Sanzarrugby.com takes a look at some awards for the 2012 Super Rugby season, with you our fans having the say in some of the prizes handed out for the recently completed campaign courtesy of polls ran on facebook.com/SanzarRugby
Player of the season
40 votes from 77
The 2009 IRB Junior Player of the Year made his All Blacks debut a year later with a fair amount of hype, but this season we have been privileged to watch the 23-year-old come of age, finishing the 2012 Super Rugby season as its highest points scorer with 251, the second highest tally in tournament history, and guiding his team to the title to cap it off.
His organisational game and running genius have never been in doubt, but this year key aspects such as his kicking range, accuracy from the tee and eagerness to get involved in defence has seen the Palmerston North Boys School product grab his chance as Dan Carter’s heir apparent to likely lock in a long All Blacks career.
Rookie of the season
47 total votes from 139
Hurricanes first five-eighth Beauden Barrett was expected to play second fiddle to experienced Samoan international Tusi Pisi, but by the time the Pacific Islander arrived early season, Barrett had already began to lock down the position – the guiding hand behind the most potent try scoring team in the tournament.
Barrett broke Jon Preston’s long standing point’s scoring Hurricanes record with 197, and celebrated status as the third ranked first five-eighth in New Zealand rugby behind Carter and Cruden when called up to the All Blacks during June.
A Ranfurly Shield holder with Taranaki and Junior World Cup winner last year, Barrett made the step up to Super Rugby with consummate ease.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow of the Chiefs was a close second with 42 votes.
Disappointment of the season
Blues and Waratahs
Both franchises were tipped to be title threats before the season began, but in the case of the three-time champions, injuries caused their campaign to haemorrhage, and the early season ending injuries to Jerome Kaino and Isaia Toeava encapsulated that, before the end of the season saw no less than 14 players ruled out via injury.
Pressure might have rocked them all season, but they did finish with three wins from their last six, including a win against the Brumbies in Canberra to destroy the Australian’s season. The late season glimmer wasn’t enough to save coach Pat Lam, who will be replaced by Sir John Kirwan in 2013 Super Rugby.
The Waratahs, as with many years stacked with numerous Wallabies, were a mixed bag mid-season, with four wins and four losses, but two of those had been by a solitary point, whereas if it weren’t for a length of the field Dom Shipperly try, they could have beaten the champions in the season’s opening match.
Yet it seemed an unfortunate case of business as usual for Australia’s biggest rugby state as the year panned out, whose season slumped to their worst in history, setting an unwanted record of eight straight losses to close out 2012.
Surprise of the season
Brumbies and Hurricanes
These teams were thought to be rebuilding, with even the prestige of Jake White not hiding the fact that the Brumbies had lost huge experience from last season, while the Hurricanes community still was reeling from the departure of Hosea Gear, Aaron Cruden, Piri Weepu, Ma’a Nonu and Andrew Hore – the latter two told by coach Mark Hammett they wouldn’t have 2012 contracts.
Hammett’s alleged clean out, according to some, had many doubters proclaiming the former hooker a maestro by season’s end, with the Hurricanes well on top as the best try scoring and offensive team, scoring a tournament high eight four-try bonus points, while their ten wins had them just one competition point out of a Super Rugby Finals Series berth.
The Brumbies were the leading Australian Conference team for much of the season, showing a polish and precision to their play that spoke not only of White’s influence, but that of Brumbies regulars including Laurie Fisher, Stephen Larkham and George Gregan.
Ten wins and a remarkable five straight victories on the road had them on the verge of knockout action and the Australian Conference trophy – before the Blues tripped them up at the final hurdle.
Attacking team of the season
58 tries, eight four-try bonus points, while they had Andre Taylor head the try scoring charts, notching ten along with the Bulls Bjorn Basson – but Julian Savea (nine), TJ Perenara (seven) and Conrad Smith (seven) also featured in the top fifteen try scorers.
And this came despite half of their wins coming against opposition that boasted statistical dominance, truly a team that could score from anywhere despite minimal possession.
Expect the unexpected was a catchcry in early years, but again this moniker seemed well suited to the dangerous Canes.
Defensive team of the season
For the last three seasons the Stormers have been close to the perfect defensive team, with only the Waratahs efforts (252 points conceded versus the Stormers 257) in 2011 stopping what would have been a three year top rating clean sheet for both points and tries conceded.
Not only was their defence a remarkable nine tries better than the second most efficient team (the championship winning Chiefs), but the Stormers have let in just 56 tries in their last 45 regular season fixtures.
Most over-talked about aspect of Super Rugby
Alleged Australian Conference weakness
The competitiveness of the Australian Conference ensured that it was the only nation that still hadn’t decided their champion until all of their matches had been played out.
There was talk that the ‘weakest’ Conference had an unfair advantage with an automatic home final, as per the right of a Conference champion, but the Reds were only one competition point behind the Sharks and Bulls, and were only behind the Crusaders on virtue of bonus points.
The Brumbies had a 50 percent winning record against NZ and SA teams (four wins from eight), while the Reds claimed three wins from four matches against Kiwi sides, but interestingly lost four of five against franchises from the Republic.
With Australia having two of the three most recently admitted Super Rugby franchises, it might seem at times as if the more established New Zealand and South African teams have the advantage – but this alleged fallible group did provide us with our champion last season.
Stock rise of the season
A Super Rugby record 589 tries were scored over the regular season, along with 5,879 points for an average of 49 a match (shy of the 52.2 mark set in 2010).
Tries scored per match clocked in at 4.91, short of the all-time record but still tracking around the five try per game mark set since 2008.
All in all this was quite the bonus, especially considering we had a record 121 bonus points handed out over the 120 regular season matches!
The biggest revolving door of the season
One couldn’t help but feel for the Force, who lost their most celebrated back in James O’Connor last year, before their marquee international signing Willie Ripia rocked their campaign before the 2012 season even began, being kicked off their roster for alleged theft.
This was backed by the mid-season announcement that coach Richard Graham had signed with the Reds, leading to the appointment of a caretaker coaching team, while arguably their most important forward in David Pocock defected to the Brumbies, their inaugural captain Nathan Sharpe has played his last season, while the man who presided over the Waratahs worst run of defeats in history – Michael Foley – is now their Director of Coaching.
Interesting times in Perth.
Team of the year
Super Rugby Champions, franchise records of most home wins, best home streak, best season winning streak, most points and tries scored, as well as the most prestigous prize of having their number ten Aaron Cruden win our Player of the Season award.
The likely candidate for the 2013 Super Rugby championship
19 from 89 votes
While the Chiefs are close in this category with 17 votes, only the Blues, Crusaders and Bulls have managed to defend a Super Rugby championship – and the fact that the seven-time champions are the only team to do this more than once, means that even a year out many believe they can again threaten.
Reaching their eleventh straight Super Rugby Finals Series this year, and remarkable fourteenth overall, and if it wasn’t for a couple of early season trip ups to the Chiefs and Highlanders, and their shock loss to the Rebels, then the Crusaders could have potentially wrapped up the New Zealand Conference.
The last team to defeat the champions, there were plenty of questions asked about the Crusaders after their return defeat in the semi-final, but one suspects that the disappointment on the faces of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and others after the match might make the red and blacks the team to watch in 12 months’ time.