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

Will Scarlets, Exeter and Clermont Auvergne relinquish their crowns? Getty Images

It is now or never for many teams across European rugby's domestic competitions as teams battle it out for relegation and playoff positions in the Aviva Premiership, PRO14 and the French Top 14.

Who took the game by the scruff of the neck, who was pitiful in defeat and what were the biggest coaching and refereeing decisions that were made over the weekend? ESPN has it covered.

Player of the weekend

Prem (Sean Nevin): Sione Kalamafoni (Leicester Tigers vs. Bath). Leicester put in a thoroughly polished display at Twickenham against Bath, with the Tigers' No. 8 in particular causing chaos. Defensively sound, Kalamafoni also went over for two tries of his own that turned the game from a tight contest into a routine victory. Kalamafoni did the dirty work excellently, and by getting on the scoreboard himself, he ensured he was the difference maker at HQ.

PRO14 (Cillian O Conchuir): Rhys Patchell (Scarlets vs. Glasgow). The Welsh fly-half may have come in for some criticism during the Six Nations campaign as Wales faced an injury crisis, but Patchell has been in tremendous form, and with Leigh Halfpenny taking the kicking responsibilities it has allowed Patchell to play freely as the region look are in the hunt for Champions Cup and PRO14 honours. The leading player with metres made and two tries against Glasgow, including a brilliant spin around Ali Price that led to his first bodes well for Scarlets.

TOP 14 (James Harrington): Baptiste Serin (Bordeaux vs. Pau). He may have fallen down the scrum-half pecking order for France, but insouciant Gallic permashrug Baptiste Serin put on a one-man comeback show for old club boss Jacques Brunel in his ivory tower at Marcoussis. There were more stylish individual performances this weekend. This game, in miserable conditions, was not geared to high-style. There were higher scoring personal performances. This a low-scoring tension-fuelled affair. For that you needed calm, assured match-winning poise. And Serin delivered, scoring all Bordeaux's points to condemn Pau to just their second defeat in 2018.

Flop of the weekend

Prem: Northampton Saints: The lack of reaction from the Franklin's Gardens crowd said it all after Saracens ran in 48 points without reply in the second-half. There were no boos from the Saints supporters after an abject performance, just absolute apathy. It was a car-crash of a performance after the break with Alan Gaffney's men looking like a junior's side rather than a Premiership one. Northampton are extremely fortunate that London Irish have been so poor this season because otherwise, they could have found themselves sleepwalking into the Championship. The arrival of Chris Boyd cannot come soon enough.

PRO14: Cardiff Blues' travelling woes. After spending Wednesday night in a London hotel after their flight to Johannesburg was grounded, the Blues team then missed their connecting flight on Thursday evening to Bloemfontein. Just the 55 hours after setting out, they eventually arrived at their destination less than 24 hours before their clash with the Cheetahs and without their bags. For the battle for third place and the final PRO14 playoff spot,the game should have been put back until Sunday but as it happened, there was a couple of hours delay, the game went ahead on Saturday and Cardiff lost in the 88th minute to a penalty try.

TOP 14: Clermont. A week after what was left of their tattered campaign ended in Champions Cup quarterfinal defeat at home to Racing 92, Clermont shipped 50 points in the Top 14 for the third time since the season kicked off back in August. It was another week to forget in a nightmare season for the 2017 French champions as Stade Francais ran in five tries, and not even the fact that the remainder of the season is a dead-rubber can offer any form of mitigation.

Best coaching call

Prem: Steve Diamond (Sale vs. Wasps). After seeing Denny Solomona suspended for the rest of the regular season this week, Sale's week looked as though it was going to worsen as they went 17-0 down to Wasps midway through the first-half. Losing this game would have put Sale's hopes of making the playoffs in real jeopardy, Diamond readjusted his side brilliantly to get them back into this one. After this result, the likes of Newcastle will be looking over their shoulders.

PRO14: Kieran Crowley (Treviso vs. Dragons). Crowley has done a masterful job this season with the Italian side and with just two games to go -- Ulster have three -- they are just one point off the Irish Province in the Champions Cup playoff place. Despite an away game against Leinster to come, they finish against Zebre while Ulster face Glasgow, Ospreys and Munster.

Top 14: Pierre Mignoni (Brive vs. Lyon). A replacement scoring the match-winning try in the dying moments of the game, less than 20 minutes after coming on must give coaches a warm feeling. So when Baptiste Couilloud raced from the back of a scrum to touchdown next to the posts and keep Lyon in seventh place, just outside the play-off zone, coach Pierre Mignoni had to be feeling very cosy indeed... especially as the scrum-half's 59th-minute entrance coincided with a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the visitors, who were 25-13 behind when he joined the fray.

Biggest refereeing call

Prem: Wayne Barnes (Bath vs. Leicester). Leicester were destructive at the scrum, and Bath's stand in props simply couldn't cope as Ellis Genge and co absolutely battered them. However, this caused massive issues for Barnes, who had to reset scrums and penalise Bath left, right and centre. There was a point where Barnes needed to reset a scrum on Bath's five-metre line nine times. Something eventually had to give, and Barnes had little option in the end to send Shaun Knight, on only his second Premiership start of the season, to the bin after five scrimmaging offenses in a row -- and Victor Delmas was fortunate not to join him, too.

PRO 14: Mike Adamson (Cheetahs vs. Cardiff Blues). With so much on the line in South Africa, perhaps it might have been avoided having a South African TMO for the Cheetahs clash with Cardiff. Scottish referee Adamson looked set to award just a penalty as Alex Cuthbert knocked on while looking to intercept in the final minutes before TMO Johan Geeffe intervenes to look at the replay. Cuthbert sin-binned. Fifteen penalties conceded by Cardiff, some which left their players utterly bemused, and the last of which in the 88th minute that saw the Cheetahs awarded a penalty try and claim a bonus-point win.

Top 14: Alexandre Ruiz (Castres vs Toulouse). A strong wind howled from one end of the pitch to the other to ensure a strange game at Castres, which saw the hosts recover from 14-0 down after 22 minutes and 23-8 after playing 40 minutes into the wind to win 28-23. During those opening 22 minutes referee Alexandre Ruiz awarded Toulouse's Yoann Huget a try after ex-Castres lock Richie Gray charged down a Rory Kockott box kick at a breakdown on the home side's tryline. Problem was, as Huget dived over, it looked for all the world as if defender David Smith had got underneath him. Then a mass of bodies got in the way to block the view from one TV camera - but Ruiz and assistant referee Laurent Cardona agreed he had managed to touch down and awarded the try, deeming a conference call with the TMO unnecessary.

Storyline to keep an eye on...

Prem: Harlequins: The West Londoners are in complete disarray at the moment. Coming into this weekend, they had lost five of their six Premiership matches in 2018 -- but surely they would have seen London Irish's visit to the Stoop as a banker to get back on track. Yet, the side containing England internationals, Chris Robshaw, Danny Care, Mike Brown and Joe Marler slumped to a 35-5 defeat against a side likely to be playing Championship rugby next term. Something is clearly not right at Harlequins, and John Kingston's departure was confirmed on Monday despite a recent new contract. This season has been nowhere near good enough for a side with plenty of talent in their ranks, and his position became untenable.

PRO14: The Double. When last were three PRO14 sides in with a chance of winning the domestic title and the Champions Cup? With Munster, Scarlets and Leinster all looking like making the playoffs in the league now, the focus now for Leinster is to avoid having a quarterfinal while Scarlets and Munster could yet face each other in one. If they avoid each other, one of them could face Leinster in the semifinal.

Top 14: The end of the regular season is looming, which means it's time for mathematicians to start working on those permutations. And the race for the playoffs is the Top 14 rugby gift that keeps on giving. The relegation dogfight may now be effectively confined to which of Brive and Oyonnax is automatically relegated and which faces a last-chance saloon survival play-off, but at the positive end of the table, six teams are battling it out for one of four playoff places that are still very much up for grabs. And one of those six, Toulouse, is chasing another, Racing 92, for second and a much-needed rest week before the semifinals.