Sarcastically celebrating a super season of super rugby
An awesome year for the Highlanders but the poor scheduling of the test window ruined their momentum and they unfortunately ran out of steam at the end of the season. They scored the most bonus points owing to some entertainingly close and high-scoring games that ultimately helped nudge them over the line into the finals for the first time in 12 years. The “Smith brothers” were super classy as always and further cemented their starting places in the All Blacks team. Malakai Fekitoa has been a revelation for the Highlanders and proved his worth by forcing his way into the All Blacks team, hopefully at the expense of Ma’a Nonu. Lima Sopoaga has dramatically improved, setting a new club points-scoring record in a season and being very accurate with his goal kicking, something that has been a weakness of the Highlanders for some time. There was a solid scrum up front laying the platform, and Barracuda Buckman was also good value out on the wing. Up in the coaches’ box, Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown got the tactics spot-on and things can only get better next year.
They always find a way to the big game, don’t they? Appearing in their 11th final after another predictably solid season from the team that we all love to hate. The Crusaders were seconds
away from a record eighth title when Richie McCaw was pinged for being offside in the last minute, setting up a 45m penalty attempt which scraped the bar on the way over, giving the Waratahs a 33 - 32 victory to secure their first Super Rugby title. Dan and Richie are being very carefully managed towards the next World Cup but the Crusaders have coped very well without them with Matt Todd and Colin Slade forcing the older dudes to play out of position upon their return. Kieran Read has been outstanding and was seen laying down the law to McCaw on more than one occasion, signaling a real changing of the guard for New Zealand rugby having already captained the All Blacks on seven occasions.
It was always going to be a tough ask to win the competition for the third year in a row, but they proved they had the squad to do it but were let down by some ill-discipline at times, ending the season as the most penalised team. A narrow quarterfinal loss to the Brumbies in Canberra was probably a fair result that reflected their position on the table after the end of the season. Aaron Cruden really matured into the captain’s role but was held back earlier in the season due to his niggling thumb injury. Sonny Bill Williams will be returning to the Chiefs next year after two years with the Roosters in the NRL and could offload the Chiefs back to the top of the table. His mind is firmly set on getting back into the All Blacks for the World Cup in England, although there is much competition in the midfield. There has been talk of him also being keen at making the Olympics Sevens team for Rio 2016.
A good season on the field for the Hurricanes as they finished with the same 8 - 8 record as the Highlanders and a superior points differential but ultimately missed out due to bonus points. Wellington’s ITM Cup squad coach, Chris Boyd, will inherit a solid squad of young talent and experienced internationals when he makes the step up next year. Is it a coincidence that as soon as coach Mark Hammett leaves to coach in Wales, Ma’a Nonu is coming back to the club? However, a more important signing than an aging mercenary thug was that of Beauden Barrett, with the classy number 10 signing on for two more years in the capital. Everyone from Welly to the ‘Naki was absolutely, positively stoked that he didn’t defect to the Blues or chase bigger money overseas. Next year’s critical Carter vs. Cruden vs. Barrett battle for the All Blacks number 10 jersey will be very interesting.
Another disappointing season for the Aucklanders. The Benji Marshall experiment was a dismal failure that surprised no one. What was surprising was that he cut and ran after only six games. I am sure everyone involved in this debacle is looking back thinking “the fuck were we all thinking?” It has been a few seasons into their slump and I still can’t figure out why they have not been doing better with the coaches and players at their disposal. With plenty of All Black talent and the wily old fox Sir Graham Henry in the mix, there is no doubt that they should be doing better. I can only put it down to the destabilising influence of Ma’a Nonu. Look what happened to the Highlanders when his experimental kicking game was forced upon us in 2013. The result? 14th place! Proving he isn’t as “maavelous” as his Twitter handle might suggest.