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We’ve hit the second bye week of the Rugby Championship, and the focus this week turns to the individuals to have really grabbed our attention during the 2016 tournament.
And it’s a worthwhile exercise on a number of fronts. When your team is a bit up and down like three of the four teams have been this season, it’s easy to just keep kicking cans and overlook the standout players.
So that was the challenge this week. Chin up, everyone!
The Big Question: From your respective country, who’s been the standout contributor during The Rugby Championship in 2016? (from Brett)
Nobes: “Another brutal week. Meanwhile, the All Blacks have widened the gap.
“The Jaguares – sorry, I meant the Pumas but I could not help myself with the analogy – played a very disappointing game and Australia had no mercy on them.
“The answer to the question for Argentina is a natural pick with Agustin Creevy. However, on this occasion I choose Facundo Isa. The man is the leading ball carrier (62), has had six clean breaks, beat 14 defenders, gained 251 metres (six metres shy of the leader Ben Smith), and quite successfully has managed to be all over the field.
“He deserves to be elected as the main contributor to the Pumas team.”
Harry: “It has to be one of the 320-minute Warren Whiteley, who has not contributed to the Springboks’ high error count; the lively Pieter-Steph du Toit, or the almost indefatigable (and one tackle-miss) Eben Etzebeth. It cannot be a back.
“I’ll probably go with Whiteley, even with his relatively mild tackling style, because he was fearless, owns the back of the lineout, fought to the end of every Test, and is beating defenders at will. Du Toit would be my alternate.
“The backs, except for Bryan Habana and unlucky Ruan Combrinck, have played rubbish: directionless, wary, and small.”
Digger: “From New Zealand there would be quite a few. Beauden Barrett’s form has been outstanding at times, while the Smiths and Dane Coles have shined at various points.
“However the chappie I would like to nominate, in my view, would be Brodie Retallick for his pure consistency of performance. Now a mainstay of the tight five, his work rate both with and off the ball is astonishing and the All Blacks would be poorer for his absence and is a pivotal member of this machine.
“On form, he’s arguably the one player that is currently irreplaceable within the starting side.”
Brett: It’s clearly Will Genia for the Wallabies. Not too many Australian players have managed to play even at a consistent level, but Genia has got better and better with every outing, capped off with his two-try effort against Argentina on the weekend.
Of course, it’s worth remembering that he’s not played a lot rugby in 2016, and was coming off a long layoff going into the first Bledisloe Test back in mid-August. Regardless, I honestly think Genia is back playing probably his best rugby for the Wallabies in the last couple of years.
What has been noticeable, and particularly in these last two games in Brisbane and Perth is that he’s running again, either sniping from the base of the ruck or committing defenders on the edge to create more space for Quade Cooper and co out wider, or genuinely spying half gaps and having a crack himself, which was a hallmark of the Reds’ run to the Super Rugby title five years ago.
A little bit has been said on this site about the development of local players being held back by the players returning from Europe, but let’s not forget, Genia is 28, not 34. And he’s less than a year older than Nick Phipps anyway; he’s not holding anyone up.
Bonus Question: Who has scored the try of The Rugby Championship to date?
Nobes: “One of my favourites this season is the try create by my team, the one scored by Matias Orlando in South Africa.
“To fully appreciate it, one has to dig a bit earlier than what you can see in the regular game highlights, exactly at the 24-minute mark. The Pumas were playing with 14 men on the field (Manuel Montero was out with a yellow card) and everything started at the Pumas own 22 metre line. I’ll describe it from here:
“An escape on the left side by Martin Landajo, Facundo Isa, and Joaquin Tuculet playing the ball back and forward went on until Tuculet went down in a high tackle by guess who? Oupa Mohoje. Then, after a quick ruck, the ball is played to the right side by Landajo, then to Nicolas Sanchez, then to Creevy, then to Santiago Cordero who makes a long pass skipping two other Argentine players to finally reach Matias Orlando, who makes the triumphant run over the try line.”
Harry: “The Wallabies’ second try in Perth!
“Adam Coleman rose high at the back and Stephen Moore found him. A flip to David Pocock, who pirouetted, then popped the pill to the seriously in-form Will Genia. Genia delivered a bullet to his partner-in-crime, Quade Cooper, and the Red bearded one left a no-look ball in the hole for Dane Haylett-Petty to scorch on to and finish in style. Brilliant!”
“This try was around the 53rd minute of the Test between New Zealand and Argentina. The score was 24-22 in favour of the All Blacks and was the turning point of that match in what had been a hotly contested affair to that point.
“All Black lineout, thirty out. Keiran Read wins in the middle, TJ Perenara to Ryan Crotty, short ball to Malakai Fekitoa, crash in midfield just short of the 22m, slow ball, under pressure, Perenara throws a pass behind Wyatt Crockett, Barrett cleans up on the run, back around the ruck, around Isa, straightens, splits Ramiro Herrera and Nahuel Chapero, inside the 22, bought down by Sanchez in cover, pops from the ground to Jerome Kaino who takes the contact, Perenara out to Barrett on the run, in between Matias Alemanno and Matera, commits the cover of Cordero roaming the back, throws a beautiful ball to Crotty in traffic whose superb angled run leaves Orlando in no man’s land to score untouched under the posts.
“From there, the All Blacks pulled away from the Pumas, all created from essentially nothing by Barrett. Great try. Brilliant, just brilliant.”
Brett: I’m a sucker for set play tries, so I was all set to wax lyrical about the Haylett-Petty try as well, especially the similarities between it and the try Adam Ashley-Cooper scored against the ‘Boks in Brisbane last year. But given that try is now so five paragraphs ago…
The other one to stand out for me was also last weekend, but it stands out for its simplicity and perfect execution.
Elton Jantjies fired a pass sideways less than ten metres from the All Blacks line with nothing really doing – no great surprise there – and Warren Whiteley takes it with Read in front of him, and Kaino watching from the outside.
A very simple right-left stutter step from Whiteley is enough to stand Read up completely, and as he heads out again, he finds Bryan Habana running the perfect out-in line to storm through the gap without Kaino getting a touch on him.
It’s a simple little play from nothing, really, but it was one of those moments where you’re reminded that even the very best defenders can make a simple over-read in defence.
Week 4: Twos all round!
Perhaps in a sign of the tipping to come over the remaining weeks, we all stayed pretty logical last week and picked the All Blacks and Wallabies and reaped the benefits of favouritism.
A quick shout-out to everyone who lodged selections last week, too; we took 566 responses all up, which is a new record for TRC, and is only beaten by one or two other rounds of Super Rugby tipping in 2016. So thanks to all of you, it’s a major reason why this panel has become the weekly success it has.