Round 11 of Super Rugby has just gone by, and it provided an upset victory by the Reds over the Lions in Brisbane, the Jaguares’ first-ever win over a New Zealand opponent, and a last-gasp victory for the Highlanders in the first match of their South African tour.
With those and all the other results in mind, Alex McLeod runs through his Super Rugby Team of the Week.
1 – JP Smith (Reds)
The Reds’ forward pack was exceptional at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday afternoon, and one of the key players at the forefront of their 27-22 win over the Lions was JP Smith.
The South African-born loosehead prop put in by far his best performance against his compatriots over the weekend, and was one of many in the Queensland pack that was instrumental in their shock victory.
Any front rower will tell you that 19 metres ran by a #1 in a single match is a decent effort, and Smith made the most of his industrious work with ball in hand by dotting down for one of his team’s four first half tries. A perfect 10 out of 10 tackles on the other side of the ball shows that he put in a well-rounded shift in the state capital, while his contribution to the Reds’ 100% success rate at the scrums should not be understated.
His solid outing across the park is one worthy of celebration, and so Smith takes the cake for loosehead props in this week’s side. Meanwhile, Steven Kitshoff (Stormers) continued to challenge for South Africa’s #1 test jersey, as did Lizo Gqoboka (Bulls).
2 – Malcolm Marx (Lions)
Hands down the best hooker in the world right now, followers of the Team of the Week series will know that I’m a huge fan of Malcolm Marx, who again proved his worth in a losing effort on Saturday.
Not only was the Lions hooker was his side’s stand-out player in their defeat at the hands of the Reds, but he was probably the sole reason as to why the touring side nearly sparked a monumental comeback in the second half. He carried the 15 times, and caused enough damage to run for 32 metres, which resulted in him scoring a brace of tries.
However, his determination to try and save his side from an embarrassing loss is probably best personified in his 100% tackle success rate, as well as the pair of turnovers he scavenged for in the second 40 minutes. Without Marx, the South African conference leaders wouldn’t have had a hope of coming back to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
There was a flurry of other rakes who could have been selected in this week’s side, including Ramone Samuels (Stormers), Anaru Rangi (Rebels), Marx’s opposite Brandon Paenga-Amosa (Reds), Augustine Creevy (Jaguares), and Adriaan Strauss (Bulls), with the latter proving to be one of the competition’s most in-form players as it currently stands.
3 – Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro (Jaguares)
This week’s tighthead prop spot was a dead-set shoot-out between two key players, but Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro gets the nod following his solid display in the rain at Eden Park in Auckland.
The Jaguares’ forward pack worked as a cohesive unit, and that was the key to their 20-13 victory over a woeful Blues outfit in what was their first ever win against a Kiwi franchise. At the crux of the Argentine forward pack was Tetaz Chaparro, who stood up at crucial times throughout the encounter to help steer his side to glory.
He was busy on attack, carrying the pill 10 times, but wasn’t overly effective. Instead, the impact he provided was on defence and at the set piece, particularly in the scrums. 11 tackles and a turnover is a good performance for a prop, while his role in helping the South Americans secure all 13 of their scrum feeds was immense.
Furthermore, his ability to force penalties out of Sione Mafileo and Mike Tamoaieta at the scrum without getting pinged himself was exceptional, and for that, he warrants selection in this week’s side.
His runner-up is Taniela Tupou (Reds), who was mobile enough to get his 135kg frame across the paddock and front up on defence when his services were required.
4 – Guido Petti Pagadizaval (Jaguares)
Another top-notch performance from within the Jaguares forward pack came from Guido Petti Pagadizaval, who made himself a nuisance for the Blues to deal with for the entirety of his appearance in Auckland.
With 12 running metres, seven tackles and a turnover to his name, the 23-year-old the impressive in a variety of facets across the park, but where he shone the brightest was at the lineout for the Argentine club. Helping the Jaguares win all 11 of their lineouts, the 33-test Pumas lock won eight of those throws, and nabbed one away from the Blues for good measure.
Petti Pagadizaval’s outing at Eden Park was good enough to earn him selection in this week’s team, but it was difficult to ignore the performances of other #4’s across the competition, especially the showings from those such as Michael Fatialofa (Hurricanes), Rory Arnold (Brumbies), and Jackson Hemopo (Highlanders).
5 – Tom Franklin (Highlanders)
In order to win a game of rugby with just 32% possession, you and your teammates have deliver tackles by the bucket loads. Tom Franklin did just that plus more as the Highlanders somehow escaped Loftus Versfeld with an enthralling 29-28 win over the Bulls.
The new Kobe Steelers signing was nothing short of outstanding in Pretoria. While his 13 running metres and solitary clean break may seem like a convincing effort on attack for a second rower, it pales in comparison to his defensive work, where he chewed his way through a whopping 19 tackles, the most by any lock in the competition over the weekend.
With a total of zero unsuccessful tackles, Franklin’s defensive work ethic was stunning to say the least, and it earns him this week’s #5 spot ahead of other standouts, including Grant Hattingh (Sunwolves), Pieter-Steph du Toit (Stormers), and Sam Whitelock (Crusaders).
6 – Kwagga Smith (Lions)
There was a plethora of contenders for the #6 jersey in this week’s side, so it took a special performance from Kwagga Smith to earn his second selection in this side for the year.
The 24-year-old is bound to be capped when the Springboks host England in a three-test series in June following a string of impressive Super Rugby displays. His work against the Reds at Suncorp Stadium only adds to the appeal of him being picked by South African coach Rassie Erasmus in a few weeks’ time, as his prominence with ball in hand was evident for all to see.
Two clean breaks and 63 running metres aren’t common statistics for loose forwards, but in the case of Smith, it’s unsurprising that a player of his background and ability was able to chalk up those sorts of figures. Add into the mix his seven tackles and a turnover for his team, and Erasmus has at his disposal a genuine rival to Siya Kolisi (Stormers) for the green and gold #6 jersey.
7 – Ardie Savea (Hurricanes)
Ardie Savea returned from injury as if he’d never left in the first place. That’s how good he was in the Hurricanes’ 43-15 win over the Sunwolves at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
Slotting straight back into the starting XV, Savea ran rampant at the Cake Tin, forcing the Sunwolves onto the back foot with all eight of his carries, where he ended up chalking up a tidy total of 35 running metres, which included a pair of clean breaks.
However, it was on defence where he really set the game alight. The 22-test international posted a match-high 19 tackles, and also had the whereabouts to pinch a turnover for the Hurricanes.
The 24-year-old’s astonishing comeback from his rib injury will have undoubtedly forced the All Blacks selectors to have a hard think about where he stands alongside Sam Cane and Matt Todd in the national pecking order three weeks out from the announcement of the first squad of the 2018 season.
There were a ton of other players across the league who, had they performed as they did this weekend on a different day, may have seen their name in our TOTW. Those names include Angus Cottrell (Rebels), Kobus van Dyk (Stormers), Franco Mostert (Lions), Marcos Kremer (Jaguares), Matt Todd (Crusaders), Thomas Cussack (Brumbies), and Dillon Hunt (Highlanders).
8 – Jordan Taufua (Crusaders)
The borderline All Blacks prospect was in fine form against the reigning champions’ historical foes, both hitting the defensive line on multiple occasions as well as making himself a brick wall in defence in the Australian capital as the Brumbies struggled to take advantage of their overwhelming numerical advantage.
The 26-year-old was a handful on attack, charging the Brumbies 40 metres from his 12 carries, which saw him bust through the tackle attempts of three defenders. He defended far more stoutly than those that were tasked with bringing him down, completing all 13 of his tackle attempts, while also doing enough to turn the ball over once for his club.
It’s this sort of all-round display that teams need their players to provide them with when they’re disadvantaged by ill-discipline, so it should come as no surprise that Taufua has won the right to be named as this week’s premier No. 8.
In doing so, he dethrones the usually-dominant Amanaki Mafi (Rebels) as the league’s top No. 8, while Luke Whitelock (Highlanders) can feel particularly hard done by consider his comprehensive defensive shift against the Bulls, where he made 23 tackles.
9 – Aaron Smith (Highlanders)
Without the services of Aaron Smith, it’s unlikely the Highlanders would have been able to clinch victory in Pretoria.
While Lima Sopoaga was the man that claimed the glory for his 80th minute winning penalty, it was Smith’s ability to know when to distribute from the base of the ruck, and when to have a crack through the fringes of the breakdown that enabled the Highlanders to work their way into a winning position.
When he did decide to have a crack at the defensive line, the 29-year-old was a menace to deal with, finishing the match with 39 running metres to his name, as well as playing a significant role in both of his team’s tries, scoring one and assisting the other.
It is his attacking edge provided by the 71-test All Black that helped get his side over the line, and because of that, he takes the #9 spot over the impressive Dewaldt Duvenage (Stormers).
10 – Handre Pollard (Bulls)
Of all the Bulls players that feel desperately unlucky for losing out in the last kick of the game to a spirited Highlanders outfit, Handre Pollard should be the one who will be anguishing his side’s defeat the most.
His sublime performance warranted more than a loss in that fashion. To beat four defenders and run 83 metres while dictating his team’s backline is difficult to accomplish, but Pollard had the wherewithal about him to pull the strings and make his side a force to be reckoned with.
He finished the match with a 100% tackle completion rate, a turnover, and 11 points to his name, five of which came from a try through nifty intercept from the halfway line. Those that miss out because of Pollard’s display include Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes), Damian Willemse (Stormers), Hamish Stewart (Reds), and Pollard’s opposite Lima Sopoaga (Highlanders).
11 – JJ Englebrecht (Stormers)
Since returning to South Africa from a three-year stint in Wales and Japan, JJ Englebrecht has flourished during his time with the Stormers. The weekend’s 34-18 win against the Rebels at Newlands was no exception, with the former Springbok international putting on a show for the hosts.
Two defenders beaten from a trio of clean breaks is good for someone that has flown under the radar in recent seasons. Engelbrecht capitalised on his frequent breach of the Australian defence to glide on through for a brace of tries, the first two he’s scored in Stormers colours.
The 12-test wing was on top of his game defensively as well, making seven tackles and winning a turnover to cap off a busy yet successful day at the office.
Elsewhere, Ben Lam (Hurricanes) was superb on attack in Wellington, while Emiliano Boffelli (Jaguares) joined him at the summit of the Super Rugby tryscoring charts when he scored his ninth try of the campaign at Eden Park.
12 – Vince Aso (Hurricanes)
Vince Aso was easily the best player of the round when he trotted out into Westpac Stadium to take on the challenge laid down by the visiting Sunwolves.
The attacking threat he provided was unrelenting, as is reflected in the stat sheet that he produced by the end of the 80 minutes. The 23-year-old ran for 103 metres, which stemmed from the five defenders he beat and five clean breaks he made, all of which culminated in a brace of tries, as well as two more that he assisted.
The second try was particularly magnificent, as he showed off his supreme athletic prowess and finishing ability to dive over in the left-hand corner late in the second half. He could have easily bagged two more tries, had they not been disallowed by instances in the lead up.
Factor in his 100% tackle completion rate, and it suddenly becomes not so surprising to learn that he’s the cousin of blockbusting siblings Rieko and Akira Ioane. If he keeps performing as he did on Friday night, then he could be joining his family members in a black jersey by season’s end.
Damian de Allende (Stormers), Rohan Janse van Rensburg (Lions), Jeronimo de la Fuente (Jaguares), and Tei Walden (Highlanders) all played their parts very well for their sides over the weekend.
13 – Jesse Kriel (Bulls)
Centre was a position where not many stood out and dominated across the league during round 11, and so Jesse Kriel romped home to claim this week’s #13 slot.
Kriel was one of John Mitchell’s key men as the Bulls finished within inches of a victory against the Highlanders, with the 24-year-old constantly used as an attacking outlet for the Pretoria-based franchise.
This is highlighted by his 12 carries, showing how often he was utilised in the middle of the park. From his dozen of carries, he managed to reel in a try, but only after he broke through four tackle attempts to bring up 44 metres with ball in hand.
While the attacking threat he posed was contained outstandingly well by the Highlanders, not many other sides would be able to restrain Kriel so diligently, so it will be worth keeping an eye on him when the Bulls face the Stormers in Cape Town this week.
14 – Filipo Daugunu (Reds)
I may have picked Michael Little (Sunwolves) as my rookie of the year in RugbyPass’ Mid-Season Super Rugby Awards, but Filipo Daugunu won’t be too far off that accolade at all given the way he’s been playing recently.
This week is his third inclusion in our Super Rugby TOTW series, and it’s difficult to argue against following his superb display against the Lions in Brisbane. He was probably unfortunate to have not scored despite his offensive dominance against the South African tourists, where he conjured up 89 metres with ball in hand.
More impressive, though, was his defensive work. 12 tackles is exceptional for a winger, but what really stands out is the match-high three turnovers that he won throughout the contest. However, perhaps the most staggering aspect of Daugunu’s game at Suncorp Stadium was his ability to execute of the kicking tee.
It was the first time we’ve seen the 23-year-old assume the goal kicking duties for the Reds, and he did a solid job of it, slotting two conversions and a penalty for points tally of 7. His background in age-grade representative football for Fiji no doubt would have helped him in that regard.
Julian Savea (Hurricanes) made a big statement on the right wing in what was his best showing of 2018, while Sefa Naivalu (Rebels), Henry Speight (Brumbies), and Manasa Mataele (Crusaders) were all in-form.
15 – Jordie Barrett (Hurricanes)
The younger Barrett ran riot against the Japanese tourists, slicing through their defensive line on three occasions to run for 97 metres. Although he didn’t officially register a try assist, the flow-on effect of his incisive running allowed the Hurricanes to cross the line at various stages throughout the match, especially in the second half.
He did, however, manage to bag a try of his own, and with a solid outing on both the defensive and goal kicking sides of things, the 21-year-old will undoubtedly play a key role in the All Blacks’ test series against France in just a few weeks’ time.
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