Team of the Week: Rugby World Cup warm-ups

Date published: September 9 2019

With the dust having settled on the Rugby World Cup warm-ups we have gone through the action and selected the standout players.

New Zealand and England dominate the line-up after their respective victories over Tonga and Italy while there’s places for a South African, Italian, Irishman and an Australian to round out our side.

Team of the Week: Rugby World Cup warm-ups

15 Ben Smith (New Zealand): Returning to the full-back jersey for the first time since July 20, Smith showed head coach Steve Hansen he should not forget about his qualities at 15. Smith oozed class in possession and set up one try while scoring two of his own in a quality performance that saw him rack up a whopping 180 metres with ball in hand. Mentions go to Georgia’s Soso Matiashvili and South Africa’s Willie le Roux as they put in strong showings at Murrayfield and Kumagaya Rugby Stadium respectively over the weekend.

14 Makazole Mapimpi (South Africa): A well-taken hat-trick from the Springbok wing as he gets the nod over Sevu ReeceDarcy Graham and Cheslin Kolbe for this spot. Mapimpi moves to the 14 jersey in our team – he wore 11 against Japan – as we simply had to find space for the Springbok, who showed once again that he only needs a sniff and he’ll pounce on scoring chances that come his way.

13 Anton Lienert-Brown (New Zealand): Seems to have usurped Jack Goodhue as New Zealand’s outside centre of late and Saturday was another big tick in his box. Lienert-Brown mixes box office attacking play with a steadiness in midfield that makes him a coach’s dream. He ended with 89 metres from 17 carries to edge Joe Marchant, who scored a beauty in Newcastle, and Adam Ashley-Cooper after his strong shift against Samoa.

12 Ryan Crotty (New Zealand): Speaking of steadiness, the return of Crotty is a massive boost to the All Blacks’ Rugby World Cup chances. The Crusaders stalwart impressed for Canterbury a fortnight ago and followed that up with a classy performance against Tonga. He scored two tries and set up another and must surely be leading the race for the starting 12 shirt for their opening World Cup clash with South Africa.

11 George Bridge (New Zealand): The fourth All Black in this side was the first name on our list. Bridge was outstanding as his four tries gives him huge confidence going into the tournament. Marika Koroibete also looks in devastating form after his solid showing against Samoa but it was always going to be Bridge as our 11, with the call to move him ahead of Rieko Ioane paying off in droves for New Zealand.

10 Owen Farrell (England): Handre Pollard gave another assured performance in South African colours against Japan, but Farrell gets the nod here following a classy shift. His timing in possession sets him apart from many other 10s and it was evident again on Friday as he drew Italian defenders in before picking the right teammate to put through a hole. He also added 17 points off the tee on a solid night.

9 TJ Perenara (New Zealand): Granted, playing behind a forward pack that is moving forward at a rate of knots is an armchair ride. However, this was an excellent individual effort from Perenara as he ran well, picked the right options and once again was a willing support player. He gets this jersey ahead of England scrum-half Ben Youngs, who put on a box-kicking masterclass at St James’ Park.

8 Ardie Savea (New Zealand): There were several contenders for this position with Blade Thomson (Scotland), Kieran Read (New Zealand) and Duane Vermeulen (South Africa) all performing well, but we’ve decided to move Savea over from blindside flanker after his outstanding effort in the loose for the All Blacks. Savea is seen by Hansen as an option at number eight should Read be injured or out of form and you can see why as his skill set certainly fits the position. Tonga were unable to cope as the back-row made a staggering 163 metres from 10 carries, which included five clean breaks, a try and three assists.

7 Mark Wilson (England): It was great to see Australia’s David Pocock return to action and produce the goods ahead of the World Cup, but Wilson continues to impress for the Red Rose. Having not featured much in the warm-ups due to injury, allowing Tom Curry and Sam Underhill to potentially get in front in the pecking order, the Newcastle man laid down his own marker against Italy. The 29-year-old carried superbly, made an incredible 27 tackles in defence and was simply an absolute workhorse throughout. Wilson will certainly be in the 23-man squad for the big World Cup matches, due to fact he covers all three back-row positions, but he could now start after this display on Friday.

6 Sebastian Negri (Italy): Conor O’Shea’s men are struggling at the moment and lack a team to compete with the best in the world, but they do at least have a top quality back-row. Braam Steyn and Jake Polledri have already shown their ability in the World Cup warm-ups, and Negri duly followed them with a superb effort. The flanker is immensely powerful and caused England several problems in the loose in the first half, as he edged ahead of Australia’s Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and South Africa’s Pieter-Steph du Toit for the position. The Italian was unfortunately taken off in the second period and hopefully that injury isn’t too serious ahead of the global tournament.

5 Courtney Lawes (England): England are starting to get strength-in-depth in the back-row but they’ve always had options at lock and that was demonstrated on Friday. Known just for his athletic qualities earlier in his career, Lawes has become an exceptional all-round lock over recent years. His ability at the set-piece was evident, stealing three Italian lineouts, while the Northampton Saints player was also an excellent option in the loose, making 26 metres with ball in hand. Elsewhere, Adam Coleman shone for Australia against Samoa but it was not enough to displace the Englishman.

4 James Ryan (Ireland): Joe Schmidt made the big call to drop Devin Toner from the squad for the upcoming World Cup, placing his trust in the 23-year-old to run the lineout. The start wasn’t great with the Irish being picked off twice early on, but the hosts eventually got it together in the set-piece. The Leinsterman was at the heart of that improvement while he was typically excellent in the loose as he took the position from Scott Cummings, who once again played well for Scotland.

3 Kyle Sinckler (England): England initially struggled for front foot ball against Italy, but his arrival changed that. Sinckler’s athleticism, power and excellent skill set saw the Red Rose put the visitors under far more pressure in the second half as Eddie Jones’ men took control. The tighthead has been a key component of the English pack over the past year and made 22 metres from eight barnstorming carries in Newcastle. Elsewhere, New Zealand’s Nepo Laulala produced for the All Blacks in all facets, but Sinckler’s contribution was too good to ignore.

2 Jamie George (England): Another England player who has found his feet at the highest level. Perhaps it was due to being behind Dylan Hartley for so long and not being sure that his place in the first XV would last should the then-skipper return, but George couldn’t quite take his club form onto the international scene. However, Hartley’s guaranteed absence from the World Cup appears to have given the Saracens front-rower more freedom and he was excellent on Friday. George’s basics are always good but the hooker was especially visible in the loose and displayed his range of skills throughout his time on the field.

1 James Slipper (Australia): A tough battle between the Wallaby and two dynamic props that made an impact off the bench in Ellis Genge (England) and Dave Kilcoyne (Ireland), but we’ve gone for the Australian loosehead. The Samoan scrum has some fine operators in Michael Alaalatoa and Paul Alo-Emile, but Slipper handled them well and also worked incredibly hard in the loose, making 18 metres from eight carries, and was a presence in defence.