10 big winners from the June series, and the best XV
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New All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. AAP Images
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With the resumption of Super Rugby days away but the memories of the June Tests still fresh, there is one task to do before fully concentrating on provincial duties again.
There have been some significant movers over the past month, men whose stocks have surged noticeably in advance of The Rugby Championship. Here are 10 who can reflect happily over the past month, and a suggested XV based on performances in the Australia v Wales, New Zealand v Ireland and South Africa v England Test series.
1. Berrick Barnes (Australia). Before Christian Lealiifaano’s injury, he might have been on the outskirts of the Wallabies’ squad. Now it would be something of an injustice if he does not make the 22, at least, for the first Bledisloe Test. Character – and no little skill – in abundance.
2. Nathan Sharpe (Australia). The Wallabies’ second-rower completely spooked the Welsh lineout, and the visitors would have picked up one Test had he not done so. The Lions will be praying that he stays retired next time. Also influential with his carries and short passing game.
3. Steve Hansen (New Zealand). Some surprisingly bold selections have paid off, and New Zealanders are a lot less fretful now about depth in positions No.4, No.7, No.9 and No.10 than they were one month ago. There will be a few concerns about the scrum, but the lineout didn’t lose a single throw in three Tests.
4. Wycliff Palu (Australia). The Wallabies’ pack now has a major physical presence again. His ability to come through an intense three-week period bodes well for the future, because the Wallabies desperately need his ability to win the gainline. Standout moment was wading straight through the middle of the Welsh ruck in Brisbane. Very handy option at the front of the lineout, too.
5. Tatafu Polota-Nau (Australia). Those picking him ahead of Stephen Moore would have been in the minority, but it now appears he has reclaimed the No.2 starting jersey. Questions remain about his throwing, but Moore has also had problems with his aim at the Brumbies. Needs to sort out the scrum though.
6. Aaron Smith (New Zealand). If the All Blacks are not being subdued up front this little halfback is going to cause all sorts of problems. Immaculate, crisp delivery – and the competitiveness to lift Irish No.7 Sean O’Brien and dump him on his backside in defence.
7. Sam Cane (New Zealand). Cane had acquitted himself adequately but not spectacularly at the Chiefs, and certainly hadn’t made the impression of Michael Hooper or Liam Gill. But his displays against Ireland justified the selectors’ faith, and more. Has all the attributes of a classic All Blacks No.7 – as a link player on attack as well as a defender.
8. Cian Healey (Ireland). A snarling, intense ball of muscle who carried the ball with serious purpose, especially in the second Test in Christchurch. Lions form: especially with his improved set-piece work under new scrum coach Greg Feek.
9. Marcell Coetzee (South Africa). The Springboks’ omission of Heinrich Brussow is still bewildering, but the young Sharks back-rower carried out his duties with aplomb. Exceptional ball-carrying ability, especially when his side is on the front foot.
10. Pieter de Villiers (South Africa). It has not attracted much fanfare, but one of the storylines of the Springboks’ series was the quality of their scrum, especially when Jannie du Plessis was on the field. New scrum coach de Villiers, who played his Test rugby for France, has made an immediate impact.
June XV from the three-Test series involving Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Wales, Ireland and England:
Cian Healey (Ireland), Bismarck du Plessis (South Africa), Jannie du Plessis (South Africa), Brodie Retallick (New Zealand), Nathan Sharpe (Australia), Willem Alberts (South Africa), David Pocock (Australia), Richie McCaw (New Zealand), Will Genia (Australia), Dan Carter (New Zealand), Digby Ioane (Australia), Sonny Bill Williams (New Zealand), Conrad Smith (New Zealand), JP Pietersen (South Africa), Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
Paul Cully is a freelance journalist who was born in New Zealand, raised in Northern Ireland, but spent most of his working life in Australia. He is a former Sun-Herald sports editor, rugby tragic, and current Roar and RugbyHeaven contributor.
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