Top Players To Watch At The Rugby Championship
Top Players To Watch At The Rugby Championship
Four of the best teams in the world will be gunning for Southern Hemisphere supremacy, but in six weeks time, only one will emerge as champion.
The Rugby Championship gets officially up and running this weekend, as South Africa takes on Argentina and New Zealand travels to Australia for Bledisloe #2. Four of the best teams in the world will be gunning for Southern Hemisphere supremacy, but in six weeks time, only one will emerge as champion.
These teams are great, but they wouldn’t be the same without the wealth of talent that supplies the Pumas, the Springboks, the All Blacks, and the Wallabies. Here is a look at the top players to watch at this year’s championship:
Marcos Kremer | At 6’7 and 253 lbs, Argentina flanker Marcos Kremer isn’t just a heat-seeking missile; he’s a full-on atomic bomb. Capable of blowing up a team’s entire attack plan, this explosive mountain of a man was the heart and soul of Argentina’s famous victory over the All Blacks in Sydney last year, amassing 28 tackles - yes you read that right - in the process. What’s scarier? The young man is just 24 years of age, meaning he hasn’t even begun to peak. And when he does peak, everybody in World Rugby is going to feel it - especially poor fly-halves. Throw in his highly capable line-out work and ball-carrying ability and we’re looking at a possible all-timer down the line.
Nico Sanchez | The man, the myth, the maestro, Nico Sanchez isn’t just the string-pulling puppet master for the Pumas, he’s the talismanic leader the boys lean on when things get tough. Sanchez has just that touch of class needed to take a good team and elevate them to being a great one. He’s not the biggest fly-half out there, standing just 5’10, 183 lbs, but he has a rocket of a right boot, a knack for wiggling through gaps, and a passing touch so deft you’d swear John Stockton wound back the years and put his short shorts back on. If Kremer’s 28 tackles vs the All Blacks last year made him the heart and soul of that win, it was Sanchez’s 25 points that provided the killer blow. He’ll be leading Argentina from the front once again.
Marcos Kremer is a beast!
Harry Wilson | The Wallabies got off to a rocky start against New Zealand a week ago, falling behind 33-8 before a 17-point flourish at the end made the scores respectable. They’ll need a better performance from the big boys upfront, and it starts with youngster Harry Wilson. The 21-year old 8-man is tougher to put down than an overcooked ribeye, his 6’5 240 lb frame generally moving at high speeds and almost always coming downhill. While he was relatively quiet against the All Blacks in Bledisloe #1, don’t expect to see that from him twice. His go-forward is vital to the Aussies playing the style of rugby they like best - dynamic, intense, high tempo footy.
Tom Banks | 27-year old Tom Banks may have just 10 caps to his name, but the lightning-quick fullback has quickly established himself as the most dangerous man down under. Like Australia’s own Eastern Brown Snake, Banks has that venomous factor about him, capable and willing to strike from anywhere on the pitch - and once he’s free there’s no stopping his bite. Scorer of two tries against the All Blacks a week ago, the Brumbies man provides hope the Wallabies can knock off any team in the Rugby Championship with enough front-foot ball to release lethal speedsters like himself out wide.
Ardie Savea | Possibly the most dominant ball carrier the sport has to offer at the moment, Ardie Savea hardly takes any searching to find on the field. His impression on any game he’s in is felt early and often… particularly by his opposition. Savea serves as a de facto answer to the popular question, “can you imagine if Adrian Peterson played rugby?” Look no further than the hurricane *wink wink* of elbows and knees that invariably leave a wake of sore bodies and groans in the morning. Pair that with a bloodhound nose for poachable rucks and backline skills to boot, and you certainly have someone to look out for in The Rugby Championship.
Richie Mo’unga | Mo’unga might be the most intriguing player to watch in the entire competition. Richie’s undeniable class he’s displayed as the Crusaders’ out-half has yet to fully permeate through the international ranks. Mo’unga has been the form player in super rugby for 5 years now. His combination of ball skills, athleticism, defensive prowess, and an innate ability to make plays in the most pivotal of moments raise questions about whether he’s really just a created player on Xbox. Pretty much everything the Crusaders have touched turns to gold, and it seems as though King Midas has been pulling the strings from the 10 jumper. With 22 caps to his name, Mo’unga may not have erupted onto the international stage as many predicted, but like a dormant volcano, it seems more a matter of when than if it happens. This Rugby Championship is a blank canvas that just might end up being Mo’unga’s first masterpiece as an All Black.
Springbok front row | You know the Springbok front row was highly formidable when I, as a half-back, couldn’t help but notice the monumental impact the big boys up front made in the Springbok’s test series win over the British and Irish Lions. South Africa boasts a scary good front row with individuals such as Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitsoff, and Frans Malherbe brutalizing opponent’s scrums while the likes of Trevor Nyakane, Malcom Marx, and Vincent Koch wait eagerly in the bullpen to stampede over the survivors. A typical scrum for South Africa looks like two granite boulders with legs on either side of an equally large boulder, supported by five sequoia trees behind them. The way in which the South African scrum was able to produce scrum penalties late in the game against the B&I Lions in the second and third test matches made the crucial difference in the outcome of the series. Look for this robust unit to have a say in how the upcoming Rugby Championship plays out.
Lukhanyo Am | It can be easy to overlook the sheer brilliance of Lukhanyo Am while Cheslin Kolbe does his best to literally personify lightning in a bottle. But whereas Kolbe serves as the spectacular bolt of lightning illuminating the sky, Am is the ever-present storm clouds constantly casting a dark, foreboding shadow over anyone who steps on the field against him. Am’s talent lies in his ability to read the game, especially on defense, as he routinely snuffs out budding set-piece attacks with ease. Am is one of those players who consistently makes the right playtime and again throughout the course of a game, none sticking out more than the other, and by the final whistle, his name must be mentioned in man of the match considerations. Virtually nobody has been able to unlock the Springbok defense in the past two years, and Lukhanyo Am is the crux that has yet to be solved in the middle of it.
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