November 2016 was a great month of rugby action more so at the international scenery. New Zealand stretched their list of accomplishments with the longest run wins to eighteen (18). While still relishing that they were humbly beat by Ireland, the latter recording their first ever win over the Southerners – and it was big, 40-29! And it was done in a domineering fashion.
In subsequent weeks of the November, Africa’s sole Tier One team- South Africa’s Boks, recorded their worst run in the test series for as lengthy as I can recall. In the midst of all that, they had an unfamiliar, arguably the upset of the tests, and 2016, to the Azurris; Italy. The Boks had never lost to Italy since 1995. Mind you, the weekend before they had also altered the history books, losing 37-21 to England for a first time in 10 years.
For the Aussies, it was same old. Win some lose. They probably should have tried winning against the ‘Big boys’ too; England, New Zealand & the Irish.
The Bench’s Team of November Tests
We took the liberty of sampling some of the best performance and orchestrators of November at the tests, drafting our ‘Team of the Tests’. With the heavy presence of New Zealand, Australia and Ireland, have a read at who made the cut:
15 Ben Smith ( New Zealand)
A very fantastic asset he has been for the ‘Blacks. He has been lethal at attacking from his depth and his sights on pockets at the opponents sets his apart from the once favored Israel Folau of Australia. The latter was good at aerial balls… agreed. Also contesting on this one was Irish Rob Kearney.
14 Dane Haylett-Petty ( Australia)
Superb attack and defense from the Aussie, he was quite a player to look at in all games he featured. Had great line breaks majority of the time and salvaged much of the meters for Australia. Watching the Aussies games on my PC, I couldn’t help but notice the commentator mentioning Haylette-Petty in quite a number of rucks and tackles and line breaks made for Australia. New Zealand’s Israel Dagg was a favorite for this spot, but well..
13 Jonathan Joseph (England)
I was in a fix for selecting the right man for this position, England’s Joseph or Aussie’s Kuridrani. Both had exemplary performance for their respective teams, great ball carriers and all. The decider was the fixture pitting the two teams and Jonathan Joseph was the winner with his pivotal role for the English, his brainy kick behind the Aussie defense to set up Marland Yarde for a try was superb. Hot on the heels for this one is Tevita Kuridrani
12 Wesley Fofana (France)
The World Cup 2012 finalist might be on a receiving end but they sure had a skillful player at inside centre. Fofana had an advantage over other nominees for the slot with his fancy footwork and that to carries made and line breaks, certainly a player worth the mention. His well coordination with Vakatawa and at defense especially against New Zealand forced the latter to change tact and go for more kicks; Barret admitted to it at the end of the game.
11 Simon Zebo ( Ireland)
The best option for this position, he had excellent line breaks for his team and was essential in giving his side and edge in ground gained. He is also a committed one at tackles and highly competitive at aerial balls.
10 Beauden Barret (New Zealand)
With the exit of Carter to Europe, we couldn’t think All Blacks would find an excellent playmaker to fit his role. With Cruden’s injury having him sidelined for days on end prior to his recovery , Barret stepped up to the opportunity, made super breaks for a number 10-well, with his pace… was great with the boot, and was a great link between the Forwards and Backs. Completely benching Cruden.
England’s George Ford came close too.
9 Conor Murray (Ireland)
After the horse-like work for the Irish in their game against New Zealand, you could hardly mention this position without his name popping up. Would have loved to see a match up against Aaron Smith in this match…
Were it not for his team’s poor performance, South Africa’s Francois ‘Faf’ de Klerk would also have been a contender. France sensational rising star Serani, is equally as competitive at the same position. Coming off the bench against All Blacks, gifting them quite some havoc and resulting to a beautiful try, off his reverse pass.
-Now guys I have no different opinion from the forwards list that was posted on Planet rugby in their Team of November Tests, so without further ado here is your best of the eight for the month of November, (direct excerpt from Planet Rugby)-
8 Jamie Heaslip (Ireland)
Heaslip was outstanding in November, with few other loose forwards matching his work-rate, leading from the front in every game. Now a veteran in Ireland’s back row, he has enjoyed a real resurgence over the last few weeks. Billy Vunipola continues to grow in stature under Eddie Jones’ coaching while Facundo Isa is slowly but surely becoming one of the best number eighths in the world.
7 David Pocock (Australia)
Pocock will take a hiatus from rugby in 2017 and there is little doubt Australia will miss his dearly. During November, the versatile loose forward, a tackling machine, made an incredible 63 tackles in five Tests, averaging almost 13 a game. Recalled out of the wilderness by Eddie Jones due to injuries, Tom Wood made the most of his second chance with some strong performances for England. Josh van der Flier and Justin Tipuric also stood out.
6 CJ Stander (Ireland)
Possibly Ireland’s standout player of 2016, Stander can now be considered one of the best flankers in the world. His work-rate is impressive and Stander has gone from a newcomer in Ireland’s back row to becoming a key leadership figure. Chris Robshaw enjoyed an excellent run of matches, which is remarkable a year on from when some thought he would never play for his country again, and he played a key role in helping England establish their dominance up front.
5 Courtney Lawes (England)
With second-row injuries dominating England’s build-up ahead of the series, Lawes needed to hit the ground running with this chance, which he certainly did. While Jonny Gray got through a mountain of work for Scotland and George Kruis was a presence for England, we go for his team-mate as our number five after a physical month that he should be proud of.
4 Devin Toner (Ireland)
To get in ahead of Brodie Retallick takes some doing but Toner deserves his spot. With Paul O’Connell retiring, Ireland needed a figurehead at lock and the Leinsterman provided it in November with some towering displays in green, especially in the wins over New Zealand and Australia. Alun Wyn Jones was outstanding against Argentina too.
3 Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)
What a meteoric rise it has been for Furlong this year. He’s taken over from Mike Ross and the Irish have never looked back. So powerful in the contact area as we saw against the All Blacks and the rest this November, the tighthead gets the nod ahead of Dan Cole and Sekope Kepu who were both excellent for England and Australia respectively last month.
2 Dane Coles (New Zealand)
Continues to set the bar that other hookers struggle to reach. His speed and skills are like a centre and he followed up impressive Super Rugby, June and Rugby Championship showings to edge Ireland’s Rory Best as our hooker.
1 Mako Vunipola (England)
Really has moved up another gear as a player in the past year or so as he pushes hard alongside Jack McGrath for the starting British and Irish Lions jersey in New Zealand. Got through a ton of work in November with his ball skills and scrummaging also solid for England who, like loosehead Vunipola, has enjoyed an outstanding 12 months of international rugby.