With the dust having settled on Round One of the Rugby Championship, we have gone through the action to pick the best players from the weekend.
The Springboks lead the way after their superb triumph over the All Blacks, which piled further pressure on head coach Ian Foster, while Australia are next best with five nominations.
15 Damian Willemse (South Africa): After an excellent mid-year series against Wales, the talented playmaker is starting to become a key part of the Springbok set-up. He once again stood out at the weekend, threatening from the back with his running game but also helping to get the hosts on the front foot via his accurate kicking. Willemse has an impressive all-round skill set which suits the Boks’ game plan and sees him take the position from Australia’s Tom Wright.
14 Kurt-Lee Arendse (South Africa): Gets in spite of that awful challenge on Beauden Barrett, which actually shows just how well he played. Short in stature but big in heart, Arendse is very similar to Cheslin Kolbe. His balance, pace and footwork draws natural comparisons to Kolbe but it is his game-understanding, defensive excellence and chasing game (apart from that one incident) which arguably makes him most like the Toulon man. Providing he stays free of injury and suspension, the 26-year-old has a big future in Test rugby. Jordan Petaia of Australia was the next best after his try-scoring effort in their victory over Argentina.
13 Lukhanyo Am (South Africa): One of the best centers in the world and probably the best 13 since Conrad Smith, but it still feels like he is unheralded by the wider public. Am is quite simply an outstanding player, who leads South Africa’s defense superbly and comes up with the odd genius moment in attack. Due to the Springboks’ game plan, it limits his offensive involvements somewhat, which is perhaps why the 28-year-old sometimes doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but he still managed to make an impact there on Saturday. His off-load for Arendse’s try was sublime, while defensively he shut down every All Blacks attack in the wider channels. Just Ikitau was excellent for the Wallabies but Am easily takes this slot.
12 Hunter Paisami (Australia): With the news that Samu Kerevi will miss the rest of the Rugby Championship, Dave Rennie needed the Reds star to step up in Argentina and he did so impressively. Paisami was always going to play against Los Pumas, given the 28-year-old’s Commonwealth Games commitments, but they now need Paisami to have a Kerevi-like influence throughout the tournament, rather than just being a stopgap. It proved to be a good start on Saturday as he did enough to get in ahead of South Africa’s Damian de Allende.
11 Emiliano Boffelli (Argentina): He did not have a huge influence with ball in hand but Los Pumas’ wing was superb with the boot and gave his side a chance to snatch victory, scoring 16 of his side’s points in a wonderful display off the tee. Caleb Clarke’s thrilling break was a rare moment of encouragement for the All Blacks but it was not enough to see him get into the side.
10 Reece Hodge (Australia): After Quade Cooper, who was having a good game, went off injured it all looked rather bleak for the Wallabies, but the replacement fly-half stepped up to the plate. Hodge’s utility is often seen as a useful addition to the squad rather than a game-breaking facet, but he proved to be a key component to the victory in Argentina. Hodge was excellent at pivot, bringing the best out of his outside runners as the visitors came from 19-10 down to claim a 41-26 victory.
9 Nic White (Australia): It is perhaps tough on Jaden Hendrikse, who continues to stand out at this level despite his inexperience, but White had another excellent game for the Wallabies. He makes Rennie’s men tick, does the basics extremely well – whether passing or kicking – and is always an absolute nuisance for the opposition. There are some very good scrum-halves in Australia at the moment but they will have to go some to displace the outstanding 32-year-old.
8 Pablo Matera (Argentina): As expected, the number eight put in a passionate performance for Los Pumas, notching up a whopping 11 tackles, six carries, and a single line-out take. However, Matera’s best efforts were not enough to take his team over the line. The robust star remains a crucial figure in the Argentina set-up and performances like this underline why. Wallaby Rob Valetini had a strong game and underlined his value as a Test match number eight whilst All Black Ardie Savea put in a valiant effort in what was a horror night for his side.
7 Fraser McReight (Australia): The flank was thrust into the starting lineup after Michael Hooper withdrew from the tour a day before the Test. McReight put in an inspiring performance scoring a pivotal try in one of his five carries, while on defence, the Reds star notched up an impressive nine tackles. He looks a player who will play a lot more Tests for the Wallabies. Springbok captain Siya Kolisi put in one of his best performances in 2022 and is unlucky to miss out on selection.
6 Pieter-Steph du Toit (South Africa): It was yet another workman-like performance from the Springbok, who is getting closer and closer to his best form. Du Toit made eight tackles and fielded two line-outs in a very clean performance. Springbok teammate Kwagga Smith was electric when he came on and influenced the game, whilst Marcos Kremer was a colossus in a losing cause for Argentina.
5 Darcy Swain (Australia): The second-row was at his menacing best against Los Pumas and won two turnovers with his three tackles. Swain imposed himself on the game whenever possible and had three takes in the line-out to complete a solid outing. The Wallaby’s performance is key considering the number of injuries Australia is dealing with.
4 Eben Etzebeth (South Africa): The Springbok centurion was rock solid against the All Blacks, completing eight carries and four tackles. Etzebeth was brilliant in the line-out, winning five and stealing one from the All Blacks. The second-row is showing his impressive consistency at Test level yet again and is a key figure in setting the tone for the Springboks’ physicality.
3 Frans Malherbe (South Africa): An absolute rock at scrum time, Malherbe underlined his immense value in the front-row doing everything required of him, including making four tackles on the night. There is nothing flashy about Maherbe but the South African’s scrummaging ability ranks him as one of the best tighthead props in the world.
2 Malcolm Marx (South Africa): The Springbok star was a sight to behold on his 50th game for South Africa, showing his prowess at the breakdown, winning a whopping five turnovers. Aside from the breakdown, Marx made eight carries and six tackles to earn selection over Los Pumas captain Julian Montoya duck wallaby Folau Fainga’awho put in notable shifts for their countries.
1 Steven Kitshoff (South Africa): The front-row made a big impact on the game during his 40-minute stint that included strong scrummaging, seven tackles, and two turnovers won. The Springbok made 14 meters from his four carries in what was a complete performance from the experienced prop. Kitshoff remains a key component of the notorious ‘Bomb Squad’.
READ MORE: Who’s hot and who’s not: Michael Hooper bravery, Malcolm Marx shines, All Blacks struggle and commentary disaster
The article Rugby Championship Team of the Week: Springboks dominate after impressive victory over the All Blacks appeared first on Planetrugby.com.