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

Rugby union displayed its best side in Bilbao over the weekend, as a 61-point thriller of a Challenge Cup final was followed by a tense, nerve-shredding Champions Cup showpiece.

Leinster and the Blues left Bilbao delighted while Racing and Gloucester were left to rue what might have been. But who were the main protagonists in the drama that unfolded?

Player of the weekend

James Ryan (Leinster). The future of Irish rugby looks incredibly bright, and no one player embodies that potential more than Ryan. The second row is still yet to taste defeat in 21 matches of professional rugby following an absorbing if try-less Champions Cup final in which he did more than most in the blue of Leinster to prise victory from the jaws of defeat. Twelve tackles and nine carries do not do justice to the influence the young lock, 21, had on the contest in Bilbao. Ryan was a nuisance, particularly in defence, for the full 80 minutes as he came out on top of an intense engine-room battle with Donnacha Ryan and European player of the year Leone Nakarawa. Teammate Luke McGrath described Ryan as a "freak" following his man-of-the-match performance on Saturday, while head coach Leo Cullen praised his "special talent". Leinster's fourth European crown could well be the first of many for the undefeated Dubliner. A special mention should also go to Gareth Anscombe, who inspired the Cardiff Blues' Challenge Cup comeback on Friday night.

Flop of the weekend

It is tough to put this label on any player, coach or team that has reached a European final yet Gloucester will have travelled home from Bilbao wondering exactly how they managed to let a 14-point half-time lead slip. Tomos Williams' try within a minute of the restart caught them cold but Johan Ackermann would have expected his side to regroup, regain their composure and see the game out. Instead, they got themselves back into a winning position only to hand the Blues two opportunities to win the match. Cherry and Whites supporters will point to a couple of debatable refereeing decisions but they should have been able to get over the line regardless.

Biggest coaching call

Danny Wilson (Blues). It is a brave coach who replaces their fly-half with time running out and their team chasing the try that could take a final to extra-time. Especially considering Cardiff Blues No. 10 Jarrod Evans had been one of his side's better performers and was on kicking duty. However, that is exactly what Wilson chose to do with less than 12 minutes remaining in Friday night's Challenge Cup final as Matthew Morgan came off the bench, and Anscombe moved into the playmaking role. It was a decision that paid huge dividends. Morgan added some vim to the Blues' back play, making 20 metres in his limited time on on the pitch and playing a pivotal role in the move that ultimately ended in Lewis Ludlow's critical sin-binning. But it was Anscombe who was the matchwinner. Having hooked a difficult conversion wide in the 77th minute it was his crossfield kick, from deep inside his own half, that found Garyn Smith on the left wing and set one last attack in motion that would culminate in the Wales international stroking the winning penalty through the uprights.

Biggest refereeing call

Jerome Garces (Cardiff Blues vs. Gloucester). The French referee can expect a hostile reception on his next visit to Kingsholm following two key decisions that went against the Cherry and Whites on Friday night. The first, with the game approaching the half-hour mark robbed Lewis Ludlow of a try as Garces deemed prop Josh Hohneck's brilliant offload to have gone forward. It was difficult to tell with any certainty from the angles offered up by the television replays, however, it appeared to be level. In such instances officials often give the benefit of the doubt to the attacking team, but not on this occasion. That is the fact that will make the second-half decision to award Garyn Smith's try seem all the more galling to Gloucester fans. Smith looked to be offside as he raced onto Jarrod Evans' expert kick through, an incredibly tight call but one that ultimately went with the attacking team. Had Ludlow been afforded the same advantage earlier then Gloucester would potentially have gone into the break 21 points in front -- it would have taken some effort for the Blues to claw that back.

Storyline to keep an eye on...

Brian O'Driscoll was keen to stress the importance of winning the first medal when discussing how good Leinster could become ahead of the Champions Cup final. He should know, having been part of the team that won three European Cups in four years for the Irish province. But now that the Champions Cup is safely in the trophy cabinet, it is only natural that people will start to get excited about the potential of a team which contains so many key players who are 23 or younger. Their season is far from over, and could yet end with the PRO14 title stored next to their European crown, but what does the future hold for Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan, Garry Ringrose and co? Having dominated for club and country this season -- the spine of Ireland's Grand Slam-winning team was drawn from Leinster -- eyes will start to drift towards next year's Rugby World Cup. Should they maintain their current form then no one, not even the All Blacks, will want to run into Ireland in Japan.