Round four of Super Rugby has come to a close, with the Blues pulling off an upset win over the Lions, the Hurricanes holding out the Crusaders in a fierce New Zealand derby, and the Rebels maintaining their unbeaten start to the 2018 season.
With all seven matches completed, it’s now time to run through the Super Rugby Team of the Week.
1 – Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks)
Tendai Mtawarira was a standout player in the Sharks’ 50-22 thumping of the Sunwolves in Durban over the weekend, so much so that he retains his status as the competition’s top performing loosehead prop of the round.
The Beast put in a mammoth shift, running a whopping 38 metres from three clean breaks – huge offensive figures for a prop. Those three clean breaks saw him beat three defenders, while on defence, he made nine tackles from nine attempts. His polished all-round performance was capped off with the 100% scrum win percentage that he and his fellow front rowers maintained throughout the course of the 80 minutes, earning him the number one jersey in successive weeks.
Chris Eves (Hurricanes) wasn’t too far off from claiming this week’s top spot, scoring a try and running 30 metres from two carries in a productive performance against the Crusaders in Wellington.
2 – Akker van der Merwe (Sharks)
Mtawarira’s teammate Akker van der Merwe makes the cut following his explosive performance at King’s Park.
In a display comparable to that of Dane Coles or Asafo Aumua, the former Lions hooker beat an incredible eight defenders as he ran for a monstrous 65 metres from three clean breaks. His 43 metre try in the first half was one for the highlights reel, as he showed supreme strength and balance as well as a good toe of pace en route to scoring one of the more memorable front rower tries you’re likely to see this year.
The uncapped 26-year-old was also defensively sound, completing all four of his tackle attempts and winning a turnover. A 100% success rate as the lineout thrower capped off a quality outing that will force any complacency out of Springboks incumbent Malcolm Marx (Lions).
Augustine Creevy (Jaguares) is unlucky not to make the team following his superb effort against the Waratahs during his side’s 38-28 win in Buenos Aires, while Codie Taylor (Crusaders) continued to impress in his team’s 29-19 defeat at the hands of the Hurricanes.
3 – Taniela Tupou (Reds)
Former teenage sensation Taniela Tupou is beginning to find his feet at this level, with high class back-to-back matches enough to earn himself selection in this week’s side.
The Tongan Thor was immense against the Bulls, shrugging off a defender to make one clean break for 16 metres with ball in hand, as well as bagging a try assist in the lead up to Caleb Timu’s try. With an additional four tackles and a turnover on defence to his name, Tupou has really stepped his game up in this season’s Super Rugby campaign, and will be a firm challenger for the Australian tighthead prop spot by the time the Wallabies face Ireland in June.
4 – Matias Alemmano (Jaguares)
While the Jaguares backline starred in their upset win over the Waratahs at Jose Amalfitani Stadium, lock Matias Alemmano was one of the rocks of the Argentinian forward pack that laid the platform for their first victory of the season.
The 41-test Puma made a solid 20 metres from six carries in Buenos Aires, making a clean break and assisting one of Emiliano Boffelli’s two tries in the match’s opening minute. He was staunch without the ball as well, making 13 out of 13 tackles, and even managed to win his side a turnover.
Three lineouts won for his side rounded out an immaculate display from Alemmano, who will look to continue this sort of form when the Jaguares host the Reds next week.
Jackson Hemopo (Highlanders) was probably Alemanno’s biggest challenger for the number four jersey, while Vaea Fifita (Hurricanes) and Izaak Rodda (Reds) both played well.
5 – Lood de Jager (Bulls)
This was a tight call to make, but Lood de Jager – who has probably been the Bulls’ best player thus far this season – makes this week’s team due to his well-balanced showing.
While 15 metres, two defenders beaten, and a clean break may seem impressive for someone of de Jager’s stature, it was his efforts off the ball that really earned him his stripes. The 36-test Springbok made a huge 19 tackles at Suncorp Stadium, supplementing his solitary turnover and four lineout wins during his side’s 20-14 loss to the Reds in Brisbane.
Tom Franklin (Highlanders) was de Jager’s main real challenger, with the Maori All Black also putting in a big defensive shift with 19 tackles, a turnover, and a lineout steal, while Ross Haylett-Petty’s (Rebels) 22 tackles made him a force to be reckoned with against the Brumbies.
6 – Liam Squire (Highlanders)
Liam Squire further enhanced his reputation as New Zealand’s premier blindside flanker with a polished game against the Stormers in Dunedin on Friday night.
The 15-test All Black loose forward dominated the match both offensively and defensively for the entirety of the match. A first half try was complimented by one clean break, 54 metres ran, a solitary offload, three lineout wins, and 12 tackles as he continually made himself a threat across all facets of the game.
Lachlan McCaffrey (Brumbies) and Michael Leitch (Sunwolves) both did well for their respective sides in losing efforts, but neither commanded this week’s number six jersey in the same way that Squire did under the roof of Forsyth Barr Stadium.
7 – Marcos Kremer (Jaguares)
Marcos Kremer could be the shining light going forward for Argentine rugby, with the 20-year-old putting on a show for the Jaguares fans as they defeated the Waratahs in Buenos Aires.
A clean break allowed the openside flankers to eat up 35 metres, with his physical and confrontational style of play constantly putting the Waratahs defenders on the back foot. That same style of play translated into defence for Kremer, with the youngster posting a productive 18 tackles to help the Jaguares claim their first win of the campaign, as did a rare lineout steal.
8 – Amanaki Mafi (Rebels)
This was one of the hardest positions to select this week, with at least seven No. 8’s performing to a standard worthy of selection over the past weekend.
However, Amanaki Mafi takes the cake, with his game being the most well-rounded out of all those in contention. The Japanese international ran for a whopping 82 metres, beating six defenders in the process. His destructive and explosive style of play allowed him to have a hand in two tries, one of which he scored himself, and the other of which he assisted.
While Mafi is renowned for his rampaging attacking capabilities, as he showed us on Friday night during the Rebels’ 33-10 win over the Brumbies, he also proved to be a pretty secure defender, making 11 tackles, and turning the ball over for his side once.
It is performances akin to this one that makes Mafi arguably the finest No. 8 in Super Rugby.
His opposite Isi Naisarani (Brumbies) also put on an electric display, beating four defenders to also run for 82 metres from one clean break.
Akira Ioane (Blues) and Luke Whitelock (Highlanders) both continued to put their hands up for All Black selection with outstanding matches against the Lions and Stormers respectively. Ioane scored his fourth try in three outings in Johannesburg, running for 75 metres, beating 10 defenders, and winning his side a turnover in his side’s 38-35 comeback win, while Whitelock was unstoppable, particularly on defence, as he made 24 tackles, won two turnovers, and scored a try for the southerners.
9 – Aaron Smith (Highlanders)
It may be becoming a bit cliché, but it remains an entirely valid question to ask whether Aaron Smith is charged by a pack of Energizer batteries before every game he plays.
The livewire halfback could simply not stop running around for the entire match during the Highlanders’ 33-15 win over the Stormers in Dunedin, raking in three clean breaks, two defenders beaten, one try assist, 51 metres gained, and a turnover won. Smith managed to get through all that work, and that’s without even mentioning the two tries he scored, both of which were a result fantastic support play.
Such a display of comprehensive attacking rugby is one of the reasons Smith is labelled as one of the best halfbacks the All Blacks have ever had, and it is why he beats out the likes of Will Genia (Rebels), TJ Perenara (Hurricanes), and Ross Cronje (Lions) to make this week’s team.
10 – Nicolas Sanchez (Jaguares)
The Argentine pivot Nicolas Sanchez played a starring role in the Jaguares’ first win of the 2018 season, running a tight ship as the South Americans dominated the match from start to finish.
The 62-test veteran steered his team across the park, making some tactically astute decisions and throwing some key passes that eventually resulted in tries for his side. Without Sanchez’s influence, the Jaguares backline would not have flowed as well as it did, and they would be worse off without him.
Statistically speaking, 29-year-old beat four defenders with one clean break, made nine out of nine tackles, won his side a turnover, helped himself to a try, and kicked a further eight points to round out a top-notch performance.
His composure and solidity pushes him into the XV this week ahead of Lima Sopoaga (Highlanders), Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes), Jono Lance (Reds), Elton Jantjes (Lions), and the 19-year-old Damian Willemse (Stormers), who warrants special mention for how well he asserted his authority during his team’s loss to the Highlanders.
11 – Makazole Mapimpi (Sharks)
The former Kings wing was unrelenting in attack, using his lightning speed and fancy footwork to make five clean breaks, which allowed him to beat seven defenders and cover 122 running metres, all of which culminated in two tries for the 27-year-old. He proved to be no pushover defensively either, making all six of his tackle attempts.
Should he continue to pile on statistics like these in the coming weeks, the left wing spot in the Springboks camp could well be handed to the uncapped speedster.
Tevita Nabura (Highlanders), Raymond Rhule (Stormers), Ben Lam (Hurricanes), Melani Nanai (Blues), and Emiliano Boffelli (Jaguares) all made a case for inclusion in this week’s team with their showings across the southern hemisphere.
12 – Andre Esterhuizen (Sharks)
Similarly to No.8, second-five was one of the hardest positions to pick this week due to a huge number of players across the league playing to a degree worthy of selection.
After scouring through all the potential inclusions, it is Andre Esterhuizen of the Sharks who makes this week’s side with an outstanding all-round display that showed he is just as much of a danger on defence as he is on attack.
With physical dimensions of 1.92m and 102kg, Esterhuizen is difficult to bring down, and the Sunwolves found that out the hard way as the 23-year-old beat three defenders and made four clean breaks to run a total of 50 metres, while also tossing three offloads to his teammates.
However, it is without the ball in hand that Esterhuizen really shined, as the former South Africa U20 representative made an astonishing 23 tackles, trailing only Luke Whitelock in making the most tackles of any player this weekend. For good measure, Esterhuizen managed to win his team a turnover as well.
Plenty of other second-fives stood out this weekend, including Esterhuizen’s opposite Michael Little (Sunwolves), Sonny Bill Williams (Blues) – who starred in the Blues’ win over the Lions by making seven offloads – Rohan Janse van Rensburg (Lions), Reece Hodge (Rebels), Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes), and Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias (Jaguares).
13 – Rob Thompson (Highlanders)
The Highlanders may have only played two games so far this season, but Rob Thompson is putting himself into All Blacks contention with the way he is playing for the Dunedin-based franchise.
Following an immaculate performance against the Blues at Forsyth Barr Stadium a fortnight ago, Thompson backed it up with another spectacle in the midfield against the Stormers to prove that it wasn’t just a fluke. The Cantabrian made two clean breaks and ran 92 metres, beating seven defenders in the process to show that he has become an integral part of the Highlanders backline for this season.
Perhaps the only real threat to Thompson’s status as the best centre in the league over the past weekend was Rieko Ioane (Blues), who beat five defenders to run in two tries, while Tom English (Rebels) made the third-most tackles of any player, recording 22 against the Brumbies.
14 – Waisake Naholo (Highlanders)
Waisake Naholo was back to his brilliant best on Friday night, providing a spark on the right wing that helped propel the Highlanders to victory over the Stormers.
The Fijian-born All Black was one of the best players of the park, beating five defenders from four clean breaks, accumulating 88 metres in the process. It should come as no surprise that he played a hand in two tries, one of which was an assist for the first of Aaron Smith’s try, and the other one he scored in a good team effort.
There were plenty of competitors for the number 14 jersey this week, with Sylvian Mahuza (Lions), Lomano Lomeki (Sunwolves), Jack Maddocks (Rebels), and Filipo Daugunu (Reds) all impressing in their respective clashes.
15 – Jordie Barrett (Hurricanes)
While not as statistically dominant as some other fullbacks across the league over the weekend, Jordie Barrett’s influence over the Hurricanes during their 29-19 win over the New Zealand conference-leading Crusaders cannot be dismissed.
The two-test All Black constantly provided his side with an attacking outlet from the back. This continual onslaught that Barrett Jr provided led to a spectacular assist in the lead up to TJ Perenara’s try, with a crafty flick pass wowing onlookers.
An additional 66 metres made from a pair of clean breaks, a trio of defenders beaten and three offloads being thrown, the 21-year-old made a big impact throughout his side’s victory.
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