Team of the Rugby Championship: battle for each position

Harry Jones Roar Guru

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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.

    Rieko Ioane for New Zealand at Sydney Sevens

    (Photo: Martin Seras Lima)

    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.

    Eben Etzebeth South Africa Springboks Rugby Union 2017

    (MICHAEL SHEEHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

    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.

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    The Crowd Says (165)

    • October 12th 2017 @ 9:57am
      Ads said | October 12th 2017 @ 9:57am | ! Report

      Good team Harry!

    • Roar Guru

      October 12th 2017 @ 9:59am
      PeterK said | October 12th 2017 @ 9:59am | ! Report

      very good article as usual from you Harry.

      I agree with all your picks.

      Interestingly foxsports did a similar team

      The differences to yours

      1 – Sio
      3- Laulala
      5- Retallick (note at 4 they had Eben, they had to find a way to have both)
      9 – Smith
      14 – Hodge (once again chose 2 no 11’s and moved one, Hodge did play better than MS though)

      I would take yours and take Hodge at 14 and Retallick at 5 over Coleman like the fox article did.

      • Roar Guru

        October 12th 2017 @ 3:49pm
        Harry Jones said | October 12th 2017 @ 3:49pm | ! Report

        Thank you, PeterK.

        I had a tough time choosing EE over BR, but in addition to the stats I listed, I noticed EE ran for twice as many metres, and claimed 2x the LO ball as BR.

        • October 13th 2017 @ 3:01am
          Tommy said | October 13th 2017 @ 3:01am | ! Report

          Really I wouldn’t have any Australia in my team”.. may be Folau with 14 all blacks… straight up

          • Roar Rookie

            October 14th 2017 @ 12:23pm
            Kirky said | October 14th 2017 @ 12:23pm | ! Report

            Tommy!! – Neither would I have any Aussies in there – Be honest, what Australian player rated enough to tip the scales in their favour? – Not one Australian covered themselves in glory all Season just gone, don’t take my word for it, check the stats!!!!

          • Roar Rookie

            October 14th 2017 @ 12:23pm
            Kirky said | October 14th 2017 @ 12:23pm | ! Report

            Tommy!! – Neither would I have any Aussies in there – Be honest, what Australian player rated enough to tip the scales in their favour? – Not one Australian covered themselves in glory all Season just gone, don’t take my word for it, check the stats!!!!

    • Roar Guru

      October 12th 2017 @ 10:08am
      Carlos the Argie said | October 12th 2017 @ 10:08am | ! Report

      Ah, Harry of the new picture,

      I agree with most of your selections. You may pick another player here and there but nothing was truly definitively different to your selections.

      Matera is an interesting case. He was worked way too hard by the former coach of Portugal and, hopefully, former coach of the Pumas. I was looking at the entire RCH statistics and it seems that the Pumares play a very limited game. Matera has to run, hit, tackle, pilfer, make a nuisance of himself, etc., and even all the demands, he did well. He had 48 carries for 248 meters. Creevy had 43 for 310m, Lezana 38 for 258m and Ortega Dessio (in position 58) with 25 for 104. This only among the forwards. Backs overall had more runs and many more meters.

      Matera made 78 tackles, he missed 9, he won 4 turnovers (to Marx 10!), …

      The difference in distribution of players with runs between the Pumares and the other three was big. Pumares are too dependent on the same old guard.

      I wish Matera well. He started as a hothead but is now doing better. He deserves better coaching.

      By the way, if you look at the penalties committed rankings, many at the top are Pumares front rowers. No wonder the Pumares scrum sucked. This was the order: Herrera, Tetaz Chaparro, Dreyer, Noguera, Hooper, Sio, Lavanini, Pieretto… All props except for Lavanini and Hooper.

      • Roar Guru

        October 12th 2017 @ 3:50pm
        Harry Jones said | October 12th 2017 @ 3:50pm | ! Report

        Matera is a very very good player. Hard to excel in a losing pack…

    • October 12th 2017 @ 10:42am
      Riccardo said | October 12th 2017 @ 10:42am | ! Report

      It’s odd Harry that arguably the most dominant pack, the All Blacks, can only field one player in this selection.

      And I’m also finding it hard to disagree with your selections. Maybe Laulala for Kepu and maybe squeezing Retallick in, out of position, because Eben has to be there.

      Love to see this team, prepared by Professor Smith of course, play the English at Twickers as a Barbarian side.

      • October 12th 2017 @ 10:45am
        Fionn said | October 12th 2017 @ 10:45am | ! Report

        I think it just goes to show how much South Africa’s backs let their forwards down.

      • October 12th 2017 @ 10:50am
        Highlander said | October 12th 2017 @ 10:50am | ! Report

        Its an interesting comparison with regard to the sum being better than the parts.

        Hard to fault any of Harrys individual selections, but NZ the Eight, even with the newbies, looked untroubled through the comp, occasional wobbly ruck defence accepted.

      • October 12th 2017 @ 11:08am
        Shaun said | October 12th 2017 @ 11:08am | ! Report

        Only change would be Aaron Smith. Still f**king outstanding all the time. Its noticeable most when he is not on the field.

      • Roar Guru

        October 12th 2017 @ 11:32am
        PeterK said | October 12th 2017 @ 11:32am | ! Report

        part of it is that the nz forwards were rotated more

      • Roar Guru

        October 12th 2017 @ 3:51pm
        Harry Jones said | October 12th 2017 @ 3:51pm | ! Report

        Laulala is probably the worst omission. Mostly it’s because Hansen & Co rotated players…

        • October 13th 2017 @ 4:52pm
          scottd said | October 13th 2017 @ 4:52pm | ! Report

          The AB pack also just works damned well as a unit rather than relying on individual performances.

          Pretty much what the AB’s have always being known for I guess. Quality players, smart very well drilled, team before the individual (or the rest of the team will sort you out)

    • October 12th 2017 @ 11:10am
      RT said | October 12th 2017 @ 11:10am | ! Report

      Good review Harry. Etzebeth’s game v Ab’s Was probably one of the best games I’ve seen a lock play for a long long time. He made metres every time he had the ball and was a real handful. Played like a man possessed. I know Marx got big wraps but for mine Etzebeth was there or thereabouts for MOTM.

      I’m glad you gave Foley a wrap. His kicking is either rocks or diamonds but his general play IMHO has improved out of site (I’d still like to see Hodge kicking for touch though).

      Beale haters abound in Australia but since coming back from the UK he has played the house down. He seems to have a better understanding of where he fits.

      I’d love to see this team play the best of the six nations. Maybe for a $10m purse in HK or SIngapore. Twiggy might put up the dough.

      • Roar Guru

        October 12th 2017 @ 3:52pm
        Harry Jones said | October 12th 2017 @ 3:52pm | ! Report

        I’m no fan of Foley; but give the man his due. He’s in good form.

    • October 12th 2017 @ 11:12am
      ethan said | October 12th 2017 @ 11:12am | ! Report

      Ah but Harry, can Reiko defend at 12?

      • Roar Guru

        October 12th 2017 @ 11:41am
        jeznez said | October 12th 2017 @ 11:41am | ! Report

        Ha ha. With Beale in the team
        he’ll have to!

        Even though the selection was left wing v right wing I think the wing comparison should have been the other way around.

        Second fullback Hodge v Milner-Skudder and finisher Ioane v Koroibete

        I think the selections probably remain as Harry has put them but the discussion is probably a little closer, just as the players skill sets are.

        • October 12th 2017 @ 1:01pm
          ethan said | October 12th 2017 @ 1:01pm | ! Report

          It was an interesting call by Harry to compare players only in the positions they were named, and a sign of the times that all the comments are talking about switching players this way and that!

          I guess if you were going to have a second fullback, you would probably be switching Folau to the wing.

      • Roar Guru

        October 12th 2017 @ 3:52pm
        Harry Jones said | October 12th 2017 @ 3:52pm | ! Report


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