Best XV in World Rugby for Weekend of April 22-24
With Super Rugby in full flow and European semi-finals to decide, it was an action-packed weekend that did not lack for quality performances from players on both sides of the planet.
We saw a young man take a giant stride towards All Black status, while another pair of youngsters already with international honours for England did their reputations no harm at all.
Thanks to wins for Saracens and Racing 92, we now know there will be a new name on the Champions Cup here in Europe, and both sides see a few names make into this week’s team.
Here is your best XV from the weekend’s fixtures.
15. Damian McKenzie
Chiefs' young, emerging star Damian McKenzie took another step towards All Black honours with a fine display against the Hurricanes. He was comfortably the more accurate than his opposite goal-kicker Beauden Barrett, and his display led to calls from the New Zealand Herald's Chris Rattue for him to be moved from full-back to fly-half:
If Dave Rennie can't find a way to get McKenzie into his rightful position at first five-eighths - which would mean dropping Aaron Cruden - the little magic man should think on a shift to the Blues or Crusaders. McKenzie deserves his own team to run, and it's also in the All Blacks' best interests.
14. Nemani Nadolo
The big Fijian used his size to crash over for a short range try for the Crusaders as they thrashed the Brumbies and then showed the other side to his game with a silky offload to send Israel Dagg over, despite being buffeted about like a malfunctioning dodgem car.
11. Christian Wade
After his try-fest against Worcester, Wade faced stiffer opposition in the shape of Saracens in Wasps' European Cup semi-final. But the England wing still found space to dazzle when he stepped on the gas and used his sizzling footwork to feed Dan Robson for a score. "Every time Christian Wade touches the ball at present he looks positively lethal," wrote Rob Kitson in the Guardian.
12. Ollie Devoto
Bath's centre showed the fans what they will be losing and what Exeter will gain next season with a fine display against Sale. Devoto scored in the first minute and made 93 metres with ball in hand, per ESPN.
13. Israel Folau
Records fell at Israel Folau's feet last weekend as easily as defenders often do, despite playing in the unfamiliar outside centre role. The Waratahs man became New South Wales's leading all-time try scorer, taking the record off another rugby league convert, Lote Tuqiri, per the Sydney Morning Herald.
9. Maxime Machenaud
Racing 92's French international scrum-half was the standout player of their win over Leicester. The No. 9 ran the show, which is saying something for a side containing Dan Carter, and proved too much for the Tigers to overcome in Nottingham. Paul Rees of the Guardian wrote:
The player the Tigers needed to get hold of was the scrum-half Maxime Machenaud. He exerted the greatest influence on the game, starting with his third-minute try.
10. George Ford
A poor season with Bath has not seen the best of George Ford, but he was in the mood against Sale, sparking plenty of opportunities for the backs around him, as Michael Aylwin of the Observer wrote:
George Ford buzzed like a menacing wasp behind the collisions and the ball found its way into the hands of the home team’s wide runners with pleasing regularity.
6. Chris Robshaw
Robshaw performed the way he has been all season as Quins breezed past Grenoble 30-6 in the Challenge Cup. No one would begrudge the deposed England skipper if he got his hands on some club silverware this season.
7. Sam Cane
The Chiefs skipper, and the man who looks set to succeed Richie McCaw in the All Black No. 7 jersey, had a fine night as the Chiefs edged out the Hurricanes 28-27. Cane made 19 tackles to help his side to victory.
8. Chris Masoe
All Black Masoe was a defensive colossus for Racing as they ground their way past Leicester to reach a first European Cup final. The 36-year-old made a monumental 23 tackles against the Tigers, as well as carrying for 45 metres, per ESPN. Paul Rees of the Guardian said: "Masoe played like a Saracen, selfless and all-consuming." And that comparison sets up a mouth-watering prospect when Masoe lines up against Saracens' Billy Vunipola in the final in Lyon.
4. Brodie Retallick
Retallick worked tirelessly in defence for the Chiefs as they overcame the Hurricanes. The All Blacks lock made 12 tackles, per ESPN, to keep pace with the shift put in by his colleagues in the back row for the Waikato men.
5. Maro Itoje
The plaudits keep coming for Maro Itoje. But that's only because his performances deserve them. The Guardian's Rob Kitson wrote, after another stand-out display in Saracens' European semi-final win over Wasps: "Even his most seasoned team-mates are struggling to recall a 21-year-old forward with a more precocious all-round game than Maro Itoje."
1. Mako Vunipola
Saracens' pack is shaping into a truly frightening machine, and the bad news for their opponents is that many of its key components are still so young. Alongside a towering display from Maro Itoje, loosehead Mako Vunipola was in irrepressible form against Wasps. The Telegraph named the England prop man of the match:
Good cases can be made for Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola, but Mako Vunipola was truly sensational making a game-high 19 tackles as well as carrying 13 times. He also popped up with a couple of crucial turnovers.
2. Codie Taylor
The Crusaders hooker was heavily involved in their win over the Brumbies. He scored from the back of a rolling maul, set up by his own accurate throw-in at the lineout. But his real eye-catcher was his second effort, collecting a difficult ball off his toes and displaying enough pace to hare home in the corner. Keith Wood would be proud of that one.
3. Jeff To'omaga-Allen
A powerful performance from the Hurricanes' tighthead prop atoned for early-season woes up front that hindered the Wellington side's campaign, particularly in a poor display against the Brumbies, per Stuff.co.nz. But the man with the name as tough to spell as he is to tackle has upped his game, telling Stuff: "I take personal ownership of that and I've really fought hard to hone my craft and [have been] trying to play with consistency every week since that [Brumbies] game."