IT’S THAT time of the year again. Yes, the time for highlighting the good, the bad, and the downright ugly from Super Rugby XVI.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Quade Cooper (Reds)
OKAY, SO he will have his detractors on account of the fact special efforts have to be made on defence when he is on the field, but there is no more exciting player in Super Rugby – maybe even on the face of the earth – than the Tokoroa-born Queensland pivot.
Like his friend Sonny Bill Williams (the pair share the same manager), Cooper plays the game as he sees it – for better or worse. His gambling style can be dangerous, but when it comes off – which, crucially, it does more often than not now – boy, is it a sight to behold.
Of course, Cooper wouldn’t be the player he is without his partner in crime, the ever-reliable Will Genia.
Other standouts include Sharks loose forward Willem Alberts, who barely put a foot wrong all season, Highlanders flanker Adam Thomson, and the always-entertaining Cheetahs prop Coenie Oosthuizen.
The Brumbies’ Matt Giteau performed at a high level each and every week – even when most of his teammates weren’t showing up.
TEAM OF THE YEAR
TODD BLACKADDER'S mob could have finished last on the log this year and they still would have won this award.
To play out the season after the catastrophic events of February 22, when a magnitude 6.3 earthquake brought the city of Christchurch to its knees, is one thing, but to keep playing while quakes continue to strike with alarming regularity is a different story altogether.
If anything, the quake unified the team, with the Crusaders pulling together for the people of Christchurch both on the road and at their new home venues in Nelson, Timaru, London, Napier and Wellington.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Todd Blackadder (Crusaders)
EWEN McKENZIE – the Australian Super Rugby coach of the year – had his side playing better rugby, but he would be the first to admit that Blackadder has his name written all over this award.
The Crusaders coach has stood alongside the likes of mayor Bob Parker as a beacon of hope for people of earthquake-stricken Christchurch.
FINDS OF THE YEAR
Matt Todd (Crusaders) / Liam Gill (Reds) / Elton Jantjies (Lions)
WHILE IT could be argued that John Mitchell’s persistence with the latter was admirable, Jantjies showed enough in his debut Super Rugby season to suggest he could be a force on the international stage in years to come.
Todd and Gill are everything you could want and more in young openside flankers. The hard-nosed breakdown specialists will also see their share of test experience in future years.
DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR
Colin Slade’s broken jaws
Just imagine how much better the Highlanders could have been with a fully fit Colin Slade pulling the strings in the No 10 jersey.
Rookie Lima Sopoaga and veteran Tony Brown did admirable jobs for the gallant ’Landers in Slade’s absence, but neither displayed the kind of form that would guide the Dunedin-based side into the playoffs.
TRY OF THE YEAR
Cameron Shepherd (Force v Crusaders, Perth, Round 11)
IT’S HARD to go past Shepherd’s effort at nib Stadium when you consider the calibre of players that were beaten on the way to the tryline.
Off a turnover just outside their 22m, David Smith shrugged off Wyatt Crockett and then took off up-field, before unloading an inch-perfect, no-look pass to James O’Connor as he got smashed in a sandwich tackle.
O’Connor hared up the sideline, stepping inside Matt Berquist and then offloaded to Nathan Charles as Sonny Bill Williams took him out with an illegal shoulder charge.
Charles performed a full pirouette as he took the pass flat-footed, and then sent the ball wide to Willie Ripia, who in turn flicked it on to Shepherd to score under the posts.
Absolutely stirring stuff.
VILLAIN OF THE YEAR
Phil Waugh (Waratahs)
THERE’S A good reason why this classic Aussie battler is regarded as the most disliked man in Australian rugby.
While we’ve all admired Waugh’s fighting spirit over the course of his long career, there won’t be too many tears shed when the ’Tahs run out without the cantankerous 79-cap Wallaby in the No 7 jersey in 2012.
His petulant cheap shot on Lachie Munro in the minor semifinal at Eden Park ensured Waugh finished his once-proud career on an entirely fitting note.
CONTROVERSY OF THE YEAR
A LATE call on this one, but the Stormers take the cake for somehow being able to bend the rules to rush Schalk Brits – the English Premiership Players’ Player of the Year – into their 22 for the major semifinal against the Crusaders.
Meanwhile, Caleb Ralph is deemed ineligible for the Reds, despite having played for them earlier in the round-robin stage. Ridiculous.
REFEREE OF THE YEAR
Craig Joubert (South Africa)
NEW ZEALAND'S Bryce Lawrence was among the frontrunners for this award before his below-par effort (which included awarding a controversial penalty prior to a scrum engagement) in the Crusaders v Sharks minor semifinal in Nelson.
Joubert, a former regular on the IRB World Sevens Series, continues to blossom as a ref, moving steadily toward the top of the international pile after finally banishing the tag of South Africa’s most promising ref last year.« Back to Articles
With the series level, expect both teams to put it all on the line as they seek to win the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday night.