Going into the final round of matches this Saturday, who are the players that have already left a major mark on their respective country’s series?
Here are four who stand out.
Chris Robshaw (England)
Redemption complete. It’s worth remembering that after the Rugby World Cup many felt that Robshaw would never play for his country again, let alone captain them. Taking away the captaincy was a necessary move by Eddie Jones on his arrival to not only lift the pressure off England’s shoulders but also to give a downtrodden squad some fresh impetus.
To Robshaw’s credit he went back to Harlequins, swapped the seven on his back for six, and worked harder, even beyond his industrially high levels. We’ve seen the results of that in Australia, where despite a long season, physically and mentally, he has played his best rugby at Test level. His defence dictated the tone of the second Test, but it was watching Robshaw hoof the ball downfield to clear heavy pressure on England that looked far more satisfying. No longer on the risk of losing his slot.
Dylan Hartley (England)
Few foresaw this when Dylan Hartley was named captain. England’s skipper is yet to lose a game in charge since he took over, leading his country to eight consecutive wins including the grand slam and now a series win in Australia.
Fears over Hartley’s temperament have proved to be unfounded, due to a combination of opposing sides being unable to rattle him and the steps he’s taken to control his emotions with the weight of responsibility on his shoulders. Now we’re talking about Hartley as a possible Lions captain. As with Robshaw, time in sport is a funny old thing.
Jack McGrath (Ireland)
The time when Ireland fretted over the fitness of Cian Healy is now over. McGrath has excelled on this tour to South Africa. When the 26-year-old spoke out earlier this year about the loss of his brother to suicide, he came across as an impressive young man.
Now he’s making a great impression on the field as well, dismantling Frans Malherbe last week and pushing himself into the frame for British and Irish Lions recognition next year for the trip to New Zealand. It’s been a positive tour for Ireland regardless of the result in Port Elizabeth, and McGrath has been at the heart of that.
Faf de Klerk (South Africa)
In the midst of a rocky few weeks for the Springboks there has been a bright spot in the form of Lions scrum-half Faf de Klerk. Bursting onto the scene during the 2015 Super Rugby season, De Klerk’s first cap came in the loss to Ireland at Newlands but he illustrated in that defeat and the subsequent comeback win at Ellis Park what he can offer – slick service from the base of the ruck with enough speed too to snipe around the fringes effectively.
After the retirement of Fourie du Preez and absence of Ruan Pienaar throughout this series, South Africa’s stocks at scrum-half were beginning to look a little thin. De Klerk, though, might well be the solution.
Ben Coles, Pundit Arena