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Players who must stand up and be counted, and the rivals we can’t wait to see


The Rugby Championship is still a bit over a week away, and it will be fascinating to see who of the All Blacks, Wallabies, Springboks, and Pumas have learned from the lessons raised of them during the July Internationals.

Squads have been reviewed, analysed, re-selected, and re-named. Players have been injured and players have been recalled. Coaches have gone quiet and coaches have been thanked for their service. Reset buttons have been hit.

But while squads evolve and change all the time, what of the players?

Which reputations took a hit through July, and who emerged on a float of rave reviews and sparkling highlights?

And who are we looking forward to watching through The Rugby Championship in 2022?

But first, a warm welcome back to the panel’s Argentinean correspondent, Nobes, who returns for The Rugby Championship! We are really looking forward to his insights and observations of Los Pumas through the series.

The Roar experts Brett McKay, Harry Jones and Geoff Parkes talk TRC on this week’s edition of The Roar Rugby Podcast

Question 1: Which player from your team are you wanting to see stand out in The Rugby Championship?

Nobes

What a great pleasure to be with this group again, whom I miss so much. Thank you very much for allowing me to live up this luxury and I hope to meet your expectations.

Los Pumas won a hard-fought series against Scotland that was defined in the 80th minute of the third game, with a try in a comeback that seemed unlikely with 15 minutes to go before the final siren.

In his debut as head coach of Los Pumas, Michael Cheika called up 34 players and later had to expand that list as some players were injured. The biggest challenge for Cheika in terms of players is in the scrum half and fly half area.

With Nicolas Sanchez and Benjamin Urdapilleta injured he was forced to use Santiago Carreras, who was an experiment by former coach Mario Ledesma as a fly half, and he produced an acceptable performance.

He was also forced by the injury of Tomas Cubelli as scrum half to call up Gonzalo Bertranou and also gave a debut to Lautaro Bazan Velez in the role.

Lautaro’s experience was in sevens. They both played very well. The standout player of the series in my opinion was Emiliano Bofelli who also took the role of the post kicks after Nicolas Sanchez retired injured early in the first game of the series.

Regarding the first question of the assignment, I have in mind a player with little press but I particularly like his game and temperament.

Juan Cruz Mallia is a versatile player who can play anywhere in the backs. He is currently almost always called up as a starter at one of the wingers in his team, Stade Toulousain, where he has had outstanding performances and scored important tries.

In Los Pumas I like him as a fullback because he is very sure of the air, in defence, and has a good foot, but the most important thing is his offensive game.

When Santiago Carreras plays fly half, Mallia is essential as a passing option, and they become a serious offensive duo.

Brett

Lots of Wallabies need to stand up, you could be hard pressed trying to narrow down to just one.

But having dug a little deeper on the backrow on Tuesday, I’d really love Rob Valetini to have a massive tour in Argentina. Having got to know him a little bit over the years, I get the impression he’s probably still getting used to the idea, but he’s fast becoming one of those players who, if he has an early moment of brilliance in a game, he can just load the rest of the team on his shoulders and take them with him.

And I want him to do well, because we all know he’s got more in his game than he showed through the England series. We saw moments here and there through Super Rugby Pacific, but not very many at all through July.

Rob Valetini of the Wallabies looks on during The Rugby Championship match between the Australian Wallabies and the South Africa Springboks at Suncorp Stadium on September 18, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Rob Valetini of the Wallabies (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The Wallabies need to see them, for sure. Andrew Kellaway enjoyed an international try-scoring feast last season, but one of the best was that set-piece special off a five-man lineout against Argentina, where after Folau Fainga’a looped around and took the pass off Michael Hooper, he found Valetini running a slight outside-in line from midfield and exploded into space. Kellaway followed the whole thing on the inside, and finished it off beautifully, but it didn’t happen if Valetini doesn’t time his run and hit that hole at exactly the right time.

I can’t remember him running from midfield in attack off a five-man lineout against England. Given he ran for 15, 10, and 18 metres across the three games, I’m not sure he did. But Valetini making ground for the Wallabies will be a massive factor in them winning games on this tour, and you’d just love to see it.

Digger

A cohesive midfield, a dynamic loose trio would be on the Santa wish list, but particularly up front will be where my attention lies.

It is more than just one player, it’s four relative newbies in Aidan Ross, Ethan De Groot, Fletcher Newell and Samisoni Takeahou that I will be looking out for and hoping they shine in Africa’s southernmost diamond.

Certainly, if we can get the machine running well up front then a flow-on effect through the higher numbers is more likely, and I cannot think of a better place than South Africa to stand up as a front rower and announce you have arrived.

Geoff

The All Blacks are going to continue to struggle if they can’t impose more presence in and around the ruck.

On the assumption that Shannon Frizell hasn’t been brought in to clean Akira Ioane’s boots and carry his bags, I’m looking forward to seeing if he can grab his opportunity and run with it.

In a similar vein, I’m looking to see if Jed Holloway can do the same for the Wallabies. England manhandled some of the Wallabies’ ball runners, and Holloway appeals as someone who won’t be tossed around.

Nick Frost’s promising debut might mean that Holloway’s chance comes at 6. No bad thing.

Harry

Forty-two Springboks, many of them debutants, played the ten-Lion, 1,000-cap Welsh in a 2-1 win.

A couple did not make the cut: hyped Marcell Coetzee went into contact backwards three times, killing three red zone attacks. He won’t be back. Aphelele Fassi’s defensive instincts allowed an easy Welsh try; he’s out.

Frantic Faf de Klerk lost the starting nine jersey to Jaden Hendrickse, who appears to be a modern Ruan Pienaar type: languid to the eye, but able to see a lot of data quickly.

Faf de Klerk of the Springboks is tackled by Dan Biggar of Wales.

Faf de Klerk of the Springboks is tackled by Dan Biggar of Wales. (Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images)

But for every stock falling, there was a riser or two. Evan Roos and Elrigh Louw pushed Jasper Wiese to play even harder to be the No. 8 heir apparent to Duane Vermeulen. Kwagga Smith had a brilliant cameo and Malcolm Marx was on fire. Even Eben Etzebeth appears to be getting better at 30 (with 100 caps). Damian Willemse is fulfilling the immense promise he always had at just 24 and plenty ahead.

For the Tests against the All Blacks, and throughout the Rugby Championship, I want Damian de Allende to stamp his name all over the opposition. Set a target ruck beyond the ball slowers. Run over, around, through, past, and into defenders, find seams to grubber or chip into, and put Lukhanyo Am and Willemse into good spaces. With Samu Kerevi in Birmingham, and Ian Foster all at sea on his midfield picks, I see the 12 v 12 matchups as good for the Boks in this tournament; Willemse or Handre Pollard moving to 12 late in matches, too.

Question 2: Which player from your team’s opposition next weekend are you really looking forward to seeing in action?

Nobes

In reference to the Wallabies, I think Rory Arnold is going to stand out, especially in the lineout.

Now that Guido Petty was given a rest and is the player who usually manages that aspect of the game for Los Pumas, Rory will shine.

But Marika Koroibete, in my opinion, is the most dangerous player in attack for the Wallabies.

If Los Pumas want to kick, they have to direct the rugby towards him and press tight because if they kick to someone else and Marika becomes a passing option, he is very difficult to stop.

Brett

I’m really looking forward to seeing Pablo Matera in action in the Argentinean hoops again.

He took a bit of time to warm up with the Crusaders this season, but flicked the switch mid-season and was enormous all the way through their run to yet another bloody title.

But now back in his more natural environment, I’ll be intrigued to see how he emerges on the field. He’ll be a natural leader, of course he will, but I just wonder if his game at international level might now go to another level after his experience in Christchurch.

And if Courtney Lawes can pilfer ball from Australian rucks, Pablo Matera really could quite enjoy himself.

Of course, his yellow card counter resets now as well, which gives him another degree of freedom.

Digger

It’s always exciting to line up against the Boks, especially in South Africa.

Plenty of old favourites are in the squad, such as Etzebeth and Vermuelen, and I always enjoy watching Willemse play and who can forget Kitshoff, Ox and MAPIMIPI!!

But it will be the names that I have been hearing a bit about and yet to see a lot of personally that I will be looking out for, Elrigh Louw and Evan Roos. New faces are always exciting and signal a new chapter in the rivalry and, assuming selection, looking forward to seeing what the up and comers have got from the republic.

Bit disappointed that Colby Cheese is out though, always love watching him scamper!

Geoff

With 21 players continuing from the victorious World Cup side, there isn’t much new to learn from the bulk of the Springboks’ squad. Which is why I’m looking forward to seeing what Evan Roos can do against the AB’s – he looks like a real talent.

Going against the ‘new’ grain, I’m keen to see what Pablo Matera takes from the Crusaders to the Pumas.

We all know already what a good player he is, but the truly elite players are able to take that extra step to become influential leaders. He’s given himself a great grounding, let’s see what he can bring.

Harry

I always like to see Ardie Savea play: his leg drive could be used as an alternative energy source.

It’s never comfortable seeing him with the ball inside the Bok 22, but it’s why we love to watch elite sport: the adrenaline and superlative.

He is sort of a one-man show at the moment, until the All Blacks move him to 7 and add in Cullen Grace at 8, with a big 6 and Luke Jacobsen on the bench.

But what a show it is!

OVER TO YOU: Which of your players are you wanting to see stand out in the TRC?

And which opposition player can’t you wait to watch?





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