15. Joaquin Tuculet (Argentina)
In a weekend where there were, by most pundits’ reckoning, the three best full-backs in the world on show, it was the little-known Argentinean who sparkled brightest. With quick feet, top decision making and an eye for a gap, he beat more defenders (five) than anyone on the pitch against South Africa, and weighed in with a top finish under pressure too.
14. Cornal Hendricks (South Africa)
Surprisingly, in a round which was stuffed to the brim with tries and free running (in stark contrast to the paint-drying entertainment we were treated to last week) the right wingers, by and large, struggled to make an impression on the game. Hendricks may not have been perfect by any means – missing a few tackles – but he did have the most noticeable impact of any of the right wingers in finishing well for a crucial try.
13. Conrad Smith (New Zealand)
It was almost a game which summed Smith’s qualities up. It was hard to pick specific moments of great play by the Hurricanes man, but for some reason everything just seemed so much tighter and slicker in defence and attack with his experienced noggin present. Others may be quicker or stronger, but there’s no substitute for experience and grey-matter – and these are qualities that Smith has in bucket-loads…and qualities the All Blacks missed last week.
12. Juan Martin Hernandez (Argentina)
Remember the Hernandez of 2007? Unofficially the world’s best player? Well, after six years of mediocrity, he’s back. Distributing smoothly from the 12 shirt, remaining solid in defence as well as threatening the gainline, it was his kicking game which seemed to be on another planet, pinning the Boks back time after time.
11. Julian Savea (New Zealand)
I’ll be honest – this guy scares me. How can somebody with so much raw pace and power have the guile and subtlety to dink a perfectly weighted grubber through to his supporting team-mates? He carried for more metres than anyone on his side and his work-rate throughout the game was exemplary, searching for work in attack and harassing his opponents in defence.
10. Aaron Cruden (New Zealand)
Pushed close – very close – by Nicholas Sanchez, who once again was a thorn in the Springbok’s backside – but Cruden’s calm control and ability to pull the trigger at the right time was just what the All Blacks needed behind a dominant pack. His work in setting up Savea’s score – with a delightful ‘basketball’ pop over the top – was symptomatic of a player with full confidence in his decision-making ability… and rightly so.
9. Aaron Smith (New Zealand)
The world’s best number nine currently, and he showed why again on Saturday. Benefitting from a ferocious effort from the fatties in front of him, he tormented the Wallaby fringe defence and kept them honest by constantly keeping an eye out for half-gaps without letting it impact on his customary superb service.
1. Marcos Ayerza (Argentina)
Another weekend of bullying the Springbok scrum. Ayerza could in fact have been even more dominant had he not – perhaps harshly – been judged to have been angling in on a couple of occasions, but even those slight blips couldn’t hide the fact that this was another commanding display in the set piece. Weighed in with a couple of thunderous hits in defence, too.
2. Agustin Creevy (Argentina)
Captaincy has been like Popeye’s spinach to this fella, and he continued to impress at the weekend with another lung-busting display in the loose. He ran a solid set piece but it was with the ball in hand where Creevy really caught the eye – barrelling his way forward for 30 metres over nine carries in a superb effort for a front row forward.
3. Owen Franks (New Zealand)
Yes, there was his usual bout of brainless indiscipline at times, with a couple of lazy offsides particularly disappointing, but he turned the screw at scrumtime when the opportunity came knocking and some of his hits in defence were brutal, with one hit on Palu drawing a particularly big wince.
4. Brodie Retallick (New Zealand)
Another super-human effort from Frankenstein. His tireless work and aggression in the carry was matched only by his ferocity at the breakdown, where he pinched more than one turnover. Relentlessly bullied his opposition second rows into submission and on this form, it is hard to argue that he isn’t one of the top locks in world rugby.
5. Sam Whitelock (New Zealand)
Looking more and more like Rasputin, Whitelock is taking on the role of being the experienced head in the All Black’s tight five with relish, leading the big boys in an utterly dominant effort against their counterparts. He set the tone in defence, weighing in with a thundering 12 hits – more than anybody else on the pitch.
6. Francois Louw (South Africa)
If there was one man in the Springbok pack who didn’t seem overly happy about being bossed about by a team of underdogs, it was Louw. Like Whitelock above, he made 12 tackles – the most on the park – to try and stem the hosts’ momentum, and weighed in with a couple of key turnovers as well. Pablo Matera was also mightily impressive before he was forced to leave with a shoulder injury.
7. Michael Hooper (Australia)
It may seem odd picking the captain of a pack that was roundly spanked by their opponents, but at times it seemed as if Hooper was taking on the All Blacks by himself. His workrate in defence was superb, as was his work at the breakdown, and he rounded off a fine individual display with a fantastic solo try which demonstrated an electric turn of pace.
8. Keiran Read (New Zealand)
Quiet last week, unstoppable this week, when games open up and speed up, Read is simply unplayable. On Saturday he dominated the wider channels, making yards and constantly looking for offloads to sustain the attacks. His support play paid dividends as well, as he crashed over for a well earned try.
By Mike Cooper (@RuckedOver)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images