The 1st round of a shortened Rugby Championship played out this past weekend in front of crowds in Pretoria and Mendoza. It was eventful as South Africa and New Zealand dominated their opponents. They also dominate the Bet Central Rugby Championship Team Of The Week for round 1.
15. Willie le Roux (South Africa)
The attacking genius of Willie le Roux is often misunderstood, but his lateral running which at times is clumsy makes such a huge difference in fracturing the opposition defence. He was a massive attacking presence against Australia.
Beauden Barrett had a fine outing in Mendoza, but the South African fullback just did slightly better.
14. Emoni Narawa (New Zealand)
A superb debut for the Chiefs man who picked up his domestic form and brought it into international rugby. Emoni Narawa got a try on debut and was a constant thorn in the side of Argentina on attack and defence. An excellent all-round debut.
Canan Moodie had a decent game, but he wasn’t as impactful as the new All Blacks winger.
13. Rieko Ioane (New Zealand)
There remains a concern for how he copes on defence against better centres, but the Argentineans struggled and Rieko Ioane thrived on attack. He combined well with Jordie Barrett and wasn’t found wanting on defence.
While still far from his best, Lukhanyo Am had a good game, especially against a young Len Ikitau who exudes similar qualities to him.
12. Andre Esterhuizen (South Africa)
It was hard to pick between Jordie Barrett and Andre Esterhuizen on this one, the New Zealander was excellent as the triple threat of Barretts turned it on to take the game away from Argentina. He has truly found his best position at inside centre.
But Andre Esterhuizen had so much more to prove and he did so with aplomb. His best Bok game to date. He was a belligerent presence in midfield, but he showed the softer touches with great distribution. He also defended really well.
11. Kurt-Lee Arendse (South Africa) – Player Of The Week
The Springboks management is hardly ever moved to drop a player who hasn’t let the team down and Makazole Mapimpi has not let the team down. But with the form Kurt-Lee Arendse is in – they may have to make that difficult choice soon.
The Bulls’ outside back was a try-scoring machine on Saturday and proved he can be as potent a finisher as Mapimpi, his game intelligence and reads on defence are outstanding. Arendse is hard to contain despite his stature.
10. Manie Libbok (South Africa)
A lot of expectations were placed on his shoulders going into this game and Manie Libbok responded with a calm and composed outing with excellent game management and a good kicking performance. He is almost certain to play a role in the World Cup later this year.
Damian McKenzie was also very good, but he was playing with 2 Test match-hardened players on his inside and outside, this was not the case for Libbok.
9. Aaron Smith (New Zealand)
The great scrumhalf continues to show why he will go down in history as one of the greatest players to set foot on a rugby field. He was cool, calm and composed as he gave New Zealand tactical direction.
He also relieved lots of pressure off the shoulders of Damian McKenzie as any great scrumhalf should. A good performance from the veteran.
8. Ardie Savea (New Zealand)
Duane Vermeulen was inspirational as captain of the Boks on Saturday and proved that plenty is still left in the tank. He led from the front as a brutal ball carrier, he was vocal, however, Ardie Savea had a slightly better outing in Mendoza.
Savea was a wrecking ball as per usual and in the 1st half, the Argentines struggled to live with his power and pace. He is a powerful stopper which is an aspect of his game that is not credited enough.
7. Sam Cane (New Zealand)
His return to form looks complete now with his excellent game in Mendoza, Sam Cane has had a terrific 2023 after struggling in 2022. His leadership is undoubted, the team responds to him. He also has an insane work rate.
Pieter-Steph du Toit showed glimpses of his 2019 form, but he still has some way to go to get there.
6. Marco van Staden (South Africa)
Stepped in at openside flanker with Siya Kolisi still nursing a knee injury and what a game he had, Marco van Staden was another player to play his best Test match yet. He was a terrier at the breakdown and made life incredibly hard for the Wallabies.
Shannon Frizell showed good signs early on against Argentina but dropped off a bit after the interval.
5. Marvin Orie (South Africa)
In terms of quality and depth, no country can match South Africa in the 2nd row, Marvin Orie proved that. The Stormers lock is maybe 3rd in line for the No. 5 jersey at Bok level, but he played like a man who has been 1st choice for years.
There isn’t a better lineout operator in South Africa and his intelligence around the park makes such a dangerous player. He makes great decisions and offers mongrel on the carry.
4. Scott Barrett (New Zealand)
Not the only Barrett to stand out on the weekend, but the only one to make our team and even though he had some stiff competition from Springbok debutant Jean Kleyn. Scott Barrett was phenomenal.
He operated the lineout with great efficiency, carried and tackled like a man possessed. Far too good not to be a regular starter, maybe it’s time he takes over at blindside flank for the World Cup.
3. Tyrel Lomax (New Zealand)
There was once a Hurricanes-All Blacks player who would plod through Super Rugby at times, but the moment he stepped into a black jersey, he would go to the next level – that was Ma’a Nonu.
There is another one now, Tyrel Lomax. After a competent domestic season for Lomax with the Canes, he stepped up superbly in his 1st Test of 2023 to remind a lot of people of just how good he can be.
2. Dane Coles (New Zealand)
Like Orie, Dane Coles pretty much knows his role these days. He bubbles under Samisoni Taukei’aho and Codie Taylor with the All Blacks, but he still performs at a very high level and got the better of Julian Montoya on Saturday. He was busy around the park and his lineout work was exemplary.
Bongi Mbonambi had a few wobbles at the set-piece and that took away a few points so Coles gets the nod.
1. Steven Kitshoff (South Africa)
Could have easily been Ethan de Groot, he had a good outing against Los Pumas, but we opted for the Spicy Plum for our loosehead spot.
The thing about Steven Kitshoff is he does everything so incredibly well from carrying, tackling, strumming etc. He also manages to add an incredible breakdown prowess which you don’t see from many props.