By Mike Rehu for RugbyPass.com
The Crusaders claimed their third consecutive Super Rugby title on Saturday, defeating a spirited Jaguares outfit 19-3 in Christchurch, and inking their name (and that of head coach Scott Robertson) in the history books as one of the most dominant franchise teams to have played in the competition. But would the Crusaders' brilliance be reflected in a Super Rugby XV of the season? Would unshakeable Richie Mo'unga get the nod at first-five over Beauden Barrett? And how would some of the other New Zealand players fare? Below is RugbyPass.com's team of the season, as well as a few honourable mentions.
15. Will Jordan (Crusaders)
Let's start off with a bit of controversy! The youngster started 5 games early in the season and scored 8 tries. Both David Havili and Sevu Reece benefited from his frustrating foot injury woes mid-season, but this kid will light it up in the Mitre 10 Cup and in 2020. Watch out, as he is an exceptional talent. He had a small cameo in the final and looks like he's been working on his rig; he looked lean and rangy.
14. Sevu Reece (Crusaders)
Sevu Reece has been a revelation for the Crusaders, who lost Manasa Mataele in round two and then threw Reece a career lifeline. Many of his 15 tries this season were vanilla finishes, but there were also some wonderful stepping runs inside where he left a trail of defenders grasping at thin air. It was noticeable in the final and the win over the Jaguares that Reece didn't venture inside to try his stepping skills when deprived of ball. Test rugby will be an interesting challenge but he hasn't failed at previous steps.
13. Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs)
Played most of his rugby season at 12, but you could easily play him and Samu Kerevi as left and right centres. Even with the emergence of Jack Goodhue and Braydon Ennor, with Sonny Bill Williams, Ngani Laumape and Ryan Crotty at second-five, ALB's best chance of starting test matches is at 13. Has great timing of his draw and pass and has worked on his pace, footwork and evasion skills. Kudos to Matias Orlando (Jaguares), who, alongside his centre partners de la Fuente and Moroni, is using a very skilful interplay style to break the line. Lukhanyo Am (Sharks) was a great decision-maker for the Sharks.
12. Samu Kerevi (Reds)
Poor Samu Kerevi had the Taine Randalls this season, with so many losing captain interviews he'd really run out of anything fresh to say by season's end. Led from the front, but could only carry the team so far. Carry being the operative word - at the end of the regular season, Kerevi had 25 per cent more carries than the next best. He is off to Japan for some big paydays, but at 25, you'd think we will see him back in a Reds jersey before the 2023 World Cup. He has the potential to be one of the best players at this year's World Cup. Laumape was mercurial, sizzling hot one week and then barely noticeable the next. Good return of 13 tries though.
11. Semisi Masirewa (Sunwolves)
One of those complete Jack-in-the-boxes, who doesn't follow convention whether he is on the wing or at fullback. Is such a tonic in the aerial ping-pong era, he averaged over eight metres a carry this Super Rugby season, 11 tries and played with a carefree charm. It will be interesting to see where he pops up next. Speaking of the Sunwolves, Gerhard van den Heever was one of the form wings in the first half of the comp but faded mid-season.
10. Richie Mo'unga (Crusaders)
Stepped up to the kicking tee for the final with a four-from-four effort, but didn't feature in a load of playmaking. I wonder if the All Black selectors will throw him into the upcoming Springbok test to take on more in-your-face defences. He was unfazed by the pressure against the Argentinians but certainly didn't have the time on his hands that we saw in lead-up games. Nevertheless, he's been a wizard throughout the season with his ability to unlock defences.
9. TJ Perenara (Hurricanes)
With the re-selection of Brad Weber, the All Blacks are blessed with three incredible halfbacks with different strengths. TJ Perenara is a 'boss' type halfback, happy to mix it up around the fringes and makes some great decisions for his team at the base of the scrum and ruck. Aaron Smith will have to bring his very best to the Rugby Championship party, as Perenara is ready to strike if the Highlander is not on-song.
8. Kwagga Smith (Lions)
Tough decision between Kwagga Smith and Dan du Preez. The Shark was superb on a consistent basis but Smith always made a radical difference when he was on the field. Seven tries for the ex-7s star and even he will get over the red-faced moment when he was put on his butt by a Sevu Reece hand-off. Seems like he has signed in Scotland over the period of the World Cup, but with Siya Kolisi out of the next few tests surely Smith would be the perfect replacement?
7. Ardie Savea (Hurricanes)
Impressed all with his developed all-round game at openside flanker. Was a dominating presence at the breakdown, but his skill and pace with the ball in hand has added a new dimension to New Zealand's loose forward mix. Also spent time at No 8, especially on attacking scrums. Will be very interesting to see what his role will be in the early tests of the year. Michael Hooper (Waratahs) topped the tackle count in the regular season and was his combative self.
6. Pablo Matera (Jaguares)
Player of the Match in the final, taking that award on the losing team is the ultimate plaudit for this rawboned 25-year-old. Like Savea (who is the same age), Pablo Matera's all-round game has flourished. We've seen some great running in outside channels, attacking kicks off the left foot in the semifinal, and he was one of the few in the final who could release players in space. Pieter-Steph du Toit (Stormers) was also a standout and is a classic tight-loose forward.
5. Scott Barrett (Crusaders)
You sense that Scott Barrett has well and truly stepped up into the senior leadership group at the Crusaders during this season. Early on with loads of senior players resting or injured, Barrett took it on himself to spark momentum changes for his team. Whether it was a dominant tackle, a big run (remember the try from halfway against the Chiefs?) or a line out steal, Barrett knows when to step up.
4. RG Snyman (Bulls)
Crusaders skipper Sam Whitelock was sensational in the last three weeks of the season as the Crusaders went trophy hunting, but there were a number of candidates who impressed over the whole season. Rory Arnold took the most line outs, Izack Rodda and Tyler Adron were workhorses in teams that found the going hard. Jackson Hemopo was strong and dominated, but RG Snyman was an athlete who impressed at line out time (highest average line out takes per game) and around the field with subtle offloads and startling pace. With Barrett as our top lock pick, Snyman would be the perfect complement for the Crusader.
3. Allan Alaalatoa (Brumbies)
Allan Alaalatoa is the perfect illustration that it's not just about your physique in rugby. Of course, Alaalatoa has the bulk (120 kg) expected of a tighthead prop, but his top two inches is where he impresses. He is a smart player who gets into great positions in open play, whether it's to clean out or to defend in the line in general play. His scrummaging relies strongly on technique, and he adds power to the famous rolling maul with a low body position. Tyrel Lomax (Highlanders) did a brilliant job this year and it seems slightly unfair that the southerners have grown him to national contention and he is off to his home town and Hurricanes next year.
2. Malcolm Marx (Reds)
Folau Fainga (Brumbies) scored more tries, Dane Coles (Hurricanes) appeared for the last couple of games and showed fire, passion and elusive running out wide, but Malcolm Marx was the most complete package. Featured strongly in top carrying and turnovers lists; his leadership in the strong, silent type mould is inspiring.
1. Steven Kitshoff (Stormers)
Steven Kitshoff had the extra responsibility of captaincy and it didn't detract from his core role. Great scrummager and is a hard man to pull down. Lizo Gqoboka (Bulls) had some impressive running stats and was solid at scrum time.