It has been a captivating month of Test rugby, with Ireland making history in New Zealand, England showing real character to win in Australia, Wales emerging with a lot of credit in defeat by South Africa, and Scotland suffering late heartbreak in Argentina.
But which individuals stood out? Focusing on the four series involving the home nations, the Rugby Union Weekly team of Chris Jones and Ugo Monye picked their starting XV – and bench – based on the past few weekends.
Hear them explain their choices on the latest episode of the podcast – and have your say in the comments section at the bottom of this article.
15. Hugo Keenan (Ireland)
CJ: England’s Freddie Steward is incredibly unlucky to miss out, but Hugo Keenan was one of Ireland’s best players in New Zealand.
The great Ireland full-back Rob Kearney said: “It’s his fitness, his aerobic conditioning and his work-rate which makes him so impressive.”
14. Louis Rees-Zammit (Wales)
UM: After a disappointing Six Nations, he was back to his best.
CJ: New Zealand’s Will Jordan almost deserves a place for that third-Test try alone.
13. Lukhanyo Am (South Africa)
UM: I think Am is phenomenal. He has to be in our starting XV. He is brilliant.
CJ: After missing the Six Nations, George North looked back on form for Wales, while Scotland’s Mark Bennett was very impressive after a tough few years and makes our bench.
12. Robbie Henshaw (Ireland)
CJ: Robbie Henshaw is a shoo-in in the midfield.
UM: He is nailed-on. He is the ‘domestique’ type of rugby player who just gets on with his job. Defensively he is so abrasive, and he fulfils the simple tasks in attack. He rarely makes mistakes both sides of the ball.
CJ: Owen Farrell was back to being Owen Farrell this series, and that is a massive compliment for the Englishman. But South Africa’s Damian Willemse can play 10, 12 or 15 and covers the backline on our bench.
UM: If South Africa go with a 6/2 bench then Willemse can be the new Frans Steyn. He was so impressive, kicked the winning goal in the first Test and was outstanding throughout in a variety of positions.
11. Emiliano Boffelli (Argentina)
UM: He kicked six from seven in the third Test and scored the winning try. I think he’s had a very, very good series.
10. Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
UM: Captained Ireland to a series win in New Zealand. Played superbly. His importance and influence is undeniable.
CJ: Special mention to Wales’ captain fantastic Dan Biggar, who put it all on the line in South Africa, as he always does.
9. Kieran Hardy (Wales)
UM: I found this one difficult. I think Ireland’s Jamison Gibson-Park has been class, but if you think of the tactical discipline and repeated accuracy of Wales’ gameplan, then Kieran Hardy bossed it. England’s Jack van Poortvliet has been a revelation and is on our bench.
CJ: Van Poortvliet looked to the manor born and has leapfrogged Raffi Quirke and Harry Randall in the race to be England’s long-term number nine.
1. Ellis Genge (England)
CJ: Not only did he set the tone in Brisbane, but when England were flat in Sydney his ball-carrying sparked the team into action. He is also getting much more change at the scrum and deserves his place at number one. Ireland’s Andrew Porter scored two tries in the second Test against New Zealand, and will provide us with real impact off the bench.
2. Bongi Mbonambi (South Africa)
UM: He is inked in for me. Try-scoring hero Ewan Ashman deserves a shout for his third-Test performance for Scotland against Argentina, while England’s Jamie George and Wales’ Dewi Lake deserve a mention. But Ireland’s Dan Sheehan is our reserve hooker after an excellent series in New Zealand.
3. Trevor Nyakane (South Africa)
UM: Tight-head prop in the second Test, loose-head in the third. That is extraordinary versatility and the Springbok scrum was powerful throughout the series. The ever-outstanding Tadhg Furlong is on the bench, meaning we have a trio of Irish front-rowers in reserve, while the likes of Wales’ Dillon Lewis, Scot Zander Fagerson and England’s Will Stuart all get a nod.
4. Tadhg Beirne (Ireland)
CJ: A turnover machine, his interventions on the floor were constantly decisive. A magnificent all-round player.
5. Eben Etzebeth (South Africa)
CJ: He won his 100th cap and was the only Springbok to start all three Tests. He was fantastic.
UM: There are honourable mentions at lock for Wales duo Adam Beard and Will Rowlands, Ireland’s James Ryan and England’s Jonny Hill.
6. Courtney Lawes (England)
UM: How good was he? At the end of the match in Sydney he was on one knee, knowing that England had won. He couldn’t get up. There is no better sight for team-mates when they see their captain doing the very thing he wants you all to do. He emptied the tank.
CJ: Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony is so unlucky to miss out. He continues to perform at his best when the stakes are highest. Rory Darge was excellent for Scotland, and continues his meteoric rise.
7. Josh van der Flier (Ireland)
UM: What a season he has had. He is world class. He scored the first try at the weekend, and set the tone. It is indicative of the way he has played this season. But a word about Wales’ Tommy Reffell, too. To make your debut in South Africa and perform the way he did… what a series he had.
8. Caelan Doris (Ireland)
CJ: Billy Vunipola’s re-emergence is transformational for England. For all the new blood coming through, Vunipola coming back into form is one of the biggest boons for England.
UM: Caelan Doris has to be our number eight. An intelligent, dynamic ball-carrier, and in a position where you have to front up against the All Blacks he has been so durable and consistent. Lawes covers lock so we can get Vunipola and Reffell in the 23.
CJ: Doris is the prototypical all-round modern-day back-row forward. A special athlete. Mention too for New Zealand’s Ardie Savea, who was outstanding in a losing cause and the All Blacks’ best player, and to Scotland’s ever-improving Matt Fagerson.
Replacements: Sheehan, Porter, Furlong, Reffell, B. Vunipola, Van Poortvliet, Bennett, Willemse.
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