Richard Ferguson

Team of the Rugby Championship – Unofficial

Written by Richard Ferguson (Richard Ferguson)

Posted in :All Blacks, Original Content, Springboks, Wallabies on 17 Oct 2013 at 09:24
Tagged with : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

SANZAR has named an unofficial team of the Rugby Championship on their site, with five South Africans making it onto this list.

While this is an unofficial team, we still have the opportunity to discuss the fairness of certain inclusions and decide whether Bismarck du Plessis really deserves his spot in the team.

So here is the team, with their original reasoning below. Floor is open for discussion.

15 – Israel Folau (Wallabies)
To think that the dual international is such an uncut diamond speaks of his potential as a leading man in the Wallabies backline, and whether he remains in the three-quarters or shifts to the centres, he was convincingly one of the tournament’s most lethal attacking figureheads. His inclusion, ahead of his All Blacks namesake, is remarkable as he is still to be fully utilised by his surrounding cast.

Folau ranked second overall in runs metres, defenders beaten and offloads.

14 – Ben Smith (All Blacks)
It is no idle boast to suggest that the Highlanders back is the South’s challenger to Lions’ prodigy Leigh Halfpenny as the best player in the world (despite the presence of a certain No.8). A record eight tries in The Rugby Championship spoke volumes of Smith’s class that had him glide through stringent defensive lines as if they were mist, although the Springboks up and comer Willie Le Roux was among the most potent wings statistically.

No player made more clean breaks than the new All Blacks wonder back, making 11, three ahead of Jean de Villiers and double all but six players in the entire competition.

13 – Conrad Smith (All Blacks)
Technically the most capped centre in New Zealand Test rugby is now on extended leave, and once again the man coined ‘Snake’ has shown his class that could see him counted amongst the pantheon. Defensively a genius, reliable and crucially a link for the outside backs, his imminent absence is the next project for the All Blacks development team – while his break is designed to see him last until an upcoming World Cup.

Smith was one of just four players to play every minute in The Rugby Championship, and was the leading passing midfielder (42 compared to 32 with JDV and 30 with Ma’a) and far and away the most efficient tackler in the centre channels, making 39 and missing just four.

12 – Jean de Villiers (Springboks)
The South African captain was such a menace in attack that only Ben Smith outdid him in key backline attack indicators, but outside of that de Villiers was notable with some extraordinary numbers that would have been lost in his calm leadership. The Springboks have a captain who looks to have an influence approaching some of the country’s greats, to such a point that some of the Republic’s most fierce debate is how to safeguard the centre till the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

De Villiers made 47 carries, bustling an impressive six metres each time, while no one defeated more players with 20 men outdone by the offensive skills of the guileful skipper, who statistically was superior to his nearest rival Ma’a Nonu in all ledgers.

11 – Bryan Habana (Springboks)
Julian Savea again showed why he is now an automatic selection on the All Blacks flank with some impressive displays but Habana’s pedigree was again clear with a master class performance at Ellis Park that had many wondering if the result would have been different if the Toulon based wing had lasted the whole contest. His value demands inclusion despite presence in France and 92 Tests and 53 tries have done nothing to diminish the sheer striking power the 30-year-old still possesses.

Willie Le Roux impressed in the 14 jersey, but the continued class of Habana shone throughout the tournament, making nearly five carries per Test at an average of a remarkable eight metres, with a guaranteed clean break and beaten defender per match, which was often backed up with a try.

10 – Nicolas Sanchez (Los Pumas)
Beauden Barrett’s cameos stood out, while Morne Steyn continues to be the standout flyhalf for the Springboks, but Sanchez’s boot and defensive resilience made him impossible to ignore. Tactically his kicking ensured he was an automatic inclusion into the side, preferred at times ahead of the veteran kicking skills of Felipe Contepomi, but opposition coaches who clearly targeted his tramlines will not try such tactics again.

Sanchez was the only back in the top ten tacklers, and led the chart with 69 tackles, nine ahead of the next players. He also kept company in attacking numbers with seven offloads, matching the number made by the All Blacks best line attacking number ten in Aaron Cruden.

9 – Aaron Smith (All Blacks)
More offloads, passes and metres run by Will Genia might have mocked the Wallabies number nine’s demise, but Smith took every other category in a masterful display where he outpointed both the Australian maestro as well as Fourie du Preez in a stark exam of his abilities.

The best defender at nine throughout The Rugby Championship, Smith was ranked third in kicks overall, and this was evident of his newfound ability to control proceedings with his boot as efficiently as his passing game, giving the All Blacks the best advantage line breakage, largely in part to his lightening distribution.

8 – Kieran Read (All Blacks)
The number eight is now drawing comparisons with some legendary figures who have worn the All Blacks eight jersey, while it is possible that the most efficient future transition of an international captain ever seen is in effect, with Read leading the World Champions throughout the series in France, before putting in performances that were matched with moments of brilliance and some magical work at the breakdown.

Only Sam Whitelock tackled as many times (60) as Read, while the number eights link work was shown with a remarkable 48 passes and seven offloads, the best numbers by any forward. Add to this six turnovers and 17 lineout takes and you get some idea as to Read’s value to the All Blacks setup.

7 – Michael Hooper (Wallabies)
When David Pocock was ruled out it was suspected the Australians would lose much potency at the breakdown, but while Liam Gill was suspected to have the inside running, Hooper came of age as arguably the best Wallabies forward of The Rugby Championship. His attacking numbers held court with Steven Luatua and Pablo Matera, the only three loosies to run over 100 metres, but it is the classic benchmarks that the winner of three ‘player awards’ stands out.

55 tackles with just one missed and a competition leading nine turnovers had Hooper comfortably the best pilferer on display, while his two yellow cards, again leading the back row, was indicative of the chaos he caused at the ruck.

6 – Francois Louw (Springboks)
Louw was part of a South African back row that might be Heyneke Meyer’s first choice going forward, and while Steven Luatau and Pablo Matera were impressionable in their first international appearances in the loose forward combinations, Louw was only second to Read as the most efficient passing forward. Such a statistic is normally reserved for the All Blacks, but the bruising number six, only missing 16 minutes of the entire tournament, made it a linking Springboks back row as well as a bruising one.

In the top ten for turnovers and forward tackle efficiency for the tournament, he was another example of Meyer calling on an overseas forward to his starting team due to the potency of the Cape Town born flank, while using the Springboks power at the breakdown to create a close quarters passing game perhaps for the first time.

5 – Sam Whitelock (All Blacks)
It was significant that the Crusaders lock, only matched by his partner in this team by Eben, was announced as a marquee signing alongside future All Blacks captain Kieran Read by New Zealand Rugby until the end of the 2017 season. Only his All Blacks team-mate Brodie Retallick passed the ball more often, while by the traditional second row indicators he was second overall to our other selection at lock.

However Whitelock’s value has come from his gigantic presence in the tackle area, making 60 and just missing one in six Tests. So silky in general play, the Crusaders lock led The Rugby Championship as a ‘ball playing’ tight forward (passing the ball 17 times) while being the most efficient defender in the tournament.

4 – Eben Etzebeth (Springboks)
At 21-years-old the Cape Town born prodigy is already being mentioned in conversation alongside Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, and one of just four men to play the full 480 minutes is a frightening proposition considering his tender age.

Etzebeth was the tournament’s prime lineout option winning 33, while no second rower was as damaging with ball in hand, with Etzebeth’s 38 runs ensuring he was the only lock to break 100 running metres – while only Whitelock made more tackles (60 to 53) and made more lineout steals (4 to 3).

3 – Juan Figallo (Pumas)
Montpellier has arguably the dominant scrum in France and a large part of that is due to the 25-year-old Figallo, who easily translated this form to The Rugby Championship stage, forcing his opposites tremendous problems with what was at times a fearsome Argentine scrum.

But it was his abilities around the park that impressed, with no prop in the tournament making more carries (23) or tackles (33). Add to this five offloads, the second best of any tight five forward, and one suspects the Argentine age-grade product has plenty of Tests in front of him.

2 – Bismarck du Plessis (Springboks)
It would be false to assume that the mighty Bismarck gained this position due to his rattling of the All Blacks, but throughout The Rugby Championship the performance of the Sharks hooker was such that some suggested the outstanding Adriaan Strauss should have been used more sparingly to enable du Plessis to be unleashed.

Du Plessis engineered the second most turnovers of any player in The Rugby Championship, while he was another standout South African forward to up his passing and offloading game, with his six the best of any front rower. His strength in the carry and tackle was at powerful as any other player.

1 – Tony Woodcock (All Blacks)
The most capped New Zealand Test prop and one of only two tight five forwards to reach a century of matches for the All Blacks, Tony Woodcock had ‘the Beast’ nipping at his heels statistically, but it was quite simple in the end, when the eventual champions scrum wasn’t challenged while the farmer was holding firm at loosehead.

Did concede some attacking charts to the likes of Tendai Mtawarira and his propping partner at tighthead, but the All Blacks scrum was at their most proficient when the double centurion – in Test and Super Rugby – was one the field for his 352 minutes, the second most of any prop. Also became the All Blacks fourth centurion after McCaw, Muliaina and Mealamu.


  • Good team that.

    2 opensiders though? I suppose there weren’t any blind siders who really stuck their hand up during the entire comp.
    I would have picked Matera at blindside and Flo at openside.

  • Comment 1, posted at 17.10.13 09:28:47 by John Galt Reply
    John Galt
  • Reasonable side. One thing is certain ;Read is head and shoulders above any other forward in world Rugby besides maybe Bismarck. My IRB player of the year so far.

    Not so sure about Woodcock there, their scrum is without doubt a weakness.

  • Comment 2, posted at 17.10.13 09:35:59 by Talent Reply
  • Bissie!!!

  • Comment 3, posted at 17.10.13 09:43:56 by R Hayward Reply

  • There are two Argentines?

  • Comment 4, posted at 17.10.13 09:45:40 by Argex Reply

  • It is my imagination or do I see two Pumas in the side?

  • Comment 5, posted at 17.10.13 09:54:44 by bokbok Reply

  • @Argex (Comment 4) :
    @bokbok (Comment 5) :

    My mistake – apologies

  • Comment 6, posted at 17.10.13 09:55:33 by Richard Ferguson Reply
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    Richard Ferguson
  • @Richard Ferguson (Comment 6) : Great article Richard! Poor Argies almost got a raw deal ;-P Only two is still not that great though.

  • Comment 7, posted at 17.10.13 10:02:34 by Argex Reply

  • Eben is an absolute gem, the skills of a 5 with the hard edge of a 4.

  • Comment 8, posted at 17.10.13 10:04:33 by vanmartin Reply
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  • I just love Figallo… He was unknown to most if not all and managed to be a decent Prop!

  • Comment 9, posted at 17.10.13 13:10:57 by bchanakira2 Reply
  • I wish we would just get with the program and switch the numbering of our flanks.

    Would really do away with this bullshit of comparing our opensiders to everyone else’s blindsiders and vice versa.

  • Comment 10, posted at 17.10.13 13:14:30 by robdylan Reply
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  • @bchanakira2 (Comment 9) : he’s impressive, hard to believe, he’s only 25 this year, what a player!!!

  • Comment 11, posted at 17.10.13 15:42:30 by Ludz Reply

  • @robdylan (Comment 10) : And start calling our scrumhalves half backs ,10’s first five eights and inside centers 2nd five eights? Nope.

  • Comment 12, posted at 17.10.13 15:50:30 by Talent Reply
  • @Talent (Comment 12) : no – call them what we like. Just number consistently

  • Comment 13, posted at 17.10.13 16:10:34 by robdylan Reply
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  • Sorry to say Rob but some people just can’t adapt to new thinking

  • Comment 14, posted at 17.10.13 19:06:05 by JD Reply
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  • @Ludz (Comment 11) : playing in france has helped his scrummaging. Some impressive stats too on attack and defence. I see no other challenge at 3; even to the great Castrogiovanni.

  • Comment 15, posted at 17.10.13 23:15:04 by bchanakira2 Reply
  • @JD (Comment 14) : Maybe it would be new thinking had the Kiwi’s not used the term/idea for sometime. 😆 But nice try 🙄

    @robdylan (Comment 13) : Ya I get that. In all honesty it really makes no difference; calling scrumhalves halfbacks does irk me slightly though, why should we?WHY SHOULD WE JOEL STRANSKY?

  • Comment 16, posted at 18.10.13 00:06:05 by Talent Reply
  • @Richard Ferguson (Comment 6) : ‘Morne Steyn continues to be the stand out flyhalf for the Boks’ – how do you come by this argument Rich?? We never gave another 10 a run and it seems only SA see the value of Morne Steyn. refer to Tony Johnson’s article “Morne Steyn was steady, nothing more”…and he is 100% right. That is what Steyn is…STEADY, NOTHING MORE.

    With de Villiers, du Preez, Pienaar (in Brisbane and Soweto anyway), and Le Roux orchestrating our attack, I fail to see how people say Steyn is an attacking 10. Shovelling the ball to Duane and Flo does not, an attacking 10 make!!!

    I truly believe this is our achilles heel in terms of reaching our full potential.

    Oh and I dont think you can pick Flo and Hooper, they play the same position. both very good though

  • Comment 17, posted at 18.10.13 01:18:45 by pienaar111 Reply

  • Who here would select Morne Steyn as their starting 10 ahead of Barrett, Cruden, Carter or Taylor???

    Only reason I left Lambie out of equation is that he has never been given a run in the Rugby champs…So how would HM know how he would fare, despite my lofty predictions??

  • Comment 18, posted at 18.10.13 01:21:44 by pienaar111 Reply

  • @pienaar111 (Comment 17) : If you read closely you’ll notice that Rich did not write this, it’s from Sanzar.

  • Comment 19, posted at 18.10.13 01:45:46 by MysticShark Reply
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  • @pienaar111 (Comment 17) : Agree with you on Morne btw.

  • Comment 20, posted at 18.10.13 01:46:48 by MysticShark Reply
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  • In that case my apologies to Rich!!
    My thoughts on Morne remain of course

  • Comment 21, posted at 18.10.13 06:08:19 by pienaar111 Reply

  • @MysticShark (Comment 19) :

    Thank you for pointing that out..

  • Comment 22, posted at 18.10.13 09:17:24 by Richard Ferguson Reply
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    Richard Ferguson
  • @pienaar111 (Comment 18) : MS is simly a STAAN DAAR EN SKOP DAAR 10 nothing more

  • Comment 23, posted at 18.10.13 09:37:00 by benji Reply
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  • @benji (Comment 23) : Simply

  • Comment 24, posted at 18.10.13 09:38:02 by benji Reply
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  • @Richard Ferguson (Comment 22) : I do apologise. Did not realize!!! Didn’t even read the opening paragraph…

  • Comment 25, posted at 18.10.13 09:54:37 by pienaar111 Reply

  • I think people are too quick to catergorise a certain position as having to be able to this and that. Each world class player has different attributes and everyone is different. Thats what makes rugby interesting to watch as there are so many different match ups of players using their different skills. So on the Morne Steyn debate…yes he isnt in the Quade Cooper creative mould, so what. He does what he is really good at. And i dont know the numbers exactly but i think the Boks ended the rugby championship with the best points difference or were only slightly shaded my the All Blacks. So Steyn cant be that horrible as he touches the ball a lot more than most on the field. Im not saying his way is the right and only way, just like playing like Quade Cooper isnt the only right way. Just look at each guys world class skills before we say a flyhalf is crap if he doesnt do XYZ and same for flanks and hookers etc.

  • Comment 26, posted at 18.10.13 11:33:14 by SheldonK Reply

  • @SheldonK (Comment 26) : I fully agree with your point in that a position should not dictate exactly what you must do (not entirely anyway). Disagree with your reference to – Quade Cooper is an awesome attacking runner, not much else and thus not a world class flyhalf. Morne Steyn kicks well and not much else, thus not a world class player. Every player should have a strength but should be adequate (or better at this level) with the entire skill set….The All Black flyhalfs prove this. Each slightly different, but they all offer the complete skillset!!! And Johnny Sexton is in that mould as well to be honest

  • Comment 27, posted at 18.10.13 12:59:51 by pienaar111 Reply

  • @pienaar111 (Comment 27) : I dont see what people rate in Johnny Sexton really. To me there are many better players. I think Cruden is good and dominated games in Super rugby but has yet to convince me at international level. Barrett is quality though I must agree. I still think Morne Steyn is world class as he can dominate a game with his kicking. He is the best kicking flyhalf in the world. So yes not everyone likes that style of flyhalf but u cant deny his quality. Quade Cooper is also very good but is off form at the moment, it happens

  • Comment 28, posted at 18.10.13 14:21:06 by SheldonK Reply

  • @SheldonK (Comment 28) : I am going to disagree – the All Black kickers (Carter, Cruden, Smith, Dagg, perhaps excluding Barrett) are among the best tactical kickers in the world at the moment. They kick just as much if not more than the Boks, and the kicks generally achieve much better results.

  • Comment 29, posted at 18.10.13 14:52:00 by Bokhoring Reply
  • @Bokhoring (Comment 29) : The All Blacks and Boks kick for different reasons though. The boks kick to try compete for possession further down the field so majority of Bok kicks are up and unders. The All Blacks dont kick many up and unders. there kicks are usually long kicks that look to land on the graas as they want teams to try counter attack against them as they feel this is when they can turn over the ball and catch opposition defenses unstructured. I do believe that Morne Steyn wud achieve the same if not better results kicking to the All Black game plan. Again im not a massive Steyn fan, im just trying to say dont slate the guy as he is very good at what he does do and wins games because of it.

  • Comment 30, posted at 18.10.13 15:04:20 by SheldonK Reply

  • @SheldonK (Comment 30) : Actually the ABs kicked a lot of unders in the Ellis Park test and were much more successful at it than we were. I was surprised to see how fragile our players were under the high ball – even against the Aussies in Brisbane – they just did not make use of it. The All Blacks did however and put it to good use in NZ and SA.

    On our side the execution of the up and unders – both kick (Steyn, Pienaar and even FdP) and chase were mostly poor, and in the majority of cases just handed back possession.

  • Comment 31, posted at 18.10.13 15:10:24 by Bokhoring Reply
  • @Bokhoring (Comment 31) : U cant judge on one game though. But yes the fielding of kicks in this rugby championship wasnt good by the Boks. Up and unders, kick off and returns of long punts was pretty dismal. The All Balcks are a very intelligent side and can quickly figure out during a game what area the opposition is doing well and not well and are thus able to exploit it. The Bok game plan doesnt really change from minute 1 to 80. You can even set your pace maker by our timing of our subs!

  • Comment 32, posted at 18.10.13 15:25:07 by SheldonK Reply


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