November 9, 2011
Former All Blacks flyer Sitiveni Sivivatu will hope to make up for his World Cup heartbreak by producing the goods for Clermont Auvergne © Getty Images
John Afoa Vasily Artemyev Luke Burgess Stephen Donald Maurie Fa'asavalu Kahn Fotuali'i Sitiveni Sivivatu
Australia Bath Rugby Clermont Auvergne Harlequins New Zealand Northampton Saints Ospreys Toulouse Ulster
Europe's premier club tournament returns to centre stage on Friday with the start of this season's Heineken Cup.
With a host of internationals returning to their clubs following the 2011 Rugby World Cup, a host of World Cup winners, Russian flyers and Samoan rugby league converts will be gracing the tournament - it's all here in this week's Scrum Sevens.
John Afoa (Ulster)
The New Zealand prop was part of the All Blacks squad which won their first World Cup title in 24 years last month and in a boost for the Ravenhill-based province he has arrived sooner than previously agreed. With Ulster facing injury worries in their front-row ranks, the 36-cap Kiwi answered an SOS and started against Connacht last weekend. His Heineken Cup baptism of fire is set to come against Clermont Auvergne on Saturday and coach Brian McLaughlin will hope he can nullify the likes of French international Thomas Domingo and Georgia's David Zirakashvili.
Ulster, however, will have to do without the 28-year-old for their second round clash with Leicester at Welford Road as he is to return back to the Antipodes to be best man at fellow World Cup winner Jerome Kaino's wedding. But the Kiwi prop will hope to fill BJ Botha's shoes throughout the campaign as they look to build on last year's quarter-final finish. And with a side possessing Stephen Ferris, Ruan Pienaar and Andrew Trimble, there's no reason why Afoa cannot add to the honours on his mantle piece come May.
Vasily Artemyev (Northampton Saints)
The Russian winger impressed for the national side during the 2011 World Cup and arrived at Franklin's Gardens with a growing reputation as a competent finisher. And he lived up to expectation on his first-team debut scoring a hat-trick against Saracens in the Anglo-Welsh Cup last month. This was followed by a score against the Ospreys a week later and a brace in their clash with the Newcastle Falcons on his Premiership debut.
The winger has turned out for Leinster's youth sides and University College Dublin in the past and sports a bizarre accent that blends both his Irish and Russian roots. He already appears to have found a seamless chemistry with fellow wing Chris Ashton and they look set to terrorise Europe's best starting with Munster on Saturday.
Luke Burgess (Toulouse)
The Australian scrum-half has played in the shadow of Will Genia at international level for the past couple of seasons but on his day can mix it with the best half-backs in the world. The 28-year-old was an injury doubt going into the recent World Cup after suffering a fractured hand but recovered in time to shine for the Wallabies starting against Russia and coming off the bench in their clashes with Italy, USA and their bronze final with Wales.
Toulouse have recruited numerous stars over the close-season with Luke McAlister, Gurthro Steenkamp - who has already quite literally made his impact in the Top 14 and Lionel Beauxis all journeying to the south of France. Burgess' place is by no means a certainty in the side with French international Jean-Marc Doussain, who will miss the clash with Gloucester on Sunday, and Pumas half-back Nicolas Vergallo also vying for the scrum-half spot. But, if given his chance, Burgess looks set to light up the tournament.
Stephen Donald (Bath Rugby)
The much maligned All Blacks fly-half produced the goods on the biggest of stages as he kicked what proved to be the World Cup-winning penalty for the All Blacks in his first game of the tournament. The former Chiefs fly-half was fourth choice going into the tournament but injuries to Dan Carter, Colin Slade and Aaron Cruden saw the 27-year-old get his chance.
He moves to Bath having secured himself a place in All Blacks history and he will look to build a new chapter in his rugby career having been one of the most consistent performers in Super Rugby over the last few years. Vying with Sam Vesty for the fly-half spot and following in the footsteps of fellow World Cup winner Butch James, Donald will be under pressure to ignite a Bath back line that has failed to produce the goods on the European stage in recent years. Though with scrum-half Michael Claassens alongside him and a potential centre partnership of Olly Barkley and Matt Banahan, Donald has a potent arsenal at his disposal if he can get on the front foot in a Pool consisting of Top 14 runners-up Montpellier and reigning Heineken Cup champions Leinster.
Maurie Fa'asavalu (Harlequins)
The Samoan back-rower was one of the standout performers in the World Cup for an Islanders side who came within a whisker of shocking South Africa. The blindside turned out for Samoa in the 2003 World Cup before making the switch to rugby league and St Helens in 2003. However, in 2010 he opted to move back cross-code and joined the Twickenham Stoop side where he excelled under the guidance of Conor O'Shea.
Although he has a host of appearances for Quins under his belt, he is yet to appear in the Heineken Cup having played in the victorious Amlin Challenge Cup campaign last term for O'Shea's side. This is also the same for promising young prop Joe Marler who will also hope to make his impact on Europe's biggest stage in his debut season in the Heineken Cup. With the likes of Chris Robshaw and Nick Easter in the back-row alongside the Samoan international, they will certainly prove to be a test for even the most battle hardened of forward packs.
Kahn Fotuali'i (Ospreys)
The Samoan lit up with the World Cup and was ESPNscrum's choice for scrum-half of the tournament. And Fotuali'i will hope to make a name for himself in the Northern Hemisphere having already excelled in Super Rugby for the Crusaders. The 29-year-old kept All Blacks half-back Andy Ellis out of the starting line-up for much of last season and after a hugely impressive World Cup, looks set to showcase his range of skills on Europe's biggest stage.
The nine-cap Samoan only took his bow for the international side in October 2010 but having been given man-of-the-match on his Ospreys debut in their 9-9 draw with the Scarlets, he has already made his impact at the Liberty Stadium and banished the ghosts of former No.9 Mike Phillips. With Biarritz in Pool Five, Fotuali'i is likely to face French scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili at some stage in the tournament which should be a mouth-watering match-up.
Sitiveni Sivivatu (Clermont Auvergne)
The former All Blacks winger is one of the most potent attacking talents in the world on his day and will be smarting from being left out of what turned out to be a victorious campaign for the Kiwis in the 2011 World Cup. The Fijian-born flyer endured a torrid season last term missing New Zealand's Grand Slam winning tour in the autumn of 2010 but impressed in the 2011 Super Rugby season and looked set for a spot in the final 30-man squad for the showpiece tournament. But Graham Henry had other ideas and left out the much fancied 29-year-old along with fellow speedster Hosea Gear.
And supporters of Clermont will look hope Sivivatu rolls back the years in their famous yellow strip - once his visa issues are sorted - and produces try-scoring form which saw him become a favourite for the Waikato Chiefs. Sivivatu will feature in a back division that also incorporates Welsh fullback Lee Byrne and former Scarlets centre Regan King so expect them to shine if the forward pack provides them with a firm platform.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.