What have Super Rugby’s three new teams contributed to the competition, both on and off the pitch, in their first season? Jamie Wall takes a look.
Three expansion teams were added to the Super Rugby competition this year – the Tokyo-based Sunwolves, the Buenos Aires-based Jaguares and South Africa’s Southern Kings. All three teams’ seasons came to an end last weekend, all with fairly horrible debut records.
Let’s have a look at the fleeting highs and glut of crushing lows that have been the newbies’ 2016 seasons.
Record: Won 4, Lost 11
Final table placing: 13th
Wasn’t this basically the same team that made the semi finals of last years’ World Cup? They certainly started like it, running the ball from everywhere in a first up win over the Cheetahs. But then the weird decision to leave all their good players at home for the trip to New Zealand effectively tanked their season. An embarrassing loss to the Sunwolves in Tokyo exposed the team everyone had tipped as dark horses to win the comp as a bunch of pretenders.
Player of the season: Tomas Lavanini brought back some much-needed thuggery to the competition. Despite getting himself suspended twice for foul play, the big lock pulled off one of the (legal) hits of the season.
On-field highlight: Their 26-30 loss to the Chiefs in Round 4 was such a good performance it could probably be used as evidence in a case of false advertising.
Off-field highlight: Where to start? Laser light shows while the ball was in play? Inflatable dogs? A mascot on a zip line shooting fireworks? Crotch-grabbing as an acceptable show of appreciation for a try? Welcome to Estadio Jose Amalfitani, where I’d be quite happy for all Super Rugby to be played.
Record: Won 2, Lost 13
Final table placing: 17th
The Kings’ money woes had them cutting corners all over the place, including seemingly basing their jersey design on a the winning entry of kids’ colouring-in competition. The Port Elizabeth based team’s woes carried over onto the field, where they gave up 50+ scores six times during the season. Having to play in the cavernous Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium didn’t help either, given that their home crowds were usually just the players’ parents and friends.
Player of the year: Edgar Marutlulle was a bright spot, managing to become the team’s equal top tryscorer despite playing at hooker.
On-field highlight: The Round 12 victory over Los Jaguares was notable because it turned around a 50 point loss to the same side just four weeks before.
Record: Won 1, Drew 1, Lost 13
Final table placing: 18th
The team with the coolest name in rugby history started the season on the back foot, with barely enough players to field a team and having to employ one of the least successful coaches in Super Rugby history. They were expected to come in last, and duly delivered on expectations, but the Sunwolves have managed to achieve far more of a cult following than any other expansion side. Check out their very polite Twitter account, which had the good grace to incorporate other teams’ official hashtags.
Player of the year: Winger Akihito Yamada was incredibly productive in a team that was getting pantsed most weeks, notching up 10 tries.
On-field highlight: Without a doubt their Round 7 win over Los Jaguares in Tokyo.
Off-field highlight: The Sunwolves’ mascot is one of the greatest things that has ever happened to Super Rugby.
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