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With the dust having settled on another All Black-won Rugby Championship, perhaps we have enough space and time to reflect on the most consistently influential performers by position.
I’ve looked at the statistics, watched all 500 or so minutes (adding ten for Cape Town and ten for all the other over-80:00 time), and cut it down to mano a mano duels for each jersey.
Fullback: Damian McKenzie versus Israel Folau
Macca, because he passed and kicked better, positioned himself well and basically won the second Test against the Boks with one big moment. Folau does have the better offloading game, but all in all, McKenzie.
Right Wing: Marika Koroibete versus Nehe Milner-Skudder
I’ll go with the unlucky Wellington flyer, because he played more complete rugby (for instance, kicking 35 clearances or tactical kicks), even though the Aussie was definitely a revelation for the future. Milner-Skudder.
Outside Centre: Ryan Crotty versus Tevita Kuridrani
Crotty’s positional sense (leading to fewer turnovers) and tackling effectiveness wins the day here; he also passed better and scored a “waist-high” try in Cape Town that was sort of miraculous. Crotty.
Inside Centre: Kurtley Beale versus Jan Serfontein
Relatively easy to choose Beale: he was poor on defence (68%) but offered a wildly effective attack to his team, at times turning the game by himself. Beale.
Left Wing: Rieko Ioane versus Reece Hodge
No contest here, although Hodge acquitted himself well, most of the time. Ioane is a nightmare to contain; big enough to steamroll defenders, but fast enough to leave most in the dust. Ioane.
Flyhalf: Beauden Barrett versus Bernard Foley
Barrett, but not as clearcut as might be imagined, because Foley played one of his better, upwardly mobile tourneys. Barrett.
Scrumhalf: Will Genia versus Aaron Smith
Genia broke games open a bit more than a quieter Smith (from usual). His team relied on him more, too. Genia.
No. 8: Kieran Read versus Sean McMahon
Read played a different role this year, it seemed. He edges the hard-running McMahon because of his big hard tackles (8 dominant), his lineout prowess (22 takes), and his perfect passes. Read.
Openside Flank: Michael Hooper versus Siya Kolisi
A tough match-up between two non-traditional flankers, both more of the old-fashioned tearaway fast-forwards than the early 21st-century pilferer-jacklers.
Hooper gets the nod because Kolisi tended to fade in games and in the tournament. Hooper.
Blindside Flank: Pablo Matera versus Liam Squire
If this was for one game, it might be Vaea Fifita or Pieter-Steph du Toit, but consistency is part of it. Matera was the most incisive runner and a better tackler than the bruising Squire, over the course of the whole tournament. Matera.
No. 5 Lock: Adam Coleman versus Sam Whitelock
A bit of a turnstile for lineout locks this year, but we’ll give this to Coleman because he ran a bit harder than Whitelock, and hit bigger, too. Coleman.
No. 4 Lock: Eben Etzebeth versus Brodie Retallick
OK, some people are never going to admit any lock ever outplayed Retallick, ever. But I think over the entirety of the Championship, it was Etzebeth, who offloaded more (7 to 2), broke more tackles (10 to 4), missed fewer tackles (5 to 10), and was a workhorse captain. Etzebeth.
Tighthead: Sekope Kepu versus Nemo Laulala
Tough category because of Coenie Oosthuizen’s unlucky end, but we’ll put it between the Bledisloe foes and give this to Kepu for his outstanding carries and durability.
A tighthead should never get his arm broken! Kepu.
Hooker: Malcolm Marx versus Gus Creevy
The RC has really good hookers to choose from, but we’ll note that Marx and Creevy have to belong in any top four or five in the world, and only due to Dane Coles’ concussion issues, let them battle it out.
Both were mainstay ball-carriers (over nine carries a game, each), good offloaders, tackle-breakers and turnover-winners. Marx narrowly, because of Cape Town. Marx.
Loosehead: Beast Mtawarira versus Steven Kitshoff
A controversial battle between a Zimbabwean and a ginger. Kitshoff got more done in fewer minutes. Kitshoff.
So, the team: Kitshoff (SA), Marx (SA), Kepu (OZ), Etzebeth (SA), Coleman (OZ), Matera (AR), Hooper (OZ), Read (NZ), Genia (OZ), Barrett (NZ), Ioane (NZ), Beale (OZ), Crotty (NZ), Milner-Skudder (NZ), McKenzie (NZ).
Six Kiwis, five Aussies, three South Africans, and an Argentinian.