A panel of RugbyPass writers have come together to celebrate the best (and worst) of Super Rugby so far this season with our annual Super Rugby Mid-Season Awards.
Our writers – Hamish Bidwell, Alex McLeod and Nick Turnbull – give their verdicts on who shone and who didn’t quite hit the mark in the first seven rounds of the competition before its suspension three weeks ago.
Hamish Bidwell: Otere Black (Blues)
But no player took a team from nowhere and got them somewhere, better than Blues first five-eighth Otere Black.
The Blues have had the makings of a formidable team for a while now, but were continually let down by a lack of accuracy and composure from 10. Stephen Perofeta and Harry Plummer both looked out of their depth again this year and then Black suddenly appeared and the Blues were a different side.
Alex McLeod: David Havili (Crusaders)
Had emergency bowel surgery and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic not impeded David Havili’s 2020 campaign, the Crusaders fullback may well have been in the running for a starting role with the All Blacks.
That would have been quite the accomplishment given both Damian McKenzie and Jordie Barrett sit ahead of him in the pecking order, but it would have been deserved nonetheless.
Whether it was his incisive running game or accuracy off the boot, Havili stood as an integral figure for the Crusaders in the opening five rounds of the new season.
Nick Turnbull: Harry Wilson (Reds)
Harry Wilson is the No. 8 Australian rugby has been looking for since the days of Toutai Kefu.
It comes as no surprise Crusaders coach Scott Robertson rates him so highly as Wilson gives his team quality front foot ball consistently. I expect Dave Rennie will start him for the Wallabies despite Isi Naisarani playing very well for the Rebels.
Rookie of the Year
HB: Mark Telea (Blues)
Not too hard this one.
The star of Blues wing Mark Telea might not end up burning as long as that of Christie and Grace, but there’s no doubt he’s been 2020’s best newcomer.
Strong and elusive, Telea’s ascent might yet cost team-mate Rieko Ioane a spot in the All Blacks squad. Assuming there is any test footy this year.
AM: Mark Telea (Blues)
Whether or not he’s done enough to leapfrog a raft of contenders for a place in the next All Blacks squad is up for debate, but the 23-year-old certainly loomed as a key piece to the Blues’ tilt towards their first play-offs appearance in nearly 20 years.
NT: Mark Telea (Blues)
I understand Telea was with the Hurricanes squad in 2019 but made his Super Rugby debut for his native Blues in 2020.
Thus far he has brought carries, meters, offloads and points, but his defence is not as potent as his attack and is prone to conceding a turnover.
That aside, I think Telea is proving to be the rookie of the year with respect to Noah Lolesio of the Brumbies and Will Harrison of the Waratahs, both of whom have shown glimpses of class that bodes well for the future.
Most Improved Player
HB: Curwin Bosch (Sharks)
We all appreciate that playmakers are at the mercy of their pack, so hats off to the Sharks’ forwards for starters. Their mixture of dynamism and strength has been more than most opponents could handle this season, allowing Bosch the luxury of time.
He’s used that exceedingly well and looked a very classy footballer.
AM: Aphelele Fassi (Sharks)
A debutant for the Sharks last year, Aphelele Fassi has taken his game to a new level in 2020 – so much so that he must have registered on new Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber’s selection radar.
From an attacking standpoint, few players have been as prominent as the 22-year-old fullback, who leads the competition for running metres and is sitting pretty in terms of clean breaks and defenders beaten.
With speed to burn and potential in bucketloads, Fassi would be a valued asset for South Africa.
NT: Andrew Kellaway (Rebels)
Came out the junior representative scene with big wraps and the burden of what expectation such a reputation brings.
I thought he played reasonably well for the Waratahs, but obviously not to his potential. A stint with the Northampton Saints was promising but did not eventuate into regular starting rugby.
I think his time with Counties Manakau was valuable to him just to get some time on the park and to enjoy the game. He is relishing his opportunity with Melbourne, scoring tries, making breaks and finally turning his potential into solid performances.
Coach of the Year
HB: Sean Everitt (Sharks)
Again, this category isn’t a contest. In his rookie season, Everitt has genuinely worked wonders with the Sharks.
At the risk of looking a fool, I’m happy to admit I expected nothing from the Sharks this season. Not least because of a start to their campaign that saw them play in Dunedin, Wellington, Melbourne and Brisbane in consecutive weeks.
AM: Sean Everitt (Sharks)
It was tempting to hand this award to new Chiefs coach Warren Gatland, but without anywhere near the same reputation or coaching experience, Sean Everitt led the Sharks to the top of the competition until its suspension.
After over a decade in youth and assistant roles with the Sharks franchise, Everitt has made an immediate impression in his debut campaign with the senior side.
Not many would have expected the four-time finalists to have performed as well as they have done, especially with some big name losses in the off-season, which is a testament to Everitt’s influence and coaching ability.
NT: Sean Everitt (Sharks)
I think the Sharks have been exceptional thus far in 2020. Their only slip up was against the Hurricanes in Wellington. Their road trip to New Zealand and Australia was fruitful which has set them up for success later in the tournament.
Winning on the road is tough. Winning consistently on the road like the Sharks have is even tougher and it is a credit to their culture.
They are a tough side at set piece and the recycle and are a side that will go through another as opposed to around. Credit to coach Everitt for that and I think they will be there at the season’s end.
HB: Sikhumbuzo Notshe (Sharks)
I assume Aaron Cruden will be a popular (and sentimental) choice for this award, but the Chiefs’ home losses to the Brumbies and Hurricanes rather weaken his case.
Notshe, meanwhile, has been nothing short of outstanding at No.8 for the Sharks, following his offseason shift from the Stormers. In a good pack, Notshe’s athleticism and workrate have been phenomenal and his rugby has simply been a pleasure to watch.
AM: James O’Connor (Reds)
Upon the announcement of his signing with the Reds to confirm his eligibility for the Wallabies at the World Cup last year, it was apparent James O’Connor would prove to be a vital addition to the Queensland roster.
In a squad filled with youngsters across the board, the experience, versatility, physicality and playmaking nous that O’Connor has brought with him from the Sale Sharks has been second to none.
Whether it be from the No. 10 or No. 12 jerseys, the 52-test Wallaby has been a leading light in a side that has proven it has the potential to reach the giddying heights of the 2011 championship-winning side.
NT: James O’Connor (Reds)
The prodigal son has returned and returned well. With the loss of Samu Kerevi, the Reds backline was in need of quality and experience and the one time errant O’Connor has delivered for Brad Thorn and his teammates in 2020.
Whilst Queensland have not enjoyed as many victories as they would like, clearly they are a dangerous side when O’Connor is guiding them around the park, and with him at the helm the Reds could sneak a finals berth.
Aaron Cruden for the Chiefs is another worthy mention for this category.
HB: Beauden Barrett (Blues)
Again, there’s really just the one choice here.
It’s not so much that Barrett didn’t pull on a boot for the Blues, it’s that the shadow he cast obscured what a good season so many of his new team-mates were having.
We endured weeks of questions about when Barrett might appear at training or decide to play a game. Then he turns up to say g’day and it’s headline news. A couple of weeks later he even joined in.
All the while we wasted time talking about someone who wasn’t actually relevant.
AM: Morné Steyn (Bulls)
Replacing South Africa’s premier first-five Handré Pollard is no easy feat, so you could excuse the Bulls for putting their faith in the return of club legend Morné Steyn from France.
However, the 35-year-old playmaker, who played a pivotal role in the Bulls’ three Super Rugby crowns between 2007 and 2010, looks well past his prime and hasn’t reaped the results he yielded in Pretoria from a decade ago.
The proof is in the pudding in that regard, as the Bulls have lost every match Steyn has started in this season, with the club’s only victory coming against a struggling Highlanders outfit with youngster Manie Libbok at the helm.
NT: Tepai Moeroa (Waratahs)
I am excited to see what Moeroa can do as he has returned to the code after several seasons in rugby league yet he has only played one game for NSW.
He has the potential to be a great signing as he has been compared to Sonny Bill Williams, yet the Waratahs, who are in all sorts of bother, are not using him which tends to make him a poor signing.
Match of the Year
HB: Hurricanes 27-24 Chiefs (Round Seven)
Two contenders here for me: the Hurricanes’ 27-24 win over the Chiefs and the Sharks’ 24-14 victory against the Stormers the same weekend.
On the basis that the Hurricanes hadn’t won in Hamilton since 2007, I’ll give their game the nod.
AM: Chiefs 25-15 Crusaders (Round Two)
Two of the most highly-rated teams in the competition went head-to-head early in the season in a bid to assert dominance in the fiercely-competitive New Zealand conference.
In the end, the hosts put in a defensive clinic in the backend of the first half to keep intact with the Crusaders at halftime, before scoring two tries to none in the second stanza to pull away with the win.
It was an immense victory for the Chiefs, who sent shockwaves throughout the SANZAAR empire through their decimation of the reigning back-to-back-to-back champions.
NT: Reds 41-17 Bulls (Round Seven)
After being beaten up by the Sharks in the previous round and close losses earlier in the tournament, the fans were getting frustrated.
The Reds were down 17-0 against the Bulls and the season was in the balance, but credit to Brad Thorn and his side, they finally illustrated how destructive they can be and delivered a monumental turnaround blasting the visitors off the park in the second half.
Who doesn’t enjoy a good redemption story?
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