NEW YORK, NY – With Super Rugby about to kick off, we decided it was time to give our readers RWU’s 2014 Southern Hemisphere players to watch. However, as we have done with the USA ,Canada and Europe ,we will first review the class of 2013. Let’s look at how last year’s group did.
Australia – Cadeyrn Neville (Melbourne Rebels): Unfortunately for the RWU crew, Neville did not make the Wallabies fall tour. Neville seemed to suffer a bit of a sophomore slump and got jammed in the pecking order. It didn’t help that minor injuries hampered him from performing at his best.
New Zealand – Francis Saili (The Blues): Saili had a very good season with the Blues. The biggest negative being that he was found vulnerable and out of his element as a 13. He remains a 12 but developing into a 13 remains a project. In spite of this, he was awarded a seat on the All Black squad in the fall. He didn’t get loads of playing time but he’s being groomed as Ma’a Nonu’s replacement.
South Africa – Luke Watson (Southern Kings): The biggest problem for Luke was his health and fitness. As the face of the Kings, he was forced to play when not fully fit. This lead to more injury keeping him out of games. Furthermore, the performance of the Kings backrow in his absence was stellar. So much so that he had to fight his way off the bench. He did perform well enough to be in talks with the Sharks for the upcoming season.
Argentina – Nicolas Vergallo (Southern Kings): Vergallo found himself stuck behind Shaun Venter at the Kings. In his time there he made just three starts but came on as a sub eleven times. He was an unused substitute in both legs of promotion/relegation play-offs. He made five starts for the Eastern Province Kings squad for the 2013 Currie Cup First Division season before leaving to join French Pro D2 side Lyon.
Samoa – Ropeti Lafo (Vaiusu): The 21 year old former Samoa U-20 star once again played for full Samoa national side during the Summer tour in South Africa. His progress hasn’t seen him a pro contract yet but it soon will.
Fiji – Samisoni Viriviri (Fiji 7s): Viriviri’s ability to finish has earned him a full-time 15s contract to the Top 14. He will be hoping to make runs later this year when he joins Montpelier starting in June.
Tonga – Steve Mafi (Leicester Tigers): Mafi had a productive season on the field and has continued high quality performances. With his contract expiring, his value will likely rise above that which Leicester can afford. If anything can convince him to stay it would be the kindness showed by Leicester as he flew back to Australia in November to be his wife after there were complications related to the birth of his child. He returned to the club in December after the scare and was back at his best.
Highlanders: They have spent the money and brought in big name after big name. Instead of responding to the pressure, they completely folded. They finished bottom of the New Zealand Conference and 2nd from the bottom in the standings.
Southern Kings: Despite a win in their first ever Super Rugby match, The Kings time in Super Rugby was short lived. They excited fans and played competitive in some games. They didn’t seem to have the depth to deal with injuries and other challenges. They finished last in the Super Rugby Standings and were outplayed in the Promotion/Relegation match against the Lions.
The Lions: They loaned out their best players to other franchises while they played a bunch of high end exhibition matches. They bid their 1 year in limbo very well. They waited for the Promotion/Relegation match and then they got their revenge as they beat the Kings for the right to play in Super Rugby in 2014.
Ireland – Pat Lam (Connacht): Lam has Connacht rugby going in a positive direction. Their shock win over Toulouse in the Heineken Cup is proof of that. However, they are still woefully behind the other 3 Irish Provinces and remain an IRFU project. They languish near the bottom of the RaboDirect Pro 12 but they have started producing players capable of representing Ireland and that is the IRFU’s long game.
South Africa – Alan Solomons (Southern Kings): Solomons had the unenviable task ahead of him when he took on the role of Director of Rugby at the Kings. He did the best he could do, all things considered. However, there were so many challenges regarding acquiring and playing quality players among other difficulties that as soon as the Kings were relegated, he packed his bags and headed north to Scotland to try and lead a revival for the Edinburgh Rabodirect franchise.
Australia – Michael Cheika (NSW Waratahs): Cheika is known as cruel taskmaster but he appeared to be just what New South Wales needed. Bringing his unique brand of no-nonsense rugby, he had the Waratahs playing good rugby and even shocking some. They still finished 3rd in the Aus conference as expected but it was their performances that signaled that the team was on the upswing and will only get better the more Cheika is there.
New Zealand – Sir John Kirwan (The Blues): “Better never stops.” The Blues were better last year than they were the year before. They started out very strong and had a few upsets including defeating the Crusaders. However, Sir John and his side seem to fade down the stretch as his team could not find a way to stop losing matches. It was a learning process and more will be expected of Sir John this season as he continues the Blues renaissance.
New Zealand Rugby Referee Society: The extra money brought in by the Pink Botts contract has helped raise the standard in the ITM. There are a few more quality NZ refs making their debut in Tier 2 matchs and low profile Tier 1 matches.
Fiji Rugby Union: The 7s program made a splash and hired Ben Ryan. They are getting better and playing well. The 15s program is still in shambles and to make matters worse, their funding has been suspended by the IRB pending them getting their act together.
Australia Rugby Union: Things seem to be positive for Bill Pulliver and Co. The 7s program is doing better and becoming a legitimate Tier 1 7s program. The re-birth of the National Rugby Championship will now be the middle step between club rugby and Super Rugby. There have been missteps but definitely more positives than negatives. Pulver’s policy of transparency is evident in this piece on the ARU’s projected loss in the upcoming Super League season.
South African Rugby Union: The Kings’ fiasco has given the SARU a black eye. They are also talking about racial quotas for all clubs and Super Rugby franchises in order to increase diversity. However, they do seem to be more settled in the Admin and have a greater vision for the future. There also seems to be better relationships with other government bodies in the country. However, their threat to leave SANZAR has annoyed their fellow SANZAR members, so we will see how that plays out.
Be sure to come back for our 2014 Southern Hemisphere Class of 2014 starting tomorrow.
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 and Declan Yeats, respectively.
And until the next time… stay low and keep pumping those legs.
P.s… From the Vault: