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Champions Matatu dominate the form XV from Super Rugby Aupiki

By Adam Julian
The winning Matatu team during the Super Rugby Aupiki Final match between Matatu and Chiefs Manawa at FMG Stadium, on March 25, 2023, in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Super Rugby Aupiki 2023 concluded in dramatic fashion when Matatu upset the previously unbeaten Chiefs Manawa 33-31 in the final in Hamilton. The hosts led 19-0 in many minutes but were overhauled by the brave, cunning, and clinical visitors.

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Much like the World Cup final between the Black Ferns and England, Chiefs Manawa boasted a powerful maul and used that weapon to regain the lead but the boot of Renee Holmes and some wobbles off the tee by Manawa close to full-time was enough for the Southerns to cause a boilover.

In a short competition, it was important to hit the ground running. Many players did, making a form XV a compelling exercise. Who would make your team?

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15. Renee Holmes (Matatu)

Finished the competition as the leading points scorer with 59, including a haul of 23 in the final where she was outstanding scoring two tries. Holmes is potent on the counterattack and ran for the fourth most meters in the competition. She can kick goals from beyond 40 meters out. Appears likely to become a long-term Black Fern.

14. Mererangi Paul (Chiefs Manawa)

Played first-five for Counties Manukau in the Farah Palmer Cup (FPC) after a professional netball career with the Northern Mystics. Made an impressive conversion to wing scoring five tries and showing plenty of appetite for work. Cheyelle Robins-Reti (Matatu), Jaymie Kolose (Blues), Katelyn Vaha’akolo (Blues), and Autumn-Rain Stephens-Daly (Hurricanes Poua) were among the other wingers to shine. There were 96 tries scored an Aupiki, an average of nearly ten a game.

13. Amy Du Plessis (Matatu)

Produced moments of real quality in the final which were crucial in swinging the momentum back towards Matatu. A rock-solid defender her combination with Grace Brooker became the strongest in the competition. Brooker, who spent 15 months injured, got better with each game and has a strong chance of regaining her Black Ferns jersey.

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12. Sylvia Brunt (Blues)

Black Ferns Director of Rugby Wayne Smith said after Brunt scored two tries for the Black Ferns against Wales at the World Cup, “She’s going to be very special. She’s one New Zealand Rugby is going to have to treasure and look after.” Brunt continued to enhance her reputation with a series of strong performances for the Blues. She was in the top ten for carries, metres gained, defenders beat, and offloads.

11. Georgia Daals (Chiefs Manawa)

The diminutive flyer scored five tries and was lethal in space. She was among the top 15 for the most metres run. With several years of professional experience in Japan, she was a most worthy asset for the Chiefs.

10. Hazel Tubic (Chiefs Manawa) 

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Been one of the most consistent players in New Zealand for a decade with her educated kicking still a major asset. Rosie Kelly of Matatu produced moments of real quality and could be a Black Fern in the future.

9. Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu (Chiefs Manawa)

Consistent performances guiding a mostly rampant Chiefs pack. Scored a well-taken try in the final, leads well, and distributes accurately and quickly. Will likely add to her two test starts as there is no obvious heir apparent to Kendra Cocksedge.

8. Liana Mikaele-Tu’u (Blues)

A thumb injury tragically prevented Mikaele-Tu’u from starting the World Cup final for the Black Ferns against England in November. She vented her frustration in Aupiki with a series of storming performances. She made more carries (61) than any other player and was in the Top 15 for metres gained and tackles.

7. Kendra Reynolds (Matatu)

A real workhorse who showed the benefit of her experience with abrasive, busy displays. Scored three tries, two of them cracking individual efforts against the Blues. She made 60 tackles which ranked her fifth. Chiefs Manawa and Black Ferns co-captain Kennedy Simon can play across the back row and looked sharp upon her return from injury.

6. Lucy Jenkins (Matatu)

The Tom Christie of women’s rugby. The flanker was the top tackler in the Farah Palmer Cup and second with 71 in games in Aupiki. A menace at the breakdown, Jenkins is also powerful with the ball in hand. A Black Fern in waiting?

5. Cindy Nelles (Matatu)

The Canadian international had an outstanding campaign following a rotten run of injuries which left her out for the best part of a year. She was exceptional in the final winning several key turnovers and was harshly penalised at the last ruck. She was one the most prolific tackler in the tourney with 73 and her lineout and kick-off work was efficient.

4. Jonah Ngan-Woo (Hurricanes Poua)

Was exceptional in a pack that often struggled. She secured more lineouts (29) than any player and was among the top ten tacklers and carriers. She scored tires and showcased the form which saw her feature in all 12 Black Ferns test wins in 2022.

3. Tanya Kalounivale (Chiefs Manawa)

Her first 20 minutes of the final where she scored two tries and was damaging in the scrum was a real showcase of her serious potential. Was powerful throughout Aupiki but will have to watch a tendency to give away penalties in general play. Amy Rule of Matatu played a brilliant final and scored a try as she did in the World Cup final.

2. Luka Connor (Chiefs Manawa)

Scored a competition-leading seven tries utilizing the Chiefs maul with good effect. Was the most accurate lineout thrower and is always busy and aggressive around the field.

1. Kate Henwood (Chiefs Manawa)

The former flanker and lock from the Bay of Plenty wasn’t flashy but very solid for the Chiefs who had the most dominant scrum in the competition. Henwood was good enough to keep Black Fern Awhina Tangen-Wainohu out of the starting XV. Black Ferns veteran Pip Love was close to her best for Matatu in the final. World Cup hero Krystal Murray had her moments for Hurricanes Poua.

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