Team of the Week: Rugby Championship, Round One

Date published: July 22 2019

With the dust having settled on Round One of the Rugby Championship, we’ve gone through the action to pick the best players from the weekend.

Following their victories at the weekend, New Zealand and South Africa are well represented with six and five players respectively, but there were also some good individual displays in the losing teams.

Team of the Week: Rugby Championship, Round One

15 Ben Smith (New Zealand): Another classy performance from the All Blacks stalwart, who was solid at the back and also a threat on the counter. A lot of the visitors’ good work came through Smith with the Highlanders man beating a superb 10 defenders and running for 66 metres. Opposite number on Saturday Emiliano Boffelli also did well while Kurtley Beale gave the Wallabies plenty of spark when he entered the field, but no one really really matched the New Zealander.

14 S’bu Nkosi (South Africa): The Crusaders’ Sevu Reece did some good things on his All Blacks debut, but the South African flyer deservedly takes his place in the XV after a good performance against Australia. The wing set up the first try with a searing break down the right, allowing Herschel Jantjies an easy run to the line, while he was also solid in other aspects of his game.

13 Samu Kerevi (Australia): Started at 12 but we have moved him to outside centre due to the fact that he and Ngani Laumape were the clear standouts at the weekend. No 13 really lay claim to this position, even if South Africa’s Jesse Kriel had his moments. Kerevi was a shining light in a poor Wallabies display and was easily the away side’s best attacking threat after running for 81 metres, which included three clean breaks and eight defenders beaten.

12 Ngani Laumape (New Zealand): It wasn’t necessarily the devastating display Hurricanes fans have become accustomed to in Super Rugby, but it was still a fine performance from the powerhouse centre. Laumape was good in attack, running for 72 metres which included three clean breaks, but the 26-year-old was also solid in defence, making 12 tackles without missing any.

11 Matias Moroni (Argentina): It was a quiet weekend for left-wingers so we’ve moved the Argentinian speedster over from the right. Did well when given the ball in space, making 54 metres, and comfortably got the better of his duel against the disappointing Jordie Barrett. It certainly provides an interesting selection conundrum for head coach Mario Ledesma, with the incredibly talented Santiago Cordero still to come into the fold after not featuring against the All Blacks.

10 Elton Jantjies (South Africa): As ever, Beauden Barrett did some wonderful things with ball in hand but his tactical game is off at the moment. One would expect him to get it right for the World Cup but the two-time World Player of the Year failed to control the match on Saturday and allowed Argentina to gain a foothold in the contest. We have therefore gone for the South African fly-half for this position, with the much-criticised Lions man showing far more composure as the Springboks gained a comfortable victory over the Wallabies.

9 Herschel Jantjies (South Africa): Some debut from the Stormers half-back, who followed a fine Super Rugby campaign with an excellent performance in Johannesburg. Jantjies has shown an ability to control a game from the base for his franchise and took that into Saturday’s match. He also ran an excellent support line for the Springboks’ first try before displaying superb sniping instincts to touch down for his second.

8 Ardie Savea (New Zealand): Was arguably the form player in Super Rugby and was once again outstanding on Saturday, this time for the All Blacks. With Sam Cane back and Kieran Read still going strong, Savea may well be used as an impact player in the World Cup, but the back-rower has shown that he is an outstanding option at either openside or number eight. The 25-year-old carried hard in traffic throughout on Saturday, making 23 metres from nine runs, and was also effective without the ball.

7 Sam Cane (New Zealand): There were serious concerns over the flanker last year when he suffered a horrific neck injury, but fortunately for the back-rower he has got back to full fitness and looks better than ever. Everybody knows about Cane’s breakdown work but, judging by the openside’s performance against Argentina, he has also made significant strides in his carrying game. The All Blacks captain was bouncing off tackles, showed excellent footwork to spin away from contact and proved difficult to stop all match.

6 Pieter-Steph du Toit (South Africa): It’s tough on Argentina’s outstanding skipper Pablo Matera but Du Toit was a crucial component in the Springboks’ victory over Australia. The back-five forward was named SA Rugby’s Player of the Year for the second time in three years in February and it was easy to see why in Johannesburg. The flanker has a remarkable work ethic and that was displayed in both attack and defence, with the 26-year-old carrying impressively and making nine of his 10 tackles.

5 Tomás Lavanini (Argentina): The second-row makes mistakes and sometimes his discipline lets him down, but Lavanini’s abrasiveness is vital to the Pumas. The lock constantly looked for work versus the All Blacks and was an influential component in both the set-piece and the loose, helping Argentina get on the front foot against the defending world champions.

4 Brodie Retallick (New Zealand): Injury hampered the world’s best forward in Super Rugby, but the lock appeared fresh as the All Blacks claimed a narrow victory in Buenos Aires. The visitors were pushed all the way but Retallick made a couple of telling interventions, including an intercept try which saw him sprint 50 metres to touch down. It is tough on Eben Etzebeth, who was magnificent for South Africa, but the Chiefs second-row deservedly takes his place in the XV.

3 Angus Ta’avao (New Zealand): A good shift from the tighthead, who took his chance in the first XV excellently. With Owen Franks given a rest, Ta’avao was selected ahead of Nepo Laulala and had the edge over Argentina loosehead Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro in the scrum. The 29-year-old is also superb in the loose and showed his athleticism by making 10 tackles during his hour on the field.

2 Folau Fainga’a (Australia): Has starred for the Brumbies in Super Rugby and finished as the third top try-scorer in the competition, which has given him the chance to impress in the gold of Australia. And all things considered, he did well in Johannesburg, getting the nod over Agustin Creevy (Argentina) and Dane Coles (New Zealand) for this slot. It wasn’t necessarily a vintage weekend for hookers but Fainga’a was the best of them, negating an imposing-looking South African lineout with some accurate throwing. He also put himself about physically by carrying hard and defending excellently.

1 Tendai Mtawarira (South Africa): Forced Australia into an early second half change by constantly sending Sekope Kepu into reverse gear at the scrum. Interestingly, Mtawarira went off soon after that but, by that point, his job had been done. He was also strong in defence during his 48 minutes on the field, making six tackles, while the experienced prop carried hard when given the opportunity.