Throughout the Super Rugby regular season, Nigel Yalden was charged with selecting the NZ Form Team of the Week and let it be known that many biscuits and copious amount of coffee were consumed in the process.
So before we enter the realm of playoff rugby later tonight, we got Radio Sport's Rugby Editor to stock up on Gingernuts, fire up the peculator and collate the New Zealand Form Team of Super Rugby 2017.
The side is made up of the players with the most Team of the Week selections in each position. In positions where two or more players had the same number of selections, Mr Yalden had the final call.
NB – the number beside the players franchise indicates the amount of Team of the Week selections; SC = selectors choice
- Joe Moody (Crusaders – 3 SC) has been one of the two rocks (Owen Franks being the other) around which the Crusaders pack has built its dominance at scrum time. In addition to the scrummaging, Moody’s been excellent in the other keys areas of his role – lineout lifting, cleaning out, and defending – while his ball skills in general play continue to improve year on year.
** Kane Hames (Chiefs), Pauliasi Manu (Blues), Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders) also had 3 selections **
- Even though they are in different franchises in different islands, Codie Taylor (Crusaders – 6) has stepped up his game during the injury enforced absence of Dane Coles, playing some superb and consistent rugby. The improvement in Taylor’s game is going to challenge Coles to get better and that is a rather exciting prospect don’t you think?
- As stated numerous times through these weekly musings, Charlie Faumuina (Blues – 5) is one of the most complete rugby players on the planet; a delightful mix of strength, agility, toughness, skill, intelligence and facial hair.
- Brodie Retallick (Chiefs – 7) is a 2.04 metre, 121 kilogram weapon of a rugby player. Every game without fail, he is one of, if not the best player on the park. His thirst for work is matched by the quality of that endeavour and an unrelenting drive to get better each day - Forward of the Season
- Sam Whitelock’s (Crusaders – 6) game has flourished as captain. His calm, controlled manner was a key element in the trio of early season comeback wins for the “Cardiac Crusaders” for which developed into a 14 game winning run. And all the while, Whitelock has been playing at a level akin to that of his previously mentioned All Blacks locking partner - Captain of the Season
- Got to admit, I was a little surprised to see Liam Messam’s (Chiefs – 4) name come out on top when the numbers were tallied at blindside, but at the same time I wasn’t. Messam has been what he’s always been in Super Rugby; tough, abrasive, athletic, skilled and ready to battle from first whistle to last.
Special Mention: Brad Shields (Hurricanes) has flittered between blindside and number eight, earning two votes in each position. Whilst individually not enough to claim either spot, his performances have been top drawer throughout the season and is a player who was always in the mix when selecting the team of the week.
- Matt Todd (Crusaders – 4 SC) just keeps on keeping on. He’s turns up every week; putting in tireless, accurate, robust efforts at the coal face without fuss or fanfare or All Blacks selection (his omission from the initial squad in June still baffles me)
** Blake Gibson (Blues) also had 4 selections **
- Just like Brad Shields, Luke Whitelock (Highlanders – 3) is always in the conversation for team of the week (yes I converse with myself like all good Gemini’s do) He’s not spectacular by any stretch, but his accuracy, physicality and fitness means he’s in the mixer for the whole eighty minutes. While the defence stands out, his effectiveness with ball in hand has been improved this year and his captaincy, like that of his older brother at the Crusaders, is unflustered and measured.
- It took a while, but eventually Aaron Smith (Highlanders – 4 SC) got back to his sweet passing, accurate kicking and (judiciously) sniping best. It was a tough choice between the three All Black incumbents which served to remind me of the excellent talent available to the All Blacks selectors in this position and to the level of play TKB’s replacement is going to have to rise up to in the Black jersey.
** TJ Perenara (Hurricanes) & Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Chiefs) also had 4 selections **
- Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes – 5) hasn’t produced as many “wow” moments like he did last year in Super Rugby, but has used the fear of those moments of brilliance as a way to manipulate opposition defences to the advantage of his team. He has not been burdened by the title of reigning World Rugby Player of the Year, though let’s be honest, not much seems to faze the man.
- James Lowe (Chiefs – 6) plays with an audaciousness that is infectious but belies his obvious rugby nous. Lowe puts himself in good spots around the field, kicks with distance and accuracy and can go when he gets the green light (which is often). Dear Leinster fans, you’re going to enjoy this bloke a whole lot during his time in Dublin.
- What’s cool about Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes – 4) is that he is only going to improve even more under the tutelage of the All Blacks coach. He has been a tour de force in the Hurricanes midfield but there is some lovely subtleties to his game that are going to serve him, and the teams he plays for, very, very well in the future.
- It is no wonder Jack Goodhue (Crusaders – 4) was called into the All Blacks as injury cover for the Lions series. He’s got an all-round skill set that will only get better with time but has proven to have a wonderful game awareness that sees him more often than not make the right decision at the right time; very interested to see how he goes in extra intensity of playoff rugby.
- Waisake Naholo (Highlanders – 6) missed a large chunk of the first half of the season through injury, but just dominated the right wing spot over the second half. He’ll run round you, he’ll run through you, he’ll run over the top of you if needs be and is a menace at the breakdown in the wide channels
Special Mention(s): Matt Duffie (Blues) high level of play was only bettered by his consistency while Seta Tamanivalu’s (Crusaders) move to the south and then the wing have both been fully justified
- Damian McKenzie (Chiefs – 4) is so much fun to watch when he plays rugby, it’s impossible to not edge slightly forward in your seat when “Big Jim” has ball in hand. But not only is he fun, he’s effective. He led the regular season stats in carries (210), metres gained (1514 metres) and defenders beaten (72); McKenzie is 3rd equal in line breaks (30) and 4th equal in offloads (25) making him a worthy recipient of the Russell Westbrook Stat Line of the Season award.
Selection criteria - Must play for a NZ franchise but doesn’t have to be eligible for All Blacks
** Statistics via the NZ Herald Stat Centre **
NIGEL YALDEN IS THE RUGBY EDITOR FOR RADIO SPORT & NEWSTALK ZB