Week 13 of Super Rugby provided us with one of the craziest batches of rugby we have seen all year.
The Sunwolves demolished the Reds to pick up their first win of 2018, the Waratahs bolted out to a 29-0 lead against the Crusaders within half an hour, only to go down 31-29, and the Bulls had to dig deep against the Sharks in Pretoria to emerge victorious in a deeply enticing affair.
With that in mind, Alex McLeod presents his next edition Super Rugby Team of the Week.
1 – Craig Millar (Sunwolves)
What a win it was for the Sunwolves, and what a display it was from Craig Millar.
The former Highlander churned out the competition’s best display in a fiercely competitive battle for the loosehead prop spot this week. He was energetic, and ever-present across the park, as shown via his 19 metres ran with ball in hand. That’s a handy chunk of metres for a #1, and it’s nearly as rare as one of the team’s big boppers making both a line break and a try assist, but that’s exactly what Millar managed to do.
He didn’t slack off on defence either, notching up 14 out of 15 tackles, and registered one of his side’s five turnovers. It was an exceptional performance by the 27-year- old, who is relishing playing under his old coaches Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown.
2 – Akker van der Merwe (Sharks)
While chatter about the return of Adriaan Strauss (Bulls) from international retirement remains prominent in South Africa, van der Merwe cannot be simply dismissed. His all- round game is second to none, as exemplified during his side’s 39-33 defeat to the Bulls, where he outplayed his opposite Strauss.
The uncapped 26-year- old chalked up the same offensive stats as TOTW teammate Craig Millar, ticking over 19 metres with ball in hand after beating an impressive five defenders,
while also setting up a teammate for a try assist.
He particularly shone on defence. Not only did he make nine tackles, but his three turnovers were a match-high. With this sort of ability, the Springboks may have just found their like-for-like replacement for Marx.
3 – Jeff Toomaga-Allen (Hurricanes)
In a week where the propping positions were more heavily contested than usual, it was Jeff Toomaga-Allen who emerged victorious in the scrap for the tighthead position for round 13’s TOTW.
The one-test All Black is certainly in the frame for a call-up for next month’s test series against France, and his performance against the Blues at Eden Park would have done his selection chances no harm. Toomaga-Allen was industrious on attack, beating five defenders and running for 17 metres to round out one of the most offensively-minded front rows that has ever been selected in the TOTW series.
Just like Millar and van der Merwe, Toomaga-Allen was very solid on defence, missing no tackles throughout the night to complete a perfect 14 out of 14 tackle attempts during his side’s 36-15 win.
His opposition Ofa Tu’ungafasi (Blues) was similarly spectacular, as was the ‘Tongan Thor’, aka Taniela Tupou (Reds).
4 – Brodie Retallick (Chiefs)
The man affectionately known as ‘Guzzler’ by his teammates comes away from week 13 after having powered his way through a mountain of work against the Stormers in Cape Town.
Brodie Retallick was in inspired form at Newlands as his Chiefs side spluttered to a 15-9 win, which saw the #4 grind his way through 11 metres from eight carries, indicating his eagerness and ability to get his hands on the ball and work his way over the gain line. He didn’t stop there, as he ‘guzzled’ his way through 11 out of 11 tackle attempts, and went above and beyond to steal the ball not once, not twice, but three times from the Stormers’ breakdown.
Add a trio of lineout wins to his stat line for the week, and Retallick can move on to the match against the Sharks in Durban knowing that it would take a monumental shift, even by his lofty standards, to out-do himself from this week.
Alex Ainley (Highlanders) and RG Snyman (Bulls) miss the cut despite their outstanding efforts in Dunedin and Pretoria respectively.
5 – Tom Franklin (Highlanders)
There was an onslaught of names that all made extremely valid cases to partner Retallick in the second row for this week’s side, but Tom Franklin stood above all else to make a top- class outing under the roof of Forsyth Barr Stadium.
Franklin was simply epic during his side’s frenetic and, at time, tense 39-27 win over the Lions in Dunedin. For a lock, running 35 metres is an astonishing feat, especially when he managed to do so without beating a defender, nor did he make a clean break. Hard graft and determination was all that was needed to get him over the advantage line on a continual basis.
Franklin’s sparkling form translated into defence as well, as shown by his 19 completed tackles from 20 attempts. To even attempt 20 tackles is a mammoth effort, but to then miss just one of them is truly commendable.
Additionally, he claimed three of his side’s eight lineouts wins, making this match one of the season’s best for the Kobe Steelers-bound second rower.
6 – Michael Leitch (Sunwolves)
The Sunwolves were inspired form en route to their 63-28 thrashing of the Reds at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo, and Michael Leitch was at the forefront of it all.
He, along with his fellow loose forwards, are one of the key reasons as to why the Japanese side dominated so heavily in their first win of 2018. Sure, his 22 metres wasn’t too bad, especially when you consider it was from only eight carries, but what was by far the most brilliant aspect of the Japan captain’s match on Saturday was his relentless tackling. 20 tackles he made on the day. That’s a massive figure, and considering he only missed two out of his 22 attempts, both his accuracy and work rate need to be acknowledged and celebrated.
Elliot Dixon (Highlanders) and Jacques Vermeulen (Sharks) both came within a whisker of selection, while Cyle Brink (Lions), Lachlan McCaffrey (Brumbies), Angus Cottrell (Rebels), and Roelof Smit (Bulls) were in fine form.
7 – Tom Cussack (Brumbies)
As one of the more unheralded openside flankers in Super Rugby, it would be safe to say that not too many people were expecting a display like this from Tom Cussack.
In fact, there was hardly anyone at GIO Stadium in Canberra to watch their side go down 24-27 to the visiting Melbourne Rebels, so I can only imagine how many fans were anticipating such a complete performance from the 25-year- old.
The former Australian Sevens representative was marvellous, carrying the ball for 35 metres, beating three defenders in the process, and coming away from the fixture with both a try and a try assist to his name. To both provide and receive tries in a match is a rare feat, especially for a forward like Cussack. His exploits on defence weren’t too shabby either, as he recorded a total of nine tackles, and won a turnover.
All in all, it was a comprehensive showing from Cussack, who pips Ardie Savea (Hurricanes) and Jean-Luc du Preez (Sharks) for a place in the side. George Smith (Reds), Ed Quirk (Sunwolves), Michael Hooper (Waratahs), Franco Mostert (Lions), and Colby Fainga’a (Rebels) were others to do well across the league.
8 – Luke Whitelock (Highlanders)
He had a splendid night in front of the home supporters, carrying the ball for 48 metres, with the majority of those coming from two clean breaks. He was rewarded with a try, and his offensive ability was matched by his presence on defence. The Lions would have known they’d shared the same field as Whitelock, with the two-test All Black making a hefty 17 tackles, and managed to win a pair of turnovers.
It was a performance that could edge him into the All Blacks squad in a congest loose forward area, so he deserves his spot in the TOTW ahead of equally impressive individuals such as Mafi, Kwagga Smith (Lions), and Daniel du Preez (Sharks).
9 – Nic Groom (Lions)
It wasn’t exactly the best showing from halfbacks across the competition over the weekend, but Nic Groom has done enough to steal the #9 spot for week 13.
Those who watched the game on TV would have constantly heard the Lions halfback’s given how much featured for the South African’s in Dunedin. Whether it was getting a quick, crisp pass away, sniping from the fringe of the ruck, or id it was a towering box kick, Groom was always in the thick of it during his side’s final tour match of Australasia.
23 metres from five carries of the ball isn’t too bad of a return, with his solitary clean break making up for most of that yardage. Defensively, the 28-year- old tackled well, making six of his eight attempts.
It wasn’t the most overwhelmingly comprehensive displays of rugby you’ll ever see, but it was enough to win him this week’s halfback position ahead of fellow contenders Augustine Pulu (Blues) and Bryn Hall (Crusaders).
10 – Hayden Parker (Sunwolves)
There is no disputing this. The moment that the full-time whistle was blown at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium as the Sunwolves celebrated their maiden win of the 2018 campaign, Hayden Parker was also celebrating his best-ever performance as a professional rugby player.
The Kurow Kid could not be contained. He was authoritative in the first-five role, played with intent and direction, was tactically and technically astute, and boy oh boy, he could not miss the uprights even if he tried.
Parker combined all of these attributes to kick and astonishing 12 out of 12 off the kicking tee, and with a try to complement his personal points tally, he finished the match with 36 points to his name.
That places him fourth on the all-time Super Rugby leaderboard for individual points in a match, and it would take a ridiculously big effort from a fellow goal kicker to topple that effort.
Richie Mo’unga (Crusaders), Lima Sopoaga (Highlanders), and Handre Pollard (Bulls) all deserve shout outs for their outings across the southern hemisphere, but for this week, it’s Parker’s time in the limelight.
11 – Hosea Saumaki (Sunwolves)
The fourth Sunwolves player to make this week’s side, Hosea Saumaki continued his brilliant debut Super Rugby season with a hat-trick against the Reds in Tokyo.
If he can resolve complications with World Rugby surrounding his eligibility for the Japanese national side, then the Brave Blossoms would acquire one of the brightest talents in the world’s premier club competition, as Saumaki continues to establish himself as one of the elite wingers in Super Rugby.
Aside from his three-try haul, he beat three tackles and busted the line open on two occasions to chalk up 63 metres from only eight carries. If that doesn’t satisfy your demand for x-factor talent, then perhaps his high tackling percentage of 80% and two turnovers won will, as that exemplifies how well-rounded a talent he is in the #11 jersey.
Despite Saumaki’s dominance in the Japanese capital, it was still a close call to make as to who would appear on the left wing for this week’s XV, and Taqele Naiyaravoro (Waratahs), Tevita Nabura (Highlanders), and Solomon Alaimalo (Chiefs) can all feel aggrieved that they weren’t named this week.
12 – Michael Little (Sunwolves)
Four becomes five for the Sunwolves in this week’s side, as Michael Little defeats a cluster of world-class midfield displays to be named at second-five- eighth for round 13.
At this stage of the campaign, the Blues will be severely regretting not holding onto Little, who could very well be in the running for Super Rugby Rookie of the Year. The short odds for him to claim the accolade became even shorter after his performance against the Reds on the weekend, as he teared the Queenslanders apart.
78 running metres up against Samu Kerevi (Reds) is no mean feat, but Little did it stunningly, managing to evade six tackle attempts and break the line twice. The classiest touch of them all, though, was when he slipped a superb offload into the hands of Hayden Parker, who went over for a fantastic try that sent the home crowd into raptures.
That try was symbolic of not only the Sunwolves’ performance as a team, but it was also indicative of Little’s ability as an individual. He proved this further with an exemplary defensive record that saw him miss just one of nine tackle attempts.
Without his defensive solidity in the midfield, Kerevi would have undoubtedly ran riot, so the Sunwolves have a lot to thank Little for. Kerevi was one of the better Queenslanders on display, while Sonny Bill Williams (Blues) impressed upon return from a wrist injury. Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes) and Kurtley Beale (Waratahs) were close to being included, while Tei Walden (Highlanders), Reece Hodge (Rebels), Damian de Allende (Stormers) are all worthy of mention for their efforts.
13 – Jesse Kriel (Bulls)
Jesse Kriel was hands down the best centre in Super Rugby over the past weekend. He was a freak while in possession of the ball, a statement of which is clearly emphasised in his dominant stat line for the match.
A whopping 117 metres from just 11 carries is phenomenal from the 29-test midfielder, with six defenders beaten and five clean breaks the key to his success while on the ball. There is no doubt that he earned his try and try assist, while his defensive capability shone via the seven out of nine tackles that he made without too much fuss.
It’s difficult to comprehend that with this much ability and with such influence over his Bulls side that Kriel is still only 24-years- old. Therefore, expect to see much more of this to come in the coming seasons.
14 – Filipo Daugunu (Reds)
When Filipo Daugunu becomes eligible for the Wallabies at some point next year, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if Michael Cheika didn’t hesitate to heave him into his World Cup plans as quickly as possible.
That’s how good this Fijian-born-and-bred flyer is, and he proved it against the Sunwolves on Saturday. A weekend-high 168 metres ran was unbelievable to witness, and there were times when Daugunu rounded the Japanese defence seemingly at will. There is some truth to that theory, as he glanced his way past, through or over a whopping nine tackle attempts, and made two clean breaks in doing so.
One of those ended in a try, and you could argue that he was unfortunate to have scored any more given the freedom he was handed to run with the ball when he found himself in open space.
However, with a tackle percentage of only 55.56% in his sides heavy defeat, there is room for improvement in Daugnu’s game, but there is no denying the prodigious talents he possesses.
15 – Warrick Gelant (Bulls)
Given the captivating nature of Warrick Gelant’s play at Super Rugby level, it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to suggest that he could oust Andries Coetzee as South Africa’s starting fullback under new coach Robbie Fleck when the English arrive in the Republic next month.
He has been outstanding this season, with his electric turn of pace and nose for the tryline making him a fan favourite at Loftus Versfeld. 117 metres he ran on the weekend against the Sharks, and that was perhaps the downfall of the very evenly-matched South African rivals. The time and space he was allowed meant he both scored and created a try, and with Handre Pollard’s super reliable boot, that’s 14 points down the drain right there.
Gelant isn’t just a one-trick pony though. He finished the entertaining encounter with a 100% tackle success rate, and he if he can keep this level of form up throughout the entire year, including at international level, his name could be one that is mentioned when it comes to the announcing the World Breakthrough Player of the Year award in December.
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