Seven players to keep your eyes peeled for during the Champions Cup 7 years ago

Seven players to keep your eyes peeled for during the Champions Cup

The 2015/16 Champions Cup kicks off this weekend with three Irish provinces in action.

Hot on the heels of the World Cup, Europe's premier club competition is barely giving us time to draw breath after the global extravaganza.


European rugby did not fare brilliantly at RWC2015 but the looming tournament can be its redemption, with five competitive pools jammed with some of the best talent in world rugby.

Here are seven players we will be keeping a close eye on during the quest to reach the final in Grand Stade de Lyon next May. Forgive us for the mainly backline obsession and for not just selecting seven Toulon players.

CJ Stander (Munster)

We would not be surprised if this lad showed up in the front row next.


Munster's stand-in captain brings pace, aggression and an innate ability to be in the right place - or get stuck in there - at the right time. That means tries, support runs, ruck-clearing, tackles and the odd drop goal block.

Capable of 80-metre breakaway tries, side-steps and grizzly fend-offs, he is not afraid to plunge in when the situation demands. Went from slow burner to barn burner in the space of 18 months.

Quade Cooper (Toulon)


Australia Media Access

Did not get as much of a chance to shine as he may have liked during the World Cup, but few could argue that Bernard Foley deserved the Australian 10 jersey.

Mercurial doesn't half sum up the Auckland-born Aussie. One of the few players performing on a world stage that cannot be boxed in when he is on form.

It remains to be seen how much time he will get for the European champions in Europe - he will be released for Sevens duty a few times - but if he can produce some of this magic from the Montpellier league game, we are all in for a treat.


Mako Vunipola (Saracens)

The Tongan-born England international had a World Cup to forget but the Champions Cup is his playground.

Vunipola has been a sensation for Sarries in the last three seasons as they knocked on the door of European success.

Will inevitably deliver a couple of line breaks, a clatter of offloads and metres and metres of gained metres. Swatted Munster aside at Allianz Park last season, ans should pose similar problems for Ulster, Toulouse and Oyonnax.


Finn Russell (Glasgow Warriors)

Australia v Scotland - Quarter Final: Rugby World Cup 2015

This lad is already delivering on his early promise, for club and country.

Was central to Glasgow Warriors winning the Guinness PRO12 last season and took that form into the World Cup. A dynamic attacker with ball-in-hand and a canny operator when it comes to tactical kicking.

Ceded the goal-kicking to Greig Laidlaw for most of Scotland's World Cup but is more than capable in that department. Aged only 23, he will be a face Irish fans will have to get well used to.

Having claimed a first PRO12 title, the Warriors were a little unfortunate as top seeds to land such a tough pool, but there are no easy pools in the Champions Cup. So this season it is Racing 92, Scarlets and Northampton lying in wait for the Scots. Russell and his teammates are about to have some serious questions asked of them.

Garry Ringrose (Leinster)

Garry Ringrose and Hadleigh Parkes 6/11/2015

All of Ireland has high hopes for this lad.

Many have worn that Leinster 13 jersey in the past but most have paled in comparison to Brian O'Driscoll. Ringrose is as promising a prospect as we have seen since Luke Fitzgerald burst on the scene.

Ringrose has started the season in fine form for Leo Cullen's men - playing outside centre and left wing. Allied to that is his Junior World Championship performances, in 2014 and 2015, and the high praise of every coach he has worked under.

He has pace, of course [he's a young back], but an awareness of the match situation and the ability to think a couple of plays ahead marks him out. He has shown impressive strength and willingness at the breakdown too.

Five games into his professional career and a lofty limit. It will be interesting to see how steady he feels on the next plateau of European rugby.

Gael Fickou (Toulouse)

Munster v Toulouse - Heineken Cup Quarter Final

Typical of the French side, at the World Cup Fickou was a peripheral figure.

Fickou has serious afterburners and has successfully added some muscle to his frame in the last 12 months, without diluting one of his greatest assets.

Did not kick on, internationally speaking, after his excellent start for France - he got the winning try against England in 2014 - but life may be rosier under new France coach Guy Noves, who shaped Fickou's career at Toulouse.

He has returned to Top 14 in style, scoring four tries in two games. Ran in a double against Grenoble last weekend and was a nuisance throughout a snug home win.

Stuart McCloskey (Ulster)

Still shy of 30 senior appearances but an undoubted talent that will make the Test breakthrough if he can stay injury free.

McCloskey came to the fore last season with a strong finish, having taken his chance during the Test windows.

Possesses a decent turn of pace for a big man and his Ulster tries have been a mix of power, intelligent support lines and sheer determination.