There may be just four weeks until the 2023 Guinness Six Nations begins but Europe’s stars are showing no sign of dropping the ball at domestic level.
There were a host of standout performers this week, with Player of the Match performances aplenty from those set to star in the latest instalment of Rugby’s Greatest Championship.
From match-winning fly-halves to mesmeric midfield showings, let’s take a look at how another absorbing week of action unfolded across the continent.
🏴 @Scotlandteam's Gregor Townsend will already know he can rely on a handful of key players, though there will be plenty looking to stake a serious claim as starting XV regulars#GuinnessSixNations
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) January 9, 2023
Moefana steps up with Danty sidelined
France were dealt a blow to their hopes of retaining the Grand Slam when centre Jonathan Danty suffered a serious knee injury against Perpignan.
But his likely replacement was on the scoresheet this weekend in Bordeaux-Begles’ 23-15 triumph over Bayonne.
And it was another of Fabien Galthié’s squad who played a key role in the move which led to Moefana strolling in under the posts.
Scrum-half Maxime Lucu spotted a gaping hole in the Bayonne back field and took full advantage with a delightful 50:22 before Moefana was on the end of Louis Bielle-Biarrey’s quick lineout.
🎯 50-22 de @LucuMaxime
👀 La filouterie de Louis Bielle-Biarrey
🔥 La conclusion de Yoram Moefana
— UBB Rugby (@UBBrugby) January 8, 2023
A little further north, it was La Rochelle who were celebrating as two of the Top 14’s elite went toe-to-toe, running out 30-7 winners.
But it was not all good news for the European champions, with prop Uini Atonio facing some time in the treatment room, which will have wider implications for Galthié and the makeup of his pack.
Farrell produces yet another magical moment
Steve Borthwick has a few options available to him when it comes to picking his fly-half for England’s Guinness Six Nations opener against Scotland.
Marcus Smith is expected to make his return to action this weekend, having not played a minute of competitive rugby since the Autumn Nations Series, while long-term absentee George Ford returned to England’s training camp at the start of the month.
But whilst those two have been watching on from the sidelines, Owen Farrell has delivered a string of excellent performances, with another decisive contribution coming at the weekend in Saracens 19-16 win over Gloucester.
🪑 𝐁𝐞𝐧𝐜𝐡 𝐂𝐚𝐦 🪑
Only one way to start your week isn't there…
— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) January 9, 2023
The England international scored a last-minute drop goal as Sarries beat the Cherry & Whites in a thriller at Kingsholm to keep Saracens clear of the chasing pack at the summit of the Premiership Rugby table.
Flanker Ben Earl was once again named Player of the Match in the West Country, proving that he could be a useful addition to England’s back row on the same weekend that saw Tom Curry limp off in Sale Sharks victory at Harlequins.
Elsewhere, Luke Cowan-Dickie delivered a two-try showing in Exeter Chiefs dominant 35-12 win over Northampton Saints but then also had to leave the field with injury, leaving his participation in doubt.
Irish trio on the board in Leinster’s 12th straight win
Leinster were pushed hard by Ospreys but emerged with their unbeaten United Rugby Championship record intact.
Pleasingly for Ireland boss Andy Farrell, all three Leinster try-scorers in their 24-19 win were internationals who could play a key role in determining the outcome of the 2023 Championship.
Dan Sheehan crossed first for Leinster after a difficult opening quarter before Hugo Keenan and Jimmy O’Brien scored within the space of four minutes to keep a determined Ospreys side at bay.
𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗿𝗲𝗮𝗰𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝘀𝗮𝘆𝘀 𝗶𝘁 𝗮𝗹𝗹! 🤩
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) January 9, 2023
There was also good news coming out of Leinster with an update on Monday about the fitness of Johnny Sexton and Tadhg Furlong, both of whom should be back in time for the Guinness Six Nations.
Staying in the URC, in the all-Welsh meeting in Cardiff, it was Scarlets who emerged victorious with three Grand Slam winners under Warren Gatland – Jonathan Davies, Taulupe Faletau and Josh Adams – all on the scoresheet.
North of the border, Huw Jones scored in Glasgow Warriors’ 24-17 win over the Stormers.
🗣️ "There's loads more to work on, so we just want to keep getting better and better"@GlasgowWarriors Player of the Match Huw Jones speaks after an outstanding performance 🌟#URC | #GLAvSTO pic.twitter.com/k1KUkhGnXa
— Viaplay Sports UK (@ViaplaySportsUK) January 8, 2023
The centre, who last played for Scotland in March 2021, has scored in each of his three starts for the Warriors since signing from Harlequins and may have played himself into contention for a place in Gregor Townsend’s squad.
Should he return to the Test arena, he could be tasked with stopping Italy’s Ignacio Brex when the two teams do battle for the Cuttitta Cup in Round 5.
Brex delivered an all-action performance in Benetton’s 31-29 success over Ulster, with a brilliant kick-assist for Onisi Ratave and a try of his own in the second half as the hosts moved just five points adrift of out-of-sorts Ulster.