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

Racing 92's Maxime Machenaud the stand-out player for the team this season. Rachel Holborn - CameraSport via Getty Images

After a weekend of rugby that required all your fingers, toes and a calculator, the quarterfinal line-ups in both the Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup have been finalised.

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But who caught the eye? Who disappointed and what are the big talking points as we reach the knockout stages?

Player of the weekend

Champions Cup (Cillian O Conchuir): Maxime Machenaud (Racing 92): Many scoffed at the selection of Machenaud over Baptiste Serin for France's upcoming Six Nations campaign. But the scrum-half showed his class against Leicester as he almost single-handedly carried the Parisiens to a quarterfinal clash with Clermont. A first-half try, two conversions and three penalties helped them to victory.

Challenge Cup (James Harrington): Sekou Macalou (Stade Francais). Forget, for now, the long-awaited try-scoring return of Sergio Parisse. While the Italian legend sealed a vital victory with a storybook try, it was Macalou, 22, who did most to ensure the defending champions reached the last eight, where they will face Top 14 rivals Pau. The tireless Macalou was everywhere, doing everything, for 80 high-pressure minutes on a rain-sodden, strength-sapping swamp that passed for a pitch at Stade Jean-Bouin. Hat-tips, too, for Newcastle's Adam Radwan and Connacht's Niyi Adeolokun, who both scored hat tricks in their respective matches.

Flop of the weekend

Champions Cup: Castres. You would be hard-picked to find a team that has flattered to deceive in the Champions Cup more than Castres. Their performance against Munster mirrored what they have shown in the competition for over a decade. Once Munster got the upper hand, they lost interest, their penalty count sky-rocketed and their minds were firmly set on their return flight to France and the Top 14.

Challenge Cup: Gloucester. It may seem harsh to label a quarterfinalist as a flop but the fact is the Cherry and Whites made a mess of their last pool match, at home to Pau, where they failed miserably to secure a home tie in the last eight. Referee John Lacey had already denied Pau one try and the Kingsholm faithful were worried when Richard Hibbard messed up a lineout 5 metres from his own line shortly before halftime -- gifting the simplest of tries to Steffon Armitage. Things didn't get better for Gloucester for the rest of the evening.

Best coaching call

Champions Cup: Mark McCall. The freedom with which Saracens tore Northampton Saints apart was reminiscent of the Sarries team that won back-to-back Champions Cup trophies. They needed a helping hand from other teams, but McCall inspired his team and they replied with a sensational showing. Leinster could never have imagined their reward for being top seeds would be a tie with the European kingpins.

Challenge Cup: Recalling a fit-again Sergio Parisse to the matchday squad against Edinburgh was never a difficult decision -- especially for a big, must-win match. Tempting though it must have been to throw the legendary No. 8 straight into the action, head coach Greg Cooper, in his penultimate match in charge before he returns to New Zealand, decided to keep him on the bench before perfectly timing Parisse's entrance into the fray. The Italian captain replaced Matthieu Ugena to huge cheers in the 49th minute of a game that was very much in the balance. Thirteen minutes later, he battled his way to the line for the try that gave the defending champions a vital safety net and ensured they were able to sneak into the last eight. It could not have been better scripted.

Biggest refereeing call

Champions Cup: Wayne Barnes (Scarlets vs. Toulon). The focus should have been on a sensational battle between the two teams, vying for qualification for the last eight. Instead, Barnes took centre stage, and although telling Toulon centre Ma'a Nonu: "Let's make it really clear: you come and ask for a yellow card, you get one. Understand?", he kept his cards firmly in his pocket despite continuous infringements at the breakdown. The home crowd's chants of "cheat, cheat, cheat" may have been silenced had he taken a more firm approach.

Challenge Cup: Daniel Jones (Brive vs Worcester Warriors). Calling off a crucial match between two sides with genuine qualification ambitions due to a waterlogged pitch was a big decision -- but it was the right one. After many hours of torrential rain, and despite the best efforts of ground staff, Stade Amedee Domenech was under water. Six hours later and half-an-hour up the road in Tulle, the game kicked off in front of 800 hardy and dedicated fans. Brive adapted better to still-difficult conditions to record a bonus-point 33-7 win, and results elsewhere saw them book a quarterfinal trip to Newcastle.

Storyline to keep an eye on...

Champions Cup: The battle of former European champions against the pretenders is what awaits in the semifinals. Three-time champions Leinster face back-to-back champions Saracens while double champions Munster welcome three-time champions, in succession, Toulon in the quarters. The Irish provinces have been impressive, while Saracens and Toulon fell over the qualification line. On the other side of the draw are four teams who have never tasted Champions Cup success. It sets up mouthwatering semifinal prospects, with winner of Leinster/Saracens set to battle Scarlets or La Rochelle and Munster/Toulon facing off against Clermont Auvergne or Racing.

Challenge Cup: Newcastle and Gloucester carry the Challenge Cup flag for the English top-flight into the quarterfinals, but -- as with the Champions Cup -- the decline and fall of the Premiership empire is sure to dominate conversation. Five tournaments ago, admittedly when European rugby's second-tier tournament had a slightly different format, the English top flight supplied five of the eight quarterfinalists. For the two tournaments that followed, that figure was four. This year, like 2016/17, the Premiership is represented by just two sides. The question, for English rugby fans, is where do the clubs go from here?