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

It is all about the playoffs as the Aviva Premiership, PRO14 and Top 14 edge even closer to the finish flag. The Champions Cup and Challenge Cup may take centre stage next weekend but there is still plenty at stake in the last few rounds of games.

Who shone, who had a weekend to forget and what stories made our talking point this weekend?

Player of the weekend

Prem (Sean Nevin): Sam Simmonds. Exeter Chiefs all-but doomed London Irish to relegation as they romped to a 45-5 victory, but the star of the show was undoubtedly Simmonds, with the England No. 8 crossing the try line three times for a marvellous hat trick. Two scores in the first half were followed by a third just after the break as Simmonds powered his way under the posts for his 12th try of the season and he is now just one try behind Worcester's Josh Adams in the race to be the Premierships top try-scorer.

PRO14 (Cillian O Conchuir): Conor Murray. Stand out performer of the weekend. The Six Nations Grand Slam winning scrum-half was sprung from the bench for the injured James Hart with Munster 14-0 down. His class dragged Munster out of mediocrity and possibly being upstaged by the Cheetahs. He scored a try before halftime to get them back in the game before landing a 52-metre penalty to seal victory. Watch out Racing 92, Murray is on a mission. Tommaso Allan gets a mention as Treviso beat Leinster, with Kieran Crowley getting coaching call of the weekend.

TOP 14 (James Harrington): Morgan Parra. Yes, Chris Ashton broke Napolioni Nalaga's nine-year-old Top 14 try-scoring record. And, yes, Josua Tuisova's brother Filipo Nakosi bagged a hat trick as Agen picked up a vital end-of-season win at Pau. But, a week after Baptiste Serin dragged Bordeaux to victory, Parra showed the young pretender what will really was as his Clermont saw off Serin's Begles 33-3. In October, Parra looked to have no international future, as Serin and Antoine Dupont led France's young scrumhalf charge, chased hard by the likes of Baptiste Couilloud, Anthony Meric and Arthur Coville. Now, fit again after an injury-plagued season, old-man-on-the-block Parra, 29, appears vital to Jacques Brunel's plans.

Flop of the weekend

Prem: Rhys Priestland. Saracens ran in six tries against an out of sorts Bath side, and three of them were the direct result of poor handling from the Welsh fly-half. The worst moment for Bath's No. 10 was when he attempted a no-look pass to Tom Dunn. The ball landed straight into the hands of Owen Farrell, who accepted the gift and ran in for a try from 70 metres out. Priestland's passing was poor, his spatial awareness was non-existent, his kicking from hand was all over the place and overall, for a seasoned international, this was an embarrassing performance. A day to forget for Priestland.

PRO14: Leinster. Boasting the likes of Joey Carbery, Jordan Larmour and Fergus McFadden in the backline and Jordi Murphy and Sean O'Brien in the pack, Leinster looked pretty comfortable after Richardt Strauss' try seven minutes in. But they failed to push on and despite Barry Daly scoring his eleventh try of the season, to become top try-scorer, just after halftime, Treviso fought back to clinch victory. Even when Treviso went down to 14 men in the final quarter, Leo Cullen's side couldn't break them down.The

TOP 14: Stade Francais. For 66 minutes at Toulouse on Sunday, Racing 92 were challenging for this dubious honour -- then they managed to drag something approaching respectability out of the fire, denying their hosts a try-scoring bonus in the process to leave Stade holding the can. Apologists will be quick to point out the Parisians rested key players for the 44-3 defeat to Lyon, but there can be little doubt new director of rugby Heyneke Meyer, who sat stony-faced alongside club owner Hans-Peter Wild in the stands on Saturday night, will have spent the rest of the weekend re-evaluating his workload before coming into work for his first official day on Monday.

Best coaching call

Prem: Whatever Gaffney and the Saints did on the coaching field this week certainly worked as they bounced back from their humiliating thrashing at the hands of Saracens last weekend to stun Leicester at Welford Road. Gaffney masterminded the Saints' first victory in 11 years at the home of the Tigers, and it is certainly a result few could see coming, but Gaffney's bold changes, five in all, that saw players who hadn't played in months paid dividends.

PRO14: Kieran Crowley (Leinster vs. Treviso) -- Crowley was turned down for a coaching role in New Zealand before he moved to Canada and then onto Treviso. But the work he has done in charge of Treviso can't be belittled. Many teams have gone to Leinster, have hung in valiantly before being blown away. Not this Treviso team. Not on Saturday. He rejigged his backline when the stupidity of Tito Tebaldi -- sin-binned due to a stamp -- looked to derail the Italians who led at the time with 15 minutes to go.

Top 14: Clermont's three second-half substitutes scored the game's three tries in just over 20 minutes but look a little further afield, and on a slightly longer timescale than just the weekend. Philippe Sella and Mauricio Reggiardo have galvanised Agen in recent weeks. It's not just the epic win at Pau this weekend, or the crucial home victory over Oyonnax last time out. It's those wins, plus crucial never-say-die bonus points that has seen the club strengthen their chances of survival to near certainty. Mathematically, they could still be dragged into the survival playoff spot. But, right now, Agen's survival is in their hands. And it's a good bet they'll do it with a game to spare.

Biggest refereeing call

Prem: An absorbing clash at Kingston Park saw Sale recover from 25-0 down to lead 27-25 going into the final quarter before Newcastle got their act together to win it, but Sale's comeback started with a big call from the TMO. Newcastle's Joel Hodgson stripped the ball away from Sam James as the Sharks centre headed towards the line. Ben Curry was quickest to react to the loose ball - which deflected off a Falcons boot, going over the line. However, the ball looked as though it was lost forward by James. Referee Craig Maxwell-Keys referred it up to the TMO and replays showed that the ball actually went backwards when lost, handing Sale the first step towards their comeback.

PRO 14: IRFU officials (Ulster vs. Ospreys). With so much talk about refereeing lately, the decision to have an all-Ireland officiating team for Ulster's home clash with Ospreys was more than a little puzzling. A win for either would have kept them in the hunt in the race for Champions Cup qualification which made the appointments more mind-boggling. With the PRO14 refereeing coming in for some criticism of late, perhaps not the reason why they should be making headlines.

Top 14: Cedric Marchat (Clermont vs Bordeaux). It took an age, but Mr Marchat and the TMO eventually agreed that, because Baptiste Serin was in his own in-goal area when he had his hands on the ball at the back of a ruck, then he was fair game for replacement hooker John Ulugia -- who couldn't be offside because there is no offside in the in-goal area. They also decided that Serin -- who had his hands on either side of the ball -- was not exerting downward pressure, so it was still live when Ulugia, who had come on just two minutes earlier, smashed into him. They further agreed that Ulugia landing on the suddenly loose ball meant he had dotted it down... and awarded the try.

Storyline to keep an eye on...

Prem: Injuries mounting. The Chiefs sealed a home semifinal but it came at a cost as Don Armand, Henry Slade, Harry Williams and Ian Whitten went off injured. Fortunately their next game isn't for two weeks. There was also concern for Eddie Jones, as Jonathan Joseph left the field at Allianz Park on crutches. A blow to the England international's left ankle at a ruck just the start of Bath's bad day in North London. Finally, Northampton's Rob Horne remains in hospital after a brutal collision with Leicester's Sione Kalamafoni. The Australian suffered both concussion and an injury to his left arm that requires specialist treatment.

PRO14: Playoffs. Scarlets have so much confidence in their ability to win their last game against Dragons that they decided not to show up as they fell to an eight-try defeat to Edinburgh. They have to match Edinburgh's final result to clinch second. Edinburgh meanwhile are nine points ahead of Ulster, who have a game in hand, at home to Glasgow next weekend. A bonus-point win for Ulster -- unlikely after they managed just three points for most of Friday's win over Ospreys -- could make the final day quite interesting.

Top 14: The future of Paddy Jackson, who was sacked by the IRFU and Ulster following the recent rape trial -- at which he and Stuart Olding were found not guilty -- could lie in France according to reports. Clermont are said to be close to signing the out-half as cover for Camille Lopez, who is expected to return to the France set-up for lengthy periods next season. Until that story broke on Sunday, the freshly heated battle for the top six, with Toulouse overtaking Racing 92, Pau losing ground and Castres shocking La Rochelle to steal sixth was the big news of the weekend.