15. Israel Dagg (New Zealand)
New Zealand’s three tries inCardiffwere all scored by forwards, but the man at the very back defined their attacking excellence. Composed yet outrageously inventive, Dagg beat would-be Welsh tacklers with elegant ease on the counter.
14. Fetu’u Vainikolo (Tonga)
There was some serious competition here – Nick Cummins grabbed more “meat pie” in Rome, Tommy Bowe snatched a brace for Ireland and JP Pietersen’s electric defence stifled England at HQ. However, Vainikolo’s rapid finish in Aberdeen capped an iconic Tongan victory. The Connacht flyer thoroughly deserves his inclusion.
13. Conrad Smith (New Zealand)
Retaining a spot in this side, Smith simply made it impossible to pick anyone else. His superb decision-making always creates space for those around him and it was business as usual at the Millennium Stadium. Also needed to front-up without the ball opposite the dangerous Jonathan Davies – which proved to be no problem whatsoever.
12. Gordon D’Arcy (Ireland)
Consigned to the rubbish heap by so many cynics, D’Arcy’s energy contrasted starkly with the beleaguered efforts of the battle-weary Pumas. One sparkling run early on attracted numerous defenders, before Jonny Sexton was put over with a deft inside pass.
11. Julian Savea (New Zealand)
More All Black representation means a lack of variety, and Craig Gilroy certainly came close, but who can say this hulking specimen should be ignored? Dominant opposite Alex Cuthbert and looked genuinely threatening every time he was handed the pill. One raking clearance that skidded perfectly into touch bordered on mickey-taking.
10. Jonny Sexton (Ireland)
Fizzing fantastically on the gain-line, Sexton sliced the Argentineans mercilessly. Also added intelligent chips to devastating effect and two tries of his own for a 19-point haul. The only option for a Lions berth at the moment.
9. Kahn Fotuali’i (Samoa)
An exceptional showing for Conor Murray merits a mention, but Samoa mixed it magnificently at the Stade de France. Buzzing about brilliantly, Fotuali’i was at the heart of everything the Islanders achieved and comprehensively outplayed celebrated adversary Morgan Parra.
1. Cian Healy (Ireland)
Another Irishman that may forever have his critics, but Healy can do little more towards silencing them than he did on Saturday in Dublin. Barnstorming brutality in the loose was nothing new; destruction in the tight was. Must be in Warren Gatland’s thoughts.
2. Benjamin Kayser (France)
As Freddie Michalak put at the final whistle,Francewere wary of Samoa because of their “unpredictability”. The key means of combating such a trait would be sturdiness up front. Unerring with his line-out throwing and industrious elsewhere, Kayser epitomised that.
3. Martin Castrogiovanni (Italy)
Succeeding where Leicester mate Dan Cole ignominiously failed, Castrogiovanni splintered the Australian scrum and made many talismanic carries before making way on the hour. At that point, the Azzurri were just three points adrift. Agonisingly, they stayed just there.
4. Joe Launchbury (England)
Stuart Lancaster may be losing admirers by the match, but his refreshing faith in youth is exactly what England needs. Aided by excellent second-row partner Geoff Parling, Launchbury vindicated those policies and was outstanding throughout his maiden Test start. The fledgling Wasp can expect to be around the international stage for a long while.
5. Eben Etzebeth (South Africa)
It is scarcely believable that this man-mountain is just 21 years old. Etzebeth has taken the mantle left by Bakkies Botha with aplomb and set the tone for the Boks’ imposing defence once more at Twickenham. Great in the line-out and prickly as they come, as he showed upon trying to crush Ben Youngs’ skull in the second half.
6. Liam Messam (New Zealand)
Opened the scoring for his side against Wales with a very straightforward run-in on the right flank, but that was just the beginning of an extremely effective evening for the Chiefs enforcer, who thrived in the chaotic nature of the ruck contest.
7. Nili Latu (Tonga)
Of course Richie McCaw was awesome – he always is. On the day that his side managed a momentous win over Scotland though, Tonga’s skipper had to be handed a place. Spent ten minutes in the sin-bin but still returned 15 tackles and an assist, making him a crucial architect of the fairytale.
8. Duane Vermeulen (South Africa)
Reveling in the trench-warfare of a typical Anglo-Bok affair, Vermeulen shone through a gloomy Twickenham afternoon, his incredible yet unsung work-rate providing the bedrock for South Africa’s success. A huge grin at the final whistle spoke a thousand words, even if a monosyllabic interview didn’t.