Super Rugby 2013: Season in Review

On 12 February 2013 I posted my preview of the Super Rugby season to come.  Now, on the day after the season has been completed, it is time to reflect on the season just passed. 

In that preview of the season I named what I thought would be the order of the teams in each franchise.  My selections were:

 

Aus Conference

NZ Conference

SA Conference

1

Reds

Chiefs

Sharks

2

Brumbies

Highlanders

Stormers

3

Rebels

Crusaders

Bulls

4

Waratahs

Hurricanes

Cheetahs

5

Force

Blues

Kings

For those who missed it the table ended up with a distinctly different look to it that I suggested in my preview as follows:

 

Aus Conference

NZ Conference

SA Conference

1

Brumbies

Chiefs

Bulls

2

Reds

Crusaders

Cheetahs

3

Waratahs

Blues

Stormers

4

Rebels

Hurricanes

Sharks

5

Force

Highlanders

Kings

The Chiefs are the champions again, and did it in style, ending up on top of the table at the end of the regular season play and then performing when it counted under pressure. 

In any season of Super Rugby, and sport in general for that matter, there are a poultice of highlights and lowlights.  I am not going to name them all here.  Rather, here is my summation of each team’s season:

 

Blues 

After a shocking 2012, this needed to be a season of consolidation for the men from Auckland.  Under the stewardship of Sir John Kirwan another season like the last would simply have been unacceptable BUT with the players they had lost they could not have been expected to challenge.  Whilst they did not end up challenging for the finals they improved on last year and will be better for this season next year.

Highlight: A slashing 34-15 win in Round 3 against the Crusaders.

Lowlight: Losing 38-28 to the Highlanders in the game before the international break ended any hopes of finals football

 

Brumbies

The winners of the Australian conference and deserved grand finalists having done it the hard way given that they had to play in two preliminary games as well as travel to Pretoria for the semi-final.  Were able to keep their dynamic young 10 and 12 in Toomua and Lealiifano on the field for almost all of the season and it showed in their performance.  The emergence of Ben Mowen as a future Australian captain did them no harm either.

Highlight: Can not go past their semi final victory against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld two weeks ago.  The is no harder road trip in the competition and to come out victors 26-23 a massive effort.

Lowlight: The final round of the season was not kind to the Brumbies last season and so it proved this season with a loss to the Force 21-15 that ensured the Brumbies had to play in week one of the finals.

 

Bulls

The Bulls were victorious in the South African conference and completely dominant in the Republic after they returned from a terrible tour of Australia and New Zealand.  Many were worried about the prospect them of them having to travel in order to play finals football but ultimately they fell at the penultimate hurdle to the Brumbies.  It is an unfashionable lineup but boy do they get results and if they could sort out their form in Australia and New Zealand they would have been at the top of table by a long long way! Will challenge again next season.

Highlight: A 9 game winning streak in South Africa is hard to go past. 

Lowlight: They will feel they let a massive opportunity to win the competition slip through their fingers when out-enthused by the Brumbies in the semi final 26-23.

 

Cheetahs

The best season in this franchises history.  It is as simple as that and it says it all really.  Finally found some defensive steel to match their dynamic attack and were a force to be reckoned with during the season.  Played in their first final and pushed the Brumbies the whole way only to miss out with a wayward penalty attempt just before the siren.

Highlight: Their first final will be a massive highlight but winning 3 games in a row on tour in New Zealand and Australia where they have traditionally been poor is their season highlight for me.

Lowlight: Round 3 was a shocker for the Cheetahs: a 45-3 flogging by the Chiefs.

 

Chiefs

Back to back champions: is there anything more you can say than that? Dominant at home and solid on the road they overcame some negative expectations given off season player movement and played with the aplomb of the defending champion team.  They do not defeat teams in the set pieces but are regularly dominant at the break down and can score from anywhere on the field.  Add bone crunching defence to that and I shudder to think what they might do to teams when they sort out their set pieces.

Highlight: Winning the title … simples.

Lowlight: A round 19 belting from the Crusaders 43-15 actually seemed to spark them again and they never looked like loosing after that.

 

Crusaders

Ended up finishing 4th on the table after their traditionally tardy start to the season.  Massive depth in their line up saw them through an injury crisis and the resting of his Lordship, Richie McCaw.  They will always be competitive with that depth and came home with a wet sail only to be trumped by the Chiefs in the shadows of the finishing post again.  May well regret not having a full line up in the early exchanges given that one less loss would have seen them jump the Chiefs.

Highlight: Defeating the defending champions 43-15 in a match when they completely dominated their ultimate champions.

Lowlight: Losing in rounds 3 and 4 (there first 2 rounds) to the Blues and Hurricanes gave them too much work to do in the end to win the NZ conference.

 

Force

There is no way to sugar coat this: it was another very disappointing season for the Western Force.  That said, their low position on the table belies the fact that they only lost 3 games all season by more than 10 points.  They surprised a number of teams during the season and performed solidly within their own pool which point to positive moves forward for next season.

Highlight: Defeating the Reds at Lang Park 19-12 will take a lot of beating.

Lowlight: Round 2 loss to the Southern Kings in their first Super Rugby game  ever was embarrassing to say the least.

 

Highlanders

One of the pre-tournament fancies of many including me, the Highlander had what can only be described as the season from hell.  It is difficult to put a finger on what went wrong: they did not suffer as many injuries as some other teams and they had a roster that was very impressive, or so it seemed, at the start of the season.  They will want next season to start as soon as possible to resurrect their battered reputation.

Highlight: Their first win of the season against the Sharks will have been a relief.  A shame that it was in round 12!

Lowlight: Immediately following that win losing to the Southern Kings would have burst any bubble that had been blown up by breaking their duck.

 

Hurricanes

It is hard to categorize the Hurricanes: on the one hand one could suggest that their position is representative of their potential whereas on the other, when you consider the teams they defeated during the season, you could call this a season of disappointment.  They have taken over the mantle of the enigmas of the competition that is for sure.

Highlight: Defeating the Crusaders in round 4 will have given many Hurricanes hope for a run at the finals which did not eventuate.

Lowlight: Even thought their season was over, getting smashed in the first half by the horrendous Highlanders has to be the lowest ebb of their season.

 

Kings

The new boys of the competition came into it having been smashed in their trial games and surprised many right out of the blocks by being competitive and securing a first up win. Thing quickly ebbed away after that however as their deficiencies in the depth department and injuries started to take their toll.  Unfortunately for all of their players and supporters, the Kings have been relegated from tournament next year after the Lions beat them by aggregate points in the play off series.

Highlight: Forget the first up win, securing a 28-28 draw against the Australian Conference champion Brumbies at Canberra Stadium was nothing short of miraculous.

Lowlight: Losing 58-13 in what might be their last game in the competition having rested some players was embarrassing to say the least. 

 

Rebels

Another season that promised much for the Rebels ended with another disappointing taste in the mouths of Rebels fans as their team failed to meet expectations.  Lumbered with off field distractions and then losing their high priced recruit from Queensland and captain, Higginbotham, saw the men from Melbourne never seriously challenge the top teams in the competition. 

Highlight: A derby win against the Waratahs will have made this team and their fans very very happy.

Lowlight: Off field dramas aside, losing 64-7 to the Sharks was their lowest ebb.

 

Reds

Many expected much from the Reds this season and whilst they made the finals, this season certainly falls into the category of “what might have been” for the Reds.  Simply put, the Reds just could not get the ball over the try line at vital points all season and ultimately it cost them in the end.  Losing their coach and a number of players in the off season will lead to much collective held breath around Ballymore until season 2014 starts.

Highlight: Defeating the defending champions in Hamilton 31-23 will long be remembered by Reds players and fans alike.

Lowlight: Losing to the Western Force as well as a draw against them cost the Reds the top spot in the Australian Conference.

 

Sharks

Injuries, injuries and more injuries left the Sharks with a second and sometimes third string lineup on the field for much of the season.  Those injuries contributed to a long losing streak on the road from which they never recovered.  I think all Sharks fans can simply jettison this season to the trash can and move on with higher hopes for 2014.

Highlight: Defeating the Crusaders 21-17 in Durban in Round 8.

Lowlight: The seven match losing streak which followed that round 8 win.

 

Stormers

Recruited young Elton Jaantjes from the ousted Lions to replace Peter Grant whose availability was questionable for the whole season and it just did not work for the perennial finalists from South Africa.  They came home with a wet sail but the damage has been done earlier in the season from which they could not recover.  Old and well tried game plans have become stale and must be changed before next season.

Highlight: Round 4 victory over the defending champions at Newlands would have given fans much hope and was a cracking result for them.

Lowlight: Losing to the Melbourne Rebels, and thereby breaking the Rebels duck against teams from the Republic, 30-21 in Round 14 was probably the death knell for their season.

 

Waratahs

A new coach, a new strategy and a new super star in Folau had many fans of the Waratahs daring dream of a run at the finals.  They were ultra competitive in a lot of games and lost many by less than a try as the margin.  Unfortunately, at vital stages of some game they reverted to type and kicked the ball away which cost them dearly in the end. 

Highlight: I know they were the worst team in the competition but any time a team puts 72 points on an opposition it is going to be a highlight of the season.  The Waratahs did just that against the Kings.

Lowlight: Losing to the local derby counterparts the Rebels 24-22 in round 15 probably killed any scintilla of hope they had of making the finals.

So there it is: my review of each of the combatants in Super Rugby this season.  It was a great season for some but a shocker for others.  The rugby was regularly breathtaking with every weekend bringing quality games fiercely fought by the combatants.

For those of you already having withdrawals, like me, fear not: Super Rugby 2014 is only 200ish days away (assuming it starts in the 3rd week in February 2014).  Let the count down begin!

 

 

 

About Stephen Humphreys

Steve is sports tragic and is particularly fanatical about rugby and cricket. A proud Reds member, Steve is also a fan of Wallabies as well as the Welsh team (when they are not playing the Wallabies). When not following rugby, cricket and all other sports, Steve is an account director at an accounting firm. Follow Steve on Twitter!

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