Rugby Championship 2014: Round 1 Team of the Week

15. Willie Le Roux
On a day when the three best full-backs in world rugby were on display, it’s sort of a shame that the weather – and not moments of genius – dictated who gets the 15 slot. Le Roux showed flashes of his quality– as did Ben Smith and Izzy Folau – but it was ability to take the high ball in a monsoon which set him apart, demonstrating that the basics of modern full-back play still receive plenty of focus at training.

14. Rob Horne
Yes, technically he was a left winger but I’m going to cheat and move him over to the right. I’m surprised that he doesn’t seem to have been more highly rated by others, but I personally was impressed by his defensive work rate, chopping down Fekitoa more than once when an overlap beckoned out wide. He could have done with coming off his wing more, but in a round which looked more like a dreary Six Nations weekend, there wasn’t too much joy to be had by anyone in the wider channels. Cornal Hendricks showed nice hands for his side’s try as well.

13. Adam Ashley-Cooper
I can’t really win with this one, with not one centre catching the eye as we were ‘treated’ to what is often referred to as ‘one for the purists’ (which means 10-man rugby). But Ashley-Cooper kept the electric Malakai Fekitoa quiet which is an achievement in itself and made a couple of smart half breaks without ever really finding a way through.

12. Jean De Villiers
As described above, it was slim pickings on the centre front, but De Villiers was relatively mistake-free in abysmal conditions and was a rallying point in a difficult victory for the Springboks, making plenty of tackles and yards in contact. Ma’a Nonu had the odd flash but also maintained his tendency of forgetting how to tackle at peculiar moments.

11. Julian Savea
Manual Montero showed a couple of nice touches in difficult conditions but Savea somehow still managed to look world-class despite being isolated for much of the game. He weighed in with a couple of meaty hits in defence as well showing some deft hands, although he never really got the chance to get his (sizeable) legs going on a treacle-like pitch.

10. Nicolas Sanchez
Remained calm and composed, despite having the majority of the South African back row barrelling down his channel for most of the game. He kicked well from hand and looked to threaten the gainline – beating 4 defenders – in a display which will fill him and his side with confidence going forward.

9. Ruan Piennaar
Sort of has to be included by default for scoring the only try of the weekend, but to be fair it was an outstanding effort which demonstrated his vision and handling ability once again. He showed a calm head as the weather deteriorated and his kicking game was important too. Aaron Smith looked sharp again, too.

1. James Slipper
The scrum was a bit of a scrap, but his work rate in open play was unbelievable. Time and again he cleared up the loose ball and made big yards in the carry, with one left foot step in particular catching the eye. A mention for Marcos Ayerza too who had Jannie Du Plessis on toast on several occasions at scrum time.

2. Agustin Creevy
I’m not usually a fan of the Argentinian captain, but he really stood up against the mighty Springbok pack. The lineout seemed much more in tune than it did at the tail end of last year and his work rate around the park was impressive too. A real battle with the mighty Bismarck Du Plessis, and one that he just about shaded to my money.

3. Owen Franks
It wasn’t a day for being pretty, which is just as well when Franks is involved. Got on top in the scrums at various points and got stuck into the dirty stuff, hitting plenty of rucks and making his tackles. Dropped the pill a few times but hey, it’s wet, he’s a prop, and they can’t all be like James Slipper can they?

4. Brodie Retallick
The man is becoming, game-by-game, a world class operator at second row. His work in defence caused more than one turnover and remains a surprisingly reliable force of go-forward ball on the carry, despite looking like Lurch from the Addams Family.

5. Sam Carter
There was a very strong case for Sam Whitelock, but with the Kiwi getting on the wrong side of the referee a couple of times, I’ve plumped for the young man who made only his second Test appearance at the weekend. After taking one early hammering in the tackle, he got his head down and made some important metres, as well as getting through a mountain of work at the breakdown – a very promising display from the youngster.

6. Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe
Although he wore the ‘7’ shirt, he and Matera chopped and changed a fair bit and so the inspirational South American earns a place on the blindside this week. He was a constant irritation to his hosts as they desperately tried to generate some sort of quick ball only to find it slowed down, if not pinched, by the former skipper. Jerome Kaino and Marcel Coetzee also put in industrious and effective displays.

7. Michael Hooper
He had a cracking battle with McCaw, who was impressive himself, but the Wallabies captain shaded it with his ball carrying, where he picked sharp lines throughout and made big yards on more than one occasion. Add that in to his typically energetic and potent display at the breakdown, and you will see why the eventual return of David Pocock may pose more questions than answers.

8. Duane Vermeulen
With Willem Alberts out and Coetzee in, the big number eight had to take extra responsibility on the ball carrying front – and he did so with aplomb. , making more metres than anyone in either pack and beating more defenders too.

By Mike Cooper