From Beirne to Fernández: rugby union’s top players from the July Tests | Rugby union


Tadhg Beirne (Ireland)

Ireland’s historic first series win in New Zealand was a huge collective effort but Beirne’s blue headguard was everywhere. As recently as 2015 the versatile forward was delivering pizzas and being overlooked for a senior contract at Leinster. A thigh injury in the Six Nations also hampered him but in the last two Tests in New Zealand he was superb, snaffling turnover and lineouts and also making crucial yards. Inspirational.

Peter O’Mahony (Ireland)

While there were plenty of pivotal Irish performers none set the all-or-nothing tone better than the passionate O’Mahony. His tears at the final whistle reflected not merely the joy of series victory but the prodigious physical effort needed to claim it. His classic second Test sledge to the All Black captain, Sam Cane – “You’re a shit Richie McCaw” – summed up Ireland’s collective refusal to back down.

Freddie Steward (England)

Hard to believe he is still in his first international season. Dominant in the air throughout the series in Australia he was the rock upon which England’s series success was built. His fine tackle on Marika Koroibete was a crucial moment in Sydney, as was his well-taken try. Deserves a rest after 32 games this season but will only get better.

Tommy Reffell (Wales)

Had not even played in a Test before he traveled to South Africa with Wales. There are plenty of good back-row forwards in Wayne Pivac’s squad but the 23-year-old was a constant menace to the Springboks at the breakdown and was his side’s only try-scorer in the third Test defeat. Having rapidly emerged as a key man at title-winning Leicester, his star continues to rise.

Davit Niniashvili (Georgia)

Georgia will always cherish the day they recorded their first win against a tier one nation, their breakthrough moment coming with a 25-19 success against Italy in Batumi on 10 July. The all-action Niniashvili, still a teenager, was the star of the show and has a penchant for making scything breaks. Plays his club rugby in France for Lyon and looks destined to cause trouble for many future opponents.

Rodrigo Fernández (Chile)

Perhaps the try of the month was the stunning individual effort scored by Fernández in the first leg of his country’s 2023 World Cup qualifier against the USA in Santiago. The fly-half is an elusive runner and another fine break set up Santiago Videla for a key score in the second leg as Chile edged through 52-51 on aggregate. Will be fun to watch in England’s pool next year.

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