Following the conclusion of the Super Rugby season which saw the Crusaders win a ninth title, it’s time to dish out Planet Rugby’s awards.
While the red and black machine kept rolling and picked up the prize that matters against the Lions in Christchurch, with fly-half Richie Mo’unga starring in the final, we are looking outside the box here with some serious and some not so much being awarded.
Biggest climber: Waratahs
Daryl Gibson’s team put their disastrous 2017 campaign behind them and were the tournament’s most improved side in 2018. Gibson came close to losing his job after last year’s competition, when his charges finished in 16th position – out of 18 teams – in the overall standings and second last in the Australian Conference. The Sydneysiders put that behind them this year and eventually topped the Australian Conference this year – and third overall – after amassing 44 points from 16 matches played which is a 25-point improvement on their 2017 effort when they notched 19 points from 15 games. The Waratahs went on to beat the Highlanders in their quarter-final before bowing out to the Lions.
Biggest slider: Stormers
By contrast, things have gone pear-shaped for the men from Cape Town, who were amongst the biggest disappointments. Under the guidance of Robbie Fleck there’s been a steady decline in the Stormers’ showings and after finishing in third place on the overall table in 2017 (43 points), they have dropped to 11th in 2018 (29 points). This is also evident in the South African Conference where they were runners-up in 2017 and fourth this year, equal on points with the bottom-placed Bulls, who took the wooden spoon by virtue of a worse points difference.
Fightback of the year: Crusaders v Waratahs
It was a comeback for the ages in a game of truly two halves. The Waratahs raced into a 29-0 lead at the half-time break with tries from Cam Clark, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Israel Folau and Curtis Rona. But the Crusaders showed their class as they fought back with crossings from Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Seta Tamanivalu and Braydon Ennor completing the remarkable 31-29 comeback victory at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.
Player of the Season: Malcolm Marx
Marx spent six weeks on the sidelines with a leg injury, which ruled him out of the Springboks’ three-Test series against England in South Africa, but came back with a bang in Super Rugby and played a major role in the Lions’ run to the Super Rugby Final. Based on current form, the 24-year-old is arguably the best hooker in the world. Marx crossed the whitewash on 12 occasions from 16 matches played and he is the only forward in the top 10 this year. He’s the prototype of the modern day hooker, who has impressed with his work at the breakdown where he has won numerous turnovers but also shines when doing his core duties, especially his line-outs where he has a 90 percent success rate.
Moment of the year: Hayden Parker drop-goal against Stormers
With the scores tied at 23-all against the Stormers in Hong Kong, Parker came up with a match-winning drop-goal to secure a last-gasp win for the Sunwolves. Parker scored all but five of the Sunwolves’ points in the match as he single-handedly carried his side over the line.
Top try-scorer: Ben Lam
With 16 crossings, the Hurricanes wing edges Taqele Naiyaravoro and George Bridge to the bragging rights after an impressive season. While the majority of his scores came in the early part of the term when his form was at its peak, he most probably suffered during the tail-end of the campaign due to the Hurricanes hitting a sticky patch. The All Blacks have yet to come calling but he can be proud of his campaign.
Opportunist award: TJ Perenara
In Round 17 a brilliant superman try from Hurricanes scrum-half Perenara opened the scoring in Canberra against the Brumbies. Anticipating off the top ball on the hosts’ line, the experienced All Black gambled and duly cashed in, grabbing Joe Powell’s pass mid-air for the try.
Least disciplined side: Rebels
The Melbourne-based side wins this award not for their on-field disciplinary record but rather for some of their players’ off-field antics which was shocking during the latter stages of the campaign. First, Amanaki Mafi and Lopeti Timani were each been given a AUS $15,000 fine by the club following a fight after their loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin with Mafi charged for injuring his team-mate. The Rebels also suspended Hunter Paisami and Pone Faamausili after the pair were involved in a brawl two weeks ago which led to one man being hospitalised.
Special mention award: Franco Mostert
In his final season at the Lions before moving to Gloucester, Mostert certainly emptied the tank for the cause. An incredible 233 tackles to go with 87 line-out takes topped both their respective tables as the hard-working Springbok lock’s game kicked on another gear in 2018.
Unsung hero: Michael Little
The Sunwolves have been fun to watch at times this season and one of the main reasons for that was Michael Little. The centre never really got a look in at the Blues and it is difficult to see why after a superb Super Rugby campaign for the Japanese outfit. Strong, quick and with excellent hands, Little was one of the best backs in the competition. Alongside two other ‘rejects’ from the New Zealand franchises, fly-half Hayden Parker and centre Jason Emery, they formed a pretty potent midfield unit with Little the heartbeat of this Sunwolves side.