Favourite teams and forwards of 2012
I’ve really enjoyed Super Rugby 2012. The competition was close, minnows have upset favourites, powerhouse sides struggled and two teams that were roundly written off at the start of the season nearly made the finals.
I’ve been a bit glass half empty the last few days with the relative performance of the top Aussie sides and some interesting inclusions and omissions in Robbie Deans’ Wallabies training squad. It has been hard to find positives against the backdrop of my beloved Waratahs worst season ever.
To break myself out of my funk I thought I’d look back at the things that really enthused me during the season.
That fend by Dean Mumm stands out as a moment and the consistent performance of the Waratahs scrum were the only things looking up in Tah land.
Given those slim pickings let’s look further afield.
As a one off game the Rebels victory over the Crusaders brought a cheer, although the Reds comeback against the Chiefs was probably better footy.
It hurts to say as an Aussie, but the Sharks were ominous against the Reds on the weekend, their ability to control the breakdown with fewer numbers has to send warning signs to the Wallabies with the international season upon us.
The overall performance of the Brumbies, Hurricanes and Cheetahs made me smile.
These three teams were written off by most punters before the season kicked off, this little black duck was one of the non-believers. All three of them performed above expectation.
The Cheetahs had their season cruelled when Johan Goosen got injured and that combined with the sporadic appearances of Heinrich Brussow and non-appearance of Juan Smith meant they would always struggle. However they play the game with great style and in particular their game against the Crusaders was a classic.
They really took it to the big boys from NZ’s south island and scored some great tries. Although they lost I became an admirer that day.
The Brumbies played a real mixed bag of rugby during the season, most people tend to talk about the bright performances and gloss over the weaker ones. As a team with almost no internationals and very few Super Rugby caps between them, we can forgive them a lack of consistency.
They led the Aussie conference for most of the season and froze at the last moment to miss out on the final six when a mere bonus point was all they needed to get through.
They should improve further next year and Christian Lealiifano and Matt Toomua loom as returning players that will help this side continue to rise.
The Hurricanes were the biggest surprise packet of all. The harsh markers are saying that Mark Hammett cleared out the dead wood, found new players and moulded them into a side that delivered what the Hurricanes always have: a brilliant attacking outfit that frequently go close to making the finals.
Gee they have been fun to watch. Their season started in South Africa where they had a couple of close losses, then they demolished the Force in Perth before settling into the season.
The Hurricanes critical game was probably the one they dropped against the Brumbies in Wellington, that game was there to be won and they gave up a big lead. Will be interesting to see how they perform next year.
While most were pleasantly surprised by how they went this year, I think if they don’t make the finals next year, then mutterings about Hammett may rise again.
Special mention to the Chiefs, while not predicted to be wooden spooners like some of the sides above, very few of us predicted they would have performed the way they have this season. I’ve been very impressed by the work that Dave Rennie has done with his forwards this year.
He has found some excellent young forwards to complement what has always been a very dangerous back division.
My final word on team’s play this season has to go to the Highlanders. The Highlanders forwards are a pack in the truest sense of the word, they work together as a unit, they bind and are cohesive in their efforts.
The Highlanders forwards contest everything with purpose and intensity and at their best they made it impossible for the opposition to hold the ball against them.
Meanwhile, they have excellent pace out wide and send the ball to their back three to have them challenging the defence all day. They still, however, need to find a level of consistency and an ability to maintain their best over the full course of the season.
When they are on song their game it is great, but when they are slightly off their game it hurts them.
The Highlander’s ruck clean out and counter ruck is absolutely fantastic. It is a credit to the players and Jamie Joseph the way they deliver in that space.
That is enough on teams, there were a number of players who either came on the scene or found another level in their play and caught my eye this season.
Below are some of my favourites.
On the loosehead side I liked Sona Taumololo, Greg Holmes and Coenie Oosthuizen. Sona and Coenie did their core scrummaging job well and added try scoring damage close to the line.
Holmes also scrummed well and really upped his work rate around the pitch, belting breakdowns like a tight five forward should.
Sona deserves special mention because in prior seasons his scrummaging has been below par but in the last twelve months he has developed enormously in this part of his game.
On the tighthead side, I thought Ben Tameifuna had an outstanding first season, he is a gigantic young man with a big future. Fitness will be key in the off season to run some of that puppy fat off him.
Dan Palmer showed that his scrummaging is strong even without a specialist heavy lock behind him, he too needs to up the cardio and improve his breakdown work. In South Africa there was no gun young THP coming through, Jannie du Plessis was probably the pick of their threes, but he is an experienced campaigner.
Similarly at hooker in Australia and South Africa there weren’t any stand out new faces. Adi Strauss, Bismarck du Plessis, Stephen Moore and Tatafu Polota-Nau continued to deliver to their strengths and in some cases their weaknesses. Across the ditch they at least had a couple of younger guys step up at the Hurricanes.
Dane Coles and Motu Matu’u did some interesting things, Coles showing off a pretty good step and Matu’u absolutely terrified ball carriers with some of his hits.
The locks threw up some excellent young prospects. Caderyn Neville has shown a huge amount of potential in Oz, Brodie Retallick in New Zealand and Eben Etzebeth in South Africa have both come on so well they are now in their national squads.
Special mention to Anton Bressler for the best mullet in the game.
On the flanks Liam Gill and Michael Hooper shone for the Aussie sides. In New Zealand we saw Sam Cane make his way through to the All Blacks and Richie McCaw proved he can make a difference from anywhere in the backrow, not just seven. In South Africa, Marcel Coetzee and Siya Kolisi showed there are strong young players coming through there as well.
It was great seeing James Haskell come from the English Rugby World Cup squad down to test himself in the Super comp.
At eight we haven’t really seen too many new faces, Scott Higginbotham looks like he may convert, although being at the Rebels next year will likely put that on hold. In the meantime Wycliff Palu is the man for Oz and Kieran Read dominates in NZ.
Lopeti Timani is a new face coming through for the Tahs – Ita Vaea went backwards at the Brumbies. Duane Vermeulen had an injury interrupted season but remains a very promising player that has done well at Super level and deserves a shot at higher honours.
As usual I’ll leave the backs to others.
So Roarers, what are the things that made you smile this year? What were the plays, who were the players?
Who is still to make a mark as the remaining matches play out?