As clubs from the Guinness PRO12 look to continue their strong form in European competition, Peter Jackson has selected his All-Star XV based upon performances so far this season.
The Guinness PRO12 form XV:
15 Simon Zebo (Munster and Ireland):
The first in the professional era to score 50 tries for Munster but then the Cork flier has usually been ahead of the game.
It was he, remember, who created the ‘scorpion kick’, for Ireland against Wales almost four years ago – long before a couple of Premier League strikers got round to doing the same thing.
Stuart Hogg at Glasgow Warriors and Ospreys’ Dan Evans would be equally at home in this form team but Zebo’s instinct nearly the try-line seals his place.
14 Tommy Seymour (Warriors and Scotland):
Appropriately for a native of Nashville, he’s hardly missed a trick to bring his version of the Grand Ole ‘Opry to Scotstoun and Murrayfield.
— PRO12RUGBY (@PRO12rugby) September 11, 2016
Other wings, notably Ospreys’ teenager Keelan Giles and Munster’s Darren Sweetnam, have made a real impact but the Tennessee Scot gets the nod.
13 Garry Ringrose (Leinster and Ireland):
Still only 21 but wasting no time filling the potential of his schoolboy days. Other centres have stood up to be counted, amongst them Stuart McCloskey (Ulster), Mark Bennett, Alex Dunbar (both Warriors), Josh Matavesi (Ospreys) and Scott Williams (Scarlets) but there can be no denying the stylish Dubliner his place.
— PRO12RUGBY (@PRO12rugby) April 2, 2016
12 Jaco Taute (Munster):
By extending the South African’s contract for the remainder of the season, Munster have enhanced their prospects of getting to their first European finale for nine years.
Normally a block-busting presence in the outside channel, he’s deployed at 12 because he simply had to be in this team.
The most powerful midfield presence in the Guinness PRO12, he’s already scored three tries in the Champions’ Cup, including one against the Warriors.
11 Steffan Evans (Scarlets):
Another young three-quarter rapidly making a name for himself. Has been busy making tries as well as scoring them, enough to put him in marginally ahead of the accomplished Keith Earls and the 22-year-old Dragon, Ashton Hewitt.
10 Finn Russell (Warriors and Scotland):
A class act with all the attributes to justify comparison with such revered Scottish fly halves as John Rutherford and Warriors’ head coach, Gregor Townsend.
— PRO12RUGBY (@PRO12rugby) December 29, 2016
There are some stand-out young talents wearing the No. 10 jersey in the Guinness PRO12, including Leinster’s Joey Carberry and Zebre Rugby’s Carlo Canna, but the fact that Russell gets the vote ahead of Tyler Bleyendaal (Munster), Paddy Jackson (Ulster) and Sam Davies (Ospreys) is a glowing tribute to how far he’s come in a short time.
9 Conor Murray (Munster and Ireland):
No shortage of competition but Munster’s man for all seasons has climbed into a class all by himself, not just in a Guinness PRO12 context but in the wider sense of the Northern Hemipshere. The Lions will already have made due note.
1 Gordon Reid (Glasgow Warriors and Scotland):
Deserves to be far more than an unsung practitioner of the front row. Has yet to start for Scotland this season but has proved himself a cornerstone of the Warriors’ quest to break new ground in the Champions’ Cup.
2 Ken Owens (Scarlets and Wales):
As competitive a position as any, what with Rory Best (Ulster), Niall Scannell (Munster), Sean Cronin (Leinster), Pat MacArthur (Glasgow Warriors), Tom McCartney (Connacht) and others. Owens squeezing in ahead of them says everything about his rising status.
3 Tadhg Furlong (Leinster and Ireland):
Probably the best young tighthead in the game. Already Ireland’s first choice, he’s hotly being tipped to be the best of British and Irish for the Lions in New Zealand this summer. And all that at the tender age of 24.
4 Jonny Gray (Warriors and Scotland):
Another formidable obstacle standing between Munster this weekend and guaranteed access to the Champions’ Cup knock-out stage.
If he’s this good at 22, imagine what he will be like when he reaches his peak. If it weren’t for his stellar consistency then perhaps someone like Jake Ball of Scarlets, Marco Fuser of Benetton Rugby Treviso or teammate Tim Swinson might have had a shot at this shirt.
5 Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys and Wales):
Rarely puts in a performance any lower than colossal for region and country. A Wales and Lions captaincy contender, he will settle for nothing less than finishing the domestic seasons in a third Guinness PRO12 final.
6 CJ Stander (Munster and Ireland):
No explanation necessary. Apart from the All Blacks’ Part Two and the return at Leicester, he’s hardly been on a losing side all season.
His house is bursting with man-of-the-match awards and not even the emergence of Edinburgh’s Magnus Bradbury could keep him from this team. Simply terrific.
7 Justin Tipuric (Ospreys and Wales):
Multi-dimensional openside flanker whose skills have helped produce a veritable landslide of tries for the Ospreys. Serious competition from Josh van der Flier, Sean O’Brien, Sam Warburton and the uncapped Scarlet Will Boyde will keep him on his toes.
8 Dan Baker (Ospreys and Wales):
Didn’t get a look-in with Wales during the autumn but has since reached a high level of consistency with the current Guinness PRO12 leaders.
Jamie Heaslip’s block-busting form for Leinster, Connacht’s evergreen John Muldoon and Dries van Schalkwyk of Zebre made this the closest of calls.
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