Rugby Championship awards: Scott Barrett and All Blacks claim top gongs

Rugby Championship awards Springboks, Wallabies Argentina Los Pumas, Springboks Eddie Jones Scott Barrett Credit: Alamy

Rugby Championship awards Springboks, Wallabies Argentina Los Pumas, Springboks Eddie Jones Scott Barrett Credit: Alamy

Following the conclusion of the 2023 Rugby Championship, we take a look back at the competition and hand out our awards – good and bad – to worthy recipients.

So without further ado, here are our winners and, in some cases, losers.

Best game: Australia 31-34 Argentina

Eddie Jones promised that the Wallabies would be victorious after they suffered a big loss to the Springboks, but it wasn’t to be as Los Pumas clinched a last-gasp 34-31 win in Sydney.

Although Australia were up 10-0 early on, Argentina did not panic, and they were level at 10-10 by half-time. The second half was a tight battle, but Australia thought they had won the game when Samu Kerevi and Mark Nawaqantisawase scored late tries before Juan Martin Gonzalez scored a try in the game’s dying moments to seal Argentina’s win.

Best individual try: Mark Nawaqanitawase v Argentina

Not too many to choose from as teams proved difficult to break down as phase play and set pieces resulted in tries.

However, there were two standouts with Kwagga Smith’s turnover and barge over the line against the All Blacks, coming in second place to Nawaqanitawase’s intercept try against Argentina.

It was a fantastic read from the young winger, who timed his run perfectly and sprinted away to score.

Best try: All Blacks’ last v Australia

The champions kept their best for last. There were some truly scintillating tries scored in the Rugby Championship, but one stood out from the rest.

The attack started inside the All Blacks’ 22 from a kick-off as Rieko Ioane took the ball up into contact. Eight passes, two breakdowns and 30 seconds later, Ioane was diving over the line to put the finishing touches on an incredible team try and a comprehensive victory.

Biggest disappointment: Australia

We were expecting big things from the Wallabies as they kickstarted their ‘smash and grab’ job of winning the Rugby Championship, Bledisloe Cup and Rugby World Cup under returning head coach Eddie Jones.

Ultimately, there was no Rugby Championship glory, while the Bledisloe Cup will remain in New Zealand for another year.

It was more of the same from the Wallabies, and perhaps even worse, as inconsistent performances and ill-discipline saw Australia prop up the final table for the first time since Argentina joined the competition.

The Wallabies lost all three of their matches, with the aggregate score across the three matches being 84-50.

Best moment: Juan Martin Gonzalez’s match-winning try

We’ve already mentioned the try which was scored in Argentina’s win over Australia and, if truth be told, it wasn’t the most beautiful score, but for pure shock value, nothing tops the Los Pumas back-row’s five-pointer which came late on in Sydney in Round Two.

With the score 31-27 in the Wallabies’ favour, and time running out on the clock, Argentina were hammering away at the hosts’ try-line and after several team-mates went close, Gonzalez crossed from close quarters to seal his side’s memorable victory.

Best player: Scott Barrett (New Zealand)

Although he has been on the fringes of the All Blacks’ first-choice starting XV for most of his career, he came into his own in this tournament with three excellent performances.

Equally at home on the blindside flank, the 29-year-old shone at lock, and his incredible form meant that veteran All Black Sam Whitelock, who missed New Zealand’s games against Argentina and South Africa through injury, had to be satisfied with a spot on the bench against Australia as Barrett stole the show with another superb individual display.

Best newbie: Carter Gordon (Australia)

The Melbourne Rebels star shone in the tournament’s opening two rounds with excellent cameos off the bench.

He scored a spectacular try against the Springboks on debut and came off the bench early against Argentina, producing a strong shift in a position, inside centre, unfamiliar to him.

His form in his first two appearances for the Wallabies earned him a start against the All Blacks, and while that was an entirely different challenge overall, Gordon can be proud of the impact he made in his debut tournament.

He just beats the excellent Rodrigo Isgro, who was outstanding on debut against Australia.

Best interview: Eddie Jones’ smart-arse

It had to be. The Wallabies boss is known for a sharp quip or providing a juicy quote before and after a Test match, and he did not disappoint in this tournament.

After the defeat to the Springboks in round one, Jones did not take kindly to a question from one South African journalist.

Jones was asked: “Eddie, you expressed your disappointment in the week that you weren’t playing the first-choice Springboks side. Is that a bit of a relief now?”

He replied: “South Africans are good at winning. You don’t have to be a smart arse, mate.”

Best quote: Eddie Jones’ ashes and NZ economy

As we mentioned already, Jones was in great form at his press conferences throughout the tournament, and he made a bold claim ahead of the opening game.

“Let me tell you what we’re going to do. We are going to roll our sleeves up, and we are going to dig in. If they want to watch that, they must stay up; it will be better than the Ashes, mate,” Jones said.

That quote came back to bite him as the Springboks cruised to victory, and Jones had another that did not pan out well.

Ahead of the clash against the All Blacks, Jones said that when New Zealand loses, the economy sinks.

Jones said: “It’s not just rugby that sinks; the country sinks. The whole economy goes down.”

Best comeback: Will Jordan (New Zealand)

He has been battling a migraine-related illness which sidelined him since New Zealand’s last match of the 2022 Rugby Championship against Australia in Auckland last September, and he only played during the latter rounds of the Crusaders’ Super Rugby Pacific campaign.

Although that illness kept him on the sidelines for the All Blacks’ tournament opener with Argentina in Mendoza, Jordan showed his class in the wins over the Springboks and Wallabies as he scored tries in each game which means he has now scored 23 five-pointers in as many Tests.

Brain fade award: Tupou non-substitution

We have already discussed this at length, but Jones’ decision not to replace Taniela Tupou when the prop was clearly struggling in the first Bledisloe Cup Test was a serious gaffe.

The prop stayed on the pitch nearly 10 minutes longer than he should have and at a time when Australia looked to be gathering some momentum.

His non-substitution cost the Wallabies dearly, as he was also yellow-carded for a poorly executed tackle.

Best individual performance: Scott Barrett v Australia

Apart from announcing himself early on in that game against the Wallabies with that huge tackle on McDermott, the All Blacks second-row continued to impress as that match progressed as he was in the thick of the action during the rest of the encounter.

Barrett did his job in the lineouts, proved a real handful on attack as he played a prominent role with the ball in hand and eventually finished with 42 metres gained from a whopping 16 carries, which included a clean break and four defenders beaten, and he also made 11 tackles.

Spirit of rugby: Australia’s response to the haka

The classic jersey swaps after the games were a wholesome standard throughout the tournament, while we give a hat tip to Faf de Klerk for forcing a stop to the match after Lucas Paulos was knocked out after attempting a tackle on Duane Vermeulen.

However, our ‘spirit of rugby’ award goes to the Wallabies for their classy response to the haka in the final round, with Allan Alaalatoa gifting the All Blacks a boomerang as a token of acceptance of the challenge.

Biggest front-row union violation: Angus Bell’s break

The young loosehead prop came into Australia’s run-on side for their clash against New Zealand in Melbourne, and he left his stamp on that match with a scintillating run in which the Wallabies were nearly rewarded with a try.

With his team trailing 38-7, Bell ran onto a skip pass from Izaia Perese on the All Blacks’ 10-metre line before bursting through an attempted tackle from Rieko Ioane. He was soon inside his opponents’ 22, and only a desperate tackle from Richie Mo’unga brought him to ground five metres from the try-line.

S***housery of the tournament: Scott Barrett shushing White

There could only be one winner here, as Barrett claims another award.

The All Blacks lock took it upon himself to keep Nic White quiet. Like many scrum-halves, White is renowned for running his mouth, and Barrett took the opportunity to shush the Wallabies’ nine.

Biggest frustration: Time it took for play to stop after Grant Williams’ injury

The Springbok scrum-half was knocked out cold when Argentina full-back Juan Cruz Mallia’s hip made contact with his face after the Puma charged down a clearance kick from Williams shortly after the start of their match in Johannesburg.

What was concerning, however, was that referee Andrew Brace did not bring the game to an immediate halt after that unfortunate incident as the play continued with Brace seemingly oblivious to Williams’ situation. It was only after Bok full-back Willie le Roux brought the match official’s attention to Williams’ condition that he stopped play.

The runner-up for this unwanted award has to be veteran commentator Grant Nisbett who got several Springbok players’ names wrong during the match in Auckland with seemingly every backline player named Makazole Mapimpi.

Best tackle: Scott Barrett on Tate McDermott (Australia v New Zealand)

The match was still in its early stages, and the Wallabies were already under the cosh at a lineout close to their try-line in the third minute. The home side’s fans were somewhat relieved as they had the throw-in at the set-piece, but All Blacks enforcer Barrett had other ideas.

The ball was gathered by Jed Holloway at the lineout, and he popped it down to McDermott, who was taken out by Barrett with a well-timed and thunderous tackle. The ball spilt from the scrum-half’s grasp, and Shannon Frizell gathered before scoring an easy try.

Unsung hero: Codie Taylor (New Zealand)

He came into the Rugby Championship under pressure as Samisoni Taukei’aho had come to the fore with some excellent performances on the All Blacks’ 2022 end-of-year tour.

However, Taylor did not let that affect him and simply got stuck into his job for the three-time world champions. The 32-year-old shone in the execution of his core duties, with his lineout throw-ins, ball carrying and defence of a high quality throughout.

READ MORE: Rugby Championship Team of the Tournament: All Blacks dominate with 12 players selected

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