Since the beginning the Super Rugby season, Radio Sport Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden has presented his NZ Form Team of the Week for your collective contemplation. Now, as we prepare to move into the second half of the tournament, we have collated his selections from the previous nine weeks, with the highest amount of selections in each position making up New Zealand Form Team of the First Half of Super Rugby.
NB - In positions where players had the same number of selections, Yalden made a selectors choice (The figure shown are number of Team of the Week selections; SC = selectors choice)
1. Kane Hames (Chiefs - 3) is making a serious push for another crack in the All Blacks with an excellent mix of strong scrummaging, good lifting (don't ever underestimate the value of that skill for the overall success of a lineout), stern defence around the fringes of ruck and mauls and good work rate around the field.
2. Liam Coltman (Highlanders - 3 SC) has kicked on brilliantly following his involvement on All Blacks End of Year tour. With co-captain Ash Dixon out injured, Coltman has had a massive workload & has flourished with the benefit of that extra time on the field.
** Codie Taylor (Crusaders) also earned 3 selections
3. After a late start to the season Charlie Faumuina (Blues - 2 SC) has been super impressive in all areas of prop forward play. He's scrumming strongly, lifting well in the lineouts, great on the pick'n'go in close, shows a wonderful skill set when out wide and defends stoutly.
** Owen Franks (Crusaders), Nepo Laulala (Chiefs) & Jeffery To'omaga-Allen (Hurricanes) also earned 2 selections
4. Brodie Retallick (Chiefs - 4) is cyborging his way through another Super Rugby season. The All Black lock sets an incredibly high standard for his team-mate to follow with an unquenchable thirst for work. He leads his team in tackles made (72) lineouts won (26) and turnovers won (7), with all of those in the top 15 overall, yet they paint just a smidgen of the overall impact Retallick has made for his team - Forward of the 1st Half of Super Rugby.
5. Captaincy clearly agrees with Sam Whitelock (Crusaders - 3). His overall standard of play, which was already world class, have gone up another notch or two while the way he leads the Crusaders has possibly been even more impressive than his play, which is saying something - Captain of the 1st Half of Super Rugby
6. In terms of consistency, Brad Shields (Hurricanes - 2 SC) is up there with the best in the competition. He's combative, tough, very athletic (something he deserves more recognition for) has great endurance and is a very accurate player who is another putting up a strong case for higher honours in the jam-packed loose forward ranks.
** Liam Messam (Chiefs) also earned 2 selections
7. Blake Gibson (Blues - 3 SC) - in addition to three TOTW selections, Gibson also garnered three noteworthy mentions as he ploughed his way through the first half of the season. While he's standing out with his defence (a team-leading 71 tackles) Gibson is just as physical at the breakdown & gets around the paddock with good speed to support in whichever way in needed.
** Sam Cane (Chiefs) also earned 3 selections
8. Ardie Savea (Hurricanes - 2 SC) gets picked at number eight, but also had a TOTW selection at openside as well. The energy, power and athleticism that Savea has played with through the first nine weeks has been sensational to watch. He is in the top ten for turnovers won with 10 (the best of any NZ forward) and is one of only two forwards in the top 25 for breaks made (he has 13; Stormers loosie Sikhumbuzo Notshe has 12)
** Luke Whitelock (Highlanders) also earned 2 selections
9. By far the toughest of the selector choice decisions but its TJ Perenara (Hurricanes - 2 SC) for me. He and Tawera Kerr-Barlow have been the most consistent of the contending quartet with Perenara at a slightly higher standard than TKB. Aaron Smith has been incrementally getting back to his best and while Augustine Pulu has been very influential, he hasn't been as consistent as the others through the entirety of games. That all said, there's some series depth in the halfback position and with blokes like Mitchell Drummond, Bryn Hall and Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi going nicely too.
** Aaron Smith (Highlanders), Augustine Pulu (Blues) & Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Chiefs) also earned 2 selections
10. Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes - 4) ... obviously - Back of the 1st Half of Super Rugby
11. When Melani Nanai (Blues - 3) gets involved, the Blues attack is better for it. While he has had a couple of quiet games (as can happen on the wing) for the most part he's been a threat with ball in hand, has defended well and is putting himself in the right positions to contribute more often than not.
12. Ngani Laumape's (Hurricanes - 3) name has rightly come up in All Black discussions after an outstanding opening to this year's campaign, on the back of a solid first year in Super Rugby last year. The nine tries have been good reward for a bloke who tackles and carries hard, runs great lines on attack and compliments midfield partner Matt Proctor to form a highly effective combination with or without the ball.
13. While Reiko Ioane's (Blues - 3) three selections all came in the first five weeks, he's been one of the most consistent performers for the Blues thus far. For such a young player, his understanding of the nuances of playing at centre, particularly the defensive aspects, is well advanced and ultimately the Blues will benefit massively from the combination he'll build with Sonny Bill Williams in midfield.
14. Matt Duffie (Blues - 4) is the Blues Player of the Year to this point and a possible finalist for NZ Super Rugby Player of the Year based on the first nine weeks. He's been getting over the gain line, often as a first ball carrier of a line out play, always in the right position on defence, has shown a judicious use of the offload and is the best kick-chase player in New Zealand, possibly Super Rugby.
15. This was another tough choice but Damian McKenzie (Chiefs - 2 SC) has a greater impact for his team. He gets more touches and does a bucket load with them and while I don't obsess over stats like some, it does make compelling reading when you're in the top three is five categories - first in carries (121) & metres made (766); second in defenders beaten (35), third in offloads (16) & third equal in line breaks (15).
** Jordie Barrett (Hurricanes) also earned 2 selections
Selection criteria: Must play for a NZ franchise but does not have to be eligible for All Blacks
** Statistics via the NZ Herald Stats Centre **
NIGEL YALDEN IS THE RUGBY EDITOR FOR RADIO SPORT & NEWSTALK ZB