Part two of our look at the players who had super breakthrough season in Super Rugby 2015. Click here for part One.
Everyone will be familiar with the old adage “It’s a game of two halves”, however sometimes when it comes to comparing Northern and Southern Hemisphere rugby it can be “a sport of two games.” From a purely aesthetical point of view there are very few similarities between the premier club rugby competitions in the two hemispheres. There is a cut throat, win at all costs mentality in Europe’s showcase European Champions Cup competition. From day one a team knows one defeat could prove fatal for their chances of progress, while two defeats is downright damning. Super Rugby’s 16 week league format allows teams to express themselves more openly, and work young talent onto their rosters rather than needing serial winners on the field each and every game. This allows New Zealand, Australia and South Africa to continually restock their resources and make up for the ever increasing number of front line players departing for the riches of the more lucrative, if slightly more mundane North.
Every season there are stellar young guns who make a name for themselves in Super Rugby. Establishing a platform for them to launch on to International honours. Here are the top 5 breakthrough stars of the 2015 Super Rugby season. Click here for part one.
- Ardie Savea – Hurricanes
What can be more terrifying for a team than facing Julian Savea? How about the thought of having to face Julian and a not so baby, baby brother Ardie? Savea Mark II is not new to Super Rugby having debuted for the Hurricanes in 2013, and been a regular for the Wellington based franchise in 2014. However, it was throughout this latest campaign that Savea really showed the best of himself.
Aride is slightly smaller than his supremely talented brother, but at three years his junior, he has time to make up the difference. Having excelled on the 7’s circuit Savea has showed tremendous adeptness in adapting to the 15 man game, and he played a crucial role in the Hurricanes charge to the top of the regular season table, and eventual place in the final. Unfortunately for both the team and the individual, flanker Savea missed the concluding game through injury, and had he been present it would not have been a surprise had the Hurricanes lifted their maiden Super Rugby trophy.
As an attacking force the flanker was outstanding in 2015 as he crossed for two tries, as well as assisting a further four. His 125 carries saw him 6th on the leader board for the ‘Canes, while he made the 4th most clean breaks (19) and beat 34 defenders. Of course flankers can’t ignore their defensive duties and Savea racked up 127 tackles from 137 attempts, and contributed 10 turnovers. Ardie has already toured with the All Blacks, as an apprentice in 2013, in what was a learning brief, which goes to show exactly how highly he is rated within the game in New Zealand. He may not have been included in the All Blacks Rugby Championship squad, but there is no doubting international recognition is not far away for the talented 21 year old open side.
- Taqele Naiyaravoro – Waratahs
Having made his initial foray into professional rugby in the League code, Fijian born Naiyaravoro has since left his mark in Union. He signed for the West Tigers in 2011 but never made a competitive appearance for the League franchise before switching codes and signing with the ‘Tahs mid-way through the 2014 season. Having made a number of appearance off the bench in 2014 the winger, known as “T” by his teammates, really made his mark in 2015 showcasing his supreme finishing ability on numerous occasions. His 7 tries saw him joint lead (with Rob Horne) the try scoring charts for the New South Wales franchise. The wings have increasingly become an area for monsters and “T” is no different, tipping the scales at just over 19 stone, he is nigh on impossible to stop when he gets up a head of steam. The 35 defenders he beat over the course of the season are testament to this.
Taqele Naiyaravoro Tribute -Super Rugby 2015… by 7rugbyvids
While the Waratahs were unable to retain their Super Rugby title, Naiyaravoro certainly brought a different dimension to the side as they fought gallantly until the semi-finals before succumbing to the eventual champions the Highlanders. Under the watchful eye of Waratahs and Australian coach Cheika, the 23 year olds performances were impressive enough for him to earn a call up to the national set up ahead of the Rugby Championship. For the all the excitement and ability Naiyaravaro brought to Super Rugby in 2015, his stint may be short lived as reports in May revealed he has agreed a three year deal to join Glasgow Warriors ahead of next season. “T” isn’t quite the finished article but it looks like Super Rugby may not see him hit that level, certainly not in the near future.
- Jessie Kriel – Bulls
Of all the superbly talented young backs currently making waves in South Africa, Bulls tyro Jessie Kriel looks to be closest to the ready-made, world class category. The 21 year made a brief cameo off the bench towards the back end of the 2014 season, but he laid down a number of markers for what’s to come over the next decade during 2015. Kriel can slot seamlessly into a number of back line positions, but excelled from full back where he started 14 games this past season. A superstar in South African schools rugby, Kriel was always projected to be a future Springbok but the ease in which he has taken to the Super Rugby environment has surprised many. He has a wonderful ability to glide across the ground and evade tackles, a fact backed up by the fact he made 10 clean breaks which was second only to Bjorn Basson and beat 37 defenders.
While his attacking intent is obvious from the fact that he only kicked away possession 39 times, which is most unusual for a South African full back, he then chose to run the ball at the opposition defence 114 times, averaging 7.1 yards a carry. Kriel didn’t have the most prolific of try scoring campaigns, as he only crossed the whitewash the once but the danger he poses defences leaves plenty of space for those around him to exploit. He provided an assist for three tries for teammates as well as offloading out of the tackle on 11 occasions. His exploits haven’t gone unnoticed and he has been included in South Africa’s Rugby Championship squad and given his ability to play across the back three or in midfield gives him a great opportunity at making the World Cup squad come the autumn.
- Nehe Milner-Skudder – Hurricanes
Another on the list who took the first steps of his professional career in Rugby League in Australia, the electrifying back three player has now firmly found his feet in Union. The fact that Milner-Skudder was never on a Super Rugby roster before this season highlights exactly the depth of talent available to the New Zealand franchises, particularly across the back division. An impressive club season in 2014 saw him force his way in this term and once he made his name there was no budging him from the starting team. At 5 foot 12” and a ‘mere’ 14 stone the 24 year old has shown an incredible ability to stay on his feet in congested channels all season. He may have only crossed the line himself on four occasions but defences are immediately on high alert whenever Milner-Skudder gets the ball in his hands.
With the rampaging threat of Julian Savea on the left wing, and the elusive NMS operating either from full back or right wing, it was no surprise the Hurricanes were the second highest scorers in the regular season, finishing the season with an impressive 458 points as they finished with 14 wins in 16 games. Milner-Skudder’s fingerprints are all over a huge number of these points, in addition to his own tries, he provided 6 further assists for those around him. His lightening quick feet saw him amass 1,140 meters with the ball in hand, while only the phenomenal Julian Savea (27) beats him for clean breaks made (24), and he danced his way around 44 defenders over the course of the campaign. His form has rightly seen him earn a place in Steve Hansen’s Rugby Championship squad and he will be likely vying with the man ahead of him in this list for a chance to make the number 14 jersey his own.
- Waisake Naholo – Highlanders
They sometimes say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. There must be a couple of decision makers within the Auckland Blues set up who are severely questioning themselves as to how Waisake Naholo slipped through their fingers to become the most prolific finisher in Super Rugby in 2015. After a couple of appearances in 2013 with the Blues, Naholo slipped off the radar before coming back emphatically with the Highlanders this season. His 13 tries, nearly twice that of the Otago franchises’ second most prolific scorer, was a major reason as to why the Highlanders claimed their first ever Super Rugby title. It’s hard to quantify just how impressive the achievements by Naholo in 2015 were given his almost complete lack of Super Rugby exposure thus far in his career.
The Fijian born winger has represented New Zealand multiple times on the 7’s circuit and has certainly brought that explosive open field running to the 15 man game, racking up an incredible set of attacking statistics in 2015. His 186 carries yielded 1,364 yards at an average of 10.3 yards a carry, he bamboozled and beat 57 defenders and finished the campaign with 32 clean breaks. And as if tackling the 16 stone winger wasn’t taxing enough, he showed a fantastic ability to offload out of the tackle on 20 occasions to furthermore showcase his attacking array of talents. Amazingly he also lead the team in turnovers, coming up with an impressive total of 36.
There can be no argument as to Naholo not showing up on the days that count either, as the 24 year old’s early second half try against the Hurricanes ultimately went a long way to securing the Super Rugby crown for the highlanders last weekend. His amazing form has led to Naholo being included in the All Blacks Rugby Championship squad, while the NZRU are busy trying to retain his services beyond this year despite the fact that he agreed last May to join Clermont from next season on. If he does depart, it will be a huge blow to Super Rugby supporters everywhere. But his exploits this season will not be forgotten quickly.