With the dust having settled on one of the most memorable Rugby Championship campaigns in recent memory, here's our team of the tournament.
1. James Slipper
2. Malcolm Marx
3. Frans Malherbe
4. Tomas Lavanini
5. Lood de Jager
6. Pablo Matera
7. Marcos Kremer
8. Ardie Savea
9. Jaden Hendrikse
10. Damian Willlemse
11. Marika Koroibete
12. Damian de Allende
13. Lukhanyo Am
14. Emiliano Boffelli
15. Andrew Kellaway
Marx and Malherbe are arguably the best in their positions in the world. The former was particularly outstanding in his extended starting run and it’s difficult to see Bongi Mbonambi getting back into the starting XV from here on.
The Bok tighthead remains a top, top player while Wallaby skip Slipper had a memorable tournament despite a pretty average Aussie scum.
Honourable mentions: Tournament top try-scorer Samisoni Taukei’aho (five) has become one of the game’s pre-eminent hookers, while Julian Montoya, Steven Kitshoff and Ethan de Groot were all impressive for their respective sides.
In the second row, de Jager was a consistently great performer for the Springboks and a big reason why their set piece continues to function as well as it does – winning a competition-high 26 lineouts. After a career blighted by so many injuries, it’s awesome to see him back at his best.
Despite his continued disciplinary issues, Lavanini was a vital cog in Michael Cheika’s Pumas machine, producing some typically workmanlike performances in posting the third most tackles (66) in the comp.
Honourable mentions: Eben Etzebeth (25 lineouts won) and Sam Whitelock are always world class too.
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Kremer and Matera combine to form part of one of the most explosive loose trios in Test rugby and were particularly seismic in the Christchurch win. Both men are positively talismanic for the national side, with Kremer racking up the most tackles in the tournament, a massive 80 – 13 more than next-best Montoya.
Savea is a one-man wrecking ball with the dynamism and athleticism of a back. The 28-year-old made the most offloads (nine) and, along with Matera, made the joint-most carries (60) this season.
Honourable mentions: Kwagga Smith was electric whenever he came off the bench for the Boks; scoring two late tries in the defeat to the Aussies in Adelaide. Rob Valetini was a standout for the Wallabies, making the third-most carries (58) and sixth-most metres (362) while Jasper Wiese’s destructive runs from No 8 may have nudged him ahead of Duane Vermeulen in the Bok pecking order.
In the halfbacks, Hendrikse’s box kicking was outstanding and he should be backed as the No 1 No 9 for the Boks heading into the year-end internationals. Willemse mainly played at fullback, but the Boks look oh-so-good with him at pivot, especially considering Handre Pollard’s indifferent form. Willemse adds spark and creativity to the Bok backline that is absent with Polly in the front seat.
Honourable mentions: Santiago Carreras had some great touches for Argentina, while Aaron Smith was typically consistent for the Kiwis.
In the midfield, the Bok duo of de Allende and Am get the nod. It’s a travesty that we won’t get to see the Sharks man back in action again this year after some MVP performances for his side early on. De Allende remains vital to Jacques Nienaber’s plans, beating the joint second-most defenders (17).
Honourable mentions: Rieko Ioane finally came into his own at outside centre with some sparkling displays. Premiership champion Matias Moroni was also outstanding.
In the back three, joint top competition points scorer Boffelli (71) was clutch for the Pumas while Koroibete continued his devastating runs this campaign, including making the joint second-most offloads with seven. Andrew Kellaway didn’t play at fullback much but is always dangerous when he does.
Honourable mentions: Makazole Mapimpi, Caleb Clarke and Canan Moodie were also superb.