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Standout players from the summer who have stepped up ahead of the Autumn Nations Series

Standout players from the summer who have stepped up ahead of the Autumn Nations Series

Ardie Savea summer

The summer Tests came to a dramatic climax this weekend with a quartet of series deciders.

England and Ireland overcame their southern hemisphere rivals with series wins over Australia and New Zealand, respectively, the latter a first home series defeat for the All Blacks in 28 years.

In contrast, there will be lots to work on for Wales and Scotland, who fell to series defeats against world champions South Africa and an Argentina side playing at home for the first time in three years.

Elsewhere, France faced Japan twice, while Italy took on Portugal, Georgia and Romania.

But with the Autumn Nations Series on the horizon, which players stood out during an exhilarating summer of action?

Josh van der Flier (Ireland)

Josh van der Flier cemented his claim as one of the world’s best back rowers with three stunning displays in New Zealand.

He was a pest throughout all three Tests, particularly in the third, where his try went a long way towards helping Andy Farrell’s side over the line.

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The Leinster flanker was a machine at the breakdown in the first Test and was one of Ireland’s standout players despite a disappointing 42-19 defeat to start the series.

He put in a complete performance in the second Test, gaining crucial yards in attack while also preventing a late All Blacks try by getting his hands under the ball.

Van der Flier will be crucial for Farrell and for Ireland when they take on South Africa, Fiji and Australia back at Aviva Stadium later this year.

Bongi Mbonambi (South Africa)

Bongi Mbonambi was the standout hooker this summer, helping South Africa to a 2-1 series win against Wales.

He played in two of the three Tests, scoring in each and proving himself a safe pair of hands at the set-piece.

In the opening Test, Mbonambi was a destructive presence and got on the scoresheet in the second half to help get the Springboks back in the game.

And in the third Test, he powered over from the back of a driving maul to put his side 17-8 ahead.

He will be a big player for South Africa when they travel north to take on Ireland, France and England this Autumn having cemented his position as Jacques Nienaber starting hooker.

Jack van Poortvliet (England)

Jack van Poortvliet would never have predicted that he’d battle it out with Danny Care for the England nine jersey on tour in Australia five years ago.

But he did, and he passed the test with flying colours.

The Leicester Tigers half-back was a shining light for Eddie Jones’ side after coming off the bench and scoring a try during a disappointing 30-28 first Test defeat.

He put in a really impressive display during his first start of the series in the second Test, and an eyebrow or two were raised when he missed out on selection for the decider at Sydney Cricket Ground.

But Van Poortvliet came off the bench in the first half and changed the game, with England scoring either side of half-time to claim only their second series win on Australian soil.

There is plenty of competition among some exciting young talents for the England scrum-half spot, but the Leicester Tiger has to be in pole position after a brilliant summer.

Tommy Reffell (Wales)

Tommy Reffell played all three Tests for Wales against South Africa.

That is a remarkable achievement, considering how physical the games were.

He did not look out of place at all against a star-ridden South Africa in the first Test, but the best was yet to come.

The 23-year-old was named player of the match in the second after a thunderous defensive display that disrupted the Springbok attack.

And Reffell was rewarded for his hard work and never-say-die attitude in the third Test when he touched down for Wales’ only try.

Reffell certainly has a bright future ahead of him.

Emiliano Boffelli (Argentina)

Versatile back Emiliano Boffelli was crucial as Argentina snatched a 2-1 series win against Scotland this summer.

The full-back turned winger was crucial with the boot and the ball in hand in both of their wins.

His kicks were the difference in the first Test, while his performance in the second was one of few shining lights in an otherwise disappointing display from Argentina.

And he was the match winner in the decisive Test, scoring in the final stages of the game to clinch a 34-31 comeback win.

The Pumas have a huge Autumn ahead now, with games against England and Wales as well as a rematch against Scotland and Boffelli, who plies his club rugby in Edinburgh, will be crucial to their cause.

Matthis Lebel (France)

Matthis Lebel rubber-stamped a sensational summer series with his first two tries in a France jersey.

Les Bleus played Japan twice in July, coming out on top on both occasions.

During the first Test at Toyota Stadium, Lebel crossed the whitewash in the corner early in the second half as France pulled away.

In the second, Lebel was on the scoresheet again after showing his pace to sneak over in the corner in the opening minutes and in difficult conditions, he stood out.

France have plenty of attacking threat out wide, notably Damian Penaud and Gabin Villière, and now they can add the 23-year-old to their growing list of top-quality wingers.

With another clash against Japan in the Autumn Nations Series, as well as Australia and South Africa, we might see the Toulouse man get another chance to show what he can do.

Mark Bennett (Scotland)

Mark Bennett is back on the international stage.

The Scotland centre scored twice in three Tests against Argentina and can hold his head up high despite his side ultimately falling to a 2-1 series defeat.

He came off the bench against France and Ireland during the 2022 Guinness Six Nations, but the opening Test was his first start for Scotland since a win over Georgia in November 2016.

Six years is a long time to be on the outside at international level, but Bennett has impressed with Edinburgh and earned a recall and may just have done enough to push for a starting role once Chris Harris returns to the fold.

And now he can look forward to an exciting end of 2022, with matches against Australia, Fiji, New Zealand and Argentina in the Autumn Nations Series on the horizon.

Ardie Savea (New Zealand)

In a tough series for New Zealand, one man stood out above all the rest, No.8 Ardie Savea.

Arguably the All Blacks’ standout performer in last year’s Autumn Nations Series, he maintained that form in the three Tests against Ireland and did his best to give New Zealand a chance of winning the decider.

It was not just his three tries that stood out, but the ability to keep carrying and driving his team forward almost singlehandedly.

The balance of the back row did not quite work but ahead of the Rugby Championship and then Autumn Nations Series clashes with Wales, Scotland and England, Savea will have a huge role to play.

Tom Wright (Australia)

Australia had to deal with injury after injury against England meaning that very few players made a big impact across all three Tests.

One man who did stand out was winger Tom Wright, who played in the second and third Tests. That might seem curious as those were the two matches that Australia lost, but the back-three man was a threat every time he got his hands on the ball.

He finished off one brilliant score in the decider, giving Australia the lead in the first half, and looked comfortable both on the wing and at full-back.

Long-term, it is not clear who the Wallabies’ first-choice back three will be, but Wright did his cause no harm.

Tommaso Allan (Italy)

Absent from the Guinness Six Nations as he settled into his first season in England with Harlequins, Tommaso Allan stepped back into the fold impressively for Italy this summer.

Starting all three Tests, with Paolo Garbisi used off the bench for the second and third, Allan looked right at home back in the No.10 jersey.

It will take some doing to dislodge Garbisi in the longer term, but Allan served a reminder that he is eminently capable of being a Test fly-half and he even spent some time playing alongside Garbisi.

With Italy now preparing for Autumn Nations Series clashes with Samoa, Australia and South Africa, Allan will be hoping to get more of an opportunity to impress.


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