long-serving Saracens full back-cum-fly-half. 

Saracens' Alex Goode and Jackson Wray celebrate at the final whistle. Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland
Saracens' Alex Goode and Jackson Wray celebrate at the final whistle. Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Known in-house as ‘The Spider Man’ in recognition of his elusive running, Goode’s capacity for spinning so many webs in so many tight corners has made him Europe’s Player of the Season. Not bad for a former Ipswich Town academy footballer who hasn’t played for England since 2016 despite out-performing every other full-back in Europe.

14 Liam Williams (Saracens)

His uncanny ability to take the game to new heights suggests he may have learnt a thing or two from his original trade as a scaffolder back home in the Swansea valley. 

But even the airborne Welsh Grand Slam full-back has had to touch his cap to Goode and move elsewhere to find a place among the Saracens. 

Back line Williams is the epitome of the modern wing, a player who specialises in preventing almost as many tries as he creates and finishes with his knack of parting defences like the Red Sea.

13 Alex Lozowski (Saracens)

Played second fiddle to Garry Ringrose for most of the season but delivered when it mattered most in marked contrast to his Leinster opposite number. 

Another example of an English player thriving at the highest club level from a long way down the national pecking order. 

There may be more celebrated outside centres, like Scarlets’ Jonathan Davies and Sofitane Guitoune of Toulouse, but Lozowski’s choice is no more than his multi-dimensional skills warrant.

12 Brad Barritt (Saracens)

Another striking example of a player seen as a crucial component part of Europe’s champion club team despite having been declared surplus to requirements by England. 

His physical power allied to an astute tactical brain helped Sarries achieve something that no other club team could possibly have done – turn a 10-point deficit into a 10-point victory.

11 Maxime Medard (Toulouse)

Other wings made powerful claims for inclusion, not least Keith Earls with the acrobatic finishing which took Munster to the last four. 

Those who mourn the loss of old-fashioned wizardry will applaud the Frenchman’s refusal to be engulfed by the new breed of goliaths built on the same destructive dimensions as second-row forwards. 

His something-out-of-nothing move in the Dublin semi-final deserved a try for its daring invention instead of being rubbed out by the TMO’s heartless ruling of a simultaneous touchdown.

10 Owen Farrell (Saracens)

Like Ronaldo, the bigger the stage, the better he plays. England may have had a few too many wobbles in his presence, most notably against Wales and Scotland, but when it comes to the supreme club prize, Sarries’ and their orchestrator-in-chief remain unbeatable.

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9 Antoine Dupont (Toulouse)

Some of Europe’s best scrum halves have struggled this season, not least the one who had established himself as the best of all on this side of the Equator, Conor Murray. 

Richard Wigglesworth of Saracens remains the best old-timer despite forced to play second fiddle to Ben Spencer but no scrum-half could match Dupont’s electrifying role for Toulouse, especially in their sensational quarter-final win over Racing in Paris.

1 Mako Vunipola (Saracens)

Spent most of the final with one foot in an ice bucket but had already done more than enough to command a place in anyone’s European team of the season. 

Mako brings a lot more than brute force and an iron will to win. A turn of speed and fly-paper hands make him the complete prop, a piano-shifter who can also tinkle the ivories.

2 Jamie George (Saracens)

Other hookers may have been around for longer, most notably Rory Best, but had the Lions been touring this summer the boy George would surely have been their first choice. 

When the chips were down as never before after Leinster seized a 10-point start, he rose to the occasion with an ultimately irresistible brand of controlled fury.

3 Tadhg Furlong (Leinster)

An immovable force from the start of the tournament way back last autumn to the bitter end on Tyneside. 

The best tighthead in Europe but then what’s new? 

He started with a double whammy mighty enough to suggest that Leinster’s historic fifth European title would be a matter of time. His try and the disappearance of his set-piece opponent Mako Vunipola would have crushed a lesser opponent.

Instead Saracens did the crushing, as if inspired by the immortal words of the world heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey: “Real champions get back up, even when they can’t.’’

4 George Kruis (Saracens)

A magnetic lineout presence on the Saracens throw and a disruptive threat on Leinster’s. 

That barely tells half the story of how he stampeded all over St James’ Park removing anything and anyone from his path. By the time the numbers had been crunched, Kruis’ tackle count reached 27, a staggering total and Johnny Sexton, for one, knows how it feels to be on the receiving end. 

If he brings the same rampaging, tour de force to the World Cup, England will take some stopping.

5 James Ryan (Leinster)

There are many phenomenal aspects to his game but surely the most phenomenal one of all is to be found in his age. 

No player in any second row on this side of the Equator can have achieved anywhere near as much as Ryan and he’s still only 22. 

But then he’s always been ahead of his time, so much so that Ireland picked him before Leinster got round to giving him his competitive debut. 

Losing is a rare experience, but even in defeat, guess who made most carries and most tackles for his team…?

6 Maro Itoje (Saracens)

There are no shortage of worthy contenders on the blindside of the back row, a list headed by Jack Conan, Peter O’Mahony and Jerome Kaino. 

Saracens were in a tight enough corner without Itoje’s indiscipline making it tighter still for ten very long minutes. 

Yet during his team’s unbeaten sequence behind their run to the final, Itoje typified their unrelenting ferocity whether it was in the second row or back row. 

And nobody does it better which really is saying something considering the calibre of those around him.

7 Jackson Wray (Saracens)

Sean O’Brien gave it his best shot and still wound up playing second fiddle to the opposition openside, the only uncapped member of an otherwise stellar cast. 

From far looking out of place or suffering from any inferiority complex, Wray did more than anyone to unhinge Leinster’s defensive system. And yet he has never once made it into even the most crowded of England training squads, let alone into the Test team.

8 Billy Vunipola (Saracens)

Anyone still doubting that there is simply nobody quite like him need only look again at the moment that turned the final. 

His blast from the back of the scrum could not have had a more disintegrating effect on Leinster than had they been hit by a torpedo. 

In one sense they had which explains why Vunipola could plough through four defenders and reach out a telescopic arm for a one-handed finish. Leinster, of course, will argue that he should never have got that far but then there are times when Vunipola is indefensible and this was one of them.

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