Super Rugby has ended with a Bang, with the Hurricanes crowned champions. But what did we learn from the 5 months of intense rugby skills and drills? Who are the new “kids” that have taken over the South Hemisphere? Stay with us to see our opinion.
Super Rugby. How can anyone not like it? You can see some inexplicable skills (who can forget that kick from Beauden Barrett against the Chiefs in the Semi’s?) while enjoying some Super-time tackles (Jaco Kriel’s try-saving tackle against Matt Faddes) or that tight scrum. After 100 games, it’s time to wrap things up… but before we do it, let’s see who are the new kids that dominated the South Hemisphere in 2016. To achieve our objective, we have accounted every game, stat and team achievement.
ARDIE SAVEA (Hurricanes)
The best young player of the entire season. 22 years old and he just “tackled” the competition with some special skills which makes him one of the most promising flankers of the last years. But what were the numbers in his 4th season with the Wellington Hurricanes? 205 tackles, 26 turnovers and 12 penalties in his defense score-card. On the top of the list of the best tacklers in the 2016 season, Ardie showed how strong a defender he is by applying a 93% success rate every time he tries to hit a player. The quick pace, strong physique (1,90mts and 99kgs) and excellent reaction (see how he “reads” the opposition scrum plays and how he stops 90% of the offense actions), makes Savea one of the mightiest defenders in the South Hemisphere. Even more intriguing it’s the fact that Ardie was one of the top turnover achievers, with 23 in 17 games (average of 1,4 tackles per game). And make no mistake, it isn’t a simple turnover… we’ve seen for 3 ou 4 times Ardie grabbing the ball and just start running, breaking not only the offense attack but their defense as well (David Pocock was the over achiever in turnovers as he made 30 in 11 games). For his skills with the ball the stats shows: 5 tries and 5 try-assist, 620 meters in 135 carries (5,5 meters for carry) and 20 clean-breaks making him one of the most successful forwards in Super Rugby. Compare him with Jaco Kriel, another superb flanker, and let’s see if Ardie makes a real difference: Kriel ended the Lions campaign with 6 tries and 2 assists… to reach those numbers he had to run 820 meters in 143 carries, breaking the line for 16 times (5,7 average per game). A tight contest no doubt , but we see in Ardie a more dangerous player than his Springbok colleague. His handling skills, the “aggressive” way he bursts into the line (the winning-try against Highlanders), the incredible speed and even the footie skills (against Jaguares the try-assist to Barrett), gives the New Zealand fans a different type of flanker, a game changer, a complete player and athlete. But can he beat Sam Cane for the number 7 All Black jersey? Only Steve Hansen can tell.
MATT FADDES (Highlanders)
A fairy tale for a true Otago son… Faddes made his Super Rugby this season at 24 years old, winning everyone’s respect and praise. The center deserved Jamie Joseph’s attention and made the cut, reaching the position of outside center, pushing Malakai Fekitoa to nº12 (in the Super Rugby 2015 final, Fekitoa played as 13 with Richard Buckman as 12). In his first ever Super Rugby season, Faddes scored 10 tries in 16 games, reaching an impressive number of 29 clean-breaks (Damian McKenzie, Ruan Combrinck e Johnny McNicholl all finished in the top with 31). Remember, it was only his first year in the highest stage of the South Hemisphere club competition and he didn’t even start in some games… he also played wing (five times as first option and two coming from the bench) and fullback (two) before establishing himself as a center (his first game as 13 was against the Chiefs in the 7th of May) The otago-born can be a problem for the opposition, as he’s always looking for a gap to get advantage on. Faddes ran 877 meters, scoring different type of tries: from kick-runs (against Crusaders and Force), interceptions (Lions first game) or open-side plays (2nd try against Crusaders). A true menace for any defense that allows for a bit of space… but that happens too when you pressure the Highlanders, giving Sopoaga or Aaron Smith an opportunity to make a short or long kick, that Faddes or Osborne can reach it and then go to the try line. Even if he is not the best tackler in the game (70% of accuracy), he didn’t comprise the Highlanders on 95% of the time. In the semi-final against the Lions, Matt Faddes had a tremendous showdown with Lionel Mapoe. In terms of attack stats, Mapoe had an almost 100 meters covered (no tries or assists, but he did manage to setup the beginning of two tries) with 3 clean-breaks. As for Faddes, 70 meters, three clean-breaks and 1 try. Mapoe won the “battle” as a tackler, successfully putting down 10 players, grabbing two turnovers and missing in the process 1 tackle. Faddes only managed one good tackle in his five attempts along the 80 minutes. The Highlanders title defense ended…. however, there’s a bright future for the Otago team, as well as for Faddes. He confers a good vibe to the game, he’s an extremely sharp player (he “reads” Sopoaga or Smith’s moves easily) who goes from fast to faster in a moment. Can Faddes keep up the pace?
DAMIAN MCKENZIE (Chiefs)
The kiwi serial killer (or kicker?) had a superb run this season with the Chiefs. McKenzie flourished with brilliant skills, in what was the best year for the Chiefs in terms of scores. 491 points for… and the fullback was responsible for 199 directly (he assisted for ten tries): 10 tries, 21 penalty goals (missed 8) and 43 conversions (18 failed the mark). This is only the second season as a senior player, which makes it impressive the way he’s attacking the South Hemisphere. What makes him special though? Was he the best fullback of the season? For us, McKenzie made every Chiefs game a true and complete rugby show, taking advantage of his handling and feet skills. Against the Crusaders we saw his foot-work when he just cruised and assisted Webber for the 3rd try of the game. In the quarter final game, he made the Stormers go through a hell of a night, as he built most of the outstanding plays, changing from quick pass to “deadly” kicks and stepping master class (Nehe Milner-Skudder has a serious contender for the best kiwi stepper). Final count 35 points, 1 try, 2 try-assists, 7 conversions and two penalty goals. McKenzie has everything to become one of the best players in the World. He just needs to stay on this path and wait for the opportunity to play for the All Blacks. If you have the time, rewatch some of his season plays and understand that the fullback is a master reader, he quickly understands how he can gain attack advantage and how to explore it.
SARGEAL PETERSEN (Cheetahs)
The Free State has provided South Africa with another future prospect for the ‘boks. He came from the Kings, where he played in every youth team as well as in the Super Rugby for the Southern Kings, but after 2013, Petersen decided to go to the Free State, where he became a Cheetah. In 2016, his third Super Rugby season, he scored 9 tries in 15 games. Let’s look a bit closer to his 2016 stats: 921 meters in 90 carries (for each carry the wing conquered 10 meters), 28 clean breaks and 24 defender beaten. In average, he ran 61 meters per game… in comparison with Ruan Combrinck, Petersen ran 10 meters less, however the Lions player only conquered 9 meters in every carry. Petersen had an excellent season, even if the Cheetahs didn’t make it far (irony as it was their best season in point for and against), getting picked for the Emerging Springboks for the first time in his career (2 tries in one game). Sergeal Petersen is a complete winger, as the fast pace and strong stepping skills brings a strong rhythm to every pitch he plays. Will he stay in the Free State? Or will he seek a more ambitious team?
SAMU KEREVI (Reds)
The Aussie Powerhouse, Samu Kerevi has convinced the pundits of his value. At 22 years old, the fijian-born center, played 13 games for the Reds, scoring 5 tries, 4 try-assists and nearly 1km of running with the ball. It was a big year for him, as Michael Cheika was called for the Wallabies to play against England. Playing in the two first games, Kerevi showed a quality as an inside center, grabbing tackles, making runs or assisting Folau. For the Reds, it wasn’t a good year, as they finished as one of the worst teams in Super Rugby. But Kerevi made things a little better. As a tackler he is a strong team player, fetching 70 tackles in 88 possible, which proves his value as a defensive “wall”. Once he has landed the tackle, Kerevi just gets up and tries to go to the line as quickly as possible, making use of his good physique and stamina. For the attack, Kerevi likes to have the ball and makes really good use of it… 185 carries, 30 clean breaks and 62 defenders beaten. If you compare with Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Kerevi wins in every stat with the exertion of try scoring. However, Kerevi has more of a primary role than Rensburg, as he’s a “nuclear” player for the koalas of Queensland. Can Kerevi wait for the new Reds and become one of the best centers in the World? Or staying in Queensland will break his progress and growth?
BLAKE GIBSON (Blues)
Let’s go back to the first game of the Blues against the Highlanders… at a certain point a young, blonde and tall flanker stormed the line, running away from Dan Pryor, breaking Sopoaga tackle and just crashing and leaving on the floor Ben Smith, to finish with a dive for the try-line. Who was that yellow Hulk? Blake Gibson. The Blues n.º7 just ranked the highest tackler for 3 to 4 weeks, before a serious injury tackled him for most of Super Rugby. Played in 9 games, scored one try and made 90 tackles (only failed 10) in his first year as a Super Rugby player. But what we really like in Gibson is his flare, wits and ruthlessness, which grants the Blues a superb player to “destroy” the opposition defense or offense. In the new Blues of Umaga, Gibson is the sort of player that can give a boost to your team, getting in the mix with the backs, trying to participate in the quick moves (like in game 7 against the Chiefs). Everyone remembers Gibson by the first play we talked here, however the play that we like to show as his Identity Card is a superb tackle to Charlie Ngatai, before a try from the team from Hamilton. In a new Era without Richie McCaw, but with the amazing Ardie Savea and the tough Sam Cane, what are the prospects for Blake Gibson?
ROHAN VAN RENSBURG (Lions)
Here comes the Pain, van Rensburg style! The mighty center from the Lions was a total surprise, becoming quickly a fan favorite. Fast, unstoppable, he just broke the line for 18 times but managed to score 10 tries in 17 games. In the final he was one of the best players for the Lions, where he tried to push his team to the try-line, unfortunately it wasn’t enough. So how did he do in his 2nd season in Super Rugby (remember in 2013 that he played for the Blues Bulls)? 10 tries in just 666 meters and a lot of trouble to the opposition. Van Rensburg combines speed with strength, making it very hard to stop him in the close range… if you give him space, he will make a break for it and it will be harder to put an end to his intents. So how can you slow it down or stop it? If you rewatch the game against the Hurricanes, the new-zealanders made an impressive defense line, pressuring Faf de Klerk or Elton Jantjies, restraining the lions backs to have good ball to mount a full scale attack. A strong defender when the team needs him (74% of successful tackling), with a complete set of tackling skills (9 turnovers, one of the best centers in all of the season) that gives him an edge in that Lions team. So, will we see the Rensburg in the Springboks squad? Is there space for a inside center who’s tough, aggressive and relentless in national team?
ANDRE ESTERHUIZEN (Sharks)
One of the best pair of centers in 2016 was Andre Esterhuizen and Paul Jordaan. However, we picked Andre because of his age and exhibitions. He is a different kind of inside center, when we compare to Samu Kerevi for example, much because of the style of rugby that the Sharks play. Esterhuizen shows in his stats 151 tackles (missed 34) and 10 turnovers in 15 games. It wasn’t a great finish for the Sharks, as they lost in the quarter final against the Hurricanes (41-00) but in mid-season the team that heads from Durban won against the Highlanders (11 tackles and 3 turnovers) and Hurricanes (13 tackles and 4 turnovers) where Andre played a massive role. An almost perfect tackler, Andre has the quality to stop/tackle a player and jump back up and steal the ball (legally). A tall back, Esterhuizen can make a difference as a defender but what about with the ball in his hands? Only 22 turnovers conceded, the inside-center scored two tries and ran more than 450 meters (in 91 carries). Remember the Sharks don’t “like” to attack or go for the try as the final stats prove: 360 points (14th in 18 teams), 6338 (12th), 130 clean-breaks (12th) and 40 tries (14th). So it’s difficult to show how good (or not) Esterhuizen is on attack mode… however, try to compare him with Halaholo (Hurricanes), Lienert-Brown (Chiefs) and he wins as a tackler and runner. But can he beat Rensburg? And will he go on to become a serious option for the Springboks roster?
GUIDO PETTI (Jaguares)
The newcomer from Jaguares, Guido Petti has made a serious quest to be recognized as one of the most promising second rows of the World. Only 21 years old, the big Argentinean has tasted his first season of Super Rugby. Of the 9 players we picked as the New Bombs of Super Rugby, Guido was the only one that already went to a World Cup (2015). 15 games for the Pumas, 2 tries, the second row has chosen to stay at “home”, so he can be eligible to play for Argentina. But how was his first year on the strongest club championship on the World? 13 games (all in the first line-up), he completed 60 lineout catches (95% of accuracy), finished with 82% tackle with success (only Matera and Lavanini racked higher), 14 turnovers and 177 meters (91 carries). Contrary to Tomás Lavanini, Petti does not have a role as ball carrier, working more as a support player (strong pacer, strong in the ruck role). The Jaguares year was far from satisfactory, but this allowed Petti to build his reputation as a tackler (78 tackles and 14 turnovers). Aggressive and smart, Guido Petti has all the qualities to be one of the most import players in Argentina. In the scrum and lineouts, he has interesting capabilities but still lacks some skills to hold on against the most complete packs (Crusaders, Chiefs, Lions or Waratahs).