Team of the week: Best of Premiership and PRO14

Team of the week: Best of Premiership and PRO14

Siva Naulago scored two first-half tries in Bristol's epic draw with London Irish
Siva Naulago scored two first-half tries in Bristol's epic draw with London Irish

Siva Naulago scored two first-half tries in Bristol’s epic draw with London Irish

Red cards dominated the rugby landscape at the weekend but there were also some standout performances in both the Premiership and PRO14.

Our team of the week includes two players apiece from London Irish and Bristol following their high-scoring thriller, while a trio of Northampton Saints are also included after their impressive win away to Exeter Chiefs.

15. Charles Piutau (Bristol Bears)

Piutau was at the heart of Bristol’s devastating first-half attacking display against London Irish, helping create two of their four tries.

The All Black intercepted James Stokes’ rushed pass and raced downfield to put Piers O’Conor over for the opening try and then produced some magical play to clinch the try bonus point.

Piutau combined brilliantly with Ratu Naulago, throwing a no-look pass in a give-and-go with his back-three partner as he sprinted clear before sending Naulago over for a try of the season contender.

They were two of four clean breaks by Piutau, who made 170 metres from just 10 carries and was withdrawn on 56 minutes with victory seemingly secured.

14. Alex Wooton (Connacht)

Connacht head coach Andy Friend believes Wootton is edging ever closer to an Ireland call-up and you can see why on this form.

Wootton made it 10 tries in 13 appearances for the western province with a crucial double in their bonus-point win over Cardiff Blues.

The on-loan Munster wing showcased his explosive pace and nifty footwork with two tries in four minutes at the end of the first half to send Connacht in ahead at the interval.

13. Joe Marchant (Harlequins)

Marchant helped himself to two tries in three minutes as Harlequins moved up to third in the Premiership table with victory over Sale.

Both of the centre’s tries were born out of turnovers, Mike Brown sending Marchant over for his first before he capitalised on a blunder by former team-mate Marland Yarde to grab his second.

Marchant made 85 metres from six carries, which included three clean breaks and three defenders beaten.

12. Piers Francis (Northampton Saints)

Francis kicked eight points as the Saints downed defending champions Exeter.

Having seen a second-half penalty strike the posts while the teams were deadlocked at 7-7, Francis responded with two successful attempts to get Northampton over the line.

Like the Saints forwards we’ve selected below, Francis also worked hard in defence. He made 16 tackles, the most of any back.

11. Siva Naulago (Bristol Bears)

The Bristol back three were on fire during the first half of Sunday’s game, with Naulago scoring a brilliant brace.

The cross-code star intercepted Blair Cowan’s no-look pass and sprinted the length of the pitch as the Bears scored two tries in three minutes while down to 14 men.

A give-and-go with Piutau created his second and Bristol’s fourth, Naulago running a good support line to take the full-back’s well-timed pass.

The Fijian made six clean breaks against Irish as he racked up 198 metres off just eight carries, while he also hit double figures for tackles made.

10. Marcus Smith (Harlequins)

Smith has not been named in an England squad since 2019 but on current form, he has to be very close to a recall.

The 22-year-old fly-half has been pivotal in Harlequins’ four-game winning streak in the wake of Paul Gustard’s departure and steered them to a double-scores win over Sale.

The highlight of Smith’s performance was a dynamic break that led to Alex Dombrandt’s try, while he also kicked three conversions and a penalty.

9. Nick Phipps (London Irish)

Rhys Webb was one of the few bright spots in the Ospreys’ dour win over Zebre but he loses out to supersub Phipps, who helped inspire Irish’s comeback.

Phipps scored a try and helped create another during his 26-minute cameo, and he would have grabbed a dramatic late winner but for Tom Parton’s botched pass.

1. Alex Waller (Northampton Saints)

Waller spearheaded a defensive performance by Northampton as they claimed their first win away to Exeter in seven years.

The loosehead made 18 tackles, missing none. That put him fifth in the Northampton tackle charts, but only because he departed for a well-earned rest on 52 minutes.

2. Julian Montoya (Leicester Tigers)

It is three tries in as many starts for the Puma after his latest touchdown against Wasps.

Montoya gave Jasper Wiese a helping hand as the No 8 scored Leicester’s first try, only to be dismissed later in the half.

Hooker Montoya then barged over in the corner early in the second half to give Leicester an unassailable 16-point lead.

He takes the No 2 shirt ahead of Samuel Matavesi, who formed part of Northampton’s outstanding defensive effort.

3. John Ryan (Munster)

Ryan was an integral part of a dominant Munster scrum in Murrayfield.

Twice the Munster scrum stood firm on their own five-metre line, earning their side relieving penalties, which Ryan was at the forefront as the visiting pack drove through Edinburgh on halfway on the half-hour.

Ryan was also busy in the loose, making nine tackles and two carries before being called ashore with 15 minutes remaining.

4. Steve Mafi (London Irish)

Mafi’s try on half-time sparked London Irish’s incredible comeback against Bristol.

The Tonga lock helped remedy a malfunctioning lineout, claiming five throws and making one steal. He also led the Exiles’ tackle charts and popped up with a crucial turnover.

5. Ed Slater (Gloucester)

Slater produced an all-action display as Gloucester came agonisingly close to a morale-boosting win at the Rec.

Reduced to 14 men after just nine minutes, Slater led from the front with a team-leading 16 tackles and seven carries.

He also won four throws and stole one of Bath’s as Gloucester excelled at the lineout.

6. Nick Isiekwe (Northampton Saints)

Isiekwe delivered a defensive masterclass at Sandy Park, making a lung-busting 22 tackles and missing none.

The England forward also won six lineouts – including one steal.

Isiekwe takes the No 6 shirt ahead of Taulupe Faletau, who returned to club duty with an excellent try-scoring display in Bath’s West Country derby win over Gloucester.

7. Jac Morgan (Scarlets)

Morgan showed no signs of ring rust as he returned from a knee injury with a two-try display in the win over Benetton.

The openside, who crossed from close range for the game’s opening try, scored a brilliant solo second from 30 metres out, beating four Italian defenders.

Cyle Brink’s breakdown work also caught the eye during 13-man Leicester’s win over Wasps.

8. Jack Conan (Leinster)

Conan celebrated his 100th Leinster appearance with a man-of-the-match display against the Dragons.

The No 8 made 101 metres with ball in hand and didn’t miss tackle as Leinster stayed on course for a fourth successive PRO14 title.

Special mention to Munster’s Gavin Coombes, who bagged a try and made 16 tackles in their win at Edinburgh.

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