There was some fantastic individual performances in the Champions Cup over the weekend.

Mike Haley was in flying form for Munster with eight defenders beaten and two line breaks. He thrived on a classic European night against French opposition in Thomond Park and really looked the part counter-attacking from full-back.

I haven't seen every performance from Haley since he joined from Sale Sharks but this performance was the one that showed what the hype was about.

The counter-attacking and ability to beat defenders is one thing. But a basic skill - one that often isn’t as well executed as it should be - is staying square as an attacker and putting another player into space in a 3 v 2 situation.

Haley and JJ Hanrahan attacked the narrow side of the ruck with square hips and shoulders to put Keith Earls away in the corner with another tidy and conscious finish in the corner from the winger.

The ability to stay square means the defender can’t push off on to the next attacker, which helped Earls to get away.

Mike Haley was critical in the creation of Keith Earls' try against Racing 92

There was some individual brilliance from Finn Russell as well but it was from a penalty advantage. 

It’s easier to have a go with a grubber or kick and chase when you have the insurance policy of coming back for a penalty, although that’s not to take away from the brilliant skill of Russell.

At Racing, the Scottish out-half is really allowed to express himself and started opening up in the second half before Munster took back control.

The display of skills that really caught my eye was the near carbon copy attack that led to tries from both John Cooney in the Ulster vs Clermont match at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast and Teddy Thomas in Thomond Park.

Cooney has been in top form in the number 9 jersey for Ulster and has been playing with a lot of confidence, including some impressive goal kicking.

He noticed that Clermont were light on the short side of the ruck and had a go before chipping the ball ahead and re-gathering with some hunger to finish. 

Thomas did something very similar but from a wider play down the short side that went through a couple of pairs of hands before the winger chipped the ball ahead and finished emphatically. 

Defences are becoming so aggressive on the open side now that the narrow side of the ruck can offer an opportunity. The aggression in the front line of defence also impacts the back-field defenders because they have more ground to cover.

Teddy Thomas en route to his try in Thomond Park

The full-back in both cases would have been trying to work towards the posts and allow his openside winger to close aggressively and adding another number to the defensive line. 

Near the defensive 22, teams will generally only keep two players in the back field, making it more difficult to cover the ground.

The scrum-half role has changed for many teams with the 9 often designated to pick up one of the wings in defence after a set piece.

The scrum-half is moved here to enable a more aggressive line speed in defence but in doing so that compromises one of the traditional roles of the position, which was to cover the chip in behind the ruck. As such that is now a vulnerable point for many defences.  

However, this is all dependent on the quality of execution of the opposition and that's a gamble that modern defences are willing to take.

Every defence will have a weak spot that teams can identify.

Defensive teams are almost willing you to take the one that’s hardest to execute with a kick in behind. This is because more often than not they can mop that up with a retreating player and turn the ball over.

On the weekend however, those fine pieces of individual skill from Cooney and Thomas saw defences caught out. 

Defences are becoming so aggressive on the open side now that the narrow side of the ruck can offer an opportunity. The aggression in the front line of defence also impacts the back field defenders because they have more ground to cover.

But what is it that allows a player to go off the script and back themselves to execute an individual piece of skill? They could turn over the ball on a complete solo run and waste an opportunity for the rest of their team, yet they many still make the split second decision to have a cut.

It takes a lot of confidence in the first place and the backing of the coach to express themselves to execute the play.

The most important part of it is their decision-making and that's not just having a go because you haven’t seen the ball in a while.

In Cooney's case, the Ulster scrum-half just played what was in front of him.

John Cooney scored a terrific individual try against Clermont on Friday

The defence didn’t set their foundations well and he decided to try to exploit that. The decision to kick ahead was based on the defence rushing to cover that space and leaving the back field vulnerable so he made a split-second decision to kick the ball in behind.

The determination to finish the try is what made it for him but the decision making to go there in the first was class from Cooney.

Players like Russell and Cooney don’t just pull these tricks out of the bag on game day and that’s part of what allows them to pull off the play when it matters.

If someone had run down a blind alley and kicked the ball away in a match without ever having done it in training it would send the coach mad.

However, if you’ve seen a player practicing this in training then you would cut them some slack regardless of the execution, once the decision to go there was the right one initially.

The amount of practice you’ve done on a particular skill will dictate your instinctive decision to try this play in the first place and build the confidence to execute it.

The Champions Cup brings out the best in players and brought us more magic last weekend.