15. Willie Le Roux
The Springbok full-back showcased his impressive arsenal of attacking weaponry, with his quick feet, clever offensive play and excellent handling skills causing the Argentine defence many problems. Though rarely tested in defence, Le Roux’s deft kicking from hand was poorly dealt with by the visitors, and directly led to a try for JJ Engelbrecht. He seems South Africa’s optimum long-term option in the number fifteen jersey.
14. Ben Smith
The nature of playing on the wing for New Zealand is such that one will have plenty of try-scoring opportunities presented in any given test match. Smith did nothing lavish, but clinically executed his task as a finisher. In particular, the Highlander showed good pace and presence of mind to pounce on a loose ball late on and complete his hat-trick.
13. Conrad Smith
The veteran centre turned in yet another top-class performance, and was predictably effective in all of his duties. Smith’s defence in Sydney was quite literally ten out of ten – ten tackles attempted, ten completed, zero missed. He contributed an assist and five points of his own with some tidy running and neat footwork proving too much for poor Australian tackling.
12. Adam Ashley-Cooper
Ashley-Cooper shifts inside one space. When it comes to running lines and angles, there are few more effective centres in world rugby than Ashley-Cooper. He was Australia’s biggest threat in attack, and one of the Wallabies’ only players to break the New Zealand line, beating a total of six defenders.
11. Bryan Habana
The South African star worked hard all afternoon in the Soweto heat, frequently popping up in midfield and looking for work with ball in hand. Few of his fellow wingers in the Championship matched his graft and energy, with much-lauded pair Israel Folau and Julian Savea in particular failing to make their mark. As well as winning a couple of turnovers for his side, Habana made several telling line breaks as the Argentine defence was run ragged by the Boks.
10. Aaron Cruden
Cruden had a sizeable pair of boots to fill this week, with Dan Carter’s calf injury ruling him out of the first few rounds of the tournament. The world’s top fly-half was not missed, however, as the twenty-four year-old lynchpin put on a sublime show of attacking rugby. He was a near-constant threat to the Australian defence, and despite his small stature, his pace and trickery meant that he frequently breached the gain line. Thanks, in part, to poor defensive awareness from James O’Connor, he provided a lovely assist for Ben Smith’s opening score, and charged down Christian Lealiifano just minutes later for his own five-pointer.
9. Aaron Smith
Mixed up play very well, inviting his big ball-carrying forwards to run off him, and his sniping darts around the fringes of the breakdown caught the Australian defence off-guard on several occasions. His distribution was slick, and when required, his kicking from hand was solid and reliable. Smith found himself up against the man perceived to be the leading scrum-half in world rugby in Will Genia, but arguably outdid his opposite number – admittedly from a far better attacking platform – before being replaced for the final twelve minutes.
1. James Slipper
One of precious few positives for Australia, Slipper was very active in the loose and at the breakdown, and carried ball well for his team, despite being castled by the resurgent McCaw. More than took on his share of the defensive duties, and, for the most part, held his own in the scrum against formidable opposition.
2. Adriaan Strauss
The stocky Springbok hooker was characteristically energetic and busy in the loose. He frequently offered himself as a carrier, and made dents in the Pumas’ rear-guard, with the stats showing he beat four defenders. Scored one of a number of embarrassingly simple tries for his side.
3. Owen Franks
This one could justifiably go to either Franks or South Africa’s Jannie Du Plessis, but the All Black shades it for his solid scrummaging matched by his uncompromising play around the breakdown.
4. Eben Etzebeth
A typically abrasive and physical performance from the young second row, winning his own lineout ball, and causing major disruption to the Argentine set piece alongside partner Juandre Kruger. Etzebeth provided added go-forward with ball in hand, and (given that the Boks enjoyed roughly 75% of possession) chipped in with a decent haul of five tackles made, none missed.
5. James Horwill
The Australian skipper was fighting a losing battle, but he continuously led from the front, and set an example to his team with his work-rate in the loose and at the breakdown. Despite being on the back foot for much of the game, Horwill tirelessly carried ball in an effort to drive the Wallabies forward.
6. Steven Luatua
Another young All Black filling in for one the game’s top players, and another who shone in Sydney on just his second cap. In defence, Luatua was formidable, notching an impressive tackle count and, crucially, winning several turnovers. He was suitably dynamic when carrying ball, displaying impressive athleticism, and winning many plaudits from coach Steve Hansen.
7. Richie McCaw
Aside from the new scrummaging laws, without doubt the most fascinating aspect of the weekend’s rugby was the almighty back-and-forth contest between the young Michael Hooper and the returning All Black skipper. The Wallaby’s lightning pace and excellent body position at the breakdown saw him win a number of early turnovers, and arguably outshine his prestigious opposite number in the first half. The wily Kiwi’s class won through in the end, though he was clearly rusty from his time away from the game, and was penalised three times by Craig Joubert – penalties that a sharper McCaw would surely not have allowed himself to concede. The final stats showed that the Australians were turned over more than twice as many times as their opposition.
8. Kieran Read
The Crusader lived up to his own high standards, covering a lot of ground, and making a telling impact at the breakdown. In addition, Read demonstrated some lovely handling skills early on, and was a nuisance to the Wallabies when chasing down restarts, managing to win back possession for his side.
By Jamie Lyall (@JLyall93)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images