International Team of the Week

Tom SunderlandFeatured ColumnistNovember 25, 2013

International Team of the Week

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    With England taking a break this weekend, the rest of the world's big guns were left to scrap in the penultimate round of November international Tests, and the shortened billing didn't disappoint.

    After the drama that unfolded in Dublin on Saturday, it's no surprise that Ireland's and New Zealand's stars dominate this week's line-up, but there are a few spaces for those outside of the central spotlight.

    Read on for a breakdown of just who soared highest this time around in the International Team of the Week.

Front Five

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    Loosehead Prop: Cian Healy, Ireland

    In the midst of Ireland's rebellious run against the New Zealand All Blacks, Cian Healy ranked among the most physical of Shamrock forwards, time and again making his presence felt in the loose.

    The Leinster man beat two defenders on his way to carrying for 13 yards with ball in hand and only one scrum lost in the outing, which was another fairly flattering statistic considering the quality of the opposition. 

     

    Hooker: Leonardo Ghiraldini, Italy

    Italy's efforts of breaking their Rome curse against Argentina may have gone out of the window, but Leonardo Ghiraldini can rest easy knowing his performance was a fine one.

    The Benetton Treviso hooker made eight tackles and carried for 15 yards in the loose but could have been a safer pair of hands at the set piece, losing five of his side's 17 throws into the line-out.

     

    Tighthead Prop: James Slipper, Australia

    Although a loosehead by nature, James Slipper shifts onto the other side of the scrum this week to make room for Healy, although the Australian was a force of his own against Scotland.

    A defensive rock in the absence of several key Wallabies, the Queensland Red made no less than 10 tackles as his side rolled to victory in Edinburgh. 

     

    Lock: Paul O'Connell, Ireland

    Paul O'Connell's return to Ireland's set-up came full circle against New Zealand with the veteran contributing a vintage display at the Aviva Stadium to help Joe Schmidt's side into their early lead over the All Blacks.

    Twelve tackles, three turnovers and no line-outs lost for the Irish captain were unfortunate numbers not to have led to a winning result. 

     

    Lock: Sam Whitelock, New Zealand

    Up against O'Connell, Sam Whitelock came to Dublin with a finely worked outing of his own, the second row's 13 tackles being second only to Richie McCaw on the New Zealand side of things.

    However, it was going forward that the Whitelock sibling also showed a great amount of gusto with 20 metres gained from 10 carries, showing his eagerness to get on the ball.

Back Row

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    Blindside Flanker: Sean O'Brien, Ireland

    The Tullow Tank used the exact attributes that lend themselves most to that nickname well this weekend, laying down a very physical marker against the New Zealand attack.

    Altogether, the Leinster back rower made 16 tackles and carried for 15 metres against the reigning world champions but could have taken better care of his discipline, conceding three penalties at the breakdown.

     

    Openside Flanker: Richie McCaw, New Zealand

    With O'Brien moving to the blind, there's enough room for Richie McCaw, the other player to have starred in a No. 7 shirt in recent days, to assume his usual spot of openside flanker this week.

    Steve Hansen's captain made a team-high total of 16 tackles and, like opposite number O'Brien, gave up a few too many penalties, providing the opposition with their share of kicking opportunities.

     

    No. 8: Jamie Heaslip, Ireland

    Although not always the most consistent of talents, Jamie Heaslip has a habit of turning up to the fore in big-game scenarios, which was exactly the case as his team were unfortunate not to stop New Zealand's 2013 winning streak.

    No player managed more than Heaslip's 21 tackles, and the No. 8 did well to outshine opposite number Kieran Read on the day.

Half-Backs

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    Scrum-Half: Conor Murray, Ireland

    It was Conor Murray's try in the fourth minute of Ireland's All Blacks encounter this weekend that got the home side rolling in their surprise lead, showing as much awareness around the fringes as ever.

    The 24-year-old also managed to grab an assist for feeding Rory Best on his score, but it was thanks to Murray's overall willingness to go with the quick ball that Ireland managed to hit their opponents on the counter so fiercely.

     

    Fly-Half: Quade Cooper, Australia

    As he has been so often for the team in recent weeks, Quade Cooper acted as playmaker-in-chief for the Wallabies in their win over Scotland this weekend and clinched two try assists in the win over Scotland.

    As is becoming more commonplace these days, the fly-half's territory kicking was effective, but a bit more stubbornness in defence wouldn't have gone astray.

Backs

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    Wing: Julian Savea, New Zealand

    It looked as though Ireland could be the side to finally silence Julian Savea, but the All Blacks' most promising youngster smashed those hopes apart, barreling through to score his team's first try in the 25th minute.

    From there, it was only upwards for Savea, and when the ball did make its way out as far as him, he tended to make great use, carrying for 71 metres in total.

     

    Inside Centre: Wesley Fofana, France

    Beating an impressive five defenders and carrying for more than 50 metres, Wesley Fofana stood as one of France's brighter lights in their dim defeat at the hands of South Africa.

    In a match where Les Bleus were at times struggling to think their way around the opposition, the Clermont Auvergne attacker was a constant source of innovation and strived to bring his teammates along for the ride.

     

    Outside Centre: Ben Smith, New Zealand

    Ben Smith showed this weekend just how well he is settling into the role of outside centre in the absence of namesake Conrad Smith, outclassing Brian O'Driscoll, albeit only for a short period before the Irish stalwart was substituted with injury.

    Although it almost certainly helped that O'Driscoll was no longer the man up against him, Smith was one of those who thrived at the Aviva, averaging almost 10 metres per carry as he battered his way to more than 100 metres run with ball in hand.

     

    Wing: Chris Feauai-Sautia, Australia

    There wasn't a thriving sample of expert wing performances this weekend, but Chris Feauai-Sautia managed to shine alongside teammate Israel Folau, grabbing one of the Wallabies' two tries at Murrayfield.

    Tommy Seymour had a tough time up against the 20-year-old, who punished his Scottish marker with the slightest sign of a turnover on several occasions.

     

    Full-Back: Rob Kearney, Ireland

    Special mention goes to Israel Folau, who had an almost flawless display at the back against Scotland but is only just beaten due to the difficulty of opposition that his Irish counterpart was up against.

    Kearney did something that not many fullbacks have done this year in outshining Israel Dagg, running for a monstrous 114 metres and finishing off Ireland's third try.

    A pest for the All Blacks defence to contend with all game, the Leinster star also put his spin on the kicking game, posing his customarily massive aerial presence.