Who’s hot…and who’s not!

Date published: July 21 2015

It is time for our weekly round-up of who has their name in lights at the moment… and who is making the headlines for the wrong reasons.

They're on fire!

New Zealand: Far too many players to mention in individual headings so the All Blacks get a team pat on the back. Their 39-18 victory over Argentina saw the whole backline impress for different reasons. TJ Perenara sacrificed much of his personal strengths, following strict team instructions that saw him offer prompt service that allowed Sonny Bill Williams and Ma'a Nonu to do their thing. Meanwhile, Israel Dagg put in a timely performance at full-back, standing out alongside Luke Romano, Richie McCaw and replacements Nepo Laulala and Codie Taylor.

Brave Australia: At 17-20 down, Australia head coach Michael Cheika admitted to shouting "kick for goal" before captain Stephen Moore boldly pointed his charges to the corner with just 20 seconds remaining. It paid off as the Wallabies went over through centre Tevita Kuridrani to get their Rugby Championship campaign off to a winning start. The introduction of David Pocock, Matt Toomua and Greg Holmes certainly helped their cause.

Israel Folau: What a performance from the Wallaby full-back, who reminded everyone of his class after an average (by his standards) Super Rugby season. Infallible under the high ball and deadly on the counter attack, Folau tormented the Bok defence all game and limited their exit options. 

Fijian power from Levani Botia: Talk about a bump-off from Botia as the centre ran through would-be tacklers en route to setting up scrum-half Henry Seniloli for the score. This came in a 30-22 win over Tonga as Fiji kicked off their Pacific Nations Cup campaign with a solid victory.

Schalk Burger: The veteran loose forward transferred his brilliant form for the Stormers in 2015 over to the international stage for South Africa. He was non-stop in defence, winning turnovers and making a squad best of 20 tackles, while he led the Springboks well in the absence of injured captain Victor Matfield. Add in a refreshing post-match interview and he once again proved what a credit he is to the Boks.

Jesse Kriel and Jannie du Plessis: A fabulous try on Test debut for Kriel – where are the doubters now? Meanwhile, Du Plessis answered his critics (we'll admit to being amongst them) with one of his best performances in ages, especially at scrum time. 

Agustín Creevy: Although his  side came off second best to the World champions, the Pumas captain will remember his 37th Test for his country for a long time. Creevy powered over for a brace of scores to break his duck for Argentina. This capped a strong individual performance by the hooker who led his troops well despite playing second fiddle to the world champions for most of the match.

PNC winners: Fiji, Samoa and Japan hit the ground running in the Pacific Nations Cup and secured valuable victories in their opening fixtures at the weekend. Fiji had to work hard before beating Tonga, Samoa showed that their impressive performance against the All Blacks – in their previous match – was no flash in the pan as they secured an away victory over the USA and Japan impressed as they put Canada to the sword.

Broken thermostat:

John Hardie's Scotland call-up: On Wednesday Scotland announced the shock call-up of Highlanders back-row John Hardie to their extended squad preparing for the 2015 World Cup. While he's a strong openside flanker who has always performed to a high standard, it's no surprise Hardie's inclusion by head coach Vern Cotter has ruffled a few feathers in Scotland. Hardie qualifies for the country through his grandmother from Fife.

Get these guys a cup of warm soup!

Quade Cooper: It seems almost certain now that the Wallaby fly-half will do a U-turn on the deal he signed with European champions Toulon. Without getting into a debate around the pros and cons of leaving Australia, the fact remains that he put pen to paper and made a commitment that he isn't going to fulfil. That's just not cricket. Judging by our chat with Toulon boss Bernard Laporte, the French club won't let this one go easily and legal action will surely follow. 

New Zealand's 14 jersey: How cruel it was to discover that Waisake Naholo's World Cup dreams were over after such a positive All Black debut on Friday. One of the stars of Super Rugby this season and the competition's top try-scorer, he suffered a cracked fibula against Argentina and is set to miss three months. To top off Steve Hansen's woes in that position, Cory Jane hobbled off with an ankle injury while playing for the New Zealand Barbarians against the Maori All Blacks on Saturday. Nehe Milner-Skudder and George Moala's squad hopes have now drastically improved.

Handre Pollard: His coach thinks he did well for his young age, but the scoreboard doesn't care how old you are. Pollard mixed the very good with the very bad in Brisbane but at Test level, there's no room for the kind of mistakes he made. Missing touch from a penalty in the last quarter is criminal (remember Morne Steyn in the same fixture in Perth last year?). Inaccurate kicking from both hand and the tee outweighed his positive contribution with ball in hand. 

South Africa's bench: The Springboks will be wondering how they lost their Rugby Championship opener to Australia in Brisbane at the weekend. After dominating most of the match, the Boks were cruising at 20-7 after Kriel's try but, instead of going for the kill, Heyneke Meyer's men took their foot off the pedal and went back to South Africa with their tails between their legs. The scrum buckled, some key tackles were missed – notably for Michael Hooper's try – and basic errors were made under pressure.

Todd Clever: It looks like the USA's best-known player is set to miss the World Cup after being dropped from the Eagles squad for "multiple squad conduct violations." This is a professional sport and players who act like amateurs will pay the price.