With the fourth round of Super Rugby’s fixtures now a thing of the past, it’s time to work out which players excelled over the weekend.
With five representatives in our team, the Highlanders lead the way while the Sharks are next best with three players and the rest of our XV has a healthy spread from various sides.
15 Joaquin Tuculet (Jaguares): What a great run by Tuculet as he linked up with Nicolas Sanchez for his try. The 28-year-old beat four defenders and made two clean breaks for 57 metres from his six carries. Solid under the high ball, too. Meanwhile, Ben Smith was superb against the Stormers, joining the backline seamlessly as was evident in the lead-up to Aaron Smith’s second try.
14 Waisake Naholo (Highlanders): Naholo’s run in the build-up to Aaron Smith’s try was simply freakish, as he bulldozed his way past three defenders. Brilliantly collected a high ball and showed good support play to get the return for his try. Edges out the Lions’ Aphiwe Dyantyi, who continued his fine start to the season with a brilliant intercept score. Chased everything, almost had a second with his charge down from the kick-off.
13 Rieko Ioane (Blues): The experiment of playing the young wing at outside centre certainly paid dividends on the weekend as his predatory brace within the space of five minutes broke the back of the Lions. Showed his unique ability to wriggle out of tight corners with his second. Wonderful work again by the Highlanders’ Rob Thompson, who also gets a mention.
12 Reece Hodge (Rebels): Hodge’s performances at inside centre may get Wallabies coach Michael Cheika thinking of moving him off the wing for Australia. He nabbed a brace, edging out Sonny Bill Williams who was a creative genius against the Lions. Williams’ offloading game was as usual a joy to behold, as he laid on no less than seven offloads in the encounter. Meanwhile, the Sharks’ Andre Esterhuizen also impressed.
11 Makazole Mapimpi (Sharks): Hands-down the best finisher in South African rugby at the moment, the second of his two tries as clinical as you can get. Beat seven defenders for 122 metres with five clean breaks. Meanwhile, Melbourne Rebels’ winger Sefa Naivalu has quickly become a fans’ favourite at AAMI Park, with the Rebels’ supporters having taken to calling the 26-year-old ‘Super Sefa’ after another dazzling display against the Brumbies.
10 Damian Willemse (Stormers): More than held his own against a world-class Highlanders backline. Made seven tackle-busts from his 15 carries. Showed excellent spatial awareness and searing pace for his try. Elsewhere, Nicolas Sanchez orchestrated the Jaguares backline superbly as the Argentines ran in five tries to dispatch the Waratahs. Also grabbed a try, selling a clever dummy to make the space.
9 Aaron Smith (Highlanders): Mr Consistent more often than not makes our team. Scored two excellent tries as he showed his finishing ability on the day. Came away with a try asssist as well. Lions’ scrum-half Ross Cronje notched up three try assists while Hurricanes number nine TJ Perenara showed excellent support play to latch on to Jordie Barrett’s pass for his try.
8 Akira Ioane (Blues): Delivered another brilliant attacking performance in his side’s remarkable come-from-behind victory over the Lions in Johannesburg. The older of the Ioane brother was superb on attack gaining 75 metres from 10 runs with one clean break, an incredible 10 defenders beaten and he crossed the whitewash for good measure. Javier Ortega Desio and Amanaki Mafi also impressed for the Jaguares and Rebels respectively.
7 Ardie Savea (Hurricanes): The All Blacks tearaway was his usual busy self and delivered an energetic display in a bruising derby win for the Hurricanes against the Crusaders. Savea made a nuisance of himself at the breakdown, was a willing ball carrier and eventually finished with 30 metres gained from seven carries but also did his bit on defence and finished with 11 tackles.
6 Liam Squire (Highlanders): Another New Zealander in our back-row, Squire impressed on attack and defence for the Highlanders in their win over the Stormers in Dunedin. Carried the ball nine times gaining a handy 54 metres with one clean break an offload and also scored a deserved try. Comes in ahead of Jacques Vermeulen of the Sharks, who played well against the Sunwolves in Durban.
5 Tom Franklin (Highlanders): Franklin was at his best against the Stormers and although he didn’t make much impact on attack, he certainly did well in other facets of play with his defensive work particularly impressive. Eventually made 19 tackles and beats out Ross Haylett-Petty of the Melbourne Rebels.
4 Matias Alemanno (Jaguares): Performed well in his core duties in his side’s win over the Waratahs but it’s his performance on defence which was impressive. Alemanno delivered a solid shift making a 13 tackles but also did his bit as a ball carrier gaining 20 metres from six carries with one clean break. Matt Philip of the Rebels also played well.
3 John-Hubert Meyer (Sharks): Came into the Sharks’ run-on side and delivered a superb scrummaging display against the Sunwolves. Meyer also cleaned out the rucks with great intent and did his bit on defence with eight hits. Reds hardman Taniele Tupou also caught the eye with another fine effort in his side’s win over the Bulls in Brisbane.
2 Armand van der Merwe (Sharks): Made a rare start for the Durban-based outfit but took certainly took his opportunity after a superb showing in the win over the Sunwolves. Van der Merwe was superb with ball in hand and finished that match with 65 metres gained from five runs with three clean breaks, eight defenders beaten, an offload and a try. Agustin Creevy of the Jaguares also played well.
1 Chris Eves (Hurricanes): This was a tough one as Tendai Mtawarira was superb for the Sharks but in the end, Eves gets the nod after a fine all-round effort against the Crusaders. He scrummed well but it’s his energetic effort in general play which gets him into our side. Scored a try and eventually gained 30 metres from two carries which included one clean break and a defender beaten.