2012 All-Super Rugby First Team
The 2012 Super Rugby regular season has come to a conclusion, and now only six teams remain. It has been a close competition this year, with nine teams proving legitimate title contenders and eight still in the running come the final week.
There have been many standout performers, some of which have come from the usual suspects, while some youngsters have also put their hands up.
This list looks at 15 of the very best of these players in naming the All-Super Rugby First Team for the regular season in 2012.
15. Andre Taylor
A try-scoring machine, Andre Taylor has been outstanding from the word go in 2012 and was unlucky not to be called up to the All Blacks for the June tests.
After finally being given in a run in the No. 15 jersey for the Hurricanes, Taylor was able to use his lethal counter attacking skills and pace to threaten constantly from the back. He proved adept at finding the line, touching down 10 times to finish as the top equal try scorer.
Should he continue playing the way he is, an All Black call up is inevitable, just how soon he gets it is the question.
14. Bjorn Basson
Bjorn Basson claims one of the wingers' jerseys after an outstanding season with the Bulls. He touched down for 10 tries, topping the list along with Andre Taylor.
The Bulls chief attacking weapon combined his exceptional pace and instinct to find the line to score some outstanding tries which often proved very valuable.
His form was rewarded as he made two appearances for the Springboks against England and there may be plenty more to come if he can continue to threaten in the way he has in 2012.
13. Conrad Smith
A candidate for player of the year so far, Conrad Smith was outstanding on a consistent basis and was the key in the success of the Hurricanes in 2012.
This was a Hurricanes team that were written off before the season, seemingly lacking the star quality of the other New Zealand teams. But they would go on to play some very good rugby and came within a whisker of making the top six.
To the fore in all of this was Smith. He was once again amongst the top defenders in the competition, making plenty of tackles and missing very few. On attack he threatened with ball in hand, scoring seven tries, while also proving adept at setting up the likes of Cory Jane, Julian Savea and Andre Taylor outside him.
12. Jean de Villiers
Jean de Villiers is to the Stormers what Conrad Smith is to the Hurricanes. The experienced head in the backline, who can threaten with both ball in hand and when creating. His defence has been very good too, proving to be a rock in the midfield of what has been the toughest defence to crack in the competition.
He will now look to take his team all the way to win their first championship, after securing the top seeding for the playoffs.
11. Julian Savea
What a difference a year makes. After having been proclaimed as the next big thing, Julian Savea was found out at the top level in 2011 and had a forgettable season to say the least.
But a year later he returned as seemingly a different player, delivering on his potential and earning a deserved All Blacks call up.
He was arguably the most threatening runner in the competition; combining speed, strength and size to make him hard for defences to pull down. His defensive game has improved out of sight too, looking more assured under the high ball and not getting caught out of position as much.
Savea remains a work in progress, but if he can keep developing, he could be a key player for a very long time.
10. Aaron Cruden
For the past five years, New Zealand has searched for a legitimate successor to Daniel Carter to wear the No. 10 All Black jersey. And it appears we have finally found the man for the job.
He was thrust into the big time at a young age and for a while it didn't look as though he would cut it. But it seems the experience has done Aaron Cruden a world of good, and a move north to the Chiefs has seen him begin to play with a level of confidence that has made him simply lethal.
His ability to put the men outside him away have made the Chiefs one of the most dangerous attacking teams in the competition, in particular forming a deadly combination with Sonny Bill Williams. He now takes the ball to the line with confidence and takes good options, knowing when to use Williams or his other backs, and when to run himself.
His kicking game has been very good too, both in general play and at goal. He would finish the season second on the Super Rugby points scoring list.
9. Will Genia
He had a slow start, but it only took the flick of a switch and Will Genia was back as good as ever. His running game was once again the best in the competition, possessing the pace of a winger and the instincts that allowed him to slip through the most unlikely of gaps.
His pass remains amongst the best in the competition, whilst he also kicks intelligently.
For the first part of the season, his form was average for his usual high standards. And so were the Reds. But once Genia ignited, so did the Reds as they completed one of the great late season runs to claim a playoff spot in the final weekend. It was Genia to the fore, and this shows just how influential he has been and how good he is.
8. Nasi Manu
Perhaps a surprise selection to some, but such was the brilliance of Nasi Manu this year: It was hard to justify leaving him out. Not only did he not have a bad game all season, he rarely didn't have a good game.
His ball carrying was exceptional, constantly getting his team on the front foot with his driving runs. Indeed he led the competition with the most runs by a fair way and also had the most running metres of all forwards.
But he was much more than this. He has a phenomenal work rate around the field, doing plenty of hard work at the rucks and quite often being a key man in initiating the turnovers that the Highlanders have come to be known for.
If he keeps playing in the same way, we will be seeing him in a black jersey sooner rather than later.
7. Michael Hooper
This was one of the toughest decisions to make as there were plenty of men who put their hands up. But in the end, it was Michael Hooper of the Brumbies who claims the openside flanker jersey, announcing himself to the world in an outstanding season.
His work at the breakdown is exceptional, turning over a mountain of possession at ruck time. To go with this, he finished amongst the competition leaders for most tackles made. In this he excels in the two areas so often associated with good openside flanker play.
But what really made Hooper stand out was his all-round game, proving a strong ball runner and a very good link man.
With David Pocock and Liam Gill also having excellent seasons, the battle for the Wallaby No. 7 jersey is certainly going to be a fierce one over the next decade. But if 2012 is anything to go by, it wouldn't be a surprise at all to see Hooper playing a key role in the Australian team over the coming years.
6. Victor Vito
Another position where many players put their hands up, the blindside flanker spot goes to Victor Vito.
Vito was looked to as the main man in the forwards in this year's Hurricanes outfit, as the only player with test match experience.
And he certainly didn't disappoint, playing a key role in the success of the team with his strong ball running and high tackle rate. His lineout jumping has also become a feature of his game, proving one of the best options in the competition at the front due to his speed off the ground.
He showed his versatility too, covering all three loose-forward positions at various stages of the season.
5. Eben Etzebeth
It's hard to believe he's only 20-years-old. Very few players can play rugby at this level at such a young age, and even fewer bring the physicality to make themselves a force.
But Eben Etzebeth has done just this and was arguably the form lock in the 2012 competition. His physicality has made him a perfect fit in the Stormers and has shown himself to be a top prospect in the mould of Bakkies Botha.
His form was rewarded with a Springbok selection for the June tests against England. This is an impressive feat at such an age and it can be said that he will only continue to get better.
4. Juandre Kruger
For the past decade, it has been the names Matfield and Botha that have filled the two locks jerseys at the Bulls. But with both men hanging up their boots at the conclusion of the 2011 Rugby World Cup, the team was left with two gaping holes on their roster.
But they needn't have worried, as Juandre Kruger has emerged as an outstanding lock and earns the second locking spot in the All Super Rugby First Team.
His lineout jumping has been outstanding, finishing the season in the top five for most takes and has ensured that the Bulls lineout continues to be amongst the best in the competition.
Like Eben Etzebeth, Kruger's top form was recognized by Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer and was selected to make his test debut in the June tests. Indeed it could be these two who form the next great South African locking trio as they take us through to the 2015 World Cup and beyond.
3. Sona Taumalolo
Sona Taumalolo has been one of the icons of the 2012 competition. He brings a strong running game as well as a much improved scrumming game to make him a key member in the outstanding Chiefs team.
It's not often a prop leads his team in tries scored, even less often when the team possesses one of the most lethal backlines in the competition. But Taumalolo managed to do just this, scoring eight tries to finish third equal on the overall try scoring list.
His scrummaging has improved beyond measure too, as the Chiefs scrum was rarely bettered and gave the side a good platform.
Having signed a contract to play in France at the conclusion of the season, it is likely we won't see Sona back. But he will leave an impression and he sure left his best for last.
2. Bismarck du Plessis
Bismarck du Plessis claims the No. 2 after yet another outstanding season. The Sharks hooker has been one of the most consistent performers of the year and always gets through a mountain of work.
He isn't the flashiest player around, but he is strong and makes a huge difference up front. His lineout throwing is also generally very good, something that has proved to be a problem for many hookers this year.
1. Tendai Mtawarira
The final spot on our team goes to Tendai Mtawarira, better known simply as "The Beast." He joins Bismarck du Plessis in the Sharks front row, making them one of the most formidable front rows in the competition.
He is a very mobile prop who gets through a lot of work and was a strong ball runner all season.