After a week off, Alex McLeod returns to run you through his next edition of the Super Rugby Team of the Week.
1 – Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks)
Tendai Mtawarira continued to elevate his status as not only the best loosehead prop in thecompetition against the Hurricanes on Friday night, but one of the best #1’s in the world. ‘The Beast’ was in fine form in Napier, constantly taking the ball to the host’s defensive line time and time again to rake up 23 metres, which is an impressive figure for most props, but is a standard procedure for a front rower as mobile as Mtawarira.
The Zimbabwean-born Springbok also defended well, chalking up nine tackles from nine attempts, while it comes as no surprise that the Sharks also managed to maintain a 100% record at scrum time with Mtawarira helping to anchor the pack at McLean Park.
Elsewhere, Dylan Smith (Lions) put in a polished all-round shift against the Stormers, while
Pauliasi Manu (Blues) defended admirably in Hamilton.
2 – Codie Taylor (Crusaders)
The duel between Codie Taylor and Malcolm Marx (Lions) for the crown of Super Rugby’s best hooker rolled into week eight of the 2018 competition, and this time, it was the former who came out on top.
Taylor was sublime against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires, with the 29-test All Blacks breaking the line twice up to record a barnstorming 64 metres with ball in hand in Argentina, a statistic no other hooker came close to over the weekend. He didn’t shy away from his defensive and set piece duties either, making nine out of 10 tackles, and helping the Crusaders front row record an unblemished record at the scrum.
All of this was capped off with a try assist to end a sterling effort by the man who surely must be considered the primary hooker for the All Blacks ahead of the injured Dane Coles.
In addition to Marx, Ricky Riccitelli (Hurricanes) also warrants a mention for his display against the Sharks.
3 – Wilco Louw (Stormers)
A tight contest for the tighthead prop position sees Wilco Louw come out on top for week
The 23-year- old has a bright future ahead of him in South African rugby, and his showing in a losing effort against the Lions in Johannesburg was indicative of that. Louw clocked up a respectable 15 running metres in the tight channels, with the majority of that yardage coming from his solitary clean break.
With eight out of nine tackles and a turnover won to his name, the five-test Springbok contributed to one of his team’s four try which saw him carry a couple of Lions defenders over the line with him – an act of true grit and determination.
Taniela Tupou (Reds) was the biggest threat to Louw’s title as tighthead prop of the week, while Thomas du Toit (Sharks) and Angus Ta’avao also made a pair of quality performances.
4 – Rory Arnold (Brumbies)
While there weren’t a plethora of contenders lining up for this week’s #4 jersey, there is no doubt that Rory Arnold is more than a deserving candidate to claim the first of the two lock spots.
The towering Brumbies man put in a mammoth display during his side’s 45-21 come-from-behind thrashing of the Reds in Canberra, making not one, but two clean breaks to come away from the clash with a very solid 45 metres ran.
An offload and a try meant the 27-year- old showcased his array of skills to his home crowd, but it wasn’t all tricks and flair for the 15-test Wallaby, who completed 11 out of his 12 tackle attempts, and won five his team’s 12 lineouts to round out a match worthy of inclusion in this week’s team.
Perhaps the only competitor able to challenge Arnold for this week’s spot is Tyler Ardron (Chiefs), who played to his usual high standards against the Blues on Friday.
5 – Brodie Retallick (Chiefs)
Although Ardron didn’t make the cut, his locking partner Brodie Retallick most certainly did. The world’s premier lock never fails to impress, and his contribution during the Chiefs’ 21-19 win over the Blues at Waikato Stadium was no different. He was particularly industrious on attack, running 36 metres from 14 carries, while also throwing four offloads in the process. Six out of seven tackles is not a shabby defensive effort either, and he stood up at lineout time as well, hauling in five of his team’s nine lineout to help ensure that the Chiefs won 100% of their own throws.
This outing places him ahead of his opposite Josh Goodhue (Blues) and Franco Mostert (Lions), who both shone in their respective matches.
6 – Kwagga Smith (Lions)
What a specimen Kwagga Smith is. When Rassie Erasmus gives the former sevens specialist a call-up to the Springboks, the national side will be better because of it.
The energetic loose forward put in another blockbusting match in for the Lions during their 52-31 smashing of the Stormers at Ellis Park, running the ball five times to beat four defenders and scoot away for 41 metres while in possession of the ball.
It may come as no surprise that he scored a brilliant try, which saw him utilise his immense pace and strength to round SP Marais five metres from his own tryline, but what was even more impressive was his defensive work rate. Smith made a whopping 22 tackles against Cape Town visitors, slipping off just four of his attempts, as well as winning his side three turnovers.
It is this sort of ambition and desire that wins teams matches, and there is little doubt that the Springboks would improve with a man like Smith in their ranks. Brad Shields (Hurricanes), Phillip van der Walt (Sharks), and Caleb Timu (Reds) all caught the
eye in their matches in Napier and Canberra.
7 – Pieter-Steph du Toit (Stormers)
With the depth that the Springboks have at lock and flanker, Pieter-Steph du Toit is making an increasingly valid claim that he could be the best available option in either the second row or the #7 jersey for Rassie Erasmus’ team.
The 25-year- old utility forward rarely goes missing with that blonde mop of his, and it was visible all across Ellis Park with the shift he put in against the Lions over the weekend. 78 running metres is huge for any forward, but du Toit managed to do it, and the effect it had on his side was massive. He beat 10 defenders and made two line breaks in doing so to outline the threat that he poses when he gets his mitts on the ball.
He’s defensively strong as well, picking up 11 tackles from 13 attempts, with a turnover won for his side was an added bonus. Three lineout wins further highlighted his versatility, and he’ll be a prominent member of both the Stormers and the Springboks as their seasons move forward.
Pieter Labuschagne (Sunwolves) made a surprisingly effective showing against the Waratahs in Tokyo, while Jean-Luc du Preez (Sharks) and David Pocock (Brumbies) both did well.
8 – Isi Naisarani (Brumbies)
It’s safe to say that Isi Naisarani can probably be considered an outside contender for Super Rugby No. 8 of the Year, and if the Wallabies don’t pick him up for their June series against Ireland, then Fiji would be more than happy to do so.
The robust 23-year- old continues to impress following his transfer from the Western Force to the Brumbies, as his performance against the Reds proved to be a very commendable one. If du Toit’s 78 running metres are deemed to be outstanding, then Naisarani’s 92 metres ran at GIO Stadium must be considered brilliant. The No. 8 was rampaging on offence, and his brace of tries was representative of that.
Eight tackles and a turnover won for his side was a good, honest contribution to his side’s thumping of their Queensland rivals, and an international call-up must not be too far away from reality now for the Super Rugby sophomore.
Akira Ioane (Blues) must be mentioned for his supreme defensive showing against the Chiefs, where he made 19 tackles and won two turnovers for his team. Elsewhere, Tera Mtembu (Sharks), Michael Wells (Waratahs), and Kazuki Himeno (Sunwolves) all made noteworthy impressions.
9 – Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Chiefs)
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi not only continues to apply the pressure on Brad Weber for the Chiefs’ starting halfback position, but he also continues to stake a claim for the vacant third halfback spot in the All Blacks squad. Tahuriorangi locked horns with opposite Jono Ruru (Blues) in a fierce battle in Hamilton, but it was the former who came out on top, not only on the scoreboard, but also in this week’s TOTW.
The former New Zealand schoolboy rugby league representative shone in a grinding edition of the Battle of the Bombay’s, sniping around the fringes of the ruck to come away with 40 metres from seven carries and two clean breaks. His clean delivery of the ball made things easy for stand-in first-five Marty McKenzie, who was called up from the bench half an hour into the clash to replace his injured brother Damian.
If Tahuriorangi can keep up this sort of form, and continue to keep Weber out of the match day squad, then an international call-up may not be outside of the realms of possibility. Ruru joins Jano Vermaak (Stormers) and Gonzalo Bertranou (Jaguares) as the other standout halfbacks for this week.
10 – Ihaia West (Hurricanes)/Elton Jantjies (Lions)/Damian Willemse (Stormers)
The way things panned out on Friday night for Ihaia West would have been the stuff of
dreams for the Napier local, who kicked the match-winning conversion five minutes into injury time to hand the Hurricanes a dramatic 38-37 win over the Sharks in front of his hometown crowd.
His performance was more than that though – the Bordeaux-bound first-five assisted all four of his team’s tries in the Hawke’s Bay, an effort few are capable of achieving. His 100% tackling success rate should not be undermined, while his seven out of eight successful shots at goal were impressive, showing that New Zealand will be losing a dependable pivot when he departs for France at the conclusion of the season.
Elton Jantjies (Lions) and Damian Willemse (Stormers) went hammer and tongs at each other in Johannesburg, with the result being two standout showings at Ellis Park with Springboks selection on the line.
11 – Taqele Naiyaravoro (Waratahs)
This was by far the most difficult position to pick from due to two seriously outstanding performances from men donning the #11 jersey for their respective franchises over the weekend.
However, it is Taqele Naiyaravoro that wins my vote ahead of Michael Tambwe (Lions),
although the duo were borderline inseparable during the selection process. Naiyaravoro’s season has gone from strength to strength since his dominant outing against the Rebels in Sydney back in round five, and the Sunwolves couldn’t withstand the force that this man generated out on the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium turf in Tokyo.
All Naiyaravoro needed was eight carries to produce an excessive 176 running metres – the most metres made by any player during the round. With those 176 metres, he broke the line four times and ran past, through, or around 10 defenders at will. In the end, he only conjured up a solitary try, but there could easily have been more.
This sort of attacking threat means he is surely in Michael Chieka’s plans for the June test series, as Naiyaravoro looks to add to his two test caps. Tambwe was unbelievably close to making the cut, with his Super Rugby record-equalling
four tries not quite enough to get him across the line. He probably would have broken the record had he not been substituted off the park with about half an hour to play given the sort of form he was in.
George Bridge (Crusaders) was the other notable left wing from the weekend.
12 – Michael Little (Sunwolves)
Should he decide to stay in Japan for another two years and complete the required residency tenure, Michael Little would be a valuable asset to the Japanese national team, as his showings for the Sunwolves this season are beginning to prove. The former Blues midfielder has been a constant attacking weapon for the Sunwolves in 2018, and while they went down 50-29 against the Waratahs over the weekend, Little didn’t go down wondering what could have been. The diminutive second-five carried the ball 15 times to chalk up an incredible 132 metres from a trio of clean breaks. His ability to weave his way through and around defences proved to be hugely profitable for his side, as the 25-year- old scored one try and assisted two others. A solitary turnover won for the Japanese outfit capped off a sensational display for Little.
Sunwolves and Japan coach Jamie Joseph might be weary of the likes of Conor O’Shea and John McKenzie in the wake of these performances, given that the Rome-born Little is eligible to play for both Italy and Fiji, with the latter nation one that he represented at an under-20 level.
Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes) and Andre Esterhuizen (Sharks) battled hard against each other throughout the duration of their clash at McLean Park.
13 – Vince Aso (Hurricanes)
Vince Aso was a big reason as to why the Hurricanes got out of jail against the Sharks on Friday night, and that earns him selection into this week’s side in a fiercely contested centre position for this week.
The uncapped midfielder/wing stood out in a stacked Hurricanes backline, busting the line twice to run 105 metres from six carries, with one 70-odd metre dart ending with a try under the posts. He linked up will with his old midfield partner Ngani Laumape, and the duo joined forces to make five tackles apiece to try and stop the onslaught of Esterhuizen and Lukanyo Am
(Sharks), which is by no means an easy task.
Am was one of many runner-up’s for the #13 spot, with Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs), Chris Feauai-Sautia (Reds), and Lionel Mapoe (Lions) all staking claims to be named in this week’s line up.
14 – Manasa Mataele (Crusaders)
Provided he’s eligible when the squad is announced, could Manasa Mataele be a bolter of an inclusion when the All Blacks squad is announced late next month? Who knows, but one thing is for sure, Mataele is one of the in-form wingers in Super Rugby at the moment.
His display against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires was probably his best of this year’s campaign, with the former Fiji schoolboy representative beating eight Argentine defenders to bust the line three times, allowing him to run 110 metres.
There should be minimal surprise that as a result of his attacking prowess on show at Estadio Jose Amalfitani, the 21-year- old played a significant role in three of his team’s tries, crossing over to bag a brace of tries, as well as setting the other one up.
Mataele didn’t hide away from the physical stuff either, making a respectable seven out of eight tackles, and winning the reigning champions a turnover during their 40-14 rout in the Argentinian capital to pique the interest of Fiji coach John McKenzie ahead of their June tests against Romania, Georgia, and Tonga. Semisi Masirewa (Sunwolves) and Filipo Daugunu (Reds) both made good cases for inclusion in this week’s side, but neither played to the standard set by their fellow Fijian.
15 – Solomon Alaimalo (Chiefs)
If Mataele isn’t the one to claim the title of All Blacks bolter when Steve Hansen names his squad for the French test series, then Solomon Alaimalo could well be that man. The Northland outside back has been in superb form in his second season with the Chiefs, and the Waikato franchise will be more than happy to have signed him on for another three years given the way that he’s performing for the two-time champions.
The 22-year- old glided across the park to pull in 102 running metres from a pair of clean breaks after having beaten four defenders. While he didn’t cross the line to score, nor did he set up any tries, his constant attacking presence continually put the Blues on the back foot every time he touched the ball.
An additional bonus of having a 100% tackle success rate rounds out a positive display from Alaimalo, who is bound to form a formidable back three when Shaun Stevenson returns from his lengthy knee injury.
Jordie Barrett (Hurricanes) and Curwin Bosch (Sharks) were one of many opposites who
went head-to- head in Napier on Friday night, and both churned out exciting performances.
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