With the regular season now done and dusted, we select the Super Rugby XV of 2014.
With the regular Super Rugby season done and dusted, we put our heads together to select the Super Rugby XV of 2014.
Understandably the Waratahs feature prominently after topping the table and plenty of this season's key stats, with the Crusaders and Sharks not far behind.
Eight sides are represented overall while there are plenty of mentions for those players who excelled but didn't make the final cut.
So, without further ado, herewith our selection.
Super Rugby: Team of the Year
15 Israel Folau (Waratahs) – Top of the try, offloads and clean break charts, Folau has been outstanding from start to finish. His ability to fix a defender and then skip past the would-be tackler continues to amaze as he sees off Highlander Ben Smith and Cheetah Willie le Roux for this jersey, despite their great campaigns. Winning knockout rugby requires something or someone special and in Folau the 'Tahs have a special talent.
14 Julian Savea (Hurricanes) – A positional shift but it had to be done as we go for two powerful left wings in our backline. Savea ended the season with seven tries, 20 clean breaks, 51 defenders beaten and over 1000 metres made. Unlucky to miss the playoffs as the 'Canes fell short by a point. The only blot on his copybook was a mini dip in form during the closing rounds but overall it was another impressive campaign.
13 Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders) – The find of the year for the Highlanders, New Zealand and the competition, as the devastating centre kept defences busy throughout. Fekitoa beat the most tackles and was in the top ten for carries, clean breaks, metres and offloads. An outstanding debut campaign, with Waratahs outside centre Adam Ashley-Cooper and Hurricanes stalwart Conrad Smith also performing well.
12 Kurtley Beale (Waratahs) – A hotly contested jersey here as both Alapati Leiua and Ma'a Nonu of the Hurricanes and Blues respectively were superb. However, Beale is enjoying a new lease of life in midfield as the 'Tahs roll on to a home semi. Seven tries and the most carries in the competition make him, like Folau, a key player for the Waratahs during the play-offs.
11 Nemani Nadolo (Crusaders) – Part two of our giant wing combination comes from Fiji and the Crusaders as Nadolo gets in ahead of Western Force star Nick Cummins. Nadolo has run over defenders for most of the season and it's fair to say that without him, the Crusaders' attack is seriously blunted, as we saw when he was away with Fiji. He's back now though and don't the opposition know it.
10 Bernard Foley (Waratahs) – Living the dream of playing behind a fearsome pack in Sydney, but Foley deserves this spot as his year continues to go from strength to strength. Foley made close to 1000 metres and sees off the impressive Beauden Barrett of the 'Canes and the Crusaders' Colin Slade. Injured Reds fly-half Quade Cooper will have a job wrestling the gold jumper off Foley ahead of the World Cup.
9 Aaron Smith (Highlanders) – Sharks scrum-half Cobus Reinach and Nick Phipps of the 'Tahs deserve a pat on the back for their efforts, but Smith is our nine as he continues to mature on the Super Rugby stage. Slick service, good option taking and pace over 20 metres make him a priceless commodity.
8 Jerome Kaino (Blues) – Welcome back to Super Rugby, Jerome. Returning to the Blues following his time in Japan, Kaino still wields plenty of influence and the Blues have enjoyed having a world class operator back in their ranks. Forming a solid trio alongside Luke Braid and Steven Luatua, his all-action style has been great to watch. Mentions for Wycliff Palu, who looks back to his best for the 'Tahs and has a big couple of weeks ahead, along with the Lions' Warren Whiteley, who led from the front and made the second highest number of tackles with 181. Ben McCalman, the highest-carrying forward in the competition, also deserves recognition.
7 Matt Hodgson (Force) – Very hard to leave out Michael Hooper here, but we have to go with the Force skipper. Part of the reason why the Force stunned basically everybody by being in contention for the play-offs up until the final round, his efforts at the breakdown and in the tackle have been outstanding. Hodgson was the top tackler in Super Rugby with 234 – that's 53 more than his next competitor – but also scored six tries, the most by a forward in the competition. He's earned a few cold ones. A mention too for Jack Lam of the Hurricanes.
6 Jordan Taufua (Crusaders) – A wildcard in the number six jersey. Playing in a back-row alongside the likes of Richie McCaw, Matt Todd and Kieran Read is only going to improve your skills, and Taufua has consistently stood out this season for the New Zealand Conference winners. The 22-year-old has surpassed expectations, persistently tackling into double figures all season long. The now-injured Waratahs skipper Dave Dennis gets a mention for his leadership and work ethic.
5 Stephan Lewies (Sharks) – Just doing enough to see of the challenge of Victor Matfield, Lewies has been one of the finds of the season. Another 22-year-old, Lewies was the top line-out taker in the competition on 77 and has been a mainstay in the core of the Sharks' dogged pack. What Matfield has done, coming back and playing at such a high level at 37 is no less impressive, but Lewies gets the nod.
4 Jacques Potgieter (Waratahs) – No wonder the Bulls tried to bring him back to South Africa. Potgieter has become a cult hero in Sydney with his performances either at lock or on the blindside for the Waratahs, tackling ferociously and doing his share of work at the line-out. Having him go up against Will Skelton for the number four jersey is no bad thing either. Brodie Retallick was in contention along with rising star Patrick Tuipulotu of the Blues, who also gets a nod.
3 Sekope Kepu (Waratahs) – Much like Palu, Kepu has found his best form in 2014. Always a good carrier, his scrummaging has been excellent as the 'Tahs eight have constantly got on top of teams and given their backs the ball required to rack up the tries. Australia's number one tighthead, he narrowly holds off for Charlie Faumuina of the Blues,.
2 Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks) – Captain Fantastic certainly has some issues when it comes to backchatting referees – his pleading at times against the Stormers bordered on embarrassing – but otherwise it's been business as usual for one of the world's best hookers. Physical in the contact and excellent at the breakdown, Du Plessis has captained the Sharks well to the South African Conference title. When absent, he has been sorely missed. A mention