Select Edition

Northern Northern
Southern Southern
Global Global
NZ NZ

Super Rugby Pacific: Shades of Larkham in Gordon, Love the complete fullback

By Ben Smith
(Photos By David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images/Mark Dadswell/Getty Images/ Matt King/Getty Images)

The RugbyPass Round Table writers review the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific season at the half-way point in the competition after seven rounds. Ben Smith (BS), Finn Morton (FM) and Ned Lester (NL) weigh in and review their initial predictions against what has unfolded so far. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Which player has exceeded your pre-season expectations the most so far?

Ben Smith (BS): We knew he was good, but this season Ruben Love has performed at a new level in 2024. The dynamic fullback burst onto the scene and filled a team need at first five-eighth for the Hurricanes in 2021. He took to the role like a duck to water. Three years later he’s established himself as the form No 15 in New Zealand.

The Hurricanes are one of the only teams to strike wide on first phase, or early in the phase count, when they enter the opposition 22. That is because they know that Love is the man who can take advantage of the final overlap. If you are a winger there is no better team to play for than the Hurricanes right now. Love’s fast hands and field vision has been putting away Josh Moorby and Kini Naholo for tries all year.

Video Spacer

Video Spacer

On defence Love is a brilliant defender who closes fast from the backfield and executes. As a skilled playmaker, he has a kicking game to boot, which is why is he being talked about as an All Black this year. Of all the young No 15s, Chay Fihaki, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Love has the most complete game.

The only question now is whether he can oust Beauden Barrett, who has expressed a desire to play No 10, for the fullback role in the All Blacks. With Will Jordan sidelined, the selectors are going to need a new fullback.

Finn Morton (FM): With the Wallabies up against the ropes against Fiji at least year’s Rugby World Cup, Carter Gordon walked off the field with a disappointed look on his face. The young fly-half had just given away a try and had been hooked just a couple of minutes in the second-half.

It was impossible not to feel bad for Gordon. With so much talent and potential as an Australian playmaker, the youngster had been thrown into the deep end. With so much expectation resting on his shoulders, it wasn’t a complete surprise to see him struggle.

ADVERTISEMENT

After a record 40-6 World Cup loss to Wales, Australia failed to qualify for the quarter-finals for the first time ever. Gordon was dropped to the bench for that fixture, and missed the teams final pool match against Portugal through injury.

What the disappointment of that campaign could mean for the young players in that squad remained to be seen. The pool stage exit had a ‘make or break them’ feel to it.

But give credit where it’s due, Carter Gordon has bounced back with some brilliant form. Gordon has scored some stunning tries and set others up this season, has kicked quite well around the field and isn’t afraid to get stuck in on the defensive side of the ball.

There’s shades of Stephen Larkham in Carter Gordon.

ADVERTISEMENT

While there are definitely some worrying inconsistencies with his goal-kicking, the Queenslander has most of the skills of a world-class No. 10.

This writer always expected Gordon to bounce back eventually, but what’s been especially impressive – and pleasing – is how quickly the playmaker has put the horrors and disappointment of yesteryear behind him. Gordon is primed for a return to the Test arena this season.

Ned Lester (NL): As always, there’s no shortage of talent stamping their mark in 2024. The Hurricanes boast a number of players who would be a very comfortable pick for this award. Brayen Iose and Peter Lakai being the two top contenders.

Elsewhere, some young locks are making names for themselves. Fabian Holland has put in some impressive performances for the Highlanders and Jamie Hannah has shown an immense work rate for the Crusaders.

One player who has impressed in a different way this season though, is Rebels playmaker Carter Gordon. The 23-year-old has responded admirably to what was a roller coaster of a year in 2023, when former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones rewarded Gordon’s stellar form in Super Rugby with a national team selection, only to then drop Quade Cooper and every other first five-eighth for the World Cup, placing the weight of the nation on Gordon’s young shoulders.

Jones then discarded the playmaker when the team’s form continued to go south. That’s a hell of a journey for a young man to come back from, but in 2024 Gordon has continued to let his performances do the talking and has continued to grow, lifting a Rebels team in no shortage of off-field turmoil to fourth place on the Super Rugby ladder at the season’s halfway point.

This kid possesses immense mental resilience, a very promising sign indeed for his career, and for the Wallabies ahead of a home World Cup in a few years.

Which “rookie” has impressed you the most this season? 

BS: The true rookies from the New Zealand teams this year is a short list. Rarely do fresh players win starting roles in their first season, instead blooded for a few games and brought through the next year.

The Blues had four rookies, Kade Banks, Lucas Cashmore, Cole Forbes and Meihana Grindlay, but just two have seen the field. Cashmore made his debut against the Force from the bench while Cole Forbes has had seven caps and just had his first start.

Josh Jacomb and Wallace Sititi of the Chiefs, Ajay Faleafaga of the Highlanders are three more.

Whilst not a true rookie, lock Jamie Hannah at the Crusaders has been outstanding off the bench as well as hooker Jack Taylor at the Highlanders who featured once last year.

FM: Rhys Patchell isn’t exactly a ‘rookie’ as a professional rugby player.

The former Wales fly-half made the move down south to Dunedin and has been impressive during a handful of starts in the No. 10 jersey this season.

The Highlanders are a better team with Patchell’s influence, experience and expertise on the field. But as he’s technically a Super Rugby Pacific veteran, the Welshman deserves an honourable mention after seven rounds.

But if we’re looking at a genuine candidate for this question – and no, this isn’t the time to joke about Ben Simmons’ NBA Rookie of the Year accolade – then turn your focus to the Queensland Reds who have unearthed the next big thing in Australian rugby.

2023 Junior Wallabies representative Harry McLaughlin-Phillips received Player of the Match honours on his Queensland debut late last year. Playing against Robbie Dean’s Panasonic Wild Knights at Ballymore, the youngster’s first touch was a chip-and-chase.

There were signs of gifted individual brilliance and talent, but the step up to Super Rugby Pacific level was always going to be a big one. But to McLaughlin-Phillips’ credit, the young Aussie has passed every test with flying colours so far.

McLaughlin-Phillips secured a match-winning turnover the breakdown as the Reds beat the Chiefs at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium earlier this year. As a fly-half that’s not necessarily what he should be judged on, but it’s a highlight nonetheless.

The Brisbane Boys’ College Old Boy was handed a maiden start in the No. 10 jersey against the Rebels in Melbourne last month, and McLaughlin-Phillips outplayed Wallabies incumbent Carter Gordon. To be fair, it’s a lot easier to do that when your forward pack is dominating.

NL: Fijian playmaker Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula has been playing well beyond his years for the Drua, offering exceptional composure not just for a rookie but for a legitimate starting quality first five-eighth in Super Rugby Pacific. 

The youngster only turned 20 at the start of this year but has been second only to Damian McKenzie in points scored at various points of the season to date and has steered his team home with big plays against the likes of the Crusaders and Waratahs.

The impending return of Caleb Muntz offers an interesting selection challenge for not just the Drua but the Flying Fijians as well moving forward. With the kind of trajectory Armstrong-Ravula appears to be on, it’s up to the Drua to prove their development structures can see this kid reach his full potential.

Related

 

ADVERTISEMENT

Join free

LIVE

{{item.title}}

Trending on RugbyPass

Comments

Join free and tell us what you really think!

Sign up for free
ADVERTISEMENT

Latest Features

Comments on RugbyPass

J
Jon 1 days ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

5 Go to comments
FEATURE
FEATURE Murphy Walker: ‘It was the first time I have cried in front of the boys’ Murphy Walker: ‘It was the first time I have cried in front of the boys’
Search