In round two of the Rugby Championship, the All Blacks continued their unbeaten ‘reestablishment’ era run with a comprehensive 29-9 win over Australia, while Argentina held their nerve to eke out a two-point win (26-24) over South Africa.
So which players make our Rugby Championship team of the week?
15. Ben Smith (New Zealand)
A typically classy performance from Smith, accurate and perceptive. For Argentina, Joaquin Tuculet scored a magnificent try but was otherwise quiet while Israel Folau had a few magical, but infrequent moments as usual.
14. Israel Dagg (New Zealand)
Dagg bagged a brace of tries and has rediscovered the confidence and swagger which raises his game to a world class level. Argentina’s Santiago Cordero was underutilised but always threatening. Ruan Combrink, for his part, showed some impressive kicking skills.
13. Malakai Fekitoa (New Zealand)
Some mixed performances at centre across the four teams, but Fekitoa wins his place with a strong defensive display, and consistent involvement without the high error rate of the other centres on display.
12. Juan Martin Hernandez (Argentina)
Strong in the air and became more and more influential as game wore on until injured in closing stages. He shades impressive All Black debutant Anton Lienert-Brown, who showed the skills and temperament to suggest the 21-year-old has a big test future.
11. Bryan Habana (South Africa)
A classy second half in which he scored a typical try and saved another when covering from the opposite wing. His one blemish was Juan Manuel Leguizamon out-leaping him to score on his wing. Julian Savea, meanwhile, showed he is rediscovering his form with a typical runaway Bus-like try and Martin Montero (Argentina) had an eye-catching but erratic first half but Habana’s greater involvement gets the parking spot on the left.
10. Beauden Barrett (New Zealand)
Barrett played a restrained but mesmerising game, taking correct options, accurate kicking and passing and running into gaps. The spectacular plays of recent weeks were missing, but his influence continues to grow. Injuries and poor form characterised the performance of the other three number 10s on display.
9. Martin Landajo (Argentina)
Incredibly inspirational display by the fiery half back, especially when he had to switch to fly-half in the closing stages of the game to cover injuries. Second in metres gained, he made crucial breaks and was a buzzing, electric presence around rucks and breakdowns. Aaron Smith (All Blacks) was also outstanding, showcasing his underplayed running game to complement his incredible stamina and speed of pass. Will Genia was also impressive for the Wallabies, making the only meaningful break through the Black wall and had an accurate, busy game.
8. Facundo Isa (Argentina)
Anyone who can knock Kieran Read out of any starting XV must be special, and Isa is just that player. The top runner in the Championship in terms of metres gained and more than twice as many carries as his other team-mates. This 22-year-old is the real deal and his clash with Read in two weeks’ time in New Zealand promises to be monumental.
7. Sam Cane (New Zealand) /Juan Manuel Luguizamon (Argentina)
These two industrious, skilful flankers could not be separated in terms of their influence in their respective matches. Both were menaces at the breakdown, powerful contributors going forward and both scored important tries.
6. Jerome Kaino ( New Zealand)
Another scarily dominant performance from Kaino who is reaching McCaw-like levels in terms of influence on games. Other blindsides also had strong moments especially Francois Louw’s (South Africa) around the back pass to set up Habana’s try.
5. Sam Whitelock (New Zealand)
Whitelock didn’t do much in terms of ball-carrying but his defensive work pressurising the opposition lineout, making covering tackles and being a two-metre brick in the Black defensive wall was integral to the All Blacks’ physical dominance over the Wallabies.
4. Pieter Steph du Toit (South Africa)
Du Toit came off the bench against Argentina, but swung the game back in South Africa’s favour with his brutish power at the breakdown which led to an impressive try. Brodie Retallick (New Zealand) was his usual high quality combination of silky hands and steel frame.
3. Owen Franks (New Zealand)
In recent weeks Franks has perhaps been inspired by his front row super hero Dane Coles as he has never been more involved in general open play in his career. If he goes tryless in Hamilton, he will equal the world record of 83 tests without a try. Prediction: the drought will be broken this year.
2. Dane Coles (New Zealand)
Nobody dares say it, but this writer thinks Dane Coles is nearing The Best Hooker Ever territory. He does all his core duties with real precision, and his running game is becoming something of a phenomenon. Incredibly, in two games and with a rib injury, he has beaten more players (9) than Ben Smith and trails only Beauden Barrett in this statistic. He is also tied with Barrett (5) for clean breaks. Ever see a hooker perform tricks like that?
1. Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro (Argentina)
Part of a solid Argentinian scrum that waivered but ultimately withstood the Springbok pressure and won.
Team player count: All Blacks 9; Argentina 5; South Africa 2; Australia 0.
Additional Statistics via NZ Herald
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena