Simon Lewis on the key gamebreakers in the four Champions Cup quarter-finals.
Leinster — Adam Byrne
Another exciting backline talent to roll off the Leinster production line, Byrne is surely closing on Test recognition. A genuine speed merchant on the wing or at full-back, Byrne has the rugby brain and footwork to bamboozle defenders but this is no mercurial talent, he has the work ethic to go with it and his ability to make serious yardage while beating the tackle is an impressive mix that should bode well for his province.
Wasps — Kurtley Beale
Wasps coach Dai Young rails against his side being cast in the role of entertainers simply aiming to outscore rather than stop opponents but when he has attacking talent in the mould of Wallaby backline star Beale ,(above), it is a recipe difficult to resist. Beale’s flair, from whichever position he is asked to occupy, makes him a joy to watch and a nightmare to defend. No wonder the Australians have tempted him home at the end of the season.
Munster — Tyler Bleyendaal
The fly-half has been showing why Munster were so patient in nursing him back to full fitness after a series of serious injuries. A man-of-the-match performance in the big home win over Glasgow in round two showed off his talents and Bleyendaal has gone from strength to strength, with immaculate game management, consistent goal-kicking and an attacking instinct that gives him and those around him plenty of try-scoring opportunities.
Toulouse — Gael Fickou
Having burst onto the Top 14 scene as a teenager, Fickou has finally filled out and come of age in the Toulouse midfield, while also making his mark for the French national team. The 23-year-old is one of the main reasons why his club tops the offloads charts in Europe this season, his awareness, strength and skill-set helping to break games wide open in the tackle and off the deck. He is also formidable in defence.
Saracens — Maro Itoje
One of the cornerstones of England’s back-to-back Six Nations success and still only 22, Itoje combines the athletic prowess, physical intensity and rugby ability to unnerve all but the most self-assured opponents. Marauding the open field like an extra back rower, the lock is so much more than effective lineout operator. He gets through a fearsome work rate to execute turnovers and harass half-backs, putting opposition sides on the back foot in a heartbeat.
Glasgow Warriors — Stuart Hogg
As Ireland discovered to their cost at Murrayfield on the opening day of the Six Nations, if you allow Hogg the time and space to get on the ball, the full-back will punish you with devastating ruthlessness. Blessed with burning pace, he can launch a dangerous counter-attack, or beat defenders with a killer step before finding a team-mate, making him a real game-breaking threat. Also in possession of a thunderous boot from long range.
Clermont — Noa Nakataici
The Fijian-born French international wing brings unrivalled physicality to the wide open , with explosive pace that makes him a real handful from a standing start. Give him the room to hit top speed and Nakataici is nigh on unstoppable with the power to go through defenders, while also in possession of clever footwork. Successful teams know that to effectively stop the Clermont wing, they must first cut off the supply or face the consequences.
Toulon — Ma’a Nonu
After his years of glory as a double World Cup-winning All Black, Nonu is finally hitting his stride in France and has committed to another season at Toulon beyond his initial two-year deal. The wrecking ball in midfield can wreak havoc on defences and his ability to carry numerous tacklers into contact allows team-mates to exploit the newly created space. He’s even started to score tries as well, getting his first in Europe against Sale in round five.
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