The best of the best have been rewarded with places in our Rugby Championship Team of the Week, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The All Blacks reclaimed the crown jewel of Southern Hemisphere rugby as they clinched five consecutive wins before succumbing to the Springboks in an instant classic that concluded the tournament on the Gold Coast at the weekend.
They and the second-placed Wallabies provide the bulk of our team, which is rounded out by a trio of Springboks, with the last-placed Pumas missing out following a winless campaign.
15: Jordie Barrett (New Zealand)
Stepped up and became a key player for the All Blacks as he took on the added responsibility of goal-kicking in the absence of Richie Mo’unga with aplomb. Accurate off the tee all tournament, however, his heroics in the 100th Test against the Springboks will forever be remembered. Dangerous and dependable as ever on attack and under the high ball respectively.
14: Andrew Kellaway (Australia)
A breakout star in his maiden tournament for the Wallabies. A hard worker with a high rugby IQ, he put himself in the right places and the right times, both on attack and defence, and displayed his lethal finishing ability to score a tournament-leading seven tries. Also topped the stats in defenders beaten (23) and clean breaks (8).
13: Rieko Ione (New Zealand)
The natural winger continued his development into a quality midfielder at a rapid rate. His ability to read play stood out as he ran in a couple of long-range intercept tries. Used his size to get over the gainline effectively and his gas to burn defenders on the outside, making seven line breaks. Adapted well to the challenge of defending the most difficult of channels.
12: Samu Kerevi (Australia) – Player of the Week
A one-man wrecking crew. Blessed with power and pace in equal measure, the midfield monster blazed a trail of destruction and left a pile of his bodies in his wake. Along with topping the tournament in carries (65) and metres (585) and beating the second-most defenders (21), he showed he’s more than just a battering ram as he made an unrivalled eight offloads.
11: Marika Koroibete (Australia)
A robust strike runner of the highest order. Terrorised defences with his strength and scintillating speed throughout but was particularly potent in Brisbane, where he bagged a brace in the 30-17 win over the Springboks. Did fantastic work around the park as a roaming predator on defence, even turning the ball over with exemplary counter-rucking.
10: Quade Cooper (Australia)
After harrowing back-to-back defeats to the All Blacks, the SOS went out and Cooper answered the call with a comeback for the ages. Returning after four years in the Test wilderness, a more mature and polished Cooper transformed the Wallabies and steered them to four straight wins, none more epic than in his first match back when he booted them to a thrilling 28-26 win over the Springboks on the Gold Coast.
9: Nic White (Australia)
A general who helped Cooper dictate terms. Brought calmness and confidence to the Wallabies with his well-rounded skillset, giving his backline quick, crisp ball, probing around the fringes and kicking intelligently. Produced the first-ever 50:22 as well as the match-winning turnover against the Springboks.
8: Ardie Savea (New Zealand)
Arguably the All Black who stepped up the most in the absence of several senior players. With over 50 Test caps, he was called upon to lead his country for the first time in the tournament opener and delivered in spades, not just then but as a pillar of the leadership group as he shared the skipper role with Brodie Retallick from there onwards. The veteran’s versatility came in hand as well as he alternated between No.8 and openside flank.
7: Michael Hooper (Australia)
In good and tumultuous times, the one constant in Australian rugby is their captain courageous giving his all to the cause and this campaign was no different. The heart and soul of the Wallabies, he carried bullishly, snatched turnovers and tackled everything that moved, making 20 hits in the Brisbane battle against the Springboks alone when he celebrated becoming Australia’s most-capped skipper.
6: Siya Kolisi (South Africa)
The Springbok captain completes a back row of three kings. While he was solid throughout, Kolisi saved his best for last, spearheading South Africa’s two most-spirited showings against the All Blacks. A man for the big occasion, his fire burned bright as he put his body on the line. Fortunately escaped serious injury when he took a worrying knock in the famous 31-29 win at the weekend.
5: Lood de Jager (South Africa)
Consistently world-class as a general and ball-poacher extraordinaire at lineout time. Even more impressive, considering his bad run of injuries in recent years, was the uptake in his already top-notch work rate, summed up perfectly by his Man of the Match performance in his 50th Test against the Pumas in Round Two
4: Brodie Retallick (New Zealand)
Like Savea, the seasoned and highly-skilled second-rower’s stature in the All Blacks side reached the next level and he fittingly celebrated his first Test as captain with a towering performance as he led the defensive masterclass with an unrivalled 13 tackles in the 39-0 shutout of Argentina. Excellent in the opening match as well and strong in the rest.
3: Taniela Tupou (Australia)
Frans Malherbe was a force in the scrums, but “Tongan Thor” took the tournament by storm. The Australian anomaly brought steak and sizzle to the Southern Hemisphere showpiece like only he can, making barnstorming runs, bone-crunching hits and producing one of the plays of the season when he put Koroibete in for a try with a special no-look pass against the Springboks in Brisbane.
2: Codie Taylor (New Zealand)
Stellar in the set pieces and even better in general play. Set the tone in the tournament opener at Eden Park, where his world-class work rate saw him bag a brace against Australia. Played a key role in the 19-17 win over the Springboks in the historic 100th Test in Townsville including sparking the All Blacks’ only try on the day.
1: Steven Kitshoff (South Africa)
A clutch colossus. Whether starting or coming off the bench, he made a massive impact in every facet. The tip of the Springbok spear at scrum time, where he won penalties at crucial times. Exacted turnovers with his mobility and awareness, even snatching a lineout in his 22 when the All Blacks tried a front ball in last Saturday’s classic.