The Thursday rugby two-up: Standout players of TRC

For one last look at The Rugby Championship for 2021, I thought it was worth getting the panel to have a bit of a think about some of the individuals who made the tournament what it was this year. The couple of ‘team of the tournament’ selections I’ve seen were generally skewed toward their country […]

The Thursday rugby two-up: Standout players of TRC

For one last look at The Rugby Championship for 2021, I thought it was worth getting the panel to have a bit of a think about some of the individuals who made the tournament what it was this year.

The couple of ‘team of the tournament’ selections I’ve seen were generally skewed toward their country of origin, but contained roughly equal representation from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Some, but not all, found room for one or maybe two Argentineans, but no more. And I think that all sounds about right based on this season’s showings, even allowing for local liberties.

We’ll get into Spring Tour predictions and hopes and dreams and everything next week, but I’m really interested to see what the guys came up with, and what you guys follow on with in the comments.

It should make for an interesting way to put a final bow on The Rugby Championship for the year…

Question 1: Who was your team’s most influential player for The Rugby Championship this season?

The Springboks disappointed in the middle two Tests. If they’d kicked their goals in Round 3 and defended the Wallabies like they usually do in Round 4, their existing No.1 ranking might’ve been accompanied by a rare RC trophy.

Nevertheless, the Boks’ tight five were consistently strong, even in the three losses.

Malcolm Marx was phenomenal, but is limited to a backup role. Steven Kitshoff also impressed in the last half. But monster minutes were needed with the absence of Pieter-Steph du Toit. So I’ll name a lock as the Bok of the tournament.

Either Lood de Jager or Eben Etzebeth would work, but I’ll go with Etzebeth for his all-around game: passes out the back, steals, chase, and dynamism. Lood right there, too, ruling the lineout.

Eben Etzebeth (Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

Despite winning the Rugby Championship by a street, the All Blacks didn’t dominate the ’team of the tournament’ as much as might have been expected.

Theirs was a team effort more than a reliance on one or two outstanding players, but if forced to single one out, Jordie Barrett’s performance in Townsville – defusing bombs, running strongly and draining the match-winning penalty – marks him as their most influential player.

The Wallabies’ spread from best to worse was more uneven, as you’d expect from a developing side. But it was the addition of Samu Kerevi that proved hugely influential.

He was a midfield rock against the charging South African defence, a constant threat with the ball, and even showed off an improved passing game. Great to see a player go overseas and come back having taken his learnings from those learnings!

I’ve really given this some thought, because the Wallabies options feel a bit obvious: Michael Hooper was yet again superb, and Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi’s impact was both immediate and significant.

But I’m going to look past all of them and I’ll explain why.

Part of the reason Cooper was able to provide the platform he could was because of the go-forward being provided up through the middle, and while yes, Kerevi certainly aided this, it wasn’t all him.

No, the guy I’m looking at is Rob Valetini. He switched from blindside to the back of the scrum during the Bledisloe series, and he played well, but he really kicked on against South Africa, where he just kept charging right up through the guts of the Springboks’ defence.

Wallabies player Rob Valetini in action

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

And from that, Cooper and the Wallabies’ attack had the room and speed of ball to play so well from. Valetini wasn’t on his own, obviously, but he was the most consistent, and became the most deadly, the more second phase ball he was able to produce.

Hooper, Cooper, and Kerevi got all the headlines, but I’ll put it to you that Valetini was right up there with them, and he was a major reason the Wallabies were able to play on the front foot so much by the end of the tournament.

Without a doubt, the best Pumas player on and off the court was Julian Montoya.

Not only did he lead the team and the tournament in tackles, but also as captain he had to lead the team in a situation quite against in terms of results and what was exposed on the court.

With Pablo Matera, Marcos Kremer, and Guido Petty off, plus the absence of Tomas Cubelli, Julian had to put the team on his shoulder and help the large number of debutants at Los Pumas under very adverse conditions.

My initial answer to this question was Aaron Smith – not so much his influence on the field but the obvious lack of influence his absence magnified, certainly missed.

In terms of on-field, plenty of players put their hands up for a game or two but in the end, I would suggest it was Jordie Barrett who perhaps proved the most influential. Certainly, his absence may have seen two losses to the Springboks, and his kicking (the non-karate type), assured defence and straight running was a welcome addition to the All Blacks’ play.

I would also suggest Ethan Blackadder, while perhaps not as influential but worth a mention none the less, was the find of the championship.

Question 2: And who was your player of the tournament from a team other than your own?

For the Wallabies, Samu Kerevi just nips Quade Cooper. For the Pumas, Julian Montoya, even if he looks so much like James Slipper.

The best All Black seemed to be Jordie Barrett, who stole the 15 jersey from Damian McKenzie.

Slim pickings, I’m afraid, trying to pick a player of the tournament from the Pumas. That conversation starts and finishes with Julian Montoya.

The Springboks obviously started slowly, but found their level against the All Blacks. Their thrilling victory in the final match was a committed team effort, but the glue in the middle of it all was champion lock, Eben Etzebeth.

Yep, Julian Montoya was certainly the standout Puma, and I’ll happily join the chorus of praise going All Black flanker Ethan Blackadder’s way. He’s got a massive future ahead of him already.

I had to take a while to think about a best Springbok, and the guy I landed on was Duane Vermeulen.

Duane Vermeulen of South Africa looks on

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

And yes, it’s hard to argue that Eben Etzebeth was very, very good, but for me, Vermeulen was the glue holding the pack together. He was good against the Wallabies, but lifted that about 14 levels to beyond outstanding against New Zealand. Oh, and he’s north of 35.

In Australia, the star player was Andrew Kellaway with his clean breaks and as the top try man of the tournament.

For the ‘Boks, Lood de Jager. I was very impressed not only with his qualities on the line but also in the open field.

For the All Blacks, I am going to choose a player who surprised me with his game in a team full of stars where it is difficult to stand out.

Every time he was on the court, I really liked the performance of Ethan Blackadder. He is a player whom I had not taken into account, but I was pleasantly surprised with what he brought both in attack and defence.

Julian Montoya certainly was the Pumas’ best and for his sheer consistency, Eben Etzebeth for the Springboks.

Michael Hooper was the Wallabies’ consistent best across the tournament, but there is no doubt the winning column started ticking over with the introduction of Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi.

Overall, I would give it to Quade Cooper, whose composure and steady hand guided his Wallabies to four in a row.

OVER TO YOU: Who was your team’s most influential player for TRC 2021?

And who was your player of the tournament from an opposition team?

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Rugby World: What SBW owes to Mundine and Wilkinson, McMahon out of Japan clash, Faf’s woe

Welcome to Rugby World, a new weekly column looking at issues and stories from home and abroad. Sonny shining Sonny Bill Williams is everywhere right now. A permanent fixture of Stan Sport’s post-match punditry, he didn’t awlays sparkle, but did deliver the best interview moment of The Rugby Championship with that heart-felt exchange with Quade […]

Rugby World: What SBW owes to Mundine and Wilkinson, McMahon out of Japan clash, Faf’s woe

Welcome to Rugby World, a new weekly column looking at issues and stories from home and abroad.

Sonny shining

Sonny Bill Williams is everywhere right now. A permanent fixture of Stan Sport’s post-match punditry, he didn’t awlays sparkle, but did deliver the best interview moment of The Rugby Championship with that heart-felt exchange with Quade Cooper after his mate’s penalty kick winner against the Springboks.

His punditry lacks the incisiveness of a Morgan Turinui or the arched eye of Andrew Mehrtens, but few can match him for emotion when the topic moves him.

In the past few weeks, SBW has been on the interview circuit promoting his new book You Can’t Stop the Sun From Shining and his latest, with Donald McRae in the Guardian, is perhaps the most enlightening, and emotional.

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Williams opens up about the shyness he felt early in his career – which is sometimes still evident in his low key and thoughtful manner on set with Stan. There are also insights into two athletes who he credits for making his playing career a success – controversial rugby league player turned boxer, Anthony Mundine, and cleanskin England World Cup winner Jonny Wilkinson.

“I’ve felt ecstatic, with pain and sadness too, some tears,” Williams says in the interview.

“But I always say a better man makes a better athlete. People might think that’s some fairytale cliche but the better man knows himself much more truthfully. He knows the reason why he is strong in some things and weak in others.

“That’s why I’m still a work in progress. It’s been my life – making mistakes and getting better. I hang my hat on the hard work, the strength to learn from my failures and the strength to carry on.”

He says his shyness was “a daily struggle, always. “It was like fighting demons every day. Everyone has their own mental struggles and those were mine. I always knew I could play, and I backed my ability, but I was so different off the field.

“You’re seen as a leader in the team because you’re one of the best players. Of course you should be leading and talking but, man, the coach would ask me a question in the dressing room and … boof!

“I would think: ‘Just get me on the field, because that’s where I feel at ease, that’s where I can express myself with my tackling or making a break or flash off-load.’

“That stuff was born in the back yard where, as little Island [Polynesian] kids, we played with freedom because you haven’t got much. But when you play football, the flash comes out, the quickstep. As Islanders we’re very physically strong and so you’re looking to match each other’s toughness and skill. From the outside it looked like: ‘Who does this guy think he is? He’s got all the confidence.’ But it was a constant struggle.”

Williams spoke candidly about his drink-driving problems and how sport fails to adequately deal with its problem players.

“We’re still in a place like that today,” Williams said. “In professional sports there’s so much talk about help at your fingertips from nutrition to mental health. But all we’re doing in sport is putting a plaster that gives temporary cover to our hurt on the inside.

“I would make a big mistake, like drink-driving, and I’m remorseful. I really need help but as soon as I start playing well again it’s like: ‘He’s reborn, he’s back!’ But my life is still full of trouble. I was playing some of the best footie I ever played, and living the so-called dream, but deep down I was very unhappy.”

In 2008 SBW, quit the NRL Bulldogs for a fresh start in French rugby. Branded a traitor and out of pocket by $1 million, he was saved by the generosity of Mundine and others.

In Toulon, he struck up a close relationship played with Wilkinson, England’s meticulous goal kicking star of the 2003 RWC triumph, who shared Sonny’s shyness.

“I couldn’t have dreamt of all the help that Jonny gave me,” Williams says. “I came to France carrying a million-dollar debt, full of doubt, but I just jumped on that train, playing a game I had never played before, and it was humbling.

“I don’t know if I would have played for the All Blacks if not for Jonny. He really gave me that kickstart of believing in myself as a rugby player. After the first couple of days I was thinking: ‘Man, what a good person he is.’ And I was in awe when I saw how he operated. His work ethic was inspiring.”

McMahon, Kerevi to miss Japan Test

Dave Rennie will be without Sean McMahon and Samu Kerevi for the Japan Test this month, but is still hopeful of Quade Cooper being released by his Japanese employers.

Rennie told the Sydney Morning Herald McMahon flew home to Japan to spend time with his family after making his return from a four-year exile against Argentina. He is out of the match on Saturday week due to COVID-19 bubble issues.

“Sean went home to family a couple of days after the game, so he’s got to quarantine,” Rennie told the Herald.

“We’re in a bubble for 10 days to allow us to prepare, and then play. People outside that bubble can’t [play].

Suntory Sungoliath, who employ Kerevi and McMahon, and Kintetsu Liners, who employ Cooper are not required to release the players because the game is outside the international window.

Kerevi was granted permission, although the situation changed when he was injured against Argentina.

Rennie is still hopeful of having Cooper available.

Faf could be out ‘for months’

Faf De Klerk is in doubt for South Africa’s spring tour Tests, according to his English club’s director of rugby.

Alex Sanderson, of Sale, has confirmed De Klerk has undergone scans on the hip he damaged in the second Test against the British & Irish Lions. He went on to play all four Tests against the Wallabies and All Blacks.

However, his hip pain has become a significant issue and Sanderson said: “Faf is currently undergoing assessment for his hip flexor injury, which was sustained in the Lions Test and has become more severe recently but we need to get clarity on that.

“There are concerns that it could be months but we need confirmation. We have to wait for the right assessments, otherwise it is scaremongering.

“We have had all the scans sent over. They are with the consultant in London right now and we have all his previous reports and they want to see it all before they make a decision about rehab, surgery or crack on. Those are three options.

“I am speculating as a rugby coach and it is frustrating when someone comes back [from international duty] injured but surely there can’t be any coaches or organisations out there that set out to deliberately injure people. I don’t believe that is the case.”

Around the grounds

– Eddie Jones is clear to choose unvaccinated players for England’s northern winter Tests, including next month’s battle against the Wallabies. While the RFU are encouraging players to have jabs — as part of a drive towards an 85 per cent vaccination target in the sport in England — it is understood that a minority are reluctant and their stance will not prevent them from being picked by Jones. It is reported that a rigorous testing regime will safeguard fixtures.

– English Premiership club Wasps have asked England’s rugby authorities to review the wearing of “faux Native American headdresses’’ by Exeter Chiefs fans. The headdresses have been worn since Exeter rebranded as the Chiefs in 1999, but Wasps believe they have “the potential to cause offence”.

– Rugby administrator Mark Evans, a former CEO in rugby union and league with Saracens, Harlequins and Melbourne Storm, has expressed fears for the future of the Welsh Rugby Union over rising debt.

The WRU took a revenue hit of $40 million and saw their net debt rise back above $185 million for the financial year ending June 30, 2021. The loss was largely down to Test matches having to be played behind closed doors.

“I’m really worried about Wales as a rugby nation, I’ll be honest,” Evans told The Ruck podcast.

I’m worried about it for a whole host of reasons – partly to do with the structure, the funding, the politics and the player pathways and development.

“I’m casting around for reasons to be cheerful and I’m really struggling. At the minute, it just looks all over the place.

“From friends down there – and I don’t claim to know the Welsh scene intimately these days – there doesn’t seem to be any real strategy behind it that everyone can agree on.

“In a small country – and Wales sometimes doesn’t recognise what a small country it is economically as much as anything – you’ve all got to be on the same page right through the whole sport.

“If you’re not – and Welsh rugby is renowned for its politicking – then you’re not going to be very successful.”

The good news for Wales is that their October 31 match against the All Blacks will be a sell out. The bad news? Wales coach Wayne Pivac will have up to 21 frontline players unavailable because it falls outside the window where clubs have to release players.

– Male rugby players will be allowed to join their female counterparts in wearing tights or leggings during matches. Concerns over abrasions from artificial turfs have seen World Rugby change their laws to allow all players to wear them for safety reasons.

– Liam Squire, who played 23 times for the All Blacks, has retired aged 30 after a series of injuries.
Squire missed the bulk of this year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa after a recurring knee injury resurfaced, ruling him out for the season after just two outings and he retires on medical advice.

Source : The Roar More   

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