With the 2016 Super Rugby campaign now over, we take a look at the finalists in a season review. First up, it is the champion Hurricanes.
At long last the ‘Canes have their hands on the prize they have coveted most, with their 20-3 win against the Lions ending their drought.
Not only did they claim the Super Rugby title, their three knockout games saw them not leak a try in an incredible run to the silverware. That was quite remarkable and credit must go to their coaching staff and players for instilling such a steely edge when it mattered most.
Defensively they were brilliant but they also offered a lot going forward, with Beauden Barrett undoubtedly the star of this campaign. He finished on 223 points which included nine tries. For a fly-half, the latter number deserves extra praise as he came into his own in 2016.
Many wondered how the Hurricanes would cope being without Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith in midfield. Throw in Nehe Milner-Skudder being ruled out for a large part of the campaign and there went three outstanding All Blacks. Prop injuries also surfaced but still they stood up well.
Special mentions need to go to lock duo Vaea Fifita and Michael Fatialofa, with the former following up a strong season with Wellington in the ITM Cup, where he played as a flank, with a fine year in the engine room. Both were physical but also offered plenty with ball in hand.
Behind them Ardie Savea took another step in the right direction with an all-action season while Brad Shields was a rock, as usual, at six.
The duo earning most of the plaudits though will of course be half-back pairing TJ Perenara and Barrett, who led the side around the field superbly throughout this season. They came into their own in the close season and knockout stages, which was a major reason why the ‘Canes ended their long drought. Perenara developed into a real leader while Barrett created several moments of brilliance which floored the opposition.
Mentioned already but the coaching team deserve full marks as player departures, injuries and dips in form could not halt the Hurricanes’ progress. On paper this was not a stronger team than 2015 – notably in the backline – but still they got the job done.
Boyd made brave calls in dropping Julian Savea to the bench while players such as Willis Halaholo, James Marshall and Jason Woodward performed consistently well at the business end of the year as a collective effort sprinkled with Barrett’s class, saw the ‘Canes finally claim that long-awaited title.
Best player: A quite brilliant campaign from Beauden Barrett as he steered the Hurricanes to a memorable Super Rugby win. His assist for Halaholo in the semi-final was brilliant but throughout the season his pace petrified opposition defences. Barrett also improved his goal-kicking – often an Achilles heel of his – and generally was a mature head on still young shoulders. Next job, a strong Rugby Championship.