The players foreign teams cannot do without in the Champions Cup

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La Rochelle – Gregory Aldritt

What a number eight this man is. Has developed over the years, working closely with Victor Vito and learning from Ronan O’Gara, one of the great brains of European rugby. His body has filled out to add a physical threat to his game that all number eights need at the highest level. To be rock solid at the base of the scrum, to be secure under restarts, to be a short-yardage merchant.

Tawera Kerr-Barlow at nine gets the team playing at a lung busting tempo. The ball-in-play time with these guys is pushing new levels. And in among that madness you need a player who can take control of the ball, sweep up, tidy loose ends, pick up scraps and allow the team and the nine and 10 to press the reset button. When it is good to go, and the tempo lifts again. Aldritt can shift from the king of the basics to a player that will run a cute angle, not looking to go 60m, no pace for that, but to bend the gain line, to stretch it to breaking point and then offload to another willing support runner that La Rochelle never lack.

In the build up to the game-winning try against Glasgow, scored by Eneriko Buliruarua, Aldritt touched the ball four times in 20 seconds, recycling himself back in to play in dangerous positions and wanting to get his hands on the ball. A class act.

Leinster – Andrew Porter

The beauty of being immersed in rugby – and, since the age of five, I have been deeper than the San Andreas Fault in it – is watching the game you love change and evolve. Top of my list, though, is watching players themselves change. Developing into something that was not clearly obvious when they first burst onto the scene.

Porter is just such a character. Porter started on the loosehead. Moved to tighthead, found himself in the Ireland squad but playing second fiddle to Tadgh Furlong and before reverting back to his original position of loosehead over the last 18 months. 

I had only really known him as a useful tighthead. A big lump. I had bracketed him as a player who didn’t contribute huge amounts in the loose at three. The fitness he has achieved, the body shape change, the dynamism he has found as he reverted back to a position that is often marginally smaller than the tighthead has seen him relaunch his career in stunning fashion. Clearly he has always been an outstanding scrummager but now in his list of attributes is a marauding loosehead, doing damage all over the park.

Carrying well, offloading, contributing enormously to defensive shifts and winning turnovers. Against Bath it was like watching a different player with the same name in December. I love watching this transformation in players. To change style, body shape. It is hard enough to get to the top once; to unlearn so much of what you relied on and to reinvent yourself demands great admiration.

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