ESPN's European rugby review: Player of the weekend, flop & more

The first portion of continental competition has wrapped up and contenders in both the Champions and Challenge Cups have already started to emerge. This past weekend saw a host of fine performances across both tournaments as several sides strengthened their hopes of knockout rugby, while the likes of Glasgow and Stade Francais were left to ponder putting all their eggs back into their domestic basket.

But who caught the eye, who had a game to forget, and what will we all be talking about ahead of the next round of fixtures?

Player of the weekend

Champions Cup (Martyn Thomas): Don Armand (Exeter). With Eddie Jones naming his England squad for the autumn internationals Thursday, this was a timely reminder of the back row's quality. Armand's two tries were reward for his quick thinking, the second almost catching referee John Lacey off guard, while he was a constant menace at the breakdown and put in 13 tackles in defence as Exeter pulled off an impressive victory against Montpellier. Nemani Nadolo, Ellis Genge and Charlie Cassang were also excellent.

Challenge Cup (James Harrington): Toby Flood (Newcastle Falcons). The veteran fly-half was the architect of the Falcons' second-half fightback at Bordeaux. Dean Richards' side were 17-7 down at the break, but Flood scored a try and landed two conversions in the second period at Stade Chaban-Delmas as the Aviva Premiership side won the second half 14-3 to take the match -- and the points. Honourable mention, too, should go to London Irish captain Topsy Ojo, who touched down twice to celebrate his record-breaking 281st outing for the Exiles.

Flop of the weekend

Champions Cup: Castres. That the Frenchmen came away from Welford Road with a try-scoring bonus point says something for their resilience, but for an hour in Leicester they might as well have not turned up. The Tigers cut holes in their defensive line at will, and could have scored more than their seven tries had they not taken off the wrecking ball that is Ellis Genge after 63 minutes. Following their opening draw against Munster, the Top 14 side have it all to do in a tight Pool 4.

Challenge Cup: Stade Francais. Competition was strong for this 'accolade', with Toulouse dismal against the Blues, and Sale conceding 17 points in the final 13 minutes to lose against Lyon. But the defending champions' international-packed side were outclassed by London Irish. A sucker-punch brace inside the first eight minutes softened them up, and two more solid hits before halftime had Stade reeling. Irish then finished them off in style with a three-try combo in the final seven. Their grip on the trophy is slipping.

Best coaching call

Champions Cup: The Wasps back row attacked Harlequins at the breakdown at the Ricoh Arena, and set the tone for a long overdue victory for Dai Young's men. Nathan Hughes was excellent from start to finish -- making 78 metres with ball in hand and providing a try assist -- but is was their ferocity over the ball that unsettled their visitors. Hughes, James Haskell and Thomas Young put in a combined 35 tackles as they forced turnover after turnover. Quins weren't allowed to find their rhythm.

Challenge Cup: Simon Mannix should try to bottle whatever it was he said to his Pau side at half time in their Pool 3 match at Zebre. They were 30-7 down and staring defeat right in the eye following an inspired first 40 from their hosts at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi. We'll probably never know whether what followed in the changing room was an epic speech or 15 minutes of hairdryer moments. Whatever it was, it worked. Pau came out like scalded cats. Forty minutes and four second-half tries -- including two penalty tries in five minutes -- later, they headed home 38-33 winners.

Biggest refereeing call

Champions Cup: Ben Whitehouse (Clermont vs. Northampton). The referee, 27, looked lost at times at the Stade Marcel Michelin as a chaotic match played out around him. Whitehouse disallowed a seemingly legitimate Saints try and awarded one for the visitors that he probably shouldn't, while debate over Dylan Hartley's yellow card has raged on. But the biggest controversy surrounded Morgan Parra's apparent concussion. If he deemed the scrum-half to have lost consciousness then he should not have allowed him to come back on.

Challenge Cup: Vlad Iordescu (Stade Francais vs London Irish). Not a call but -- on a weekend in which UK and Ireland-based referees in charge of matches involving French sides were criticised for speaking only English -- it is worth mentioning Iordescu. The Romanian was competent, calm and in control in three languages at Stade Jean-Bouin. His assistants were also from Romania, but he mostly spoke near-perfect English during the game and dipped into more-than passable French when the occasion demanded. He even coped with the Scottish brogue of his TMO in his earpiece.

Storyline to keep an eye on...

Champions Cup: Another week, another set of serious injuries, but while Camille Lopez's leg fracture can be chalked up as a freak accident, Francis Saili's departure on a stretcher more than 24 hours later could have been avoided. The one-time All Blacks centre simply got himself in a terrible position when tackling Joe Launchbury. It is an awful break for a player who's been restricted to just two appearances since he swapped Munster for Harlequins, but highlighted that welfare starts with the players themselves. Tackling is a skill that should not be taken for granted.

Challenge Cup: It is impossible to ignore the newfound form of the PRO14 sides from Italy any longer. In the Champions Cup, Treviso gave a star-studded Toulon a scare and three-quarters, while Zebre -- for all that they let a big lead slip against Pau this weekend -- are offering ever-increasing value for money. It has taken far too long, but after years of criticism and questions over whether Italian sides even deserve a place at European rugby's top table, this may finally be the season that they can give us a positive answer.