Virimi Vakatawa and Teddy Thomas celebrated their call-ups to the France squad for the 2020 Guinness Six Nations with standout performances in Europe this weekend.
The alliterative Racing 92 pair shone in victory over Munster as the French side was one of four to secure a place in the quarter-finals.
Fabien Galthié named his 42-man squad for the Championship on Wednesday, with Vakatawa looking to continue his form from the World Cup, while Thomas is back after a strong first half of the season.
And in a hard-fought encounter against Munster, Vakatawa was devastating with ball in hand and defence on his way to the man-of-the-match award. His try three minutes from time sealed the win, Racing eventually running out 39-22 victors thanks to three tries late on.
Prior to that, Vakatawa racked up 107 metres with ball in hand, making three clean breaks and beating 11 defenders.
Thomas, meanwhile, helped himself to a try double, the first after a remarkable pass from Teddy Iribaren out of the back of the hand, and the second brilliantly finished from Finn Russell’s cross-kick.
Racing were joined in the last eight by two more French teams. Toulouse secured their place with a 21-7 win in Connacht, France hooker Julien Marchand scoring one of their tries, while Clermont are also through as uncapped flanker Alexandre Fischer came off the bench in the first half to be named man of the match in a 29-13 win over Ulster.
Galthié will however be concerned at seeing two of his uncapped call-ups suffering injuries this weekend. Hooker Anthony Etrillard suffered a broken leg for Toulon against the Scarlets, while lock Killian Geraci was forced off in the opening minutes for Lyon against Leinster with a knee injury.
WARRIORS TRIO STAKE CLAIM
The other team to secure a place in the quarter-finals alongside Leinster, who were already through, were Exeter Chiefs.
They did so in the game of the weekend, picking up three match points from their 31-31 draw away to Glasgow Warriors.
Jack Nowell continued his good recent form, beating six defenders in the game, but there were three Glasgow players who also did their hopes of earning a Guinness Six Nations call-up no harm at all.
Adam Hastings was part of Scotland’s World Cup squad, and will hope to push Russell for a starting role after pulling the strings in attack and kicking 11 points in the draw.
And in the three-quarters, Huw Jones, a try-scorer after eight minutes, and Kyle Steyn, a constant menace with ball in hand, will hope to force their way into Gregor Townsend’s squad.
LEINSTER KEEP ON MARCHING
Leinster had already booked their place in the last eight, and they continued their charge for the number one seed with a 42-14 win over an injury-hit Lyon.
Dave Kearney was part of Andy Farrell’s stock-take at the start of the year, and his two tries will have helped his cause.
And it was another man who Farrell had brought in for a closer look, No.8 Max Deegan, who got one and the man-of-the-match award.
Meanwhile in Ulster’s defeat at Clermont, John Cooney continued his fine scoring run, crossing for an early try, albeit in a losing cause.
Likewise Andrew Conway was very impressive for Munster, scoring one intercept with a great read just as it seemed Racing would go in for a try shortly before half-time.
WALES WIDE MEN
In the Challenge Cup, there was plenty of interest in Cardiff Blues’ trip to Leicester Tigers, with Josh Adams selected at outside centre for the visitors.
In the end, a late withdrawal from Hallam Amos saw Adams shift back to his more familiar role on the wing, and he made the most of it with a try after just seven minutes.
Leicester fought back though, with George Ford slotting three conversions, a penalty and two drop goals in a 30-20 success.
On the subject of Welsh wingers, Louis Rees-Zammit continues to thrive with Gloucester, scoring a try and making another in comfortable win over Montpellier.
Elsewhere in the Challenge Cup, Zebre produced a brilliant performance to beat Stade Français on the road, running in four tries in a 29-24 victory.
Edoardo Padovani may not have got onto the scoresheet, but the Italy full-back made 110 metres with ball in hand and beat nine defenders in a fine counter-attacking display.