Super Rugby Team of the Season

By Nigel Yalden

Owen Franks of the Crusaders on the charge during the round twelve Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders. Photo / Getty Images.
Owen Franks of the Crusaders on the charge during the round twelve Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders. Photo / Getty Images.

Over the 17 weeks that make up the Super Rugby regular season, Radio Sport Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden has selected his NZ Form Team of the Week.

As we did at the midway point of the competition, we have collated these selections as we look at the season in its totality.

In the instance where there were an equal number of selections in one position (which weren't that many come season's end) Yalden was given the final say on who would make the NZ Form Team of Super Rugby.

Note - figure shown are the number of Team of the Week selections; SC = selectors choice

1. Reg Goodes (Hurricanes 5) Goodes' game has stepped up in all area this season. He's been a very reliable scrummager and rarely bettered; has delivered a high work-rate around the field and is more than handy in close-to-line situations. On current form, he should be in the discussions around international selection should those above him succumb to injury.

2. Dane Coles (Hurricanes 5) His level of play is what you'd expect of a first choice All Black as is the consistency of that play, while it appears that captaincy brings out a little extra in him too.

Special Mention: Ash Dixon (Highlanders - 4) Dixon's form in the second half of the season has been career best and he's playing like someone ready for the next level

3. Owen Franks (Crusaders 9) has dominated the tighthead position and justifiably so. Week in week out, he owns his side of the scrum, contributes to the lineout with excellent lifting and chugs around the field, making tackles, clearing bodies at the breakdown and showing an under-appreciated skill set in general play - Forward of the Season

4. Brodie Retallick (Chiefs 6) despite missing a month with a rib injury, Retallick was a clear selection in a position that provided the closest contest. His aerobic capacity is at times unfathomable, while his decision making, coupled with his impressive array of skills continues to astound.

5. Tom Franklin (Highlanders 4 SC) has been a model of consistency and hard work in the industrious and still under-appreciated Highlanders' tight five. It's that consistent quality of play throughout the season that gets him the nod over Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues) who by his own admission was too inconstant early in the season before a series of stellar efforts to finish the Blues season.

** Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues) also had 4 selections

6. Elliot Dixon (Highlanders 7) continues to deliver robust, combative performances that are laced with some delightful pieces of skill and athleticism. The next challenge is to transfer that onto the international stage when that opportunity next arises.

7. Sam Cane (Chiefs 6) Much has been written, spoken and analysed about New Zealand openside flankers in Super Rugby this season. Throughout it all, Cane has gone out and led with his defence first and foremost (his 173 tackles is the most in Super Rugby), his peskiness at the breakdown and with an increasing involvement in ball carrying. Cane's captaincy skills are developing nicely too.

Special Mention: Ardie Savea (Hurricanes 5) the young man has delivered in spades in all areas this season & one suspects he's only going to get better as he becomes even more ensconced in the All Blacks.

8. Kieran Read (Crusaders 4 SC) worked his way into the season quickly and efficiently, flourishing as much as he embraced his role of All Blacks captain. He's calm and confident as a captain, his work at the back of a dominant Crusaders scrum deserves more credit, he contributes in all facets around the field and he continues to reinforce his standing in many people's eyes as best lineout forward in world rugby

** Luke Whitelock (Highlanders) & Michael Lietch (Chiefs) also had 4 selections

9. Aaron Smith (Highlanders 7) Of all the things that stand out in his game, it's his ability to help control and dictate the game that has impressed the most this season. The pass and kicking game just keep getting better and better, while in terms of getting under the skin of his opponents, he appears pretty good at that too.

10. Lima Sopoaga (Highlanders 7) set an excellent standard and was clearly the best first five through the first two thirds of the competition. He has actually maintained that level of play through the latter stages of the regular season, with other first fives now matching (and one instance surpassing) his level of play.

Special Mention: Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes 6) only had two selections through 13 weeks, but has been a fixture at first five for the last four weeks of the regular season and the reason for that has been clear for all to see.

11. James Lowe (Chiefs 5) was another player who is previous season has been guilty of inconsistency but not so in 2016. He's made significant improvements in his decision making, has cut down the error rate and his kicking game is a key component in the Chiefs exit plays. Lowe gets himself involved on attack yet maintains a good aware of where he needs to be on defence.

12. Charlie Ngatai (Chiefs 5) - he hasn't been seen since leaving the field late in the Chiefs loss to the Highlanders on May 7 with a head knock. Up to that point of the season, he was a player of the year contender, a shots eye to be in the All Blacks first 23 man squad of the year, and was as key to the Chiefs backline as first five Aaron Cruden.

13. Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders 6) - despite being shifted into second five for the latter portion of the season (a position that, in my opinion, doesn't suit him) his form at centre in the first half of the season was super impressive.

14. Johnny McNicholl (Crusaders 4) was a name not many (myself included) would have picked to be figuring an end of season side like this, however like James Lowe, he's eliminated the inexplicable basic errors from his game, puts himself in the right positions on the field and has back himself with ball in hand; being largely injury free has no doubt added to his confidence.

Special Mention: Waisake Naholo (Highlanders 3) has only played six games this season but garnered three selections with some tremendous form, highlighted by his work over the breakdown in the wide channels ... goes alright with ball in hand too.

15. Ben Smith (Highlanders 8) - it's not just that he's an outstanding rugby player; it's that he's a phenomenally consistency, instinctive, intelligent, tough, accurate, outstanding rugby player, whose skills are matched only by his incredible down-to-earthiness while his leadership has blossomed throughout the season too - Back of the Season

** Statistics via NZ Heralds Rugby Stats Centre

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