Please note that the following team is selected based on fan polls, wider opinion, actual statistical analysis, with the suggestion of a player or two!
This is not an official SANZAR selection. So without further adieu, here is our team of the 2012 Super Rugby season.
15 – Andre Taylor (Hurricanes)
Beginning his early rugby career with Manawatu, Taylor is a product of the New Zealand system, winning a Junior World Cup, before linking up with Taranaki to help the North Island union win the Ranfurly Shield last year.
His season equalling ten tries were part of the most devastating attacking outfit in Super Rugby, with the Hurricanes notching a competition leading 58 tries, and Taylor was at the thick of it all the time, impressive not just for crossing the line, but acting as brilliant support to other strike runners from the capital.
14 – Henry Speight (Brumbies)
Speight will be well known to Waikato fans with some seasons in Hamilton, and the Fijian born wing had to beat off some impressive competition from the South African wing men, with Willie Roux and JP Pietersen having strong campaigns.
But Speight was the livewire attacking blade on the end of a remarkable Brumbies resurgence, which might have seemed to be from the structure and control from coach Jake White, but with eight tries was one of the danger men out wide in the competition.
13 – Conrad Smith (Hurricanes)
Faced with stiff competition in his own backyard from Robbie Fruean and Richard Kahui, the tapering off of form of the former, and the injury of the latter, was matched by a dramatic upward curve of form as Smith relished wearing the Hurricanes armband.
At first it seemed as if the All Blacks centre would be a reluctant captain, but despite leading a team that rarely had statistical advantage, Smith was the intelligent glue that held together a young Hurricanes backline and team.
Second five-eighth / Inside centre
12 – Sonny Bill Williams (Chiefs)
Finished the season as one of the darlings of the competition, part of a stunning Chiefs revival that led to a maiden title, while defying his critics with new dimensions to his offloading genius, still leading that chart at season’s end – but impressing with more tricks on attack while becoming a frightening defensive foil.
While Jean de Villiers was impressive with his leadership with the Stormers, and Mike Harris had some impressive moments with the Reds, Sonny Bill – despite signing with Japanese rugby – will feature for the All Blacks after being rated as the former 12 of Super Rugby by All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.
11 – Bjorn Basson (Bulls)
Big Julian Savea was close to being the best left outside man this season, but the only man (outside of his team-mate Taylor) to beat him in the season try scoring stakes was the Bulls wing, who has thrived in Pretoria since switching from the Cheetahs.
With ten tries to equal the top try scorer of the year, Basson, also the Currie Cup’s record holder for most five-pointers in a season (with 21) was part of a Bulls revival that had him selected as South Africa’s starting wing during June.
First five-eighth / flyhalf
10 – Aaron Cruden (Chiefs)
There was some surprise a year ago when Cruden was not considered for the New Zealand Rugby World Cup squad, before an injury to Colin Slade opened the door for the Chiefs playmaker, and his maturity over this time has him now threatening Dan Carter as the All Blacks starting first five-eighth.
No longer the diminutive understudy, Cruden took matches by the scruff of the neck this season, finished with 251 points to lead the competition, and looked the complete player, brave in defence, sparkling on attack, and well capable of operating the dangerous Chiefs back division.
Scrumhalf / Halfback
9 – Will Genia (Reds)
Anyone of New Zealand’s young halfbacks in Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Aaron Smith or TJ Perenara could have figured in this category, as could the Stormers livewire Dewaldt Duvenage, but the Queensland maestro was able to again win matches through his individual brilliance.
Had questions asked of him early in the season, but was instrumental in the Reds late season revival, winning four man-of-the-match awards and winning Queensland’s best rugby player for the second straight campaign.
8 – Kieran Read
Cruelly injury disrupted the back end of his Super Rugby season, but when playing, even with lingering ill effects, he was a colossus from the back of the scrum, leading Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder to label him the most influential player in the world – even while Richie McCaw was playing!
Read has become arguably the world’s leading eightman with his consistency, although Scott Higginbotham was the Reds aggressor, while Pierre Spies was part of a Bulls pack that had a solid season.
7 – David Pocock (Force)
McCaw started the season late and featured at eight, while Sam Cane wasn’t a guaranteed starter, while the barnstorming Marcell Coetzee was a constant menace, he didn’t have that momentum shift magic touch that if often the province of a pure fetcher.
Once again Pocock was immense, putting in match high figures with every performance, and evolving this season into a player that teams deliberate and heavily plan to counter. Rated by Wallabies coach Robbie Deans as the most “fantastic” player he had ever seen, and received the test captaincy in the process.
6 – Liam Messam (Chiefs)
This award could have gone to Sharks skipper Keegan Daniel, although the Dale College product didn’t win a Super Rugby title like the Chiefs flanker, who capped off his season with an All Blacks recall.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and Chiefs coach Dave Rennie summed Messam up saying his increased physicality and attitude on attack and defence was obvious, while the now most capped Chiefs player of all time gained man-of-the-match honours in the Super Rugby Final.
5 – Nathan Sharpe (Force)
Boom All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick might have been the find in New Zealand, but in Australia a workhorse notched up 150 Super Rugby matches, and still was one of the best performed second rowers in the tournament.
Part of an underrated Force pack alongside David Pocock, it didn’t come as a surprise to many when Wallabies coach Robbie Deans asked the 34-year-old to postpone his retirement to play during The Rugby championship.
4 – Eben Etzebeth (Stormers)
In a year where South African rugby were wondering who would replace two men (Victor and Bakkies), a young Western Province giant, standing over 2m and well beyond 120kg, continued Super Rugby’s trend of Under-20 superstars making successful transitions.
Etzebeth was part of the abrasive Stormers pack that was the frontline of their remarkable defence, while his performances, arguably outshining fellow giant Andries Bekker, earned him Springbok rewards during June.
3 – Owen Franks (Crusaders)
Brok Harris and Ben Tameifuna were goliaths on the corner of their respective front rows, but when push came to shove, it was 24-year-old Owen who ruled, anchoring a Crusaders pack that was possibly the strongest scrum in the competition.
Already well past a half century of Super Rugby caps, with more than 30 test appearances and incumbency in the All Blacks number three jersey, Franks is a proud Canterbury product that has made the glaring whole left by Carl Hayman in New Zealand rugby seem rather easily filled.
2 – Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks)
One thing notable throughout Super Rugby is that the competition has plenty of quality hookers, with the test incumbents – Andrew Hore and Stephen Moore notably – thriving, but it was Bismarck du Plessis who impressed the most, in his first season without the shadow of John Smit.
Du Plessis was not only part of a powerful Sharks scrum and lineout, but was also one of the most effective forwards in the competition in loose play, amazingly effective on the turnover while relishing attacking the line with ball in hand.
1 – Sona Taumalolo (Chiefs)
The try scoring machine, just one short of the leaderboard leaders on nine, became a cult hero and the eagerly grinning face of a resurgent Chiefs pack that was the match of any in the competition.
Perhaps the most devastating try scorer from a metre out, his season comes after some years impressing with Hawke’s Bay, which earned him a Rugby World Cup callup for Tonga. Will be sadly missed by the Waikato faithful as he heads to Perpignan in France.