October 21, 2020, 7:14

Team of the Week: Premiership semi-finalists, PRO14, Wallabies and All Blacks combine

Team of the Week: Premiership semi-finalists, PRO14, Wallabies and All Blacks combine

We pick the standout players from semi-finals of the Gallagher Premiership, the latest round of the PRO14 and a Bledisloe Cup clash…

15. Max Malins (Bristol)

Full-back Malins may have been on the losing side in Bristol’s Premiership semi-final against Wasps on Saturday, but the free-running back put in a super showing.

The man who started the season as a Saracen, made 18 carries and carved out a huge 147 metres with ball in hand in Coventry – both statistics the most of anyone from either side on the pitch.

Malins also beat one defender, was involved in two clean breaks and scored a try after a stunning chip and chase.

14. Josh Adams (Cardiff Blues)

The Cardiff Blues have made a flying start to the new PRO14 season, as two bonus-point wins from their opening two fixtures has them top of Conference B.

Key to their success has been the displays of wing Adams, and the Wales international was brilliant as the Blues beat Connacht on Saturday.

13. Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs)

The Chiefs look in ominous form at the moment as they booked a fifth straight Premiership final appearance on Saturday with a comfortable semi-final win over Bath, and gear up for this weekend’s Champions Cup final vs Racing 92.

In an unprecedented era of success for the club, home-grown centre Slade has been front and centre to their good work, and was a key man again in victory at Sandy Park against Bath.

A classy midfielder going forward, the England man displayed his superb defensive strength against Bath as the Chiefs suffocated and squeezed their rivals. Slade made nine tackles and earned a turnover, while also chipping in five carries for a substantial 38 metres, beating one defender.

12. Jamie Roberts (Dragons)

The Dragons picked up a valuable PRO14 win on Friday over Zebre at Rodney Parade, as 33-year-old centre Roberts picked up the man of the match award.

The Dragons man made 10 carries, earned 32 hard-fought metres, beat two defenders, made a clean break and scored a try in victory.

11. Jacob Stockdale (Ulster)

Having burst onto the scene in stunning fashion in 2018, 2020 proved a much more difficult year for Ireland and Ulster back Stockdale. On Saturday away to the Ospreys, Stockdale looked back to his rampaging best.

The 24-year-old showed up for 12 carries – only teammate and man of the match Marcell Coetzee made more – while also carving out 61 metres in attack with ball in hand – the most of anyone on the day.

Stockdale also beat some six defenders, made three clean breaks and scored Ulster’s opening try as they registered an impressive win at the Liberty.

10. Joe Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs)

Perhaps the most impressive performance of the weekend goes to Exeter playmaker and skipper Simmonds, who was outstanding once again.

The 23-year-old out-half is surely on the cusp of international recognition with England, with his displays this season having guided Exeter to a European Cup final, and now a Premiership final too.

The talented 10 made 60 metres with ball in hand against Bath – only Chiefs full-back Stuart Hogg made more – while Simmonds also stepped up for 10 tackles and six carries.

He also beat three defenders, made two clean breaks, produced a stunning try assist via a break, step and offload off the deck and was 100 per cent off the tee, kicking five from five.

9. Dan Robson (Wasps)

Facing Simmonds and Exeter in the Premiership final on Saturday October 24 will be Wasps, and one of their most important men is undoubtedly scrum-half Robson.

Like Simmonds, Robson must surely be on the verge of a Test career on the back of his club performances, with his display for Wasps in their semi-final win over Bristol fantastic.

Robson’s kicking game was superb, as was his speed of pass, while he also beat two defenders, made one clean break, earned one turnover and scored a try.

1. Alec Hepburn (Exeter Chiefs)

So much of Exeter’s success is built upon a platform of set-piece superiority and tight, close-range attacking. Indeed, the men from Devon are nearly impossible to stop from five metres out.

Principal to their display on Saturday was loosehead Hepburn, as he shone for 57 minutes. The prop made 14 tackles, eight carries, beat one defender, and was part of a front-row which produced four scrum penalties.

2. Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs)

At hooker, there could be no one else this week. Cowan-Dickie has had a magnificent campaign – either side of the lockdown – and continued that form against Bath on Saturday.

Cowan-Dickie made 12 tackles and 10 carries in the win, while also scoring Exeter’s vital second try, forming part of the same dominant scrum unit as Hepburn, and – most crucially – was 100 per cent at the lineout, landing all five throws.

3. Ofa Tuungafasi (New Zealand)

Tighthead was a difficult position to pick this week, but without Tuungafasi’s – and a couple of other All Blacks’ – work-rate in defence, New Zealand would have lost at home to Australia on Sunday.

As it was they came out with a 16-16 draw, but were mightily fortunate to do so. Prop Tuungafasi has been in great form for the Blues since rugby restarted in New Zealand, however, and his form continued on the Test stage.

The tighthead made a phenomenal 15 tackles – only three players between the sides made more – earned a critical breakdown penalty and was part of a scrum effort which was 100 per cent on New Zealand ball, and gained an ascendancy in the second half, earning two free-kicks on Wallabies put-in.

7:14 Highlights of the first Bledisloe Cup Test of 2020 between New Zealand and Australia

4. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto (Australia)

Playing in the second row against the All Blacks in Wellington on Sunday, Salakaia-Loto had perhaps his best Wallabies game to date.

The lock led a forward pack which bettered New Zealand, and really did enough to deserve victory and a bit of history despite the final 16-16 scoreline.

Salakaia-Loto made 12 carries, beat one defender, earned 27 metres, made six tackles and claimed three lineout balls.

5. Will Rowlands (Wasps)

Our second lock slot goes to Wasps’ Rowlands, and though he may not be as heralded as the other victorious Premiership second rows on Saturday – Joe Launchbury, Jonny Hill, Jonny Gray – he outperformed all of them.

The 29-year-old, who earned his first cap for Wales in February, was tremendously hard-working at the Ricoh Arena against Bristol, as he made 10 tackles, earned a turnover, made five carries and was the leading man for Wasps at lineout, taking four balls – the most of anyone on his side.

6. Jack Willis (Wasps)

Is there a player in better form in world rugby at the moment than Wasps back-row Willis? If you’ve been watching him, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone else.

Man of the match again for Wasps on Saturday, the 23-year-old seems to excel at each and every facet of rugby, and has a habit of popping up in attack or defence at the most pivotal of moments.

In Wasps’ semi-final win, Willis made six tackles, earned a crucial breakdown turnover, put in an amazing try-saving intervention, made some 41 metres off six carries, beat two defenders, made a clean break and scored yet another try. We will likely see him thriving for England before long.

7. Sam Cane (New Zealand)

But for Cane, New Zealand would almost certainly have lost to the Wallabies over the weekend.

Under pressure in his first game as All Blacks skipper, Cane delivered with an tireless display within a beaten forward pack.

Indeed, the flanker made a monumental 25 tackles in the draw, while also missing none. He also earned two turnovers, made 22 metres, beat two defenders and made a clean break.

8. Marcell Coetzee (Ulster)

Sourse: skysports.com

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