Rugby Championship awards: Lukhanyo Am our best player thus far while Sam Cane, Argentina and Ian Foster also pick up gongs

Adam Kyriacou

As the Rugby Championship enters a week’s break, we thought it was a fitting time to dish out some awards following the opening two rounds of matches.

Both serious and light-hearted gongs were on offer here so without further ado, let us see which players, coaches and teams are taking home the silverware.

Best player so far: Lukhanyo Am

A tough call on Ardie Savea as he was a shining light on a tough afternoon against South Africa in the first Test before giving another decent account of himself in the latest outing. However, Am takes this following back-to-back box office performances in the green and gold jersey. His wonderful offload for Kurt-Lee Arendse’s try in the opening game was just one highlight of that solid overall showing while last week he was unlucky to not pick up the player of the match award after his exploits on the right wing. We saw much more of Am’s attacking qualities because of his positional shift as his stock continues to rise in the global game.

Best newbie so far: Samisoni Taukei’aho

He might have made his international debut in July 2021 but it has been in this year’s Rugby Championship that he appears to have nailed down the starting shirt and deservedly so. Assured in the set-piece against arguably the best disrupters in the business in South Africa while being impressively destructive and mobile in the loose, he has usurped stalwarts Codie Taylor and Dane Coles as the All Blacks‘ number one number two. The 25-year-old regularly made ground against the Springbok defence this month and looks right at home at this level. He can look back on his two showings with pride as he now targets more of the same.

Sharp-shooter award: Emiliano Boffelli

The Pumas’ wing has looked nerveless off the tee thus far with a record of 12 out of 15 successful kicks. It is not just his impressive rate of conversion, but the manner in which he strikes a ball that impresses us. In recent times he’s taken over the high pressure duties and there’s no getting it off him now, that’s for sure. Michael Cheika’s men can rely heavily on the calm Boffelli and for a head coach that’s such a boost as Argentina head into the remainder of the Rugby Championship very much in the title frame. Furthermore, they will need their sharp-shooter to carry this form into next year’s World Cup. We are sure he will.

Tear-jerker award: Fletcher Newell story

The Crusaders prop made his Test debut in the second Test against South Africa but before that happened the All Blacks posted a video that caused a lump in many a viewer’s throat. In an interview with Fletcher’s father, Arnold, we learned that Fletcher lost his mother as a teenager and that the All Blacks had put a plan in motion to fly Arnold over to Johannesburg to watch his son make his debut. Clearly stunned by the feat of Fletcher, Arnold’s interview was a lovely watch and we applaud the All Blacks for facilitating this proud father to watch his son come on to help secure the victory at Ellis Park. What a special memory for both.

Stayin’ alive award: Ian Foster

It had seemed like the writing was on the wall for All Blacks head coach Foster as South Africa were backed in many quarters to make it two triumphs out of two against New Zealand in this year’s Rugby Championship. However, Foster’s outfit managed to turn things around and seal a morale-boosting win that has ultimately bought him more time in the hot-seat. Pictures of Savea and Aaron Smith posing with Foster subsequently surfaced, showing their support for a man under pressure, and it appears the All Blacks’ efforts at Ellis Park have convinced New Zealand Rugby to resist swinging the axe mid-way through the competition.

Biggest blunder: Not starting Malcolm Marx

“The ploy of fielding Marx in the latter stages might be sound, but the strategy of starting an international rookie when a 50-Test veteran is on the bench is far from it,” wrote Jon Cardinelli on Tuesday. It’s a fair summary of the move by Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber and it came back to bite his side against New Zealand last weekend. Joseph Dweba struggled at the set-piece before an in-form Malcolm Marx emerged off the bench, looking to build on a player of the match performance from the opening round. Of course it wasn’t the reason why South Africa lost but sticking with Marx for consecutive starts in the absence of Bongi Mbonambi was surely the right call as the Boks looked to make it back-to-back wins to start the tournament. Alas, 30 minutes was all that Dweba lasted.

Rotten luck award: Dave Rennie’s injury list

Talk about your bad luck… The Wallabies have been beset by injuries heading into and during the Rugby Championship as the likes of Samu Kerevi, Quade Cooper, Folau Fainga’a, Hunter Paisami and more have been on the treatment table. Throw into the mix the brave decision by captain Michael Hooper to step down from the squad for personal issues and coach Rennie has been dealt a tough hand in terms of options available to him in Argentina. Ultimately, all these absences came home to roost in the recent game in San Juan as the Pumas romped to a 48-17 victory. This rest week therefore comes at an ideal time for Australia as they hope players can now recover in time for successive home fixtures against the Springboks, which of course will make or break their Rugby Championship title hopes.

Best try so far: Sam Cane in second Test

It was an outstanding start to the game from New Zealand as an earlier passage that led to them knocking over the first points of the match was then backed up by another breakout from their own 22. A line bust from Caleb Clarke set them on their way before the ball was recycled to allow Will Jordan to make more metres down the sideline. New Zealand crucially did not allow the Springboks time to reset, with fly-half Richie Mo’unga prominent, before the ball came back out to Jordan who set Cane up for an excellent try. One could see how much the score meant for an under pressure Cane and New Zealand, who went on to finish the job.

Best team performance so far: Argentina in second Test

A record victory over the Wallabies was just the response coach Cheika was after from his troops as they hammered Australia in San Juan in Round Two. Either of South Africa (first Test) or New Zealand (second) had decent arguments for this gong, but for the sheer manner of how the Pumas put the Wallabies away, in truth there was only one winner. They scored seven tries in all, the first coming from Juan Imhoff in the first minute, as they blew their visitors away, pressurising them into errors while showing incredible hunger, which was a real point of difference in the game. They are now top of the Rugby Championship and deservedly so.

Best dummy: Jeronimo De La Fuente

First off we hope De La Fuente recovers swiftly following his injury but on the lighter side his hamstring injury came in handy against the Wallabies last weekend. With his side leading 14-10 on 23 minutes, De La Fuente took a short line off scrum-half Gonzalo Bertranou before stepping inside Lalakai Foketi. However, then disaster seemed to strike as the centre pulled up with what looked very much like a hamstring injury. That caused James O’Connor and Nic White to hang off just for a millisecond before the Pumas centre gritted his teeth and continued towards the whitewash. It was his last act of the fixture but what a significant one it was.

READ MORE: Loose Pass: Wasps’ woes, the Rugby Championship’s fascinating battle and a ruined surprise