Picking the form team of The Rugby Championship
The battle for top team of the south came alive this year, upsets and historic wins in the opening round were only overshadowed by bigger upsets and more historic wins in the second.
In the end, the All Blacks again came away as victors, narrowly claiming the most points of the tournament via a commanding 40-14 final round win against the Wallabies.
Each team came away with clear positives and clear work ons that will need to be addressed on their upcoming northern tours respectively.
Sifting through the drama and injuries to find the top performers at each position, here is a team of the tournament, which features eight All Blacks, three Springboks, three Pumas and one Wallaby:
1: Ethan De Groot (All Blacks)
A coming of age campaign for the young prop. After being excluded from the Irish series and told to work on his fitness, De Groot returned to the black jersey off the bench in game one against South Africa, showing excellent form in the scrum and damaging intent with ball in hand. The performance warranted a promotion to the starting 15 and neither De Groot nor Ian Foster looked back from there. James Slipper claimed this top spot in the mid tournament team for his admirable work as replacement skipper but is replaced due to De Groot’s form as well as Slipper’s high penalty count.
2: Samisoni Taukei’aho (All Blacks)
The tournament’s most valuable player according to the Aotearoa Rugby Pod’s Bryn Hall. Hardly put a step wrong at line-out time, finished as the tournaments’ top try scorer which also placed him fourth on total points scored. Fifth in carries and eighth in offloads. Naturally, Malcolm Marx comes close here, his physicality and accuracy is felt the moment he steps onto the pitch and his turnover ability is up there with the best in the world.
3: Frans Malherbe (Springboks)
Malherbe’s form profits nicely from the Springboks substitution system, only playing 45 minutes a game makes those precious few scrums a luxury, one that the 125 kg prop makes the absolute most of. The crucial role of the set piece in South Africa’s game will always emphasise the talent for their front row, but Malherbe’s ability to get around the park and chew through tackles as well make him the premier tight-head prop in the southern hemisphere. Tyrel Lomax gets an honourable mention as he went from strength to strength throughout this campaign, his improvement as a carrier from game one through to six was an exciting sign for kiwis. Allan Ala’alatoa put in a number of huge shifts for the Wallabies and did his best to carry the Wallabies underwhelming scrum.
4: Eben Etzebeth (Springboks)
The mountainous man replaces his locking partner in the final form team due to his physical influence on every game he plays; the man just wins collisions. All Springbok players in this form team are men whose skillset compliment the Springbok game-plan and identity perfectly while also bringing an extra effort, none embody that more than Etzebeth.
5: Sam Whitelock (All Blacks)
Whitelock has found new life in his twelfth year in the All Blacks environment. His trademark line-out work never faulted and neither has his workmate around the park, his extra effort plays would not suggest him the oldest player on the park but that is often the case. Assumed captaincy in the All Blacks statement and tournament clinching final game of the tournament. Lood de Jager deserves an honourable mention for his clinical set piece work and impressive tackle numbers.
6: Pablo Matera (Los Pumas)
The Pumas loose forward trio have been simply outstanding so far this season, all three appear on the top tackles list for The Rugby Championship. Matera’s outrageous skillset and agility for his size is one of the great wonders of the rugby world. Actions speak louder than words in the Pumas jersey and Matera certainly lets his physicality on both sides of the ball speak for itself. Siya Kolisi had another excellent campaign and adapted well throughout the series. Willie Le Roux would insist that Matera’s young team-mate Juan Martin Gonzalez get an honourable mention also.
7: Marcos Kremer (Los Pumas)
The tournaments leading tackler was an immovable object throughout the Pumas campaign. Throwing his 2 meter, 115 kg frame into every collision fearlessly and coming out trumps more than any other brute in the Southern Hemisphere. His big frame also offers the Pumas versatility as Michael Cheika rotated his forward pack throughout the tournament.
8: Ardie Savea (All Blacks)
Leading the tournament in carries and offloads while also being amongst the leaders in meters carried despite missing the first Bledisloe for the birth of his son, Savea had another monster campaign with the All Blacks. The uncanny ability to fight through contact and win turnovers at crucial moments make him a must have on the field in the winning stages of games. Rob Valentini had perhaps his strongest campaign yet for the Wallabies while Jasper Wiese looked immediately at home in international rugby.
9: Gonzalo Bertranou (Los Pumas)
Cheika’s game-plan has the Pumas playing through Bertranou a lot, the halfbacks composure in his game management and consistency throughout the tournament with so much responsibility make his campaign the pick of the bunch. The Argentinians’ competition was fierce with Jaden Hendrikse coming into fine form and growing into that starting role superbly, Aaron Smith being his usual accurate self and while Nic White saw limited minutes in the tournaments final round, his influence was undeniable. If White wasn’t benched those last two games, he likely would have retained his spot in this top team.
10: Richie Mo’unga (All Blacks)
The flyhallf’s skillset has come into its own during this tournament, so too has his confidence. Mo’unga’s ability as a triple threat provides the All Blacks with an incredibly diverse capacity for attack. While we saw only brief sparks of his running game this campaign, it was enough to keep opponents on edge. The short kicking game the All Blacks employed was made to look a stroke of genius by way of Mo’unga and his Crusaders teammate David Havili’s execution. Mo’unga topped the tournament in total points and featured at fourth in defenders beaten. Damian Willemse entered the flyhallf chat late in the piece but made what might just be an irresistible proposition for coach Jacques Nienaber. A healthy Springbok backline complete with Willemse at 10 and Lukhanyo Am and Cheslin Kolbe back in the mix promises more attacking talent than you could throw a Marika Koroibete at.
11: Marika Koroibete (Wallabies)
The Wallabies were a team that played some outstanding rugby once momentum was afforded to them and Marika took it upon himself to win his team that momentum. Whether it be on defence or attack, his work-rate and instincts had him showing up in the right place at the right time and his athleticism and physicality ensured he executed the big play. Caleb Clarke receives on honourable mention for his blockbusting carrying ability, the young winger carried for the most meters in the tournament as well also featuring near the top in clean breaks and defenders beaten.
12: Damien De Allende (Springboks)
This guy is just a rock in the midfield, he is so reliable to make the tackles on defence and make the right play on attack. De Allende racked up a huge amount of minutes and finished second in defenders beaten. Combines physicality with skillset and willingness to do the dirty work perfectly for the Springboks game. David Havili’s kicking game was such a key to the All Blacks success he also deserves a mention.
13: Rieko Ioane (All Blacks)
Rieko had himself a tournament, of course his speed was on full display on both sides of the ball and the way he used it and backed himself in whatever situation the game presented was a sign of his developing feel for the game at centre. Top of the tournament for defenders beaten, second in meters carried, third in clean breaks, fifth in offloads and ninth in total carries. Lukanyo Am would have given Ioane some stiff competition were it not for the injury and Len Ikitau’s development makes him one to keep an eye on.
14: Will Jordan (All Blacks)
Although some would still prefer to see Jordan playing in the 15 jersey, he is everything the All Blacks need from a right winger right now. His aerial skills, speed and instincts make him the perfect recipient for Mo’unga and Havili’s kicks and those moments of visionary brilliance that come from him roaming in behind the attack were key for the All Blacks to build scoreboard pressure. Emiliano Boffelli was selected here in the mid-tournament team and still deserves an honourable mention for the skillset and points he contributed to the Pumas historic campaign.
15: Jordie Barrett (All Blacks)
Yes, Barrett’s midfield showcase was impressive. But for Ian Foster, no one ticks all the boxes for the 15 jersey like Jordie Barrett. His monster boot and his height make him a maestro in the back field and that physicality will still get its moment albeit less frequently when at fullback.
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