With no teams from the South African conference on show for round 16 of Super Rugby, a shortened week of the competition took place across Australasia.
A reduction in teams didn’t result in the reduction of quality though, as some cracking encounters – such as the Highlanders’ win over the Hurricanes, the Crusaders’ tight victory over the Chiefs, and the high-scoring affair between the Waratahs and Reds – made for an entertaining week of rugby.
Alex McLeod presents his final Team of the Week before the competition breaks for three weeks as the June internationals take place.
1 – Karl Tu’inukuafe (Chiefs)
Although they couldn’t secure victory in front of their home crowd at Waikato Stadium, the Chiefs didn’t go down to the Crusaders without a fight, and leading the charge in the losing effort was new All Blacks prop Karl Tu’inukuafe.
The surprise revelation of this loosehead prop continued Saturday night, with the 25-year- old getting through a productive amount of work during his side’s 34-20 defeat in Hamilton. He ploughed his way through 11 running metres and made all eight of his tackle attempts, while also winning a turnover before a cramp in his leg ended his night in the second half.
Tu’inukuafe heads into All Blacks camp after producing the best performance by a #1 in all of Super Rugby, fending off the impressive effort of Tom Robertson (Waratahs) to make this round’s TOTW.
2 – Codie Taylor (Crusaders)
In a round absent of South African players that have dominated the hooker role in recent TOTW’s, All Blacks incumbent Codie Taylor stood up for the Crusaders and takes the reigns for round 16.
The 27-year-old has gone from strength-to-strength over the past 18 months or so, and with Dane Coles’ ongoing injury concerns, he looks set for a prolonged period in the All Blacks’ #2 jersey.
His development as one of the world’s leading hookers progressed into week 16 of the competition, where he got a try assist, made 11 tackles, won two turnovers, and successfully threw 11 lineouts.
That was a display too good not to recognise, so Taylor takes this week’s hooker spot in a
3 – Jeff Toomaga-Allen (Hurricanes)
With quite a few tighthead props in contention for the #3 jersey this week, a moment of brilliance was required to separate the successful candidate apart from the rest of the pack.
While the Hurricanes may have lost for the second week running, Toomaga-Allen didn’t disappoint in other areas of play. In addition to his try, the 15 metres he ran with ball in hand, his 12 out of 12 tackles completed, and the role he played in the Hurricanes winning all 12 of their scrum feeds are figures the one-test All Black should be proud of.
4 – Jackson Hemopo (Highlanders)
Jackson Hemopo made one half of a superb Highlanders second row against the Hurricanes on Friday night.
Playing a key role in his team’s emphatic 30-14 win over their rivals at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Hemopo helped lay the platform for his teammates to run rampant over the Wellingtonians through his ability in the breakdown, at the set piece, and in general play.
This is reflected in his 19 running metres, seven tackles, four lineout wins, and his try assist, which required an outstanding back-flick pass to Tevita Li to keep the ball in the field of play.
5 – Tom Franklin (Highlanders)
Partnering up with Hemopo on Friday was Tom Franklin, who was so good that he came away from the victorious encounter with man of the match honours.
His performance undoubtedly played a large contributing factor to his call-up to the All Blacks as injury cover for their clash against France in Auckland this weekend, and he wholeheartedly deserves the promotion.
The disruption Franklin caused at lineout time must have been infuriating for the Hurricanes and euphoric for the Highlanders, as the 27-year-old not only won four of his team’s 10 throw-ins, but he also stole two of the Hurricanes’ throw-ins as well.
Add to that his 26 running metres, five tackles made, two defenders beaten, and a solitary clean break, and Franklin has a quality all-round performance that wins him this week’s #5 slot over Sam Carter (Brumbies) and Sam Wykes (Sunwolves).
6 – Luke Jacobson (Chiefs)
Like his teammate Tu’inukuafe, youngster Luke Jacobson refused to let the Crusaders depart Hamilton with a win without making them fight hard for it.
The 21-year-old blindside flanker was possibly the best forward on the park on Saturday night, lifting his game to another level after a string of promising outings in the weeks leading up to this fierce Kiwi derby.
Last year’s New Zealand under-20 captain ended the match with an impressive stat line, recording 36 running metres, two defenders beaten, 14 tackles, a turnover won, and a brace of tries.
That’s a comprehensive effort by Jacobson, and it’s enough to get him selected for round 16’s TOTW. He takes the #6 spot ahead of other leading candidates such as Ethan Blackadder (Crusaders), Lachlan McCaffrey (Brumbies), and Jerome Kaino (Blues).
7 – Ardie Savea (Hurricanes)
Ardie Savea’s explosive run of form since returning from a rib injury against the Sunwolves back in April is showing no sign of waning following his immaculate match against the Highlanders in Dunedin.
The 24-test loose forward was dominant in all aspects of the game on Friday night, showcasing that if Sam Cane is still struggling for fitness ahead of this week’s test against France, then Savea would slot into the All Blacks’ starting XV without fault.
The 24-year-old ran rampant under the roof of Forsyth Barr Stadium, beating six defenders to pick up 50 metres with ball in hand, while also smashing into 20 tackles, the most made by any player throughout the competition over the weekend.
8 – Michael Wells (Waratahs)
There were a plethora of No. 8s on show across the weekend that could have easily made the cut for round 16’s TOTW. However, the exploits of Michael Wells were too much to dismiss, despite the obvious quality evident throughout the league.
The 25-year-old is slowly developing into a key cog of the Waratahs’ forward pack, and with performances like the one he had during New South Wales’ 52-41 win over the Reds in
Brisbane on Saturday, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him promoted to the international arena in the coming seasons. Wells was in commanding form on offence, collecting 39 metres while in possession of the ball to dot down for one try, as well as assisting another two. He was just as confrontational
on defence, finishing the match with a total of 10 tackles to his name.
Chuck in a pair of lineout wins and a steal from a Queensland throw-in, and it’s clear how well-rounded of an outing Wells had at Suncorp Stadium. As a result, he wins the #8 jersey for this week ahead of players including Luke Whitelock (Highlanders), Akira Ioane (Blues), Amanaki Mafi (Rebels), Liam Messam (Chiefs), and Scott Higginbotham (Reds).
9 – Joe Powell (Brumbies)
Joe Powell has continued to elevate his game more and more as the Wallabies’ three-test series against Ireland draws closer and closer, and now the three-test halfback is in peak form less than a week out from the first test in Brisbane.
His match against the Sunwolves at GIO Stadium in Canberra on Sunday was probably the best he’s had all year, and it comes a week after another outstanding display against the Bulls in Pretoria.
Powell’s snipes around the fringes of the breakdown were enough to see him reel in 42 metres with ball in hand, and he proved to be destructive with that much territory at his disposal, as he made three clean breaks, and came away with a total of three try assists – the most by anyone in the competition over the weekend.
That was enough to see him win the halfback role in this week’s TOTW, although special mention must be made of Aaron Smith (Highlanders), who was lethal for the entirety of the Highlanders’ win over the Hurricanes in Dunedin.
10 – Richie Mo’unga (Crusaders)
The Crusaders needed someone to control the game, direct play, and drive them around the park in order for them to earn success against the Chiefs at Waikato Stadium, and in Richie Mo’unga, they found that person.
Mo’unga has been in top form all season long for the reigning champions, and his standout performance in Hamilton is reflective of his capabilities that will likely earn him the back-up first-five role for the All Blacks in the upcoming test series against France.
He was threatening with ball in hand, chalking up 66 running metres from two clean breaks, which saw him beat a whopping nine defenders. On top of that, his distribution and kicking skills were second to none, and he deserved the 12 points he collated from off the kicking tee.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Mo’unga takes the cake as the premier #10 in Super Rugby for round 16, overcoming the challenges posted by Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes), Bernard Foley (Waratahs), and Hayden Parker (Sunwolves).
11 – Jordan Petaia (Reds)
He may have only just turned 18 a couple of months ago, but that doesn’t mean by any stretch of the imagination that Jordan Petaia is out of his depth at Super Rugby level, as he exemplified against the Waratahs in front of his home crowd on Saturday.
An Australian Schoolboy representative last year, Petaia has done well to adapt to the rigors of Super Rugby at such a young age, and there’s a lot to be excited about for the teenager in the coming seasons if his outing against the Reds’ long-time rivals is anything to go by.
He clocked up an astounding 112 metres from only nine carries and three line breaks in the Queensland capital. He made the most of his hard-earned yardage to score one of his side’s seven tries as they went down to New South Wales in a 15-try spectacle.
Petaia’s raw talent was enough to see him win the #11 jersey in this week’s side over older, more experienced competitors such as Tumua Manu (Blues), George Bridge (Crusaders), and Taqele Naiyaravoro (Waratahs).
12 – Bill Meakes (Rebels)
There could be a case made Bill Meakes to have been selected as a bolter for Michael Cheika’s Wallabies squad, given the level of consistency he’s provided the Rebels with over the past few weeks.
The uncapped midfielder has been more than effective for the Melbourne outfit, helping propel them into play-offs contention for the first time in their brief history. Although he’s a safe pair of hands in the middle of the park, he has provided them some attacking spark that has been missing from the Victorian franchise over the past few seasons.
Meakes’ offensive capabilities were on show at Eden Park in Auckland, as he beat five defenders, broke the line twice, ran up 69 metres, and crossed the line twice to score a brace of tries.
Factor in his defensive stability – he made eight out if eight tackles on Saturday evening – and it makes for a compelling case for Meakes to be internationally capped by Cheika. He takes this week’s #12 spot over Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes), David Havili (Crusaders), Duncan Paia’aua (Reds), and Kurtley Beale (Waratahs).
13 – Jordie Barrett (Hurricanes)
He may have had the police called on him for accidentally walking into a stranger’s flat at 5am a night after his side’s defeat in Dunedin while munching on some McDonald’s, but that doesn’t take away from Jordie Barrett’s top notch display against the Highlanders.
Thrust into the slightly less familiar position of centre, the youngest Barrett thrived in the thick of the action. He scored one try off a simple yet effective backline move involving brother Beauden off the back of a scrum, and he would have had another one had it not been for an ill-fated scuffle between Liam Squire (Highlanders) and Julian Savea (Hurricanes) earlier in the sequence of play.
That highlights the influence he has in the 2016 champions regardless of where he plays, as does the rest of his stat line, which states that he posted 75 running metres, beat three defenders, broke the line twice, and made seven of his nine tackle attempts.
Following that exceptional performance at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Barrett finishes the week not only with a stomach full of Big Macs, but also as the competition’s top centre, winning the #13 jersey for this round’s TOTW over Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs), Samu Kerevi (Reds), Curtis Rona (Waratahs), and Jason Emery (Sunwolves).
14 – Henry Speight (Brumbies)
If Henry Speight can deliver the same sort of performance that he had against the Sunwolves on Sunday against Ireland in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney over the next three weeks, then the tourists are in for a tough ride in their season-ending tour.
Speight was phenomenal against the Japanese club. He ran riot from the get-go, and the Sunwolves were made to pay for it, as the Fijian-born winger made a massive contribution to the visitor’s 41-31 defeat in the Australian capital.
The 19-test wing ran for 145 metres, the highest number registered by anyone in the league over the weekend. That shouldn’t be surprising considering he broke 10 tackles, made seven clean breaks, and scored a pair of tries.
That’s the sort of offensive threat that will lead the Wallabies to an unlikely victory over the Six Nations champions, so Speight will need to transition that form from club to international level.
Waisake Naholo (Highlanders), Izaia Perese (Reds), Cam Clark (Waratahs), and Semisi Masirewa (Sunwolves) miss the cut due to Speight’s sublime appearance.
15 – Israel Folau (Waratahs)
If Israel Folau was as brilliant on social media as he is on the rugby field, then he would make the headlines for positive reasons more often than he does for controversial ones.
Nevertheless, the 62-test veteran proved how precious of a commodity he is for Australia from an on-field standpoint, as he ripped the Reds to shreds in uncompromising fashion at Suncorp Stadium.
He made his presence felt by running for a blockbusting 127 metres, which saw him break
the line twice, beat five defenders, score two tries, and set another one up.
It was certainly an eye-catching outing from Folau, who is set to play a prominent role in
Australia’s test series again Ireland. He ousts Ben Smith (Highlanders), Dane Haylett-Petty
(Rebels), and Tom Banks (Brumbies) for the fullback position in this week’s TOTW.
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