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Seven All Blacks, six Boks and a massive reality check for the Wallabies in our TRC team of the tournament

The tournament with the name that evokes no place or time has finished. The Rugby Championship has a champion, the traditional one.

New Zealand began with a sputter in Nelspruit, took a red hot swing with ten minutes to go in Johannesburg and saved their coach, stumbled in Christchurch, finally got properly angry in Hamilton (why would you not be angry in Hamilton?), slid by in the Marvel miracle and then gave the Wallabies a cold shower and a lecture at dark Eden Park. Along the way, the All Blacks found their front row, flyhalf, and maybe at the last, the successor to Sonny Bill. (Can someone also do that on sideline comms?) Anyone think this side is done growing? Not I.

South Africa also notched four wins, suffocating the All Blacks once, letting them off the mat at Ellis Park, splitting two Tests in Australia, and blanking the Pumas with less trouble than predicted after their South Island miracle, but had red zone constipation all tourney long, except when Damian ‘Gazza’ Willemse was at the helm. The Boks were the best defensive side (giving up less than 20 points per match). That works better in World Cups than bonus point comps.

The two two-win teams suffered a couple of big losses, which blew out their points differential (Australia was minus-52 and Argentina -60); a product of their try defence (the Wallabies conceded 25; the Pumas 26).

This column seeks to pick the best players just during their team’s six matches in this tourney: the most effective in achieving wins, or the best in losing causes. Consistency is a key, but also moments which won matches. The overall fate of their teams will affect the selections. Blowouts will blow some players out, even if the rest of their games were good.


Jordie Barrett had his best game at 12, but over the course of the competition he was the best fullback. His exits long and accurate, his high ball game safe, he joined the line with purpose, and never shrunk from the pressure. He seems taller than Scott and more clever than Beauden now: he is Serena to Venus. In losses, he was good. In wins, he was a differentiator. Gone is the dystopian hairstyle, too. Hard in contact; a problem for opponents.

Damian Willemse was clearly supposed to play all six matches at fullback, but injury intervened. He beat 16 defenders, made 7 offloads, and scared opponents from kicking deep, but he played too little (and too much at 10) to unseat Barrett. He would have to be the team 23 though.


Will Jordan’s offense is better than his defence. That is true of Caleb Clarke, as well. But how good are they with the ball? A classic contrast of fast footballer and power runner, it is difficult to chop either.

Jordan can score from any position on the pitch; all he needs is a good bounce. He is ‘lucky’ consistently.

Clarke (17 defenders beaten and 6 line breaks on 49 carries) changed more team sheets and hired more physios than any other player. But both let in bunny tries with poor tackle technique or a lack of desire.

Makazole Mapimpi, Marika Koroibete, and Emiliano Boffelli do make claims. Let us examine them.

Mapimpi is rugged in contact. He chases relentlessly. He has improved his clearances and chips. He gets over the ball. He is hard to contain. He is more edgy. He wanted to get back at Koroibete for ‘The Tackle’. But he and Koroibete have lapses which come mostly from a shallow understanding of the game. Both can be a bit blunt.

Caleb Clarke of the All Blacks dives over to score a try during The Rugby Championship match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Argentina Pumas at FMG Stadium Waikato on September 03, 2022 in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Caleb Clarke. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The Boks had the most line breaks in the tournament and Mapimpi made eight of them. He rarely gets tackled into touch.

But ‘The Tackle’? He should have cut in and rode the hit.

Koroibete gets isolated too often. But he is a carry horse (49 runs) and comes looking for more. His positioning on kick return is not always right, but he recovers with his speed and agility. By the end, he seemed to soldiering with an injury.

Boffelli plays wing more like a fullback. His kicking from tee and hand is impeccable. He lacked the larger moments of the others, and does not have the sheer speed to make this team. Wings must fly.

In the end, I’ll keep my two Kiwis at the wings. Ominously, the first three selections are from New Zealand. But this should preempt howls of bias.


One of the easiest selections is at No.12.

Damian de Allende beat 17 defenders and none of that was in open space. His 374 metres were in violent alleys. He set the first ruck target for the Boks to kick on their own terms. His tries involved taking several defenders over with him. He had only a few poor moments in well over four hundred minutes.

David Havili was eclipsed by Barrett (and de Allende).

De Allende would surely have been joined by 6-line break Lukhanyo Am at outside centre but for injury. But Rieko Ioane took his chance in the sun with 44 carries, 7 breaks and a staggering 25 defenders beaten, mostly in broken play.

His break from deep at Ellis Park may have saved Ian Foster. His try-savers were almost uncanny. Even if some of his passes still look like he is a prop, there is a case to be made for him being the player of the tournament.

Five starters selected and we have four Kiwis and a Saffa. I grow uneasy.


Had Richie Mo’unga played from the start, one wonders if the All Blacks might have got the fifth win, to make the title more decisive.

He looks so quick; moving like a panther even before the ball reaches him, but with a slip’s hands. He can turn any pass into a good one.

The remarkable thing is how small he is. He must be pound for pound one of the most powerful athletes in rugby.

He beat 16 defenders and kicked like a rugby cherub.


Striker Nic White did not seem to be Dave Rennie’s nailed on starter by Bledisloe time. His halfway kick in Melbourne was top class. His Tottenham act in Adelaide a low point.

Gonzalo Bertranou wrested the nine jersey from Tomas Cubelli. He is a problem for foes with his relentless snipe.

But this is a two-horse race with the loser donning jersey 22 (this team will have a 6-2 bench because that’s the fad).

Jaden Hendrickse is old school. He wears a loose XL jersey. He seems to be moving in a slower era; languid. His kicks are the very opposite of aimless. His dummies are 1986. And he was very good.

Aaron Smith is so good it is hard to know how good he is.

His zip to the third channel is still the best weapon in rugby (besides Frans Malherbe’s methodical, infuriating 1-2 penalty guarantee each game).

It is nearly impossible to split the merits of these two, but I will select Hendrickse for the quality of his kicking, and because he had to play with four different flyhalves.

: Aaron Smith of the All Blacks reacts during The Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Australia Wallabies at Eden Park on September 24, 2022 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)


The claims of the Argentine and Australian number ones evaporated under the weight of the whistle as the comp wore on and got tougher.

Ethan de Groot and Steven Kitshoff would be at home in any squad, in either hemisphere, in any era. De Groot was big. He looks like he may be wearing all black a long time.

But the Boks scrum and lift were more instrumental in their four wins than in the All Blacks’ four wins. So, it’s flame haired Kitshoff, that quiet 60-70 minute man who is so good in contact and can pass out the back just as well as Irish or Kiwi props. He also does not leak penalties.


This is a true triangle. Julian Montoya had to be running on fumes after playing 36 matches in a 12-month period, but he was a colossus (albeit with a muffin top) in steamy Durban.

He is a tackle magnet: 67 hard tackles in the tourney. He goes hard on the ball. His throws are true. Perhaps the knock on him is his team’s discipline record, and maybe also we cannot blame his scrum’s crumble only on props.

So, controversially, I will keep this between Kiwi phenom Samisoni Taukei’aho and block-jawed Malcolm Marx.

Marx is better on the defensive side of the ball (but no slouch on attack; exhibit A being his bonus point try at 80 minutes in Argentina). Taukei’aho carried a mind-boggling 52 times in the competition; almost as many as the four No 8s. Both have improved their lineout skills. Both steer good mauls. Both can offload.

Marx gets the nod because of the way he can take over a match and because his work at scrum time is remarkable.


Malherbe is a tighthead. His head is tight. His tightness is heady. Look at him. He is the definition of a prop.

But look further than the 7-2 scrum penalty toll, and you will also see a defensive asset (two matches with over ten completed tackles; only one miss in the tourney), a settling carrier in hard times, a leader, and a precise lifter on restart and in the lineout.

Hardman Allan Alaalatoa is the other option, but for me, he is the reserve. Malherbe starts or not. AAAAAAA was the glue that kept the Wallaby pack together. The symbol of resistance at Sydney; squared up and fist clenched. A prop.


The All Blacks and Springboks had excellent performances in the second row. These lock duos were in place in the two-point Twickenham semi final of 2015.

Sam Whitelock looked punch drunk at times in Super Rugby Pacific, but he is back and he means business. He was superb in the air and on the ground; and led with wisdom.

Brodie Retallick looks like he is coming back from his Japanese gardens and getting down and dirty again. His spray at James Slipper was an ignition.

Eben Etzebeth is a dedicated kick chaser now; his hands are good. He made seven passes in the Sydney match (overshadowed by his shadow boxing with AAAAAA). He is indispensable (oh, and he claimed 25 lineouts).

Lood de Jager took 26 lineouts and made 58 tackles. He steered the Bok maul by surfing on top of it.

The Pumas locks also made claims; Tomas Lavanini’s 44 carries and 66 tackles were all hard and committed. But his tendency to lose the plot still hold him out of the starting team. Still, I’ll pull a shocker and use him as my bench lock.

It’s Etzebeth and Whitelock: a classic 4-5 combination. Lavanini off the bench to minimize time to be carded.


For sheer consistent menace, it is Marcos Kremer, who looks carved out of Greek mountains and instilled with ancient spirit. He made 80 tackles. He never looked like quitting, even in Hamilton.

Franco Mostert and Pieter-Steph du Toit halved minutes for the Boks (this may have been smarter than flogging Kremer), and with Shannon Frizzell deserve a mention.


Juan Martin Gonzalez scores. He may have the most tries per carry in the comp. He stepped Willie le Roux out of his boots.

But he is not just a seagull. He made 54 tackles, won 12 lineouts, and made four breaks.

It could have been Sam Cane (but he played less) or Siya Kolisi (bench?) or the piratical Pete Samu.

But Gonzalez announced his presence.

No. 8

This is the widest open slot. Rob Valetini had it, till the last game. Ardie Savea stormed back and his nine offloads are hard to ignore. Pablo Matera’s perfect balance (60 carries, 60 tackles) attracts. Jasper Wiese beat 15 defenders on 52 carries and they will still be feeling it.

There is no bad pick here.

Savea for me, still. Sorry Bobby, Jasper and Pablo.

Valetini on the bench.

Team of the tournament

Forwards: S Kitshoff, M Marx, F Malherbe, E Etzebeth, S Whitelock, JM Gonzalez, M Kremer, A Savea.

Backs: J Barrett, W Jordan, R Ioane, D de Allende, C Clarke, R Mo’unga, J Hendrickse

Bench: S Taukei’aho, E de Groot, A Alaalatoa, T Lavanini, S Kolisi, R Valetini, A Smith, D Willemse.

Congratulations to all; warriors and gentlemen you are.

Harry Jones will be joined by Brett McKay and Geoff Parkes on The Roar rugby podcast this week to pick their combined team of the tournament

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