August 14, 2022, 15:38

Rugby Championship top five: All Blacks, a Springbok, a Puma and a Wallaby

Rugby Championship top five: All Blacks, a Springbok, a Puma and a Wallaby

The Rugby Championship exploded back onto our screens this weekend as New Zealand dispatched Australia in Sydney and South Africa saw off Argentina in Port Elizabeth.

Following some breathtaking rugby, we’ve taken a closer look at five players who stood out from the action, with all four nations represented!

Liam Squire

Squire was under pressure coming into this game, having been picked to start at blindside flanker in place of Jerome Kaino in his first All Blacks appearance since November 2016.

He responded with a magnificent display, excelling with ball in hand. He made eight tackles, considerably less than his back row colleagues Sam Cane and Kieran Read who completed 21 and 15 respectively, but he roamed around the wide channels and made several monstrously effective carries.

Squire illustrated his deceptive pace and physicality several times throughout the 54-34 victory, gaining a phenomenal 104 metres, second only to wing Rieko Ioane.

After just five minutes of the match, Squire showed great speed to burn past Wallaby centre Samu Kerevi on the outside and race into the corner for the All Blacks’ first try, while an exceptional burst in the second half paved the way for Ben Smith’s score.

His power and pace were a constant threat throughout the encounter and as head coach Steve Hansen commented afterwards: “He [Squire] is a pretty phenomenal rugby player when he gets it right, and tonight he got it right. It was lovely to watch.”

High praise indeed.

Siya Kolisi

Springbok openside Kolisi put in another superb performance in the 37-15 win over Argentina in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, and is developing into the key man for Allister Coetzee.

Having enjoyed a supreme summer Test series with France, the 26-year-old backed that up in the victory over the Pumas in his hometown with a first-class performance.

In tandem with Jaco Kriel, Kolisi ruled the breakdown and earned several penalties with textbook jackals. Defensively he was strong again, while his power carrying got South Africa over the gainline almost every time he was in possession.

He chipped in with a deserved try at a critical moment in the match, finishing a flowing move with 14 minutes to go to put South Africa back into a commanding position to go on and win it.

More than his excellent individual display, however, it was clear over the weekend that Kolisi is developing into a central leader for this Springbok side.

He is noticeably very popular with his team-mates and his passion and enthusiasm for the team, combined with a controlled aggression, shone through at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

Kurtley Beale

Australia suffered a rough loss on Saturday but a shining light in the defeat was the performance of Kurtley Beale on his return.

Before the weekend, Beale had last played for Australia some 22 months ago in the 2015 World Cup final against the All Blacks, as a combination of a knee injury and his year away with Wasps kept him out of the set-up.

On Saturday, he was the main spark for the Wallabies and was the thrust behind their mini four-try revival in the second period.

Lining out at inside-centre, Beale’s pace was searing and when he got in full swing, the All Blacks couldn’t handle him. He was undoubtedly the pick of the players in gold on the pitch, going over for a marvellous intercept try himself and making several incisive darts and dangerous breaks.

Having him back in the Test arena is a major plus for Michael Cheika.

Emiliano Boffelli

Making his Rugby Championship debut on Saturday, Pumas wing Boffelli scored one try and made another for Argentina as he proved he is a player with fabulous rugby intellect and one to watch for the future.

Earmarked as a key player by Sky Sports guest Gonzalo Tiesi before the game with South Africa, the 22-year-old’s performance was excellent.

At 6’3″, he is a physically imposing back and his performance in Port Elizabeth illuminated his strength in the air, hard work and quickness over the ground.

His grubber kick through on the counter-attack for Martin Landajo’s try was not only great vision but technically glorious, while he later finished well in the corner with a try his impressive performance merited.

In his previous two Test caps against England in June, he scored a try in each, meaning he is yet to feature in a Test match without scoring. Can he keep that going in Salta next week?

Damian McKenzie

A classy and skilful operator, you would not have guessed Damian McKenzie was making his first Rugby Championship start for the All Blacks on Saturday.

Of New Zealand’s eight tries, the full-back scored one and had a direct impact on two others.

The 22-year-old made piercing breaks in the build-up to scores for Squire and Ryan Crotty, and was on the shoulder of Ioane to stride home his maiden Test try early in the second-half.

McKenzie showed a relentless work-rate and energy in the victory and time and again displayed his near unstoppable acceleration, exploding off the mark past and between tackles.

A rapid and elusive runner, he does continue to make some minor mistakes and take the wrong option at times, but with Jordie Barrett out for the season with a shoulder injury and Ben Smith about to embark on a sabbatical after the return match in Dunedin next week, one suspects we will be seeing a lot more of McKenzie this championship.

He may have notched his first Test try against the Wallabies, but it certainly won’t be his last.


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