Super Rugby: XV of 2013
It's that time of the year: After much debate and dummy-spitting at SARugby.com HQ, we've selected our best XV of the 2013 Super Rugby season.
We're sure you won't agree on all the choices, so we invite you to name your team in the space below. Let the debate begin...
SARugby.com Super Rugby XV of 2013:
15 Ben Smith (Highlanders): Superb from round 1 to 16. Smith made the most metres in the competition while he was second in the defenders beaten tally as his form was excellent despite his team's poor campaign. Rightly rewarded with All Black starts in June and should get a lot more in the Rugby Championship. Mentions for Israel Folau and Charles Piutau who both enjoyed outstanding debut seasons in Super Rugby.
Bubbling under: Israel Folau
14 Henry Speight (Brumbies): Like last season, Speight picked up eight tries. Unfortunately for the Brumbies he didn't cross during the knockout stages as the team eventually fell at the last hurdle. Deadly coming off his wing in midfield while he also finished well out wide. Set for Wallaby honours very soon.
Bubbling under: Willie le Roux
13 Rene Ranger (Blues): Took on a leadership role at a young Blues outfit this season and flourished. Right up there as always with his line-breaking and metres, this barnstorming centre will be sorely missed in Auckland next season as he jets off to Montpellier. A mention for Tim Nanai-Williams' early form.
Bubbling under: Tim Nanai-Williams
12 Christian Lealiifano (Brumbies) - Enjoyed a full campaign after a knee injury had curtailed his 2012 and proved that he is a class act. Solid in defence alongside Matt Toomua, Lealiifano kicked and ran well for the Brumbies and finished the season in second place for points. At 25, is very much still in the infancy of his rugby career, with his international exploits in the second Test (let's face it, his debut) showing he has a cool head in pressure situations.
Bubbling under: Robert Ebersohn
11 Frank Halai (Blues) - Ten tries for the wing as the likes of Francis Saili and Piutau joined Halai in turning things around at Eden Park. The 25-year-old former Sevens player was rewarded with an international call-up and although he didn't feature against France, his Super Rugby form emphatically showed that he has made the step up to fifteens. A mention for another player who shone despite his outfit finishing in the bottom half goes to Highlander Hosea Gear.
Bubbling under: Hosea Gear
10 Aaron Cruden (Chiefs): If last year was the season when Cruden finally took the step up to become a world-class 10, in 2013 he confirmed his status as the true heir to Dan Carter's throne. Accurate with the boot and, as the Kiwi fashion dictates, decisive and inspirational with ball in hand, Cruden was a key component in the Chiefs producing some phenomenal attack stats. A mention too for Morne Steyn, who was the tournament's top points scorer.
Bubbling under: Morne Steyn
9 Nic White (Brumbies): Another tough call. White's kicking game was crucial in the Brumbies gameplan and his absence was sorely missed when he wasn't in the starting XV. A mention for Cheetahs livewire Piet van Zyl, who could well make his Springbok debut during the Boks' overseas leg of the Rugby Championship.
Bubbling under: Piet van Zyl
8 Ben Mowen (Brumbies): An inspirational figure on the way to the Brumbies' first final since 2004, Mowen has been right at the heart of Jake White's revolution in Canberra since it began two years ago. Unwanted by the Waratahs, Mowen has developed not just into a great back-row but an outstanding captain of a young side. Yes, he may have conceded a lot of penalties, but nobody made more line-out takes. Credit to Philip van Der Walt for an industrious year in which he made more carries than any other forward.
Bubbling under: Philip van Der Walt
7 Matt Todd (Crusaders) - After much deliberation, Todd got the nod at openside ahead of Deon Fourie, whose late-season surge in form could not help but be noticed. Playing out of position from his usual hooking spot, Fourie never stopped working for the Stormers. Todd gets our number seven jersey though as he stepped up in the absence of Richie McCaw and had an excellent year. A powerful unit who got through 241 tackles, the second most in the comp.
Bubbling under: Deon Fourie.
6 Liam Messam (Chiefs): Possibly the best player in this entire side. Messam was at it again in 2013 with the Chiefs, producing the spectacular and making a massive impact on the final both with the ball in hand and also in defence. 15 tackles in the final typified his work-rate. He beats out an impressive list of candidates including the tournament's top tackler in Lappies Labuschagne, Peter Kimlin, Brad Shields and Wimpie Van Der Walt.
Bubbling under: Lappies Labuschagne.
5 Sam Whitelock (Crusaders): The giant All Black already has 41 caps at 24 years old - putting him on course, fitness permitting, for a century of Test appearances and a world-class career. Whitelock has backed up his class for the Crusaders throughout this season, providing leadership in the pack and acting as an imposing force at the ruck given his 6ft 8" frame.
Bubbling under: Brodie Retallick
4 Craig Clarke (Chiefs): Messam's co-captain is moving on to pastures new and a three-year contract with Connacht in Ireland, but he'll be travelling with two Super Rugby medals in his pocket. In many sense the timing of Clarke's move couldn't be worse for his international ambitions, because he has been playing his best rugby. For the normally reserved Dave Rennie to admit that he would "miss [Clarke] heaps" speaks volumes of his efforts this year.
Bubbling under: Jeremy Thrush
3 Ben Tameifuna (Chiefs): "Big Ben" instantly became a fan favourite for his try-scoring antics this season, racking up six scores and the longer the season went on making more of an impact in key matches. Not exactly difficult to miss at 134kgs, he has also proved to be an excellent scrummager capable of holding his, uh, weight. Worth his place for the photos of him celebrating alone.
Bubbling under: Ben Afeaki
2 Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs): For a change, we had a unanimous decision. The Cheetahs skipper was outstanding from day one right up until that oh-so-close play-off in Canberra. Beyond being an outstanding ball carrier and line-out thrower, as the captain Strauss played a big role in changing the Cheetahs from gallant losers into a team that believed they could win every game. The incumbent Springbok hooker has given the national selectors plenty to think about and Bismark du Plessis might find himself with a tough battle to get into the green and gold starting line-up.
Bubbling under:(Stephen Moore)
1 Wyatt Crockett: (Crusaders: A regular inclusion in our team of week selections over the past six months, Crockett was key member of the Crusaders pack that was in dominant form in the second half of the competition. A shoo-in for the All Blacks loosehead berth before a knee injury ruled him out of action for six weeks, his offload to set up Tom Marshall's try against the Reds in the play-offs would have made any centre proud!
Bubbling under:(Ben Franks)