NEW YORK, NY – With another season of great Super Rugby action around the corner, we review the progress of our 2014 Southern Hemisphere Players – just as we did for 2014 classes of USA, Canada and Europe. Without further adieu, let’s begin the review:
Australia – Luke Jones (Melbourne Rebels): We still expect him to be a Wallaby after the 2015 Rugby World Cup (RWC). However, he did not have as big a breakout season as expected. He struggled with fitness and form so never reached his full potential.
New Zealand – Benji Marshall (The Blues): The most talked-about acquisition in Super Rugby in 2014 was probably the biggest failure we had in our class prediction history. Halfway through the Super Rugby season, Benji walked away from the Blues and rugby union, stating that “I have got everything
I wanted to get out of it except the performance on the field, which just hasn’t worked out the way I wanted it to and I am just an average rugby player.” It was sad for all parties but at least he gave it an honest shot. He moved back to the NRL and rugby league.
South Africa – Cheslin Kolbe (Stormers): Kolbe was another young player whose season was hobbled by injury. However, he showed glimpses of scintillating form when he did make it on to the pitch. Making the RWC team maybe a step too far – but he will be the one of the most exciting players of the 2015 Super Rugby season.
Argentina – Juan Ignacio Brex (URBA): He had a solid season playing for his club and for the national U20s and the 7s side. In 2014, he did play in the Americas Rugby Championship (ARC) and looked good. He has not signed a pro contract yet, so expect him to join a club in Europe until the Argentine Super Rugby team begins playing in 2016.
Samoa – Fomai Ah Ki (Samoa 7s): Fomai has become a staple in the Samoa 7s squad but is still working his way into the 15s squad. We hope that his role will grow in the 7s and 15s – but don’t forget the kid is till barely 20 so he needs a bit more seasoning. We are still expecting him to qualify for the full national team by the RWC 2015.
Fiji – Patrick Osborne (Highlanders): Osborne had a decent season for the Highlanders, but it was nowhere near as impressive as many hoped. His season was also not good enough to help him crack the Fiji roster. It was a good but not great year for him.
Tonga – Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders): He easily had one of the most impressive seasons for a Super Rugby rookie in the history of Super Rugby. He was so impressive he was selected for the All Blacks’ End of the Year tour, where he made himself second-choice outside center. He will definitely be in the All Blacks squad for the RWC 2015.
Japan – Harumichi Tatekawa (ACT Brumbies): The 23-year-old Japan international, who can play at either 10 or 12, had a tough season. He struggled to make the change from Japan to Super Rugby and with the great form that the Brumbies were in, it was difficult for him to break into the squad. The belief is with a proper year of preparation under his belt, he should be able to make a difference this season.
Highlanders: The Highlanders bounced back from a horrible 2013 to have a great 2014. They were sparked by the play of players like Osborne and Fekitoa to make sixth place in the overall table and qualify for the playoffs, where they were beaten by the Sharks. However, developing into a winner takes time and qualifying for the playoffs is a massive step forward.
NSW Waratahs: They finished third in 2013 but they achieved the pinnacle last season. Lead by 2013 Coach To Watch, Michael Chieka, The club has found the right mix of grit and flair as well as youth and experience. Chieka had his charges able to win the tight ones – including tha all-important championship game.
The Lions: The had a decent first year back in Super Rugby. With the help of some controversial wins they went 7-9, 12th in the standings and 4th out of 5th in the South Africa Conference. They have re-signed head coach Johan Ackermann and are slowly building toward a competitive team in the next few years.
Tonga: They will most likely be a force to be reckoned with at the RWC 2015, when they will have their full compliment of players. They failed to qualify for core status in the 7s world series but will try again this year.
Uruguay Rugby Union: They lost to the USA in a two-leg Rugby World Cup Qualification playoff, and failed to qualify for core status for the 7s World Series. However, they did win the two-leg Repechage Rugby World Cup Qualification against Russia, so we will see them at the RWC2015.
South Africa – Jake White (Sharks): Sometimes it can be a bad thing to be too sought-after. Or maybe Jake enjoys the rolling stone lifestyle. He left the Sharks job after a great season and a 3rd place finish, to consult with Tonga. Then when Montpellier fell out with Fabien Galthie, Jake quickly answered the phone and is now installed as the consultant/head coach.
Australia – Stephen Larkham (ACT Brumbies): Larkham led the Brumbies to a fourth-place finish during the regular season. They defeated the two-time defending champion Chiefs in the qualifier before losing to eventual champions, the Waratahs. Not bad for a first season as head coach.
Australia – Laurie Fisher (ACT Brumbies): The Brumbies achievements that we listed for Larkham can also be credited to Fisher as he was the Super Rugby franchise’s Director of Rugby. After that great season, Fisher left the Brumbies to take on the position as head coach at Gloucester.
New Zealand – Mark Hammett (Hurricanes): There was finally peace in Hurricane country thanks to Hammett. He failed to make the playoffs for a third consecutive season. The franchise seemed unable to address its needs up front, which has to be seen as something of a travesty given that Hammett was a hooker back in the day.
South Africa Rugby Referees: The union boasts the fantastic Craig Joubert, though the shocking performances of Jaco Peyper and Stuart Berry (who was stood down by Super Rugby for a few games) was a black eye for the organisation. However, all in all this still remains one of the best referee societies in rugby.
Fiji Rugby Union: They did manage to get their affairs in order enough to pay Ben Ryan, though he covered the team’s expenses out of his own pocket for a brief time. The got their act together to get their funding re-instated by the IRB (later World Rugby) but then got into an almighty fight with World Rugby (previously the IRB) regarding broadcasting rights.
South African Rugby Union: They welcomed back the Lions franchise and though they had a poor season it was good to see less in-fighting. They turned the Currie Cup into an eight-team contest which pacified critics. They will be able to add back the Kings as part of the revamped Super Rugby when it expands to 18 teams. The only major problem looming is increased transformation (affirmative action) quotas at the youth levels of club and provincial rugby.
Argentina Rugby Union: Argentina have begun the process of signing players to their Super Rugby franchise in 2016. They have a side competition in the Pacific Challenge Cup and won the Americas Rugby Championship with ease. In addition to all that positive news, their 7s team on the 7s World Series leg can beat anyone on their day.
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd, Karen Ritter , Jamie Wall, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.
And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.