Who’s hot… and who’s not!

Date published: July 7 2015

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It is time for Planet Rugby's weekly round-up of who has their name in lights at the moment… and who is making the headlines for the wrong reasons.

They're on fire!

Highlanders: What a turnaround! Two years ago these guys finished 14th from a possible 15 and looked an absolute mess. Jamie Joseph has managed to turn the tide with a team that showed greater tactical awareness than the Hurricanes in Saturday's breathtaking final. Only the Crusaders and Bulls had previously won a Super Rugby title away from home, and the Highlanders were worthy winners.

Fans in Wellington: It probably wasn't the result most of them were hoping for, but the atmosphere in the sold-out Cake Tin and around the city in the build-up was unbelievable. Kudos to the Canes too for handing out pizza and hot drinks to the loyal fans as they queued for tickets. 

Ben Smith: Such a classy player and such a classy performance. The All Blacks full-back is reminiscent of namesake Conrad in that he so rarely makes the wrong decision (and when he made a slight knock-on, no one could believe it). His searing running lines and brilliant counter-attacking were key to the Highlanders' victory, while a cool head also helped as the legs started to hurt late on.

Waisake Naholo: Another try to cap a memorable campaign for Naholo, but Super Rugby's top try-scorer showed so much more against the Hurricanes. We already knew he was an outstanding finisher but there had been questions over the rest of his game. He stepped it up, giving Julian Savea no chance to show what he can do, producing some huge tackles and winning one key turnover.

Elliot Dixon: Man of the Match in the Super Rugby final having scored a powerhouse try, Dixon epitomises the Highlanders' pack's work ethic and attitude. It may be a bit late for an All Black call up, but more of the same next year will mean the selectors won't be able to ignore him.

Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell: As soon as the ARU changed their selection criteria, it felt like these two would be involved at the World Cup. After a great season with Toulon, Giteau and Mitchell were duly included by the Wallabies. It will be great to see them back at Test level, especially Giteau, who we've not seen in a Test match since 2011 and has been outstanding for Toulon during his time in France.

All Blacks: It's been far too long coming, but fair play to New Zealand for naming a near full-strength All Black side for their game against Samoa in Apia. Steve Hansen could have mixed things up a little more but instead put out as good a side as he could in the absence of the Hurricanes and Highlanders. Congratulations also to Andy Ellis on his return after four years away.

Brrr….. someone get these guys a warmmmm cuppa soup.

Hurricanes: Having held an almost-permanent place in the 'hot' section this year with 14 wins from 16, the Canes ran out of puff when it mattered most. Near-unbeatable in Wellington over the last two years, most expected them to get the job done but they were caught playing catch-up right from the start. They've been a joy to watch every week but their offloading game wasn't quite firing in the final and too many handling errors cost them a maiden Super Rugby title. We have to give the Hurricanes credit for an incredible season but losing a final on home turf..well, that just isn't hot. 

Julian Savea: He may be the world's best winger but Savea will have nightmares about his drop on the hour in the Hurricanes' loss to the Highlanders. With his team trailing by seven points, he had a try giftwrapped, only to put the ball down with no one left to beat. Granted he made up for it with a stunning tackle on Ross Geldenhuys late on, but you can't help but wonder what might have been if the Hurricanes had drawn level heading into the final quarter. His job is to finish, and he didn't. 

Beauden Barrett's kicking: This is a combination of odd tactics and poor execution. Barrett had struggled from the tee in last week's semi-final – with James Marshall taking over kicking duties – and then he didn't kick at all in training to rest his knee. With a capable back-up like Marshall, it was strange to see Barrett kicking in the first half, and after missing all three first-half efforts it looked to be the wrong call even if he found his range late on.

Namibia: We had already included Namibia last week, but after the revelations from Danie Vermeulen this week of interference from the NRU, as well as the refusal to replace his wheelchair after it was stolen on a tour to Tunisia, they make our list again. On the pitch things have not gone well for Namibia and by the looks of things they aren't going to get better quickly with these off-field issues. Is Phil Davies the man to turn things around?

James O'Connor: While Michael Cheika might have offered O’Connor some hope, the former prodigy hasn’t made the splash he would hoped for on his return to Australia. Injuries have played a major role but with the World Cup on the horizon O’Connor finds himself on the outside of the squad looking in. He is a dream selection for a World Cup squad with his versatility across the backline, however his time is now running out. 

Wallaby selectors: It's impossible to please everyone when picking a national squad, and on the whole Cheika did a reasonable job. However his decision to omit Rebels second row Luke Jones defies belief. Arguably the best lock in Australia at the moment, he was inexplicably left out, with Reds duo Rob Simmons and James Horwill, as well as uncapped Brumbie Rory Arnold all preferred.

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