An electrifying talent, the latest in a crop of young Italians who are jolting the Azzurri from the rugby doldrums. Capuozzo is an outrageous attacker, his deadly footwork transfixing and stupefying defenders. It came to the fore against Wales in the hoodoo-smashing Six Nations finale, and appeared in all its glory this autumn as Italy scalped Australia and lost to the Springboks. The 23-year-old was deservedly named World Rugby breakthrough player of the year earlier this month.
Elsewhere, the South African backline looks so much slicker, smarter and more connected when Willie Le Roux is in it.
Damian Penaud is the best winger in the world, but if we’re selecting purely on the Autumn Nations Series, both Arendse and Darcy Graham have been more influential. The lithe Springbok scored five scintillating tries in four November fixtures, taking his total haul to seven in as many caps. For a smaller winger, he is capable under the high ball and utterly brilliant once he’s caught it, melding frightening evasion skills to tremendous finishing, as witnessed by his show stopping effort against England.
In completing a clean sweep of autumn scores, he landed the pick of the bunch on Saturday, bamboozling and then burning Marcus Smith to smite England. For all the Springboks can call upon Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi, Arendse has made himself undroppable.
Has started 12 of the injury-ravaged Wallabies’ 14 Tests in 2022 and was their best performer on their mammoth Northern voyage. When Australia had to bar up in their numerous tight encounters, Ikitau was a bulwark-like defensive powerhouse. When given the chance to run, he hoovered up metres. The centre will be a leading contender for the prestigious John Eales Medal.
Though his form has oscillated in 2022, Rieko Ioane helped yank New Zealand from the looming prospect of a first-ever loss to Scotland, and he scored a fabulous long-ranger against England at Twickenham.
Simple, but extremely effective. De Allende invariably gets South Africa moving in the right direction with his astonishingly good carrying through the heaviest of traffic, and bone-crunching midfield hits. He is not a dazzling distributor, but he is not asked to be. Hugely consistent over the autumn fixtures.
The Argentine was desperately unlucky to miss out on a world player of the year nomination. He has played every minute of Los Pumas’ dozen Test matches this year and been hugely influential in each of their statement victories. He shone in the July series decider against Scotland, and shone even brighter when Argentina won in New Zealand for the first time during the Rugby Championship. There was a handy triumph over Australia too. This month, he scored 25 of his side’s 30 points as they conquered Twickenham, and scored another dazzling try in a heavy defeat by the Scots. His form has never wavered.
A puzzling selection. Romain Ntamack’s form has faltered as he returns from injury. Johnny Sexton only played one game. Marcus Smith and Gareth Anscombe have not sparkled consistently, while Beauden Barrett flitted between fly-half and full-back. Damian Willemse found his feet in the new position beautifully at Twickenham, but unsurprisingly stuttered a little in earlier weeks.
Though Russell played only two matches himself, the way he steered Scotland to within touching distance of a hoodoo-shattering triumph over the All Blacks eight months since his previous Test, and conjured a truly masterful dismantling of the Argentines get him the nod. That outrageous afternoon against Los Pumas featured four try assists and four line-break assists.
Let this be the end of any rift between Russell and Gregor Townsend for it is abundantly clear both need each other.
His position as South Africa’s undisputed top scrum-half has long been under threat, but De Klerk delivered a stark reminder of his effervescent talents. He was the beating heart of the Springboks when they conquered Twickenham, such a nuisance as to goad Jonny Hill into a moment of foolishness, and got his backline singing and also flung himself about with careless abandon. The Mini Hercules is back.
This was a bruising tour for the Wallabies. It is almost unheard of for an international team to play five games on consecutive weekends and by the time Australia pitched up in Cardiff on Saturday, they were being held together by sticky tape and bloody-mindedness. Slipper, at 33, has been a massive presence for Dave Rennie’s team. The captain was man of the match against Scotland, was part of an Australian scrum that had encouraging moments in Marseille and Dublin, and led the Wallabies to a fine comeback win over the Welsh.
Ellis Genge had some monstrous outings but was undone by the Springboks scrum.
Sheehan has seized upon the opportunity presented by injury to his Leinster colleague, Ronan Kelleher, and maintained his summer excellence from the New Zealand tour throughout the autumn window. At 6ft 3ins and 111KG, he is a mighty specimen, but possesses blistering pace, good set-piece acumen and a thunderous defensive edge, continually placing among the top of the charts for dominant tackles.
Only his team-mates know Malherbe’s true value, which could be measured by the vast number of opposition loose-heads he has sent packing. To that list, we can now add Mako Vunipola.
The hulking tight-head is perhaps the greatest scrummager in the game, but his efforts around the paddock frequently go unnoticed. Malherbe has a sky-high work rate and is an excellent close-quarter tackler, belying his vast bulk.
The Racing 92 lock was part of a lighter, leaner France boiler house with Paul Willemse injured, but continues to burnish his reputation as a line-out genius. He steered an excellent French set-piece while continuing to provide moments of explosive hole-punching on the carry.
Brodie Retallick was in tasty form once his suspension ended, and Richie Gray transformed Scotland’s line-out on his return to the international stage.
The Springbok giant is playing some of the very best rugby of his storied career. He is lacing the usual relentless snarl in collisions with some beautiful flourishes of skill. He put Arendse in for a crucial try in Dublin with a sumptuous ball over the top, and showed sufficient pace to match the winger on the charge in Florence. He spearheaded the depleted Boks’ dogged efforts in Marseille and England could not live with his brilliance in the final match. Etzebeth deserved far greater recognition from the World Rugby player of the year nominators.
The only beacon of light in the darkest of Welsh autumns. Wayne Pivac famously left Morgan at home for the summer tour of South Africa, citing his modest stature. Morgan has done a tremendous job of making the coach eat his words since. Despite Wales’ collapse, the young Osprey carried like a beast against the Wallabies, scoring two tries, and providing the customary jackal nuisance. He was excellent in the shocking loss to Georgia, too, and his blistering performance off the bench to grind out victory over Argentina had many purring, including a certain Warren Gatland.
Played like a man possessed. The embodiment of Springbok belligerence. Kolisi was exceptional in the breakdown trenches and perhaps even better with ball in hand, making dents in defensive lines and finding soft shoulders. Without the ball, he was one of the most effective tacklers too, placing second for dominant hits across the entire autumn.
World player of the year, Josh van der Flier, capped a wonderful 2022 with a solid series, while Sam Cane will have a job wresting back the New Zealand number seven jersey from the rampaging Dalton Papali’i, who has so much to like about his game.
In a fluctuating and at times vulnerable All Blacks team, Savea remains a totem of strength. Few in world rugby make more ground after contact. Even more so than Etzebeth, his absence from the world player of the year shortlist was staggering.
In Lorenzo Cannone, Italy have found a rampaging new ball-carrier to bolster their back-row stocks.
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