Connacht could be in line for a first-ever Champions Cup quarter-final, and if the last round of matches was anything to go by – it’s been a team effort from the Guinness PRO12 champions.
Leading the way in a number of categories, it’s the Connacht three-quarters who have been particularly impressive in Europe this season from a statistical point of view, not least the inspirational Bundee Aki.
Usually the top carriers come from the back row – and it’s no surprise to see Leinster’s Jamie Heaslip and Munster’s CJ Stander right up there in the standings after four rounds of action.
In many ways Aki plays like an extra back-row forward, and he racked up a remarkable 19 carries in a crucial victory over Wasps.
That moved him top of the pile in Europe this season, with 54 carries in total, while Heaslip is third on 51 after 12 more carries in victory over Northampton Saints.
That was the same total managed by Stander, who is fifth overall – a position which is all the more noteworthy when you consider he has played a game less than the majority in the competition.
— Bundee Aki (@bundeeaki12) December 18, 2016
Tiernan tempting Schmidt
When it comes to the backs, it is again Connacht who lead the way, and with every passing week full-back Tiernan O’Halloran is giving Joe Schmidt a headache with his performances.
Capped for the first time in November, the 25-year-old is pushing hard for a place in the Irish Six Nations squad, and is well clear in terms of metres made in Europe this season.
He has racked up 386 in three matches so far, adding a further 144 metres in the 20-18 win over Wasps, despite spending ten minutes in the bin.
Tucked in behind him is another Guinness PRO12 full-back, Ulster’s Charles Piutau, who nearly cracked 100 metres with ball in hand this week (97) and played his part in an unsuccessful, yet highly-entertaining comeback attempt away to Clermont.
— Connacht Rugby (@connachtrugby) December 19, 2016
Warriors on the defensive
On the other side of the ball, Glasgow Warriors’ defensive effort was once more in evidence as they shut down French champions Racing 92 for much of their encounter at Scotstoun.
Jonny Gray was once again at the heart of the defensive effort, making 12 tackles in the 23-7 success – even if he did miss a tackle for the first time this season in the competition.
Second is another Warrior – back row Ryan Wilison who has now racked up 49 in four matches – some 13 behind Gray.
And in third is Zebre’s Johan Meyer who has raced up 48 tackles in just three matches, chipping in with a further 16 this weekend in defeat to Toulouse.
Thank-you Scotstoun! #specialnight
— Gregor Townsend (@gregortownsend) December 16, 2016
Nacewa leads the way in the try-count
Finally veteran Leinster three-quarter Isa Nacewa is now out on his own at the top of the try-scoring charts this season, adding two more in the 60-13 success over Saints.
That leaves Nacewa with five tries in all – none more important than the late effort in Montpellier for a losing bonus point that leaves Leinster well in control in their group.
He is one try clear of English wing duo Nick Abendanon and Josh Bassett – of Clermont and Wasps respectively.
— Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) December 19, 2016
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