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The Super Rugby Championship XV challenge: Now we’re all in

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20th April, 2020
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Last week’s challenge to name the best Australian, and then New Zealand and South African Super Rugby Championship XVs went down really well.

Well done to everyone who had a crack at it – even those who took a few liberties!

This week, we’re breaking winning teams up into units again, but we’re looking at the overall cross-border team based on every title-winning side since the inauguration of the then Super 12 competition back in 1996.

It’s going to be both easier and harder: easier, in that at least we’re only using three units to make up the complete XV (the Australian challenge last week needed four units; the Kiwi leg of the challenge required five units).

But harder in that we can only pick one unit from one Championship-winning team from each of the three countries to have won a Super 12/Super 14/Super Rugby title.

Where do you start? If it’s a New Zealand side’s backrow, is it an Australian team’s tight five or is it a South African team’s?

Which is the standout unit from the three Bulls titles to fit in with a Kiwi and Aussie unit? And how do you narrow down one standout unit from 17 title-winning sides from all five New Zealand sides?

I enjoyed last week’s challenge, but this one is going to be really interesting…

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The Challenge
Similar to last week, but different. Pick your best XV comprising one ‘unit’ from the three Super Rugby Championship-winning nations, but not individual players.

• Break each Championship XV into units again, and however you want to slice them again, to make a complete XV.
• The units will be bigger this time as you’re only using one unit from one title-winning team from New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa.
• You have to be able to make a complete XV: so if you take a whole forwards pack, you need to pick two backline units. Ditto, if you take a whole backline, your scrum will comprise two units.
• The important bit: [BOLD] you can only pick one unit from a winning New Zealand side (17 titles from five sides), one from an Australian side (4 from three sides), and one from South Africa (3 titles, all the Bulls).

My thinking (Championship teams listed below)
I’m going to use the same strategy I used in picking the New Zealand side last week, and that is to start with the countries with the smaller number of titles first. It’s got to be easier picking one unit from three South African sides and one unit from four Australian sides, than it is to try and pick one from 17 New Zealand sides.

I actually started looking at the numbers for that 2009 Bulls backline, and though it had points all the way through it, they weren’t quite as strong as I thought they’d be.

This in turn got me thinking about the Highlanders back five of 2015, which is still one of the most enjoyable teams to watch in all my time. Waisake Naholo and Patrick Osborne scored 21 tries between them that year, and you can pencil Aaron Smith in for another eight too, which then got me thinking about taking the entire backline.

Waisake Naholo New Zealand All Blacks Rugby Union 2016

Waisake Naholo . (AAP Image/SNPA, Ross Setford)

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But then, when you start talking about entire backlines, it’s pretty hard to go past that 2004 Brumbies outfit which really did run in points for fun at times. Joe Roff and Mark Gerrard both scored ten tries for the season and Stirling Mortlock (who missed the Final) knocked over goals from everywhere.

The Brumbies have only topped that 2004 13-game tally of 487 points once in all the years since, and that was during their run to the 2013 Final, where they finished with 493 points from 19 games. Only the 2011 Reds backline would come close to eclipsing this, but I’m not sure there was quite the same levels of strike power across the park.

Which brings me back to the Bulls. When you look at their three forwards packs of 2007 and 2009-2010, it’s a toss-up in my mind between their backrow and the tight five, and even then, it’s debatable whether Bakkies Botha-Victor Matfield combination is strong enough to drag the front row through as well. And I say that, because the backrow unit of 2009-2010 was very good.

And so when I then start looking though Kiwi tight fives, you start seeing some names repeated regularly back in the day. That Blues front row of the first few seasons was legendary, but I look to the Crusaders tight fives of the very early 2000s, and there’s some prolific title winners there. So I reckon that’s where I’m heading.

I picked the 2002 Crusaders backrow last week, on the strength of that phenomenal unbeaten season, and that felt like a pretty solid benchmark. Except that by 2002, Todd Blackadder had already moved on to Edinburgh and while Chris Jack was a very good lock, that tight five that Blackadder was in the middle of in the early 2000s laid the platform for the juggernaut the Crusaders soon became.

Blackadder, Reuben Thorne, Norm Maxwell and hooker Mark Hammett played in all three of their initial titles in that 1998-2000, with Blackadder and Thorne switching between blindside and lock through the years. And Hammett would soon enough marry up with Greg Feek and Greg Sommerville up front; the three of them played in the 1999-2000 double and the 2002 title as well. And then Sommerville switched to tighthead and claimed another three titles in 2005, 2006, and 2008. Incredible sides.

Final team
Backline: Joe Roff, Mark Gerrard, Joel Wilson, Matt Giteau, Clyde Rathbone, Stephen Larkham, George Gregan (2004 Brumbies)
Back row: Pierre Spies, Dewald Potgieter, Deon Stegmann (2009-2010 Bulls)
Tight five: Norm Maxwell, Todd Blackadder (c), Greg Feek, Mark Hammett, Greg Somerville (2000 Crusaders)

In the end, only Larkham and Gregan carry over from the three sides I picked last week!

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So now, it’s over to you…

Every Super Rugby Championship side since 1996

1996: Blues beat the Sharks 45-21 in Auckland
(15-1) Adrian Cashmore, Joeli Vidiri, Eroni Clarke, Johnny Ngauamo, Jonah Lomu, Carlos Spencer, Ofisa Tonu’u, Zinzan Brooke (c), Andrew Blowers, Michael Jones, Charles Riechelmann, Robin Brooke, Olo Brown, Sean Fitzpatrick, Craig Dowd.

1997: Blues beat the Brumbies 23-7 in Auckland
Adrian Cashmore, Brian Lima, Eroni Clarke, Lee Stensness, Joeli Vidiri, Carlos Spencer, Ofisa Tonu’u, Zinzan Brooke (c), Michael Jones, Mark Carter, Robin Brooke, Leo Lafaiali’i, Craig Dowd, Sean Fitzpatrick, Olo Brown.

1998: Blues lost to the Crusaders 20-13 in Auckland
Daryl Gibson, James Kerr, Tabai Matson, Mark Mayerhofler, Norm Berryman, Andrew Mehrtens, Aaron Flynn, Steve Surridge, Scott Robertson, Todd Blackadder (c), Reuben Thorne, Norm Maxwell, Stu Loe, Mark Hammett, Kevin Nepia.

1999: Highlanders lost to the Crusaders 24-19 in Dunedin
Leon MacDonald, Caleb Ralph, Daryl Gibson, Norm Berryman, Afato So’oalo, Andrew Mehrtens, Justin Marshall, Reuben Thorne, Angus Gardiner, Norm Maxwell, Todd Blackadder (c), Greg Feek, Mark Hammett, Greg Somerville.

2000: Brumbies lost to the Crusaders 20-19 in Canberra
Leon MacDonald, Caleb Ralph, Daryl Gibson, Mark Robinson, Marika Vunibaka, Andrew Mehrtens, Ben Hurst, Ron Cribb, Reuben Thorne, Scott Robertson, Norm Maxwell, Todd Blackadder (c), Greg Feek, Mark Hammett, Greg Somerville.

2001: Brumbies beat the Sharks 30-6 in Canberra
Andrew Walker, Joe Roff, James Holbeck, Rod Kafer, Graeme Bond, Steve Larkham, George Gregan (c), Jim Williams, George Smith, Peter Ryan, Justin Harrison, David Giffin, Ben Darwin, Jeremy Paul, Bill Young.

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Jeremy Paul

Stephen Larkham and Jeremy Paul of the Brumbies (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

2002: Crusaders beat the Brumbies 31-13 in Christchurch
Leon MacDonald, Marika Vunibaka, Mark Robinson, Aaron Mauger, Caleb Ralph, Andrew Mehrtens, Justin Marshall, Scott Robertson, Richie McCaw, Reuben Thorne (c), Norm Maxwell, Chris Jack, Greg Feek, Mark Hammett, Greg Somerville.

2003: Blues beat the Crusaders 21-17 in Auckland
Doug Howlett, Rico Gear, Mils Muliaina, Sam Tuitupou, Joe Rokocoko, Carlos Spencer, David Gibson, Xavier Rush (c), Daniel Braid, Justin Collins, Ali Williams, Angus MacDonald, Kees Meeuws, Keven Mealamu, Deacon Manu.

2004: Brumbies beat the Crusaders 47-38 in Canberra
Joe Roff, Mark Gerrard, Joel Wilson, Matt Giteau, Clyde Rathbone, Stephen Larkham, George Gregan, Scott Fava, George Smith, Owen Finegan (c), Radike Samo, Mark Chisholm, Nic Henderson, Jeremy Paul, Bill Young.

2005: Crusaders beat the Waratahs 35-25 in Christchurch
Leon MacDonald, Rico Gear, Caleb Ralph, Aaron Mauger, Scott Hamilton, Daniel Carter, Justin Marshall, Mose Tuiali’i, Richie McCaw (c), Reuben Thorne, Ross Filipo, Chris Jack, Greg Somerville, Corey Flynn, Dave Hewett.

2006: Crusaders beat the Hurricanes 19-12 in Christchurch (the fog game!)
Leon MacDonald, Rico Gear, Casey Laulala, Aaron Mauger, Scott Hamilton, Daniel Carter, Kevin Senio, Mose Tuiali’i, Richie McCaw (c), Reuben Thorne, Ross Filipo, Chris Jack, Greg Somerville, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett.

2007: Sharks lost to the Bulls 20-19 in Durban
Johan Roets, Akona Ndungane, JP Nel, Wynand Olivier, Bryan Habana, Derick Hougaard, Fourie du Preez, Pierre Spies, Wikus van Heerden, Pedrie Wannenburg, Victor Matfield (c), Bakkies Botha, Rayno Gerber, Gary Botha, Gurthro Steenkamp.

2008: Crusaders beat the Waratahs 20-12 in Christchurch
Leon MacDonald, Kade Poki, Casey Laulala, Tim Bateman, Scott Hamilton, Daniel Carter, Andrew Ellis, Mose Tuiali’i, Richie McCaw (c), Kieran Read, Ali Williams, Brad Thorn, Greg Somerville, Ti’i Paulo, Wyatt Crockett.

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2009: Bulls beat the Chiefs 61-17 in Pretoria
Zane Kirchner, Akona Ndungane, Jaco Pretorius, Wynand Olivier, Bryan Habana, Morné Steyn, Fourie du Preez, Pierre Spies, Dewald Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Victor Matfield (c), Bakkies Botha, Werner Kruger, Derick Kuün, Gurthrö Steenkamp.

2010: Bulls beat the Stormers 25-17 in Pretoria
Zane Kirchner, Gerhard van den Heever, Jaco Pretorius, Wynand Olivier, François Hougaard, Morné Steyn, Fourie du Preez, Pierre Spies, Dewald Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Victor Matfield (c), Danie Rossouw, Werner Kruger, Gary Botha, Gurthrö Steenkamp.

2011: Reds beat the Crusaders 18-13 in Brisbane
Jono Lance, Rod Davies, Anthony Fainga’a, Ben Tapuai, Digby Ioane, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, Radike Samo, Beau Robinson, Scott Higginbotham, James Horwill (c), Rob Simmons, Greg Holmes, Saia Fainga’a, Ben Daley.

queensland-reds-super-rugby-union-2015

Quade Cooper is out of the Reds, but was it the correct call? (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

2012: Chiefs beat the Sharks 37-6 in Hamilton
Robbie Robinson, Tim Nanai-Williams, Andrew Horrell, Sonny Bill Williams, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Kane Thompson, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Craig Clarke (c), Ben Tameifuna, Mahonri Schwalger, Sona Taumalolo.

2013: Chiefs beat the Brumbies 27-22 in Hamilton
Gareth Anscombe, Lelia Masaga, Charlie Ngatai, Andrew Horrell, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Matt Vant Levan, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Craig Clarke (c), Ben Tameifuna, Hika Elliott, Toby Smith.

2014: Waratahs beat the Crusaders 33-32 in Sydney
Israel Folau, Alofa Alofa, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Rob Horne, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper (c), Stephen Hoiles, Jacques Potgieter, Kane Douglas, Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson.

Israel Folau celebrates

The Waratahs’ Israel Folau – remember him? (Photo by Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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2015: Hurricanes lost to Highlanders 21-14 in Wellington
Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Richard Buckman, Patrick Osborne, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Nasi Manu, James Lentjes, Elliot Dixon, Mark Reddish, Alex Ainley, Josh Hohneck, Liam Coltman, Brendon Edmonds.

2016: Hurricanes beat the Lions 20-3 in Wellington
James Marshall, Cory Jane, Matt Proctor, Willis Halaholo, Jason Woodward, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Victor Vito, Ardie Savea, Brad Shields, Michael Fatialofa, Vaea Fifita, Ben May, Dane Coles (c), Loni Uhila.

2017: Lions lost to Crusaders 25-17 in Johannesburg
David Havili, Israel Dagg, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, Seta Tamanivalu, Richie Mo’unga, Bryn Hall, Kieran Read, Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua, Sam Whitelock (c), Scott Barrett, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody.

2018: Crusaders beat the Lions 37-18 in Christchurch
David Havili, Seta Tamanivalu, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Richie Mo’unga, Bryn Hall, Kieran Read, Matt Todd, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Sam Whitelock (c), Scott Barrett, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody.

2019: Crusaders beat the Jaguares 19-3 in Christchurch
David Havili, Sevu Reece, Braydon Ennor, Jack Goodhue, George Bridge, Richie Mo’unga, Bryn Hall, Kieran Read, Matt Todd, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Sam Whitelock (c), Mitchell Dunshea, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody.