British & Irish Lions
Lions Watch: Team of the Week
ESPN Staff
October 15, 2012
Cardiff Blues' Alex Cuthbert goes over against Sale, Sale Sharks v Cardiff Blues, Heineken Cup, Salford City Stadium, England, October 14, 2012
Cardiff Blues' Alex Cuthbert goes over against Sale © PA Photos

The start of the Heineken Cup saw the battle for a place on the British & Irish Lions' tour to Australia intensify with the battles between Europe's best set to be a key proving ground in the coming months.

As we all tick off the days until the team depart Down Under, ESPNscrum will cast an eye across the action and pinpoint those players eligible for the elite tourists who are pushing their selection claims with strong performances. Lions coach Warren Gatland has revealed that he is prepared to cast the selection net beyond international rugby so expect competition to be fierce.

There is a lot of rugby to be played until the squad board the plane for Hong Kong and plenty of time for hopes to rise and fall with many international stars yet to return to the domestic fray but the excitement is already building.

15. Lee Byrne (Clermont Auvergne)

Leigh Halfpenny appears to have the Welsh fullback spot nailed down but previous Lions tourist Byrne was in superb form against the Scarlets on Saturday. He bagged one of Clermont's six tries and was solid under the high ball.

14. Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues)

The Welsh winger ran Sale ragged grabbing a hat-trick at the Salford City Stadium. The first of his three scores came thanks to a good break from Jamie Roberts but the second try was all Cuthbert with the Blues flyer scoring a brilliant solo effort just three minutes later. And he completed his hat-trick before the 40 minute mark darting through the Sale tacklers to dot the ball down.

13. Jonathan Davies (Scarlets)

Although Clermont hammered the Scarlets, Davies was the Welsh region's standout player. He scored their sole try of the game and in a match that was heavily stacked against the Scarlets following Morgan Stoddart's 37th minute red card, Davies' performance would have given Simon Easterby some heart.

12. Olly Barkley (Racing Metro)

In his first start for Racing, Barkley knocked over 14 points and constantly pinned Munster back with accurate kicking from hand.

11. Eli Walker (Ospreys)

The 20-year-old winger crossed for an impressive solo effort against Treviso on Friday evening and always made yards with ball in hand. With the likes of Shane Williams and Tommy Bowe departing for pastures new, Walker has the opportunity to make the Liberty Stadium his own.

10. Charlie Hodgson (Saracens)

The Aviva Premiership's in-form fly-half destroyed Edinburgh on Saturday. He contributed 25 points to their 45-point haul and also crossed for one of their five tries.

9. Paul Marshall (Ulster)

Marshall has taken full advantage of Ruan Pienaar's spell away with the Springboks and was the catalyst behind Ulster's impressive showing against Castres. He grabbed their second try thanks to a great chip and chase move.

Exeter's Tom Hayes takes the lineout, Leinster v Exeter Chiefs, Heineken Cup, RDS, Dublin, Ireland, October 13, 2012
Exeter's Tom Hayes plucks the lineout against Leinster © Getty Images

1. Joe Marler (Harlequins)

The prop turned in a performance far beyond his tender years against Biarritz and proved to be a constant thorn in Francisco Gomez Kodela's side. Alongside Rob Buchanan, the Quins front-row had a youthful feel but it did not show against the Top 14 giants.

2. Richard Hibbard (Ospreys)

The Ospreys dominated the scrum against Treviso and also excelled in the loose. Expect to see him featuring prominently for Wales during the November Tests.

3. Mike Ross (Leinster)

It was a poor performance by Leinster's high standards against Exeter but Mike Ross had the edge on the Chiefs front-row throughout. He was probably their standout performer.

4. Tom Hayes (Exeter Chiefs)

Exeter took their Heineken Cup bow against Leinster and although they fell to a defeat, they caused the back-to-back European champions some real headaches and can feel aggrieved at only having a losing bonus point to their name. Hayes led from the front throughout, was superb in the set-piece and can be pleased with his showing.

5. Steve Borthwick (Saracens)

Although out of the England picture, Borthwick is still one of the most consistent operators in the Premiership. He was masterful at the lineout against Edinburgh and was handed the man of the match award.

6. Iain Henderson (Ulster)

In just his fourth senior appearance for Ulster, Henderson nullified the sizeable threats present in the Castres back-row. The Lions will come too soon for the 20-year-old but he could pull on the green of Ireland sooner rather than later.

7. Tom Wood (Northampton Saints)

The Saints openside will surely have impressed the watching England coaches Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree with a typically industrious display. He racked up plenty of yards with ball in hand and was a formidable presence in the lineout and the loose.

8. Nick Easter (Harlequins)

Easter continues to roll back the years for Harlequins and was handed the man of the match award against Biarritz on Saturday evening. He had the rub of the green all game against the French back-row and continues to makes noise regarding an England recall.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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