Ulster and Leinster lead the way

There were plenty of standout performances throughout the weekend as the BKT United Rugby Championship returned with a bang.

Ulster and Leinster both registered bonus-point victories, although the latter’s was far from routine, while Cardiff and Edinburgh also claimed impressive wins.

15. Stewart Moore (Ulster)

The full-back made 115 meters from 10 carries against Connacht, including three line breaks, and he was in the right place to take Luke Marshall’s pass and cross in the corner for Ulster’s bonus-point try.

Ulster have developed some excellent depth in their back three and Moore’s performance justified his selection in the Emerging Ireland squad.

14. Darcy Graham (Edinburgh)

Graham helped himself to two tries as Edinburgh demolished the Dragons by 38 points.

While Graham had his forwards to thank for his first try, the Scotland wing providing the finishing touch following a driving maul, his second was a piece of individual brilliance.

The 25-year-old picked up a loose ball from around 30 meters out and bamboozled a number of Dragons players with his footwork to clinch the try bonus point.

13. Rey Lee-Lo (Cardiff)

Lee-Lo outshone Munster debutant Malakai Fekitoa with a barnstorming midfield display at the Cardiff Arms Park.

The Samoan international popped up with some crucial moments in defense, winning two turnovers and shooting out of the line to deny Fekitoa any space, but it was his carrying and offloading qualities that really caught the eye as Dai Young’s men made a winning start.

Special mention to the returning Luke Marshall who bagged a try in Ulster’s win over Connacht.

12. Enrico Lucchin (Zebra)

Stuart McCloskey’s NBA-style offload to create Marshall’s try was worthy of any highlights reel, but Lucchin gets the nod for his excellent all-round display.

The 27-year-old had a hand in three of Zebre’s five tries, including a deft pass to put Franco Smith through for their fifth five-pointer with 11 minutes remaining, while his hard carrying and running lines caused Leinster plenty of problems.

11. Ignacio Mendy (Benetton)

The Argentina international crossed for two second-half tries as Benetton stunned Glasgow in the opening game of the new season.

Mendy scored a sublime first, weaving his way through three Warriors defenders to touch down, and he pounced on a loose ball to clinch a try bonus point in the final minute.

The 22-year-old made 59 meters with the ball in hand and beat five defenders.

10. Sam Costelow (Scarlets)

Costelow took center stage in an incident-packed Welsh derby, scoring 18 points against the Ospreys including a brilliant solo try.

The out-half was sin-binned for a dangerous clear-out on Justin Tipuric but he atoned for that in the second half to spark a Scarlets fightback at Parc y Scarlets – and grabbed the go-ahead try when he tore through a gap in a tiring defense.

The Ospreys had the final say as they snatched a last-gasp draw but Costelow’s performance will have caught the eye of Wayne Pivac. The 21-year-old had already been touted as a potential successor to Dan Biggar and could win his first senior cap in November.

9. Nathan Doak (Ulster)

The scrum-half produced another assured performance against Connacht, scoring 16 points and confidently guiding his team around the paddock.

Doak was involved in the lead-up to Luke Marshall and Stewart Moore’s tries while quick thinking saw him snipe over for Ulster’s third early in the second half.

The 20-year-old was on target with five of his six attempts from the tee and comfortably slotted in at out-half during the closing quarter.

1. Ed Byrne (Leinster)

Byrne’s display was among the highlights in a patchy Leinster performance in Zebre.

The Ireland prop had the measure of his opposite number at scrum time and provided an effective latch for Rhys Ruddock’s second try.

Byrne also had some nice moments in the loose, making a team-leading nine tackles, and produced a couple of deft offloads to keep his side on the front foot.

2. Tom Stewart (Ulster)

The hooker marked his first Ulster start with a try as he deservedly collected the man of the match award against Connacht.

Stewart twice caught Connacht napping when he broke from the back of mauls, scoring with the first and was inches away from another with the second.

Dan McFarland says the 21-year-old has a “high ceiling” and he will be out to impress during this month’s Emerging Ireland tour.

Stewart takes the No 2 shirt ahead of Kristian Dacey, who bagged a try in Cardiff’s win over Munster.

3. Marty Moore (Ulster)

Moore was in fine fettle in Saturday’s season opener, playing a key role in an Ulster scrum that took Connacht to the cleaners.

With Ireland looking to increase their front-row depth, could Moore force his way back into contention? It is over seven years since he won the last of his ten caps.

4. Federico Ruzza (Benetton)

The Benetton pack laid a platform which allowed the backs to cut loose against Glasgow, with Ruzza at the forefront.

The Italy international, who was named man of the match, played a key role in Benetton’s second try as they mauled their way over the line.

The Italian sides’ start to the season has caught everyone by surprise, especially Leinster, who host Benetton at the RDS on Friday.

5. Jason Jenkins (Leinster)

The South African enjoyed a promising debut with his new province and looked to have put Leinster on course for a comfortable victory when he barged over for the bonus-point try on 36 minutes.

Jenkins was an effective option at the lineout and it was his pass off the top that put Rhys Ruddock charging over for his first try. He departed after 53 minutes and would have nervously watched on as Leinster withstood a Zebra fightback.

6. Rhys Ruddock (Leinster)

Leinster skipper Ruddock crossed for two tries in five first-half minutes in Parma.

The flanker powered his way through a mass of Zebra bodies to score his side’s second try on 20 minutes, before then burrowing over from close range while the hosts were down to 14 men.

Zebre threatened a stunning comeback in the second half as Leinster tired but Ruddock continued to pop up with some big moments in defense to ensure they made a winning start.

7. Marcel Coetzee (Bulls)

The former Ulster back row scored a try and created another while also chipping in 16 tackles as last year’s finalists claimed a convincing win over their close rivals.

Coetzee opened the scoring at Ellis Park in trademark fashion, taking a tap penalty and powering over from five meters.

While the try was brute force, Coetzee twice showed deft hands in the build-up to the Bulls’ second try, with his pass putting Cornal Hendricks over in the corner.

Coetzee edges out Thomas Young, who enjoyed a fine debut for Cardiff.

8. Taulupe Faletau (Cardiff)

Faletau produced a man-of-the-match performance on his Cardiff debut to help see off Munster.

The Wales No 8 was a box of tricks, from sublime offloads to inch-perfect grubbers – even his dummy lines created space for teammates.

Faletau and Rey Lee-Lo combined brilliantly as he hit the ground running on his return to Welsh club rugby. The outstanding performance of the opening weekend.

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