Now that the Rugby Championship is done and dusted, it’s time to take a look at six winners who benefited from this year’s edition. Some of the winners might not have always found themselves on the right side of the scoreboard, but the individuals we have identified have definitely proven a point over the competition and showed their mettle with impressive performances.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate the spectacle we witnessed on Saturday. It was undoubtedly the best Test of the year so far. The All Blacks somehow found a way to win (they always do) when faced with a monumental Springbok effort. The standout performer was Malcolm Marx who was absolutely huge. This kind of performance from him had been building throughout the tournament. He showed impressive ball carrying, physicality in defence, and he was a constant menace at the breakdown. Saturday’s performance was a culmination of all the promise Marx has shown every game and he definitely stands out as a winner from this tournament.
After being overlooked for the British & Irish Lions tour, the diminutive fullback grabbed his opportunity in the Rugby Championship with both hands. Carving up defences at will with 16 clean breaks and lighting up the stadium every time he had the ball in hand, McKenzie did his cause to claim the All Blacks No. 15 jersey permanently a world of good. The opportunity presented itself due to Israel Dagg’s injury and Ben Smith’s sabbatical, and the 22-year-old has firmly established himself as a genuine contender for that spot. He scored some important tries, beat numerous defenders (33 in all), was solid under the high ball and made teams rue any loose kicking. His impressive performances definitely see him in the winner’s circle.
What a return to the gold of the Wallabies by Kurtley Beale. He has been a revelation for them at a time where his international days looked over. Back to his best, he has been industrious with ball in hand, resolute in defence, and has shown great leadership.
Beale has combined well with Bernard Foley and the only question in Australia’s midfield now is who will partner him in the centres. He has solved Australia’s problems at No. 12 and has done well enough over the course of the Championship to make that jersey his own.
Cometh the hour cometh the man. What a great debut season in black for Laulala. Brought in as injury cover for Owen Franks, he has done far more than just plug the gap. He has asserted himself as a force to be reckoned with in the All Blacks front row.
Laulala scrummaged strongly, carried well and did his bit in defence. Given how little experience he has at this level, and who he has dominated in the scrum, the 26-year-old deserves a spot on this list.
It takes a lot to not only replace Julian Savea for an international or two, but keeping him out of the team long term is another prospect altogether and takes something special. Reiko Ioane has announced himself as one of the deadliest finishers in the game, topping the try scoring charts with five during the tournament.
He has proven to be a handful for defences with 35 defenders beaten and 17 clean breaks, all with a whopping 650 metres gained throughout the competition. You cannot coach speed and Ioane has speed to burn. He is making the iconic All Blacks No. 11 jersey his own and looks to have made a lasting impression on Steve Hansen.
Back to his best, Israel Folau enjoyed a wonderful Rugby Championship. Tied as the top try scorer with the aforementioned Ioane, Folau has rediscovered the form that helped him garner such a huge reputation in the game.
Third behind the impressive duo of McKenzie and Ioane in metres gained, defenders beaten, and clean breaks, Folau put in a big shift in the Championship and the teams in the North should be wary of him when the Wallabies go on tour. He is the only Wallaby that automatically needs two defenders to tackle him and he is still getting better in the 15-man game.
What do you think of our winners? Did we miss anyone? Comment below!
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