With the regular season of Super Rugby over and done with, it is now time to not only get excited for the commencement of the play-offs, but also to celebrate those that shone throughout the 2018 campaign.
Many individuals from a vast array of franchises stood out from the crowd to establish themselves as powerhouse names within the competition, and we are here to celebrate the efforts of those players.
So, without further ado, here is our 2018 Super Rugby Team of the Season.
1 – Steven Kitshoff (Stormers)
Steven Kitshoff had a season to remember in 2018, as the red-headed behemoth led the way in the competition for all loosehead props.
He was the only player in the #1 jersey to have scored more than one try in 2018, while he also topped the charts in carries (115), run metres (500), tackle busts (20), and pilfers (two). Additionally, he ranked second-equal for line breaks (three), third-equal for offloads (three), and fifth for tackles made (96).
All in all, Kitshoff was a real threat for opposition defences around the southern hemisphere, with his obvious offensive abilities and sound defensive qualities making him the standout loosehead prop in Super Rugby this year.
2 – Malcolm Marx (Lions)
Hooker was one of the tougher positions to pick from in this tournament XV, but in the end, the explosive talents of Malcolm Marx was too much to let slide by.
The 23-year-old was superb in all facets for the Lions in 2018, helping to steer the back-to-back finalists to their third successive appearance in the play-offs.
Marx did so by leading not only the hooker try-scoring charts (eight), but also the tackle bust (30) and forced penalties (14) rankings.
He complemented those statistics by finishing the regular season with the second most running metres (501), second-equal most line breaks (eight), offloads (seven), and pilfers (five), and third most runs (91).
Add to that his contribution to the Lions’ competition-leading lineout wins figure (217), and it is clear to see that both the Johannesburg based club and the national side have an extremely special player in their ranks.
3 – Taniela Tupou (Reds)
Tongan Thor ranked first in a number of statistics across the board for tighthead props, including tries scored (four), running metres (497), line breaks (seven), line break assists (three), and tackle busts (32 – almost twice as many as the next best of 17).
Tupou also finished the season in the top five for carries (80) and offloads (five), and was one of only six tighthead props that managed to win a pilfer all year long.
With figures like these, it should come as no surprise that Tupou is set to become a key part of the Wallabies squad in the lead up to next year’s World Cup, and will hope to contribute even further in Super Rugby in 2019 to help improve on the Reds’ dismal 13th-placed finish.
4 – Brodie Retallick (Chiefs)
Having already established himself as a Chiefs legend and one of the best locks to have ever played the game, Brodie Retallick was always going to be there or thereabouts to make the cut for this team.
As always, he was a supremely influential figure for the Chiefs, and the 2012 and 2013 champions looked a far better side whenever he was on the field in their colours.
This is best exemplified via his statistics for the year, where he scored the most tries by any lock (six – double that of anyone else), made the most line breaks (nine), and completed the second-most offloads (18).
Add to that his contribution at the set piece, where the Chiefs registered the second-best lineout win percentage in the competition (90%), along with the second-most opposition lineout wins (211), with Retallick being one of the leading contributors to those figures.
His reputation as one of the toughest and most industrious players in world rugby has by no means diminished, and the Chiefs will be hoping he can continue to plough through his usually massive workload as they approach the play-offs.
5 – Franco Mostert (Lions)
Put simply, Franco Mostert was a beast for the Lions in 2018.
Whether he was playing on the side of the scrum or in his normal second row spot, Mostert led a forward pack that dominated proceedings in most matches they played in.
Individually, the 27-year-old was one of the standouts in not just the pack, but the entire team, as shown by his first-placed ranking in carries (133) and lineout wins (72).
Additionally, his second-placed rankings in tackle busts (25), tackles made (181), and opposition lineout wins (13), as well as a third-placed ranking in running metres (651), made him one of the most consistent players in Super Rugby.
It is no wonder that the Lions are so desperate to hang onto him despite Gloucester’s ambition to sign him earlier in the year.
6 – Kwagga Smith (Lions)
Anyone who watched Kwagga Smith play on the World Sevens Series circuit with the BlitzBokke would have known of his potential before he entered the realm of Super Rugby, but he has managed to convert that potential into reality while plying his trade for the Lions.
As one of the most consistent and dynamic players in the tournament, Smith topped the blindside flanker charts for tackle busts (36), line breaks (10), and pilfers (nine), while also finishing the regular season in second spot for running metres (754), third for runs (110) and tries (four), and in the top five for tackles (155).
He is without doubt one of South Africa’s most explosive forwards on either side of the ball, which is why he deservedly earned his first test cap for the Springboks against Wales last month.
Pablo Matera (Jaguares) and Michael Wells (Waratahs) both played admirably throughout the 2018 season.
7 – Matt Todd (Crusaders)
Matt Todd proved impossible to keep off the field in 2018, as he played the most minutes of any Crusaders forward this season despite missing a pair of games and suffering a broken thumb, and his 154 tackles led the best side in the competition.
He also topped his side in several other defensive categories including pilfers and ruck and maul forced penalties, a real leader for a side that has conceded just 295 points this year.
His four tries led the Crusaders forward pack as he made an impact on both sides of the ball.
8 – Amanaki Mafi (Rebels)
There was never going to be any doubt about this selection.
Those who have followed our Team of the Week series throughout the competition will know that Amanaki Mafi was a regular member of the side, and that is now being recognised by his inclusion in the Team of the Season.
His statistics speak for themselves: 19 offloads were the most made by a No. 8 in Super Rugby, while six tries, 11 line breaks, 64 tackle busts and five pilfers were all top two figures.
However, it was Mafi’s ball-carrying ability that shone far brighter than anything that any other player in the competition could muster up.
246 runs and 1792 running metres are by far the best numbers posted by any player in Super Rugby in 2018, and while it was not enough to get the Rebels into the play-offs for the first time, it significantly contributed to the Melbourne side having their best year to date.
9 – TJ Perenara (Hurricanes)
Linking up with long-time halves partner Beauden Barrett to form a lethal combo in a crucial part of the field, Perenara built a nice portfolio of stats and figures to solidify his place as Super Rugby’s premier halfback in 2018.
While several other halfbacks darted from the base of rucks, mauls and scrums far more regularly than he did, Perenara still managed to register the second-most running metres (286), while also making the most line break assists (nine), forcing the most penalties out of
opponents (three), making the second-most offloads (13), and fourth-most tackles (68).
Such a well-rounded stat sheet indicates Perenara’s class as a #9, and it is that class that the Hurricanes will need if they are to progress in the competition.
Smith (Highlanders) was by far Perenara’s closest rival for selection, while Brad Weber (Chiefs) was not far behind. Rebels halfback Will Genia was also superb in his Super Rugby return and is worthy of a mention.
10 – Damian McKenzie (Chiefs)
He may not be the best first-five in New Zealand, and first-five might not even be his best position, but statistically speaking, Damian McKenzie cannot be denied the title of Super Rugby’s best pivot for 2018.
The electric 23-year-old has continued to develop his reputation as one of the most exciting players to watch in world rugby, as shown by his season statistics.
He ranked first for first-fives in runs (105), tackle busts (64), offloads (17), was the only first-five to register over 1000 running metres (1026), finished second for tries scored (five) and line breaks (12), and came in at third place for points scored (163).
Yet, for the infinite attacking capabilities that McKenzie possesses, he has managed to transition himself into a more well-rounded player compared to what we have seen in recent years.
His tactical kicking on point all year long, finishing the regular season with the second-most kicking metres (3303), while his defensive quality is best highlighted via the fact that he was one of a handful of first-fives that secured pilfers for their sides this year.
All in all, it must be said McKenzie’s widely-scrutinised shift from fullback to flyhalf in 2018 has been a success, and with time on his side, the prospects are scary as to what he can achieve in the future as a #10.
11 – Rieko Ioane (Blues)
The 21-year-old has already established himself as one of the world’s elite performers on the rugby field, and while that was not enough to save the Blues from another dismal season, it did boost his already lofty statistical profile.
With 10 tries, 152 runs, 1431 running metres, 20 line breaks, 62 tackle busts and 28 offloads, Ioane regularly featured either at the top or in the top three of each of those categories as both a wing and a midfielder, having constantly alternated between the two roles.
He may need to fix up some defensive frailties that were exposed during his time as a second-five, but after such a glowing performance for the Blues this season, Ioane can be assured he is on track to assume the World Player of the Year title that many thought he was wrongly denied of in 2017.
Ben Lam (Hurricanes) and Emiliano Boffelli (Jaguares) were Ioane’s closest contenders for the left wing spot.
12 – Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes)
The midfield was by far the hardest area of selection for this entire team, but in the end, it was Ngani Laumape who reigned supreme to take the second-five spot.
The Hurricanes’ wrecking ball of an athlete was near unstoppable at times for the Wellingtonians throughout 2018, as is accurately reflected in his statistics for the year.
He led the try-scoring charts for specialist centres (nine) and made the most tackle busts(66), while making top 10 finishes for line breaks (13) and running metres (1006).
In position where many stood out and warranted selection, Laumape put his foot down and proved his worth, making himself a candidate to become one of the southern hemisphere’s most blockbusting midfielders.
Damian de Allende (Stormers) and Michael Little (Sunwolves) can consider themselves extremely unlucky to miss out on selection.
13 – Rob Thompson (Highlanders)
Rob Thompson had a breakout year with the Highlanders in 2018.
Filling the void left by departed All Black Malakai Fekitoa, Thompson provided the same hard ball-running as he racked up 983 metres with 11 line breaks. He also busted through 53 tackles.
Thompson and teammate Tei Walden formed one of the best defensive midfields in the competition, recording a combined 250 tackles between them.
Thompson found space for his teammates with his ten line break assists and led all centres in try assists with six.
14 – Taqele Naiyaravoro (Waratahs)
2018 was the year of which Taqele Naiyaravoro came of age in Super Rugby.
With his imposing 1.95m, 123kg frame, he had always been a cause for concern for opposition defences, but this year, he took his barnstorming offensive ability to a new level.
A competition-leading 15 tries in 14 outings – with a better strike rate than the other two players he shares that accolade with – is more than enough reason to include Naiyaravoro in this team, but that alone would not do him justice.
He has the competition’s third-best running metres figures (1604), despite many more players running more frequently with ball in hand.
Additionally, he topped the competition in terms of line breaks (26), was second in tackle busts (68), and was third for wingers in offloads (22), making one of the most lethal players in the league.
15 – Solomon Alaimalo (Chiefs)
When the All Blacks squad for the June test series against France was announced, much was made about the omission of Hurricanes power wing Ben Lam.
There should have been, however, a lot more scrutiny on the dismissal of Chiefs flyer Solomon Alaimalo, who has gone from strength-to strength this year to the point where he is firmly knocking on the door of All Blacks selection for either the Rugby Championship or the end-of-year tour.
Nobody should be confused as to why there is a demand to see Alaimalo thrust into the international arena.
In Super Rugby, he was the top fullback for runs (147), line breaks (18), finished second in the competition for running metres (1624), and was the tournament’s third-best tackle buster (67).
Regardless of the depth that New Zealand has in their outside backs stocks, with such a potent attacking threat in their selection pool, it should be a no-brainer for Steve Hansen and co. to blood Alaimalo into their squad at some point in the lead up to the World Cup.
Tom Banks (Brumbies) and Israel Folau (Waratahs) were the next best pair of No. 15s in the
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