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Folau, le Roux and Smith among the stars of the summer Tests

We’ve picked out five players who impressed in the international fixtures over the past month.

Aaron Smith was in excellent form for the All Blacks.
Aaron Smith was in excellent form for the All Blacks.
Image: Photosport/Jason Oxenham/INPHO

WITH NEW ZEALAND, Australia and South Africa having wrapped up series victories over England, France and Wales last weekend, we’ve taken a look at some of the players who stood out in those encounters during the June Test window.

Having picked out some of the Irishmen who excelled in Argentina previously, we focus on other international candidates here. Clearly, there is not space to mention every player who performed well this month, so feel free to leave a comment with your choices and reasoning.

Aaron Smith

The general behind so much of New Zealand’s best rugby this month, Smith looks in prime form ahead of the Rugby Championship. His passing has been largely excellent, offering the first receiver swift, accurate and well-weighted possession.

Off the ball, Smith’s post-pass support play was as sharp as ever in the 3-0 series win over England, while his hassling and harrying around the base of defensive rucks, scrums and mauls was a constant annoyance for Stuart Lancaster’s side.

Smith is always audible over the referee’s mic in phase play when the Kiwis don’t have the ball, with his vision and quick-thinking being key to the organisation of their defensive line.

Chris Robshaw

Chris Robshaw dejected after the game Robshaw suffered alongside his England teammates in defeat, but his individual performances were strong. Source: Photosport/Anthony Au-Yeung/INPHO

The England captain was swept aside in the first half of the third Test along with his teammates, but performed impressively in the three games. While he may not have the gait and build of a ‘traditional’ openside flanker, Robshaw is a superb back row player.

His linking passing, developed under Conor O’Shea at Harlequins, was evident as England attempted to add new patterns to their attacking system, while Robshaw also provided a handful of accurate offloads.

The 28-year-old tackled aggressively and while turnovers proved difficult to come across, Robshaw competed well on the deck. A vital cog for Lancaster’s England as they continue to build for next year’s World Cup.

Israel Folau

Australia France Rugby Test Folau was a constant menace to the French defence. Source: Hamish Blair

The Australia fullback is among the finest athletes in the game and puts his physical power to superb use in fielding kicks, counter-attacking and popping up closer to rucks in phase play.

Folau is a supreme finisher too, with his brace last weekend taking him to 13 tries in his first 18 Test matches. However, perhaps the most impressive aspect of the 25-year-old’s play is his work rate.

The Waratahs’ man is always heavily involved as a carrier and passing option, regularly being awarded the all-important, teammate-voted man of the match award among the Wallabies squad. Folau was crucial to the 3-0 series win over France.

Will Skelton

Australia France Rugby Union Skelton introduced himself to international rugby impressively. Source: Rick Rycroft

The mammoth lock only played 56 minutes of Test rugby this month, but the impression he made in that time was telling. Australia have perhaps lacked mass and sheer strength in their pack over the last two or three years, and Skelton may provide a solution.

Not that the 22-year-old is all about brawn; his short pass to send Israel Folau over for a second-half try was delicate. Preceded as it was by a clever jink of footwork, Skelton’s assist was an encouraging moment.

The Waratahs second row continues to work on his match fitness, learning to carry his 6ft 8ins frame for longer periods of game time. With James Horwill’s international form having slightly tapered off in the last year, Skelton provides an intriguing alternative.

Willie le Roux

South Africa Rugby Wales Le Roux was a vital attacking cog for the Springboks. Source: AP/Press Association Images

While Folau dazzled for Australia and Ben Smith was excellent for New Zealand, le Roux was similarly brilliant for the Springboks. World rugby is blessed with high-quality fullbacks at present, and the Cheetahs magician is deservedly included in discussions over their relative ability.

Le Roux was the attacking star of South Africa’s 2-0 series win over Wales, as he ran in three tries and set up a host of others. The 24-year-old’s kicking, fielding and composure have all evidently improved too.

For many, the joy of rugby lies in players beating defenders with a moment of individual brilliance, something le Roux provided repeatedly this month. More importantly, he has shown Heyneke Meyer that those skills can fit into the Springboks’ team focus.

Extremely honourable mentions: Ben Smith, Julian Savea, Alex Cuthbert, Dane Coles, Tommy Seymour, Stuart Hogg, Sekope Kepu, Gethin Jenkins, Victor Matfield, Duane Vermeulen, Bryan Habana, Morné Steyn, Conrad Smith.

Who were the stand-out players of the summer Tests in your eyes? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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Murray Kinsella

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