The Springboks dominate after an impressive win over the All Blacks

    Credit: PA Images

Credit: PA Images

As the dust settles on round one of the Rugby Championship, we’ve gone through the action to pick out the best players from the weekend.

The Springboks lead the way after their superb triumph over the All Blacks, which put further pressure on head coach Ian Foster, while Australia are second best with five nominations.

15 Damian Willemse (South Africa): After an excellent mid-year series against Wales, the talented playmaker is becoming a key part of the Springbok set-up. He once again stood out at the weekend, threatening from behind with his running game but also helping to put the hosts on the front foot via his precise kicking. Willemse has an impressive skill set that suits the Boks’ game plan and sees him take the position from Australia’s Tom Wright.

14 Kurt-Lee Arendse (South Africa): Comes in despite the awful challenge on Beauden Barrett, which actually shows how well he played. Short of stature, but big of heart, Arendse is very similar to Cheslin Kolbe. His balance, pace and footwork draw natural comparisons to Kolbe, but it is his understanding of the game, defensive excellence and pursuit (apart from that one incident) that arguably make him most similar to the Toulon man. Provided he stays clear of injury and suspension, the 26-year-old has a big future in Test rugby. Jordan Petaia of Australia was the second best after his try-scoring effort in their win over Argentina.

13 Lukhanyo Am (South Africa): One of the best centers in the world and probably the best 13 since Conrad Smith, but it still feels like he’s unheralded by the wider public. Am is simply an outstanding player, leading South Africa’s defense superbly and coming up with the odd moment of genius in attack. Due to the Springbok schedule, that limits his offensive involvements somewhat, which is perhaps why the 28-year-old sometimes doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but he still managed to strike out there on Saturday. His relief for Arendse’s try was sublime, while defensively he shut down every All Blacks attack in the wider channels. Lean Ikitau was excellent for the Wallabies but Am easily takes this slot.

12 Hunter Paisami (Australia): With the news that Samu Kerevi will miss the rest of the Rugby Championship, Dave Rennie needed the Reds star to step up in Argentina and he did so impressively. Paisami was always going to play against Los Pumas, given the 28-year-old’s Commonwealth Games commitments, but they now need Paisami to have a Kerevi-like influence throughout the tournament, rather than just being a stopgap. It proved to be a good start on Saturday as he did enough to get ahead of South Africa’s Damian de Allende.

11 Emiliano Boffelli (Argentina): He didn’t make much of an impact with the ball in hand, but Los Pumas’ winger was superb with the boot and gave his side a chance to claim victory, scoring 16 of his side’s points in a stunning display off the tee. Caleb Clarke’s thrilling break was a rare moment of encouragement for the All Blacks, but it wasn’t enough to see him into the side.

10 Reece Hodge (Australia): After Quade Cooper, who played a good game, went off injured. It all looked pretty bleak for the Wallabies, but the substitute stepped up to the plate. Hodge’s utility is often seen as a useful addition to the squad rather than a game-breaking facet, but he proved a key component to the victory in Argentina. Hodge was excellent on the pivot, getting the best out of his outside runners as the visitors came from 19-10 down to claim a 41-26 victory.

9 Nic White (Australia): It might be tough Jaden Hendrikse, who continues to stand out at this level despite his inexperience, but White had another excellent game for the Wallabies. He makes Rennie’s men tick, does the basics extremely well – whether passing or kicking – and is always an absolute nuisance for the opposition. There are some very good scrum-half players in Australia at the moment, but they will have to go some to displace the outstanding 32-year-old.

8 Pablo Matera (Argentina): As expected, the number eight put in a passionate performance for Los Pumas, racking up 11 tackles, six carries and a single line-out take. However, Matera’s best efforts were not enough to get his team over the line. The rugged star remains a crucial figure in the Argentina set-up and performances like this underline why. Wallaby Rob Valetini had a strong game and underlined his value as a Test match number eight while an All Black Ardie Savea put in a valiant effort in what was a horror night for his side.

7 Fraser McReight (Australia): The flanker was thrust into the starting line-up after Michael Hooper pulled out of the tour a day before the Test. McReight delivered an inspiring performance, scoring a key try in one of his five deliveries, while the Reds star in defense made an impressive nine tackles. He looks like a player who will play many more Tests for the Wallabies. Springbok captain Siya Kolisi produced one of his best performances in 2022 and is unlucky to miss out on selection.

6 Pieter-Steph du Toit (South Africa): It was another workmanlike performance from the Springbok, who are nearing their best form. Du Toit made eight tackles and made two line-outs in a very clean performance. Springbok teammate Kwagga Smith was electric when he came on and impacted the game, while Marcos Kremer was a colossus in a losing cause for Argentina.

5 Darcy Swain (Australia): The second row was at his menacing best against Los Pumas, winning two turnovers with his three tackles. Swain forced himself on the play whenever possible and had three tackles in the line-out to complete a solid outing. The Wallabies’ performance is key given the number of injuries Australia are dealing with.

4 Eben Etzebeth (South Africa): The Springbok centurion was rock solid against the All Blacks, completing eight carries and four tackles. Etzebeth was brilliant in the line-out, winning five and stealing one from the All Blacks. The second row is once again showing its impressive consistency at Test level and is a key figure in setting the tone for the Springboks’ physicality.

3 Frans Malherbe (South Africa): Malherbe was an absolute rock at scrum time, emphasizing his immense value in the front row and doing everything asked of him, including making four tackles on the night. There’s nothing flashy about Maherbe, but the South African’s ability to scrimmage ranks him as one of the best tighthead props in the world.

2 Malcolm Marx (South Africa): The Springbok star was a sight to behold in his 50th game for South Africa, showing his prowess at the breakdown, winning a whopping five turnovers. Apart from the breakdown, Marx made eight carries and six tackles to get the pick over the Los Pumas captain Julian Montoya and Wallaby Folau Fainga’awhich introduce remarkable changes for their countries.

1 Steven Kitshoff (South Africa): The front row made a big impact on the game during his 40-minute stint which included strong scrummaging, seven tackles and two turnovers won. The Springbok made 14 meters from his four carries in what was a complete performance from the experienced prop. Kitshoff remains a key component of the infamous “Bomb Squad”.

READ MORE: Who’s hot and who’s not: Michael Hooper’s bravery, Malcolm Marx’s shine, All Blacks’ fight and commentary disaster

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