Leinster finished as the top seed after going unbeaten in Pool 1, and as a result will face Saracens in a repeat of the 2019 final in the last eight, while Ulster were the best-ranked runner-up, meaning a trip to Toulouse for Dan McFarland’s side.
Here we take a look at the men racking up the highest numbers from the group stage, with a glance over the Guinness PRO14 stars leading the way statistically.
Coetzee the carry king
It comes as no surprise to see Ulster’s Marcell Coetzee up among those with the most carries from the group stage. The South African is a one-man wrecking ball at times on the rugby pitch, charging forward a total of 96 times in his six matches, gaining priceless territory in doing so.
With Stuart McCloskey contributing a further 70 scurries from centre, the Kingspan played host to two of the players most comfortable with the ball in their hands and powering forward, although neither come close to CJ Stander, who recorded 120 carries for Munster.
20 – Stuart McCloskey has made 20 dominant carries in the @ChampionsCup this season, the most of any back and joint second most overall, level with @UlsterRugby teammate Marcell Coetzee (Camille Chat – 27). Addition. pic.twitter.com/QhpM7TY2W9
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) January 21, 2020
Coetzee also helped his team prosper with seven turnovers, making him one of the most invaluable players in the early stages. The No.8 might even be disappointed with that number, having previously managed to record seven steals in one Guinness PRO14 match against Connacht in 2018.
Bundee Aki and Josh van der Flier also won seven turnovers in the group stage, although Aki only played in five games after missing out on November’s trip to Toulouse.
Leinster leading the way
Some of the rugby Leinster have produced this season has been a joy to watch, and with Jordan Larmour and Garry Ringrose in their side, it comes as no surprise they remain unbeaten in the league and in Europe.
Larmour is the one hitting the heights in terms of hard yards gained in the group stage, with the 22-year-old surging forward for a total of 399 metres. His blistering pace, mixed with those magnificently fast feet also makes him the Guinness PRO14 player who has beaten the most defenders, with 26 would-be tacklers falling by his wayside.
Ringrose isn’t far behind in that regard, with the Irish centre leaving 23 defenders in his wake as Leinster dominated across the continent. No wonder he is among the leaders in the competition for tries as well, with hat-tricks against Benetton and Northampton making it six so far in the competition.
One run, seven defenders beaten. Jordan Larmour 🔥 pic.twitter.com/qFGUnqzVuh
— Jared Wright (@jaredwright17) December 14, 2019
There’s a pattern emerging here, with Ringrose and Larmour excelling again in the clean breaks department with ten apiece. Teammate James Lowe adds a further 11 from the other flank, which adds further proof to just how unplayable Leo Cullen’s side have been at times this season.
John Cooney is also in the mix with nine clean breaks for Ulster, with the scrum-half continuously impressing in Europe, crossing the line five times overall. His accuracy from the kicking tee makes him the Heineken Champions Cup’s top scorer so far, with 71 points in total.
Crunching the Challenge Cup stats
Three Guinness PRO14 clubs progressed into the last eight of the European Challenge Cup, with Edinburgh Rugby, Dragons and Scarlets all securing safe passage through as the three best runners-up from the group stages.
Uzair Cassiem was the man to lead the way for Scarlets, with the South African bulldozing his way forward with the ball a total of 69 times, making him the second highest in the competition behind Mikheil Gachechiladze of Enisei with 86.
Edinburgh’s Duhan van der Merwe was beating defenders at will around Europe, with the winger flying past a tournament-high 28 opponents and gaining an equally impressive 469 metres in the meantime. The South African also ranks third in clean breaks, with 11 in total, two behind Luke Morahan of Bristol Bears.
Cardiff Blues were unlucky to lose out on a place in the last eight after some impressive Challenge Cup performances, a fact certainly underlined by the figures.
Both Matthew Morgan and Rey Lee-Lo posted some of the highest numbers in the metres gained column, with 371 and 326 respectively, while Shane Lewis-Hughes racked up seven turnovers. Lee-Lo also beat 24 defenders, making the Samoan one of the most explosive players around.