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Team of the Rugby Championship – Unofficial

Written by Richard Ferguson (Richard Ferguson)

Posted in :All Blacks, Original Content, Springboks, Wallabies on 17 Oct 2013 at 09:24
Tagged with : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

SANZAR has named an unofficial team of the Rugby Championship on their site, with five South Africans making it onto this list.

While this is an unofficial team, we still have the opportunity to discuss the fairness of certain inclusions and decide whether Bismarck du Plessis really deserves his spot in the team.

So here is the team, with their original reasoning below. Floor is open for discussion.

15 – Israel Folau (Wallabies)
To think that the dual international is such an uncut diamond speaks of his potential as a leading man in the Wallabies backline, and whether he remains in the three-quarters or shifts to the centres, he was convincingly one of the tournament’s most lethal attacking figureheads. His inclusion, ahead of his All Blacks namesake, is remarkable as he is still to be fully utilised by his surrounding cast.

Folau ranked second overall in runs metres, defenders beaten and offloads.

14 – Ben Smith (All Blacks)
It is no idle boast to suggest that the Highlanders back is the South’s challenger to Lions’ prodigy Leigh Halfpenny as the best player in the world (despite the presence of a certain No.8). A record eight tries in The Rugby Championship spoke volumes of Smith’s class that had him glide through stringent defensive lines as if they were mist, although the Springboks up and comer Willie Le Roux was among the most potent wings statistically.

No player made more clean breaks than the new All Blacks wonder back, making 11, three ahead of Jean de Villiers and double all but six players in the entire competition.

13 – Conrad Smith (All Blacks)
Technically the most capped centre in New Zealand Test rugby is now on extended leave, and once again the man coined ‘Snake’ has shown his class that could see him counted amongst the pantheon. Defensively a genius, reliable and crucially a link for the outside backs, his imminent absence is the next project for the All Blacks development team – while his break is designed to see him last until an upcoming World Cup.

Smith was one of just four players to play every minute in The Rugby Championship, and was the leading passing midfielder (42 compared to 32 with JDV and 30 with Ma’a) and far and away the most efficient tackler in the centre channels, making 39 and missing just four.

12 – Jean de Villiers (Springboks)
The South African captain was such a menace in attack that only Ben Smith outdid him in key backline attack indicators, but outside of that de Villiers was notable with some extraordinary numbers that would have been lost in his calm leadership. The Springboks have a captain who looks to have an influence approaching some of the country’s greats, to such a point that some of the Republic’s most fierce debate is how to safeguard the centre till the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

De Villiers made 47 carries, bustling an impressive six metres each time, while no one defeated more players with 20 men outdone by the offensive skills of the guileful skipper, who statistically was superior to his nearest rival Ma’a Nonu in all ledgers.

11 – Bryan Habana (Springboks)
Julian Savea again showed why he is now an automatic selection on the All Blacks flank with some impressive displays but Habana’s pedigree was again clear with a master class performance at Ellis Park that had many wondering if the result would have been different if the Toulon based wing had lasted the whole contest. His value demands inclusion despite presence in France and 92 Tests and 53 tries have done nothing to diminish the sheer striking power the 30-year-old still possesses.

Willie Le Roux impressed in the 14 jersey, but the continued class of Habana shone throughout the tournament, making nearly five carries per Test at an average of a remarkable eight metres, with a guaranteed clean break and beaten defender per match, which was often backed up with a try.

10 – Nicolas Sanchez (Los Pumas)
Beauden Barrett’s cameos stood out, while Morne Steyn continues to be the standout flyhalf for the Springboks, but Sanchez’s boot and defensive resilience made him impossible to ignore. Tactically his kicking ensured he was an automatic inclusion into the side, preferred at times ahead of the veteran kicking skills of Felipe Contepomi, but opposition coaches who clearly targeted his tramlines will not try such tactics again.

Sanchez was the only back in the top ten tacklers, and led the chart with 69 tackles, nine ahead of the next players. He also kept company in attacking numbers with seven offloads, matching the number made by the All Blacks best line attacking number ten in Aaron Cruden.

9 – Aaron Smith (All Blacks)
More offloads, passes and metres run by Will Genia might have mocked the Wallabies number nine’s demise, but Smith took every other category in a masterful display where he outpointed both the Australian maestro as well as Fourie du Preez in a stark exam of his abilities.

The best defender at nine throughout The Rugby Championship, Smith was ranked third in kicks overall, and this was evident of his newfound ability to control proceedings with his boot as efficiently as his passing game, giving the All Blacks the best advantage line breakage, largely in part to his lightening distribution.

8 – Kieran Read (All Blacks)
The number eight is now drawing comparisons with some legendary figures who have worn the All Blacks eight jersey, while it is possible that the most efficient future transition of an international captain ever seen is in effect, with Read leading the World Champions throughout the series in France, before putting in performances that were matched with moments of brilliance and some magical work at the breakdown.

Only Sam Whitelock tackled as many times (60) as Read, while the number eights link work was shown with a remarkable 48 passes and seven offloads, the best numbers by any forward. Add to this six turnovers and 17 lineout takes and you get some idea as to Read’s value to the All Blacks setup.

7 – Michael Hooper (Wallabies)
When David Pocock was ruled out it was suspected the Australians would lose much potency at the breakdown, but while Liam Gill was suspected to have the inside running, Hooper came of age as arguably the best Wallabies forward of The Rugby Championship. His attacking numbers held court with Steven Luatua and Pablo Matera, the only three loosies to run over 100 metres, but it is the classic benchmarks that the winner of three ‘player awards’ stands out.

55 tackles with just one missed and a competition leading nine turnovers had Hooper comfortably the best pilferer on display, while his two yellow cards, again leading the back row, was indicative of the chaos he caused at the ruck.

6 – Francois Louw (Springboks)
Louw was part of a South African back row that might be Heyneke Meyer’s first choice going forward, and while Steven Luatau and Pablo Matera were impressionable in their first international appearances in the loose forward combinations, Louw was only second to Read as the most efficient passing forward. Such a statistic is normally reserved for the All Blacks, but the bruising number six, only missing 16 minutes of the entire tournament, made it a linking Springboks back row as well as a bruising one.

In the top ten for turnovers and forward tackle efficiency for the tournament, he was another example of Meyer calling on an overseas forward to his starting team due to the potency of the Cape Town born flank, while using the Springboks power at the breakdown to create a close quarters passing game perhaps for the first time.

5 – Sam Whitelock (All Blacks)
It was significant that the Crusaders lock, only matched by his partner in this team by Eben, was announced as a marquee signing alongside future All Blacks captain Kieran Read by New Zealand Rugby until the end of the 2017 season. Only his All Blacks team-mate Brodie Retallick passed the ball more often, while by the traditional second row indicators he was second overall to our other selection at lock.

However Whitelock’s value has come from his gigantic presence in the tackle area, making 60 and just missing one in six Tests. So silky in general play, the Crusaders lock led The Rugby Championship as a ‘ball playing’ tight forward (passing the ball 17 times) while being the most efficient defender in the tournament.

4 – Eben Etzebeth (Springboks)
At 21-years-old the Cape Town born prodigy is already being mentioned in conversation alongside Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, and one of just four men to play the full 480 minutes is a frightening proposition considering his tender age.

Etzebeth was the tournament’s prime lineout option winning 33, while no second rower was as damaging with ball in hand, with Etzebeth’s 38 runs ensuring he was the only lock to break 100 running metres – while only Whitelock made more tackles (60 to 53) and made more lineout steals (4 to 3).

3 – Juan Figallo (Pumas)
Montpellier has arguably the dominant scrum in France and a large part of that is due to the 25-year-old Figallo, who easily translated this form to The Rugby Championship stage, forcing his opposites tremendous problems with what was at times a fearsome Argentine scrum.

But it was his abilities around the park that impressed, with no prop in the tournament making more carries (23) or tackles (33). Add to this five offloads, the second best of any tight five forward, and one suspects the Argentine age-grade product has plenty of Tests in front of him.

2 – Bismarck du Plessis (Springboks)
It would be false to assume that the mighty Bismarck gained this position due to his rattling of the All Blacks, but throughout The Rugby Championship the performance of the Sharks hooker was such that some suggested the outstanding Adriaan Strauss should have been used more sparingly to enable du Plessis to be unleashed.

Du Plessis engineered the second most turnovers of any player in The Rugby Championship, while he was another standout South African forward to up his passing and offloading game, with his six the best of any front rower. His strength in the carry and tackle was at powerful as any other player.

1 – Tony Woodcock (All Blacks)
The most capped New Zealand Test prop and one of only two tight five forwards to reach a century of matches for the All Blacks, Tony Woodcock had ‘the Beast’ nipping at his heels statistically, but it was quite simple in the end, when the eventual champions scrum wasn’t challenged while the farmer was holding firm at loosehead.

Did concede some attacking charts to the likes of Tendai Mtawarira and his propping partner at tighthead, but the All Blacks scrum was at their most proficient when the double centurion – in Test and Super Rugby – was one the field for his 352 minutes, the second most of any prop. Also became the All Blacks fourth centurion after McCaw, Muliaina and Mealamu.


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