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Super Rugby Aupiki Form XV - players who stood out in 2024

By Adam Julian
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - APRIL 13: Katelyn Vahaakolo of the Blues scores a try during the Super Rugby Aupiki Final between the Blues and the Chiefs Manawa at Eden Park on April 13, 2024 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Super Rugby Aupki concluded in almost surreal circumstances at Eden Park on Saturday. Amid a storm, the Blues rallied from an improbable 18-5 deficit to foil a resolute Manawa 24-18.

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The quality and competitiveness of rugby has lifted significantly from 2023. Who makes a Form XV in 2024?

15. Patricia Maliepo (Blues) – Unhampered by the foot injury that ruined much of her 2023, Maliepo flourished on attack ranking sixth in carries (66), fifth in metres gained (364), and second in offloads (nine). It was her defence in the final that wrote headlines. She saved a certain try with a desperate jersey pull on Reese Anderson. With the championship on the line, Maliepo chased a long kick to smash Chelsea Semple to set the stage for the Blues winning thrust.

14. Katelyn Vahaakolo (Blues) – With eight tries in six matches, including two in the final, Vahaakolo finished Aupiki as the leading try scorer. Vahaakolo scored a breathtaking hat-trick against Poua in Round 3 and her try from halfway against Matatu happened against the run of play. She gained the most metres running (701) and tied for most defenders beaten (41) and clean breaks (16). Eight offloads proved she could be selfless too.

13. Amy du Plessis (Matatu) – The incumbent Black Ferns centre was consistently good as Matatu often created enough chances to win games but couldn’t capitalise until the last two games: Du Plessis scored a crucial try in the 22-20 over Chiefs Manawa and ranked in the top ten after the round-robin for du Plessis meters run, defenders, beaten, offloads and clean breaks.

12. Grace Steinmetz (Chiefs Manawa) – The decision to move from wing to midfield proved to be a masterstroke. Steinmetz ranked inside the top ten for carries (69), defenders beaten (29) and metres gained (313). Steinmetz scored tries in the victories against Poua (46-24) and the Blues (17-10) and started the final with a searing break and skip-pass that helped create the first try. Her defence was secure.

11. Ruby Tui (Chiefs Manawa) – A brilliant, fearless, charismatic player who reinforced the reasons why she’s the most popular female player in the country. Scored four cracking tries and ranked inside the top five for meters gained (465), clean breaks (16), and defenders beaten (22). Stayed behind for an hour after the final taking selfies and giving away autographed merchandise.

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10. Krysten Cottrell (Blues) – The top points scorer with 49 scored individual tries at crucial times in both narrow victories against Matatu and nailed a clutch sideline conversion against Manawa in the final. Composed and astute, Cottrell was the glue that held the Blues backline together. She’s often targeted on defense and made 17 tackles in the opening-round win against Matat?.

9. Kahlia Awa (Blues) – Mostly used from the bench the 19-year-old was inspirational in the Blues final win sparking the comeback from 18-5 down. She scored a try and then supplied a long pass to Vahaakolo for her second try. Energetic cameos were a feature of her campaign. In the second half of round three against the Poua, the Blues scored 47 points. A round earlier she was denied a late try which could have tied the scores. A star in the making? The maturity of her display in the final was the stuff of legend. The former netballer was a Ross Sheild representative in Napier /Hastings.

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8. Layla Sae (Hurricanes Poua) – The Poua was last, but the form of Layla Sae was sensational. In her last match against the Blues, she made 21 tackles and scored a try. A week earlier, with Poua 22-0 down against Matatu, Sae sprinted 45 metres off the back of a scrum for a try and almost did it again with another gut-busting burst. In the round-robin, she beat the most defenders with 41 and ranked second most tackles (84).

7. Kennedy Simon (Chiefs Manawa) – The Black Ferns co-captain was the top tackler with 92. Simon won turnovers, ran strongly to score three tries, supplied seven offloads, and provided wise and mature leadership.

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6. Maia Roos (Blues) – The Blues captain ranked just behind Kennedy Simon with 88 tackles. She was a force with her carries; reliable, and disruptive in the lineout. Her intensity is unwavering and her wide smile infectious.

5. Maama Vaipulu (Blues) – A breakout campaign for the athletic and abrasive lock. Vaipulu ranked first for lineouts (28), second for carries (71), and fifth for tackles (82). Looks like a dead-cert Black Fern.

4. Alana Bremner (Matatu) – The Matatu captain played across the middle and back row and proved a trojan on defence topping the tackle count after the round robin with 85, and proved reliable in the lineout with 17 wins, the third highest in Aupiki. After four consecutive defeats, Bremner insisted Matatu was untied and their two wins against Poua (37-17) and Manawa (22-20) vindicated that sentiment.

3. Aldora Itunu (Blues) – The 2017 Rugby World Cup-winning Black Fern returned from maternity leave in menacing form. She scored three tries, scrummaged powerfully, and made bruising tackles. Tanya Kalounivale played a massive final for Manawa, but the experience of Itunu complimented the relative youth of Chryss Viliko.

2. Luka Connor (Chiefs) – Holds the Aupiki record with 16 tries in 14 matches, an expert at the back of the rolling maul. Bustling and precise, the Chiefs lineout won 80% of its possession.

1. Chryss Vilko (Blues) – A bully with the ball in hand, her 69 carries were the most by a prop in Aupiki. The most impressive thing about Viliko is her engine. She was still on the field when the Blues scrum overpowered Manawa in their late surge to the title.

Honourable Mentions: Sylvia Brunt (Blues), Grace Gago (Blues), Niall Williams-Guthrie (Blues), Ruahei Demant (Blues), Tafito Lafaele (Blues), Charmaine Smith (Chiefs Manawa), Mia Anderson (Chiefs Manawa), Grace Kautai (Chiefs Manawa), Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu (Chiefs Manawa), Kate Henwood (Chiefs Manawa), Kaipo Olsen-Baker (Matatu), Grace Brooker (Matatu), Laura Bayfield (Matatu), Georgia Ponsonby (Matatu), Elinor-Plum King (Hurricanes Poua), Monica Tagoai (Hurricanes Poua), Iritana Hohaia (Hurricanes Poua).

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