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

Following a sun-drenched Saturday of action we now know the make-up of the playoff picture in France and the PRO14 and Aviva Premiership semifinal lineups.

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

Player of the weekend

Prem (Martyn Thomas): Matt Banahan (Bath). The giant Jersey-born back enjoyed a fairytale final appearance in the blue and white of Bath as his hat trick helped seal Champions Cup qualification. Playing at outside-centre, Banahan also produced an audacious offload to free Cooper Vuna in the move that led to Taulupe Faletau's third-minute opening try. London Irish had no answer to the former England international's powerful running as he made 82 metres from 17 carries. Afterwards Banahan, 31, received an emotional farewell from teammates and fans alike -- many of whom will no doubt be wondering why he is being allowed to leave for Gloucester.

PRO14 (Cillian O Conchuir): JJ Hanrahan (Munster). The Kerryman left Munster for Northampton in search of more game time and having been thrown into the deep end against Edinburgh, he showed his nerve and big-game quality to land a penalty that pushed the hosts' lead out to a try in the final 10 minutes. Hanrahan deserved a shot before he left for Saints, but didn't get one. Now it seems he could become Johann van Graan's go-to guy if he manages to add to this victory against Champions Cup finalists Leinster in the semifinal.

TOP 14 (James Harrington): Juan Imhoff (Racing 92). Imhoff was disappointed at apparently being out of the reckoning for Argentina's June Tests against Wales and Scotland. But more command performances similar to the one he put on against Agen at Vannes on Saturday -- in which he scored twice -- will surely jolt the selectors into looking the winger's way again. Fortunately, he has more chances to impress. Racing's immediate calendar is packed with big games: there's the Champions Cup final in Bilbao next Saturday. They face the winners of Toulouse vs. Castres in the second Top 14 semifinal in Lyon on May 26 -- and they clearly have the domestic final at Stade de France on June 2 in their sights.

Flop of the weekend

Prem: Given it was the final day of a long season, played amid sweltering heat by teams featuring a mix of departing old-timers and fresh-faced debutants, it is difficult to say than anyone truly flopped over the weekend. London Irish and Gloucester both lost heavily, but each took the opportunity to blood youngsters for differing reasons. That said, both Newcastle and Sale went into Saturday with a chance to make a statement and ultimately came up short. The Sharks paid for a lack of cutting edge against Leicester while the Falcons' late fightback against Wasps came far too late.

PRO14: Cheetahs. Not quite the fitting end PRO14 organisers would have hoped for as Scarlets trounced their South African counterparts, not giving them a sniff in a six-try demolition. Despite having Johan Goosen at fly-half, their unforced error count was abysmal and the Welsh region's dominance was clear for all to see as the visitors only managed a try with the game done and dusted in the final minutes. With some of their bigger players Clayton Blommetjies and Uzair Cassiem joining Scarlets, its difficult to see whether next season will be tough on them.

TOP 14: Jefferson Poirot (Bordeaux). Getting sent off is never clever. But getting sent off in a dead match in which pride is about the only thing to play for for both sides is particularly dim-witted -- especially for a smart player like Poirot. He left referee Jonathan Dufort with no choice but reach for the red card after stamping on the head of Brive's replacement hooker Francois Da Ros on the hour. Admittedly, Da Ros was hanging on to Poirot's ankle at a ruck -- and saw yellow for his sins -- but it's not the best excuse. Poirot could then only watch from the naughty step as Brive scored three late tries to steal the game from under Bordeaux's noses. Rory Teague's side ended the season in freefall, picking up just 15 points in their last 13 games.

Best coaching call

Prem: Leicester travelled to Sale in something of a difficult position. They needed just one point to make sure of a top-six place and Champions Cup qualification, but how best to go about it -- stick or twist? In the end, Matt O'Connor got his tactics spot on and having soaked up the early Sharks pressure, the Tigers were able to cut through their hosts almost at will. Ben Youngs and George Ford were particularly effective, while Jonah Holmes and Telusa Veainu each benefited from the space created by the half-backs.

PRO14: Johann van Graan. A huge call for van Graan to bench Ian Keatley going into a must-win game against Edinburgh. Up stepped JJ Hanrahan and given the keys to the Thomond Park kingdom, he did quite well, converting both tries and adding two penalties to seal the win. He could also call upon the likes of David Kilcoyne and Robin Copeland from the bench when Munster needed a strong defensive effort as Edinburgh got back into the game in the final quarter.

Top 14: Calls... Multiple. The good news is, some 20 years after going professional, rugby still permits a healthy dose of amateur sentimentality. At the end of the 2015-16 season, Montpellier's then-coach Jake White caused uproar when he denied fans a chance to say goodbye to Francois Trinh-Duc by leaving him out of the squad for the final home match of the season. No one dropped such a crass faux pas this weekend. Aurelien Rougerie's Clermont retirement party left not a dry eye at Marcel Michelin, while other old warriors -- Toulouse's Florian Fritz, Toulon's Vincent Clerc, Bordeaux's Jean-Baptiste Poux, and Pau's Julien Pierre included -- all had their final moments in the spotlight.

Biggest refereeing call

Prem: Luke Pearce (Northampton vs. Worcester). The look on the referee's face said it all as he held the yellow card aloft. Pearce wore a wry grin as he sent Ben Foden to the sin bin less than two minutes into his 250th and final appearance for Saints. Unfortunately for the official, and Foden, he had little choice as the fullback's deliberate knock on had been as obvious as they come. Fortunately for Saints the former England man would redeem himself in the second-half as he played a pivotal role in the fightback that earned a final-day victory.

PRO 14: A weekend where the referees allowed the players to do the talking and stayed out of the limelight. It may have been the fact that only two games were played, but with the tight contest between Munster and Edinburgh, the game could have changed on a refereeing decision. It didn't and hopefully it will remain as such for the remainder of the season.

Top 14: Mathieu Raynal (Lyon vs. Montpellier). This was a nip-tuck encounter that needed a strong controlling hand on the tiller -- and, with a gratuitous mix of metaphors, Mr Raynal was the calm at the centre of a gathering storm of a match. Montpellier had brought a strong squad to Stade de Gerland with a view to upsetting Lyon's bid for a first-ever top-six finish. Five minutes into the second half, with the hosts 17-10 ahead, Montpellier thought they had scored. But replays showed what Mr Raynal suspected, that the penultimate pass was forward. The try was disallowed, and the game went to wire.

Storyline to keep an eye on...

Prem: England. With the regular Premiership season done and dusted, and the semifinals not due to kick off for a fortnight, attention will return to the international stage this week. Eddie Jones is scheduled to name his squad for England's June tour of South Africa at Twickenham on Thursday morning. We know there will be a new captain, but who will he lead? The clamour for Danny Cipriani's inclusion continues to gather pace, while his Wasps teammate Jack Willis has thrust himself onto the radar too. Bath's Beno Obano and Gloucester's Jason Woodward are other possible bolters while the Don Armand fan club is on alert. It promises to be a fascinating few days.

PRO14: Reports that the PRO14 could further expand -- since denied by SANZAAR -- gathers pace but allowing more ordinary sides from South Africa will do nothing to improve the league. The Kings have been nothing short of woeful, battling the Dragons for the reputation as the worst side in the competition. With the Sharks and another team potentially joining the league, the financial advantages won't outweigh the on-field mediocrity that is seen in the league.

Top 14: The growing injury list ahead of France's June tour of New Zealand. Nine Racing players, who have next weekend's Champions Cup final to worry about, have been excused from this week's three-day France training camp at Marcoussis. But the Top 14's five other playoff clubs are supplying 18 of the 40-odd called-up players. Jacques Brunel has already lost Maxime Machenaud, Virimi Vakatawa, Mathieu Jalibert, Antoine Dupont, Marco Tauleigne, Geoffrey Palis, Camille Lopez and Brice Dulin for the tour. This weekend, Lionel Beauxis limped off injured, and is a major doubt. The cupboard isn't quite bare yet -- and some players have time to rest and recuperate, but there are five more big Top 14 matches before the opening Test at Eden Park on June 9. Plenty of time to lose more players...