The last two weeks have seen Australia and New Zealand play some high quality attacking rugby. Between the two, they’ve scored a combined 152 points.
The Wallabies will take a lot of positives from the 35-29 loss in Dunedin in the most recent contest after leaking 54 points in Sydney.
So after an epic two games here is a combined team of the players who stood out above the rest:
1. Joe Moody
The All Blacks loosehead prop has come of age over the last two weeks. Moody became a key figure in a dominant All Black scrum. In general play he was more prominent with ball in hand, including a strong run in open play in Sydney.
2. Dane Coles
Coles featured in the second Test returning from injury. His presence shows why he is integral for the All Blacks. In his 50th Test match Coles was full of running in general play.
3. Nepo Laulala
Like Coles, Laulala only featured in the second Test replacing Owen Franks. His powerful scrummaging was there for all to see. Apart from giving away one penalty for an obstruction, he contributed well around the field with good ball carries.
4. Brodie Retalick
Retalick keeps delivering a high standard of play every time he takes to the field. He is always busy around the field with his mobility and physicality. Although, he did have a lucky escape with an awkward tip tackle on Ned Hanigan while trying to get back on his feet.
5. Sam Whitelock
Whitelock combined with Brodie Retallick to continue their impressive partnership. Whitelock managed to upset a number of Australia’s restarts. This allowed the All Blacks to get on the front foot after conceding points in Dunedin. His presence in the lineouts was also key to both All Blacks victories. Wearing the number five jersey in Dunedin was also a special moment paying tribute to the late Sir Colin Meads.
6. Liam Squire
A surprise selection ahead of Jerome Kaino was justified with an outstanding performance, which included scoring the first try in Sydney. He was strong with his ball running, showing great speed in both Tests. His work on defence was also strong, making a number of physical tackles. The energy he brings to the All Blacks is infectious.
7. Michael Hooper
The only Australian forward in this combined XV, Hooper is picked after a much-improved effort in the second Test. He showed good awareness to peel off a maul to score and was heavily involved in open play when the Wallabies were hot on attack in Dunedin.
8. Kieran Read
The All Blacks captain had a strong game in the first Test, especially with his defence. In the second Test Read made two vital plays that led to Beauden Barrett’s winning try. He won the kick-off, then followed this by running a nice line in the lead up to the match-winner.
9. Will Genia
The Australian scrum half had his best game in a long time in the second Test. He made a break that led to Bernard Foley’s try and scored one of his own. Genia was full of running around the scrum base and ruck fringes.
10. Beauden Barrett
Barrett rediscovered his 2016 form over the last two weeks. His acceleration in Sydney set the tempo for the All Blacks’ early onslaught. His 20-point haul, including two tries, combined with more accurate goal kicking than previous outings got New Zealand over the line on Saturday.
11. Rieko Ioane
The 20-year-old showed great speed, power and agility in making numerous line breaks over the last two matches. His quick feet to get around Israel Folau in the first Test shows he is a player of great talent. Ioane knows how to finish off tries.
12. Kurtley Beale
Since returning to international rugby, Beale has given Australia more creativity in their midfield. After a slow start in Sydney, he found his feet scoring a try in the second half. He scored late in the second half in Dunedin that gave Australia the lead with minutes remaining.
13. Ryan Crotty
His two-try performance in the first Test was Crotty’s best in an All Black jersey. He did not put a foot wrong, making the correct decisions in both attack and defence. In the return leg he was busy on defence, but due to an early injury, he was not as effective.
14. Ben Smith
The dependable Smith adapted well to playing back on the right wing. As always, he was in the right place at the right time to finish off try-scoring opportunities. He showed great vision and awareness with the pop passes that led to his try in Sydney. He will now enjoy a well-earned sabbatical.
15. Israel Folau
He is still the Wallabies’ greatest attacking threat who challenges the opposition defence regularly. Folau made a large contribution in Australia’s late comeback during the first Test with a fortuitous try. His early intercept in Dunedin gave Australia the ideal start to be competitive in their six-point defeat.
The players in this combined team all played key roles in what was an entertaining two matches. The trans-Tasman rivalry will resume in October with hopefully the same attacking intent we saw in Sydney and Dunedin.
Carlin Crossan, Pundit Arena
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