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European Champions Cup: 8 Players To Watch

The Champions Cup kicks off this weekend and every player will be itching to get into the action as the best of Europe starts their quest for the ultimate prize.

Blue Bulls

The Champions Cup kicks off this weekend and every player will be itching to get into the action as the best of Europe starts their quest for the ultimate prize. Bet Central brings you 8 players who could have a big say in proceedings.

Cameron Hanekom (Blue Bulls)

The Blue Bulls have been the better South African side in the URC this year and that has been down to a settled unit with good experience in the pack with the likes of Marcel Coetzee, and Nizaam Carr. The likes of Gerhard Steenkamp, and Elrigh Louw coming into their own and showing why they are on the fringes of Springbok selection, then there’s been the emergence of bruising youngster, Cameron Hanekom.

The 21-year-old has been in devastating form for the Bulls showing power on the carry that belies his young years. He’s been so good at 8thman that it looks like Louw has shifted to blindside flank for the foreseeable future. With Duane Vermuelen now retired, there is a huge incentive for the young 8th man to have a big season to get Rassie Erasmus’ attention.

Davit Niniashvili (Lyon)

Last season Lyon had one of the most exciting outside backs not only in the Top 14, but across Europe in its entirety with Ethan Dumortier, who went on to feature for France at the World Cup, and Davit Niniashvili. The duo was excellent, Niniashvili more so due to his tactical ability to add to his hot stepping and speed.

The Georgian international now comes into the European stage determined to make an even bigger impact. The 21-year-old will dazzle with his feet as he looks to help his team, Lyon, win Pool 1 in the Champions Cup.

Taulupe Faletau (Cardiff Rugby)

When all is said and done Taulupe Faletau will be mentioned amongst the greatest 8th man to play this game, if not for anything else, then for his level of consistency over his 14-year career as a professional rugby player. But 1st he needs to help Cardiff Rugby who are in a tough period in the URC to improve and play better.

In the 33-year-old Cardiff have a player who is more than good enough to inspire them to a turnaround in form. Expect to see relentless ball carrying, last-ditch tackles, and lineout mastery at the back to elevate the game of a team that desperately needs it. If any player has 1 more big European campaign in him, it’s Faletau.

Pita Ahki (Toulouse)

The presence of Santiago Chocobares in the Toulouse squad will leave the coaching staff with a selection headache when it comes to who plays between him and Pita Ahki at the inside centre for the French champions. The Tongan international has always been favoured on the big occasions and it’s safe to assume he will start as 1st choice 12.

Pita Ahki has been one of the unsung in a fluid Toulouse side over the years, he is finally getting more plaudits as he is one of the players that carries the team when the French players are on 6 Nations duty. It should be more of the same for a bustling centre that will be hoping this year they do better than losing semi-finalists in this competition.

Kyle Rowe (Glasgow Warriors)

Kyle Rowe has had a horrific year, he was sidelined with injury for almost a year after tearing his ACL meaning he could not fight for a spot in the Scotland World Cup squad. As if that wasn’t bad enough, his club London Irish was put in liquidation as the Gallagher Premiership lost yet another club. So this season is a season of some sort of redemption for Kyle Rowe.

Life in Glasgow had started well for the 25-year-old after he recently moved to Scotstoun. He is one of the players who will carry the team when the Scottish players go off to international duty. His pace and deception will be important for a team looking to play high-tempo rugby.

Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)

For once Northampton Saints don’t have to worry about club legend Courtney Lawes’ departure for England duty closer to the end of January. The 34-year-old blindside flanker called time on his Test career and is now solely focused on doing well with the Saints.

Courtney Lawes has exuded the rare ability of getting better with age over the years and as has been evident in the early rounds of the Premiership, he is set for another big season in the Saints’ back row. The lanky figure carrying with reckless abandon and throwing himself into tackles with his impressive athleticism – not to mention those all-important breakdown interventions – will be present all season for the Saints and it will surely push them forward as a team. 

Ryan Baird (Leinster)

Like Lawes, this 24-year-old is a versatile utility forward capable of doing just about everything required of a loose forward as well as a lock. Ryan Baird’s value as a player continues to grow season after season.

It’s his efficiency that you can’t look past. When needed at the lineout he obliges, when it comes to bruising carrying through a tight defence he’s at the forefront, when the pressure is being piled on in heaps, he can come up with the pressure reliever. Baird is all these things and more and while for now he may come off the bench due to Leinster’s quality in the pack, rest assured even from there he will do well.  

Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu (Stormers)

Of all the young talents in South Africa, Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu is arguably the most exciting of all of them and he is expected to have another influential season with the Stormers as they continue to grow into a team that can challenge for continental silverware.

With a lot of Test players coming off long seasons, the presence of dynamic youngsters like Feinberg-Mngomezulu will be that much more important with the load management of Manie Libbok and Damian Willemse. The flyhalf-cum-centre is currently injured, but when he does return expect his kicking game, lovely distribution, and eye for a gap to cause plenty of problems for the opposition.

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