Super Rugby: Team of Round 9
Super Rugby attention was mainly drawn to the Australian outfits in Round 9 of this season's calendar, both before the action had teed off and afterward.
Despite there being speculation that he might return to the pitch from his throat injury this week, Israel Folau was ruled out of his side's Australian derby with the Western Force after an Australian Rugby Union doctor named him ineligible very late on, per the The Sydney Morning Herald.
Elsewhere, the Aussie powers of the Reds and Brumbies clashed in a heated affair that didn't come without its share of controversy, but Super Rugby's other bastions didn't fail to entertain.
Read on for a breakdown of this weekend's most impressive XV on individuals from both losing and winning teams weaving their way into the mix.
1. Dean Greyling, Bulls
Stellar loosehead performances were few and far between this weekend, but Dean Greyling managed to have his wits about him in Dunedin, even if his display did come in the midst of a 27-20 loss to the Highlanders.
The South African visitors did manage to dominate at the set piece, however, stealing no fewer than five of their opponents' scrums and nicking two line-outs, with Greyling also pitching in with a respectable six tackles and 18 metres made with ball in hand.
2. Rhys Marshall, Chiefs
The Chiefs weren't always in a confident mood as they ran to a 22-16 win over the Rebels on Saturday, scoring just three second-half points as their Australian foes attempted to launch a late comeback at the Waikato Stadium.
The game did feature two impressive hooker performances, however, with Shota Horie scoring a consolation try for the Melbourne hopefuls. However, Rhys Marshall stood out more against his Rebels counterpart, making 12 tackles and showing an admirable thirst to make yardage, making up 37 metres from just five carries.
3. Kieran Longbottom, Western Force
The Western Force's defensive game has been the crux of their rise to fourth in the Super Rugby rankings, and Kieran Longbottom again showed this week that it's not just the backs who can get about the pitch.
The tighthead made 12 tackles, a big tally for a No. 3, and forced two turnovers as he followed up some slick speed with fine graft in the ground game.
4. Michael Fitzgerald, Chiefs
Brodie Retallick's status as one of the Chiefs' pack stars can tend to draw the spotlight toward his significant frame, but it was lock partner Michael Fitzgerald who led the way this time around.
Grabbing the hosts' only try of the game in the 15th minute, Fitzgerald also did well to make 14 tackles in defence, claiming two balls at the line-out and helping his side drive on to a spotless scrum performance.
5. Will Skelton, Waratahs
It may have come on the way to seeing the Waratahs lose 28-16 to Australian rivals the Western Force, but Will Skelton still managed to come out of Saturday's Perth fixture with pride somewhat intact.
And the second-rower's biggest contributions came in the loose as Skelton carried 12 times, making 43 metres, but also beating three defenders and pulling off four offloads, too.
6. Gareth Evans, Highlanders
The Highlanders can sometimes be a hit-and-miss outfit, but when they're firing on all cylinders, they're a joy to watch.
Gareth Evans gave the New Zealand franchise a major boost as they rode out their win over the Bulls, crossing over for his try four minutes after the break, making an average of nine metres per carry and lining up nine tackles on the day.
7. Matt Todd, Crusaders
One of several Crusaders stars who shone brightly during their 52-31 win in Cheetahs territory, Matt Todd's display at openside didn't leave a lot to be desired.
Impressive in most aspects, the 26-year-old back-rower made nine tackles and was catalytic with ball in hand, helping set up two of his team's six tries.
8. Kieran Read, Crusaders
And Kieran Read was similarly effective for the New Zealand giants, using those superb handling skills of his to assist another two of the Crusaders' scores in Bloemfontein and make good use of his talents as a steady line-out option.
9. Piet van Zyl, Bulls
Piet van Zyl is seizing the few opportunities afforded to him as the Bulls' starting scrum-half and gave an assured show of his creative talents against the Highlanders, even if it wasn't enough to clinch victory.
It was the South African's deftly placed chip through that set up Bjorn Basson to score the game's opening try, and Van Zyl's carrying total of 36 metres, with two defenders beaten along the way, shows that the half-back has another more direct string to his bow.
10. Colin Slade, Crusaders
Lima Sopoaga can consider himself unlucky not to have got the nod for the No. 10 jersey this week, but Colin Slade's mix of fine kicking and ball-in-hand impact paved the way for the Crusaders' mauling victory over the Cheetahs.
The fly-half had to wait until the 78th minute for his own try, capitalising on some slack Cheetahs possession to gas it home from just inside the hosts' half, but a total haul of 25 points, making a couple of clean breaks along the way, made for a very impressive outing.
12. Kurtley Beale, Waratahs
Though his lack of defensive tact sometimes left the Western Force open at times, Kurtley Beale nonetheless claims his spot at inside centre this week, having given the Waratahs a great deal of the attacking momentum they were able to muster in Perth.
The utility back continued to shine at 12, carrying for a massive 134 metres, forcing two turnovers and making a couple of offloads, not to mention dotting down for the visitors' only try of the game.
13. Malakai Fekitoa, Highlanders
Malakai Fekitoa has the potential to be a game-changer for the Highlanders on his day, and Jamie Joseph will have been thrilled to see that side of his centre work its way into the second half of their win over the Bulls.
Setting up one try and grabbing another of his own, the playmaker was unselfish when he needed to be but made sure to tuck the ball under his jersey when the occasion called for it, beating three defenders from the numerous breaks he initiated.
11. Nick Cummins, Western Force
Nick Cummins continues to delight a global audience both on the pitch and off of it, but thankfully it was the former that gave the Western Force reason to smile this weekend.
The Honey Badger capitalised upon moments of Waratahs weakness to bag himself a thrilling hat-trick, two of which required a supremely calm head under pressure to get the touch down, with his 183-metre carrying total leading the way for his side's playoff hopes.
14. Nadolo Nasiganiyavi, Crusaders
And Cummins wasn't the only man who managed to score thrice this weekend, with half of the Crusaders' six-try count coming from Nadolo Nasiganiyavi, who shifted onto the right wing as a result of his Western Force counterpart's presence.
Although his 129 metres made with ball in hand may not be quite as gargantuan as the Honey Badger's, the fruits of Nasiganiyavi's were perhaps more hard-earned as his record of four defenders beaten from three clean breaks stands as slightly superior.
15. Lwazi Mvovo, Sharks
Israel Dagg made few mistakes in a pristine run-out versus the Cheetahs, but Lwazi Mvovo was that much more of a threat in Johannesburg as the Sharks ran over the Lions with a 25-12 win.
The speedster's 66th-minute try was the sole score of the game. Mvovo deserved it after running for 161 metres in the triumph, forcing two turnovers, getting the better of six defenders and even making use of himself at the line-out.
All statistics come courtesy of ESPN Scrum.
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