Another round of Super Rugby has drawn to a close, which means it’s now time to run through the Super Rugby Team of the Week.
1 – Craig Millar (Sunwolves)
A member of the hugely impressive Sunwolves forward pack, Craig Millar takes the honours for this week’s best loosehead prop.
The former Highlanders big man was monumental across all fronts in his side’s 24-10 defeat at the hands of the Blues at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo.
He ran 13 metres from five carries, with one of those carries seeing him force a line break. Those aren’t bad stats for a man playing in a position where most others won’t register more than 10 running metres.
Defensively, Millar was on point, completing all 11 of his tackle attempts as his side vastly improved on their defence in comparison to recent outings. All in all, it was a sound performance form the 27-year-old, who has nailed down his role as the Sunwolves’ starting #1.
Daniel Lienert-Brown (Highlanders) was Millar’s biggest threat, with the older brother of All Blacks midfielder Anton playing well against the Brumbies in Dunedin.
2 – Damian Fitzpatrick (Waratahs)
What an effort this was from Damian Fitzpatrick, who would have undoubtedly forced himself into contention for national selection after a series of good showings for the Waratahs.
The uncapped 28-year-old’s case for the vacant Wallabies #2 jersey is one of the strongest in Australia, and his display against the Reds only enhanced it. Having made 29 metres from just seven runs, Fitzpatrick proved he was constantly willing to get his hands on the ball and wreak havoc while doing so.
A whopping 18 tackles is no mean feat either, while his lineout throwing was superb, registering seven out of seven successful throws.
There were plenty of other contenders for this week’s #2 spot, with Nathan Harris (Chiefs), Shota Horie (Sunwolves), Folau Fainga’a (Brumbies), and Brandon Paenga-Amosa (Reds) all putting in decent efforts.
3 – Jiwon Koo (Sunwolves)
Just like the other prop position, the tighthead spot only came down to a couple of candidates, with Jiwon Koo reigning supreme.
The South Korean-born Japan international was part of the spectacular Sunwolves forward pack, of which he contributed eight running metres with ball in hand. While his attacking portfolio may be stock standard for that of someone in his position, it is his defence that really stood out, with the two-test 23-year-old finishing the match with 12 tackles and a turnover won to his name.
While Angus Ta’avao (Chiefs) performed admirably in his side’s loss to the Hurricanes in Wellington, Koo was the superior of the two, and deserves his debut in RugbyPass’ Team of the Week.
4 – Tom Franklin (Highlanders)
The #4 lock position was one of the more heavily contested spots in this week’s side, with many second rowers putting their hand up for selection. However, Tom Franklin gets the nod for this week following his noteworthy display against the Brumbies.
Similarly to Koo, Franklin’s offensive stats hardly set the world alight, coming up with 12 metres gained from five carries. Alternatively, it was his defence that really separated him from the rest.
The 27-year-old completed 21 tackles at Forsyth Barr Stadium, while also winning a turnover for his side in a gritty performance that was nothing short of inspirational for his teammates.
Vaea Fifita (Hurricanes), James Moore (Sunwolves), Guido Petti Pagadizaval (Jaguares), and Ned Hanigan (Waratahs) all may have won selection had played as well on different weeks, but those 21 tackles are enough to get Franklin over the line.
5 – Grant Hattingh (Sunwolves)
The third member of the Sunwolves’ forward pack to earn selection in this week’s side, Grant Hattingh was a behemoth in Tokyo over the weekend.
The South African-born lock beat two defenders to run for 22 metres against the Blues, a pretty solid effort for a second rower. However, similarly to Franklin, it was his defensive figures that warrant the most celebration.
17 tackles was the third-most by any Sunwolves player in their seventh straight defeat of the campaign, while an incredible four turnovers won was the most by any player over the weekend.
An additional five lineout wins rounds out a sterling display of rugby from the 27-year-old, who could well earn international selection for the Brave Blossoms if he continues to string together performances like this one for the remainder of the season.
Lood de Jager (Bulls) was ultra-impressive during his side’s 40-10 walloping of the Sharks in Durban, while Michael Fatiaflofa (Hurricanes) was effective.
6 – Pablo Matera (Jaguares)
Pablo Matera was simply instrumental the Jaguares’ famous 25-22 come-from-behind victory over the Melbourne Rebels at AAMI Park over the weekend.
The blindside flanker racked up the second-most metres for his side, beating two defenders and breaking the line once to chalk up 58 running metres. If that isn’t impressive, then his defensive figures probably will.
15 tackles completed from 15 attempts requires aggression, determination, and a massive desire to win, and Matera put all those traits on show as he led his side to a shock win in the Victoria capital.
Lachlan Boshier (Chiefs) dominated in a losing effort against the Hurricanes, and Yoshitaka Tokunaga (Sunwolves) helped form one of the most cohesive displays made by a forward in in recent Super Rugby history. Shannon Frizell (Highlanders) also did very well in his first Super Rugby start.
7 – Pieter Labuschagne (Sunwolves)
After claiming a runner-up spot in last week’s side, Pieter Labuschagne goes one place better after his wonderful outing against the Blues over the weekend.
Joining his fellow South African-born Sunwolves teammate Hattingh, Labuschagne wasn’t quite as effective while in possession of the pill. Instead, he makes this week’s side based on his exceptional defensive work that saw him reel in the most tackles by any player this round.
27 tackles is a ridiculous number of tackles for any player to make, but the 29-year-old managed to do it very well. The former Cheetahs and Bulls flanker also won a pair of turnovers for his side to complete a brilliant display of defence.
Marcos Kremer (Jaguares) and Dillon Hunt (Highlanders) both played very well, but neither brought down close to the number of players Labuschagne did.
8 – Amanaki Mafi (Rebels)
Following a week off with the bye, the competition’s premier No. 8 returned to Super Rugby in devastating fashion.
While the Rebels may have lost on Saturday, that didn’t stop Amanaki Mafi from steamrolling his way through the Jaguares in Melbourne. The 19-test international couldn’t keep his hands off the ball, carrying it 25 times to run 109 metres, making him second in the league’s metres carried rankings.
It wasn’t just with ball in hand where Mafi made his presence felt – 11 tackles and a turnover won on defence is a solid effort that makes this performance one of the most well-rounded efforts of the week.
Mafi’s long-term rival for the competition’s best No. 8, Akira Ioane (Blues), played to a degree that may have seen him win selection on another day, as did Isi Naisirani (Brumbies). Gareth Evans (Hurricanes), Kazuki Himeno (Sunwolves), and Michael Wells (Waratahs) were the others to stand out across the southern hemisphere.
9 – Will Genia (Rebels)
Will Genia was without a doubt the standout halfback in Super Rugby over the weekend, and he canters into this week’s spot unchallenged.
The 30-year-old Wallabies star was brilliant with ball in hand, although he was probably helped with the front foot ball he was being provided thanks to the work of the man in the No. 8 jersey for the Rebels.
Nevertheless, the 88-test halfback beat five defenders to break the line twice and run for a solid 47 metres. With both line breaks, he set up tries; the first of which went to Billy Meakes, and the second going to Dane Haylett-Petty.
Perhaps the biggest reflection of how important Genia is to the Rebels is the change in the score line before and after his departure. His last act of the match was his try assist for Haylett-Petty, where he left the field after tweaking his hamstring. At that stage, the Rebels were up 19-6.
30 minutes later without his services, full-time had arrived with the Rebels were on the wrong end of a 25-22 result, and there is no doubt in my mind that Genia’s departure had a significant role on the outcome of that match.
With his hamstring strain ruling him out of the Rebels’ two-week tour of South Africa, the Melbourne side can expect to struggle without the inclusion of Genia in the Republic.
10 – Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes)
The reigning back-to-back World Player of the Year was at his influential best under the Friday night lights at Westpac Stadium, guiding the Hurricanes to a 25-13 win over the Chiefs.
His match-up against fellow excitement machine Damian McKenzie (Chiefs) in a battle of the All Blacks first-five was hyped up in the lead up to the encounter, but those who watched the match left with no uncertainty that Barrett had dominated proceedings.
The 26-year-old ran rampant in Wellington, getting past four defenders to breach the Chiefs’ defence twice to eat up 87 metres, leading to both a try and a try assist.
While he handed over his kicking duties to brother Jordie, that didn’t stop the 62-test international to impress in other facets of the game, with his eight tackles and the turnover he won of potential interest to the All Blacks selectors who looked on from the stands.
While he was outshone, McKenzie did do well up against his older, more experienced opposite, while Stephen Perofeta (Blues) and Handre Pollard (Bulls) putting in noteworthy shifts.
11 – Taqele Naiyaravoro (Waratahs)
With Ben Lam (Hurricanes) and Solomon Alaimalo (Chiefs) borderline inseparable after their tantalising clash in Wellington, it’s a good thing Taqele Naiyaravoro stood above everyone else as the Waratahs smashed the Reds 37-16 at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Naiyaravoro’s performance not only made this selection a relatively easy one, but it also makes him the most in-form winger in Super Rugby right now. His 185 metres carried from six line breaks are two astonishing figures, and unsurprisingly, he finished the match with two tries to his name.
Having only started in his last three matches, the two-test Wallaby sits second-equal for tries scored (7), second-equal for clean breaks (16), and third for metres carried (562) in the overall competition rankings.
His excellent season thus far almost guarantees him a spot in Michael Cheika’s next test squad for the Ireland test series, with the possibility of him donning the #11 jersey certainly not out of the question.
12 – Michael Little (Sunwolves)
Successive Team of the Week selections for Michael Little proves he’s the real deal as he continues to carry the Sunwolves through their underwhelming campaign.
The 25-year-old was strong and direct in his running against the Blues, which should be of little shock to anyone who has watched him this season. Consequently, he covered 57 metres with the ball in his grasp, with five defenders failing to take down the former Fiji under-20 representative.
He was defensively sounds as well, making 16 tackles and winning a turnover for his side to cap off an emphatic display for the wooden spoon favourites.
Little’s opposite Rieko Ioane (Blues) showed improvements from his last outing at second-five against the Sharks, while Billy Meakes (Rebels) and Kurtley Beale (Waratahs) both played superbly.
13 – Curtis Rona (Waratahs)/Chris Feauai-Sautia (Reds)
While centre was a position that didn’t throw up many contenders this week, Curtis Rona takes the cake thanks to his best showing of the season on Saturday.
The three-test Wallaby ripped through his work at the SCG, ploughing through seven defenders to finish the match with 79 running metres from a trio of clean breaks.
It was an efficient outing with ball in hand for Rona, who also proved to be secure on defence with eight tackles – the most in the Waratahs’ backline – and a turnover won for his side.
His opposite Chris Feauai-Sautia (Reds) continued his revival of form this season, as both he and Rona went hammer and tongs at each other to make themselves the standouts #13’s of the round.
14 – Filipo Daugunu (Reds)
Another key contributor to the latest edition of the great NSW-Queensland derby, Filipo Daugunu ran riot in Sydney as he came up against Naiyaravoro in what was always bound to be a blockbuster clash.
The former age-grade international footballer continued his meteoric rise in the rugby fraternity, registering 121 metres from only seven carries, of which included a 40-metre intercept try.
That effort keeps him in the top 10 for both defenders beaten (10th with 26 players beaten) and metres made (7th with 441 metres ran) in the overall competition leaderboards for the current season, further highlighting the influence he’s had in his debut year of Super Rugby.
Jordan Hyland (Blues) had a very impressive Super Rugby debut against the Sunwolves, dotting down for a brace of tries, while Ramiro Moyano (Jaguares) and Waisake Naholo (Highlanders) were both vital cogs in their team’s respective victories.
15 – Ben Smith (Highlanders)
A full pre-season for the first time in six seasons is beginning to pay dividends for All Blacks vice-captain Ben Smith, who was in sensational form as the Highlanders emerged victorious in a 43-17 win over the Brumbies in Dunedin.
At his inspirational best from fullback, the 31-year-old ran for the fourth-most metres of the round, picking up 131 metres after beating four defenders to make two clean breaks. Both of those line breaks ended in tries for the 64-test veteran, with the first of which particularly brilliant, such was the combination of his pace, timing, and ball-handling ability.
With that sort of an influence, the Highlanders and All Blacks will be better outfits by having Smith in their teams, which is something they had endure for large periods of time throughout 2017.
Warrick Gelant (Bulls) impressed with his hat-trick against the Sharks, while Jordie Barrett (Hurricanes), Charlie Ngatai (Chiefs), and Dane Haylett-Petty (Rebels) were all at their usual best.
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