Ranking the Top 20 Players in Super Rugby Regular Season

Danny Coyle@dannyjpcoyleFeatured ColumnistJuly 16, 2014

Ranking the Top 20 Players in Super Rugby Regular Season

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    Compiling these lists always presents a challenge. Ranking a flying full-back against a towering lock is akin to comparing apples with oranges.

    It’s in such difficulty we find ourselves here as we look for the top 20 names of this Super Rugby season so far.

    Our friend, in this case, is the vast reservoir of statistics spat out during a season. And the best place to find the figures that will aid us in this search is The New Zealand Herald’s incomparable stats hub, powered by Opta.

    From clean breaks made to lineouts stolen, we can find the lowdown on every player who has set foot on Super Rugby turf this season and see how they compare to their rivals.

    So it leaves us with the job of defining the numbers that make these names worthy of a place in the top 20 players.

    Let’s begin with tries and the players most likely to score them. For outside backs, tries will be the yardstick. For the entire back division, we must also consider clean breaks, tackles made and yards carrying the ball.

    In the forward pack, we will turn our attention to catches and steals for the lineout forwards plus defensive work rate. Tackles and yards gained will also be applied to the front row brethren. In the back row, tries, tackles and carries must also be weighed and measured.

    This is no easy task, but it has been carried out with all of the above in mind. Enjoy the list, debate it and, by all means, proffer your own versions in the comments section.

20. Ben Mowen

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    The Brumbies skipper has led by example this season, putting in a huge shift around the park.

    In the lineout he comes in third for catches with 62 which, considering the first and second slots are occupied by towering South African second rows, is no mean feat for the No. 8. Mowen has also made 110 tackles and missed only 18.

    His retirement from international rugby alerted Europe’s clubs, and he will be plying his trade in Montpellier next season.

19. Jesse Mogg

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    Seven tries and five try assists cap a fine season for the Brumbies full-back, who always appears to have a happy knack of popping up in the right place at the right time.

    Mogg’s try haul puts him joint fourth on the regular-season list.

    Twenty-nine defenders beaten and nine offloads also point to Mogg’s prowess as a potent attacking weapon for Laurie Fisher’s side.

18. Marnitz Boshoff

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    The unfancied Lions pulled off a few surprises this season, largely thanks to the booming, accurate shoe leather of Marnitz Boshoff.

    He notched 187 points to come in third in the overall standings, which is some effort for a team who finished 12th in the league table.

    This underlines his importance to the side. He missed with just nine attempts all season and ended with eight drop goals, 43 penalties and 18 conversions, bringing his success rate to an impressive 87.1 per cent.

17. Aaron Cruden

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    Cruden may come off second best to Beauden Barrett in the raw numbers, but the Chiefs' No. 10 has overcome injury and patchy team form to ensure his side are once again in the shake-up for the big prize.

    The Chiefs will have to do it the hard way this year with no rest and a tough trip to the Brumbies, but they have the talented Cruden to thank for applying his class to proceedings when they needed him most.

    The experience of having been there, done that, may well give Cruden and his troops the edge in the knockout stages.

16. Beauden Barrett

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    Barrett came second behind Bernard Foley in the overall points totals with 209 for the season and was favoured by many as the choice at No. 10 for the All Blacks ahead of Aaron Cruden while Dan Carter recovered from injury.

    Yahoo’s Controversy Corner led the call for the ‘Canes man to get the nod: Beauden Barrett deserves a start ahead of Aaron Cruden.

    Since Cruden recovered from his broken thumb injury about a month ago, returning to the Chiefs and then two tests for the All Blacks, his confidence and in turn, his usual precision have not been seen in full bloom. Loyalty is an admirable trait but when loyalty becomes totally blind, logic needs to take over. The only times Barrett has started for the All Blacks have both been at fullback. He has always given the impression that the more confidence shown in him, the more he’s likely to repay that faith with his genuine game-breaking ability. There was no better example of this than in Johannesburg last year when coming off the bench, Barrett and his express pace saved a try, set up a try and scored a try in that memorable 38-27 win over the Springboks.

    Cruden’s injury-interrupted campaign skews the numbers in Barret’s favour in terms of tries (five to one) and points knocked over with the boot, but the kicking percentage is perhaps more revealing, with Barrett recording 72.7 per cent to the Chiefs pivot’s 67.9.

15. Michael Hooper

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    Hooper has led the Waratahs admirably this year.

    His 168 tackles put him sixth on the regular-season list, and 29 defenders beaten is an impressive tally which illustrates his pace as a back rower.

    Hooper comfortably transferred his domestic form on to the international stage when the Wallabies whitewashed France 3-0, and he also assumed the captaincy with no knock-on effect to his own performances.

14. Matt Toomua

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    Toomua has had a classy season for the Brumbies. Seven tries and six assists outline his creative input to this side.

    The Brumbies have no dazzling stars in the mould of a Folau or a Nadolo but always knit together to be right in mix at the pointy end of the season.

    Toomua's passing ability puts others in space around him, and his game intelligence is a huge part of the Brumbies' success.

13. Bernard Foley

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    There is a case for naming Foley as the outstanding No. 10 of this season.

    He has piloted a potent Waratahs back line directly into the semi-finals and assumed the Wallabies fly-half position this year with the cool-headed demeanor of a veteran.

    Foley tops the points log with 213 going into the playoff rounds and has looked in tremendous form all year.

12. Victor Matfield

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    The old man of the competition has proved he can still mix it with the young bucks.

    Matfield’s stock in trade has always been his world-class lineout ability, and this is where the Bulls have used him to great effect.

    He ranks second in total takes for the season with 73.

    His ball-carrying may not be up there with the stats from the younger second rows on the block, but he is still an industrious tackler and made 122 throughout the campaign.

11. Stephan Lewies

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    Lewies ended the regular season as the leading lineout taker in the whole competition with 77 and also has 10 steals to his name.

    The Sharks lock made his Springbok debut against Scotland off the back of those performances and will be a key man as the competition heads into the knockout stages.

    He also made 74 tackles, missing only five all campaign.

10. Brodie Retallick

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    The All Blacks lock has performed well in an indifferent season for the two-time champions.

    Retallick has become known for his work around the field away from the set piece, and this is borne out by his stats for the season, with 106 ball carries and 134 tackles, with a success rate in the tackle over 94 per cent.

    Retallick is less used in the lineout than many other locks, presumably to release him to be more effective in the ensuing phases of play where his running and handling are such a huge asset.

    Still, 40 lineout takes for the campaign is a decent haul.

9. George Moala

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    Eight tries from 14 games is a good return from the 23-year-old wing in a season that saw the Blues finish a lowly 10th on the ladder.

    Moala is one of a clutch of exciting outside backs at the Auckland franchise who will need to step up to the plate next season.

    Moala, Frank Halai, Charles Piutau and Malakai Fekitoa all have talent to burn but must mould it into a coherent unit to lift the Blues from the foot of the New Zealand conference.

8. Aaron Smith

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    Four tries, eight clean breaks and 14 offloads, plus nine try assists in just 14 appearances make the case for Smith being one of, if not the best scrum-halves in the competition this season.

    He is the beating heart of the Highlanders’ high-tempo attack and can do untold damage to sides in the blink of an eye once he spots a gap.

7. Matt Hodgson

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    The Western Force captain has had such a good season he forced his way back into the Australian national set-up.

    Hodgson has made an eye-watering 234 tackles, with the next closest players, Warren Whiteley of the Lions and Nasi Manu of the Highlanders, on 181 each.

    He has also bagged six tries, which is only one less than his teammate Nick Cummins, a wing, and the great Julian Savea.

    Hodgson led his side to their best ever season in Super Rugby, falling just short of a playoff place with defeat in the last round of the regular season to the Brumbies, but that will do little to diminish the credit coming the 33-year-old’s way for an outstanding campaign in their No. 7 jersey.

6. Nemani Nadolo

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    The big Fijian has made quite an impact in his first season with the Crusaders.

    Ten tries put him second on that list, while nearly 1,000 metres covered, 44 defenders beaten and 16 offloads all combine to demonstrate that the men from Canterbury have unearthed a destructive, monstrous talent to roam their left flank.

    It is peculiar that he made such little impact during his short spells with the Waratahs, Bourgoin and Exeter, but it's no surprise that he ran riot in Japan with the Green Rockets.

    At the age of 26 and with a superb season under his belt at the highest level in Super Rugby, the best could be yet to come from Nadolo.

5. Julian Savea

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    Seven tries don’t put him near the top of the try table but 20 clean breaks is the fourth-highest total, while 51 defenders beaten is the second highest tally.

    Savea’s 20 offloads also underline his importance to the Hurricanes' ability to strike quickly from turnover ball.

    The All Black wing is a huge threat who occupies more than one defender at a time and leaves space for other players to exploit.

    A world-class talent who England fans know only too well.

4. Ben Smith

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    The Highlanders full-back does not play in a side often tipped to be challenging for top honours, which makes his 47 defenders beaten from full-back an impressive total and one that makes him fourth on that particular table. He is also one of the key reasons they find themselves in the playoffs.

    Smith made the fourth-highest number of carries with 177, confirming his ability to weigh up what’s in front of him from full-back and spot the space he can run in to.

    He scored five tries and created five more, and in the summer for New Zealand he made himself the first-choice All Blacks full-back ahead of Israel Dagg.

3. Malakai Fekitoa

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    Fekitoa is the breakthrough star of New Zealand this season. He has been a revelation in the centre for the Highlanders as his stats illustrate.

    Six tries and 18 clean breaks compliment the really telling stat of 61 defenders beaten.

    This is 10 more than the next-best total. His 25 offloads is the third-highest total behind Israel Folau and Quade Cooper.

    Fekitoa capped a fine campaign for the Highlanders with his All Blacks debut in the third Test of England’s tour, and he did not look out of place.

    A bright future awaits, and no one will attest to that more than the man whose black No. 13 jersey he might well take. Check out the hit on Conrad Smith around the 3:20 mark in the video above.

2. Kurtley Beale

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    There is a familiar thread running through Michael Cheika’s coaching philosophy at the Waratahs, namely to get the ball in the hands of his most talented players as oft as possible.

    That would explain why Kurtley Beale tops the carries charts with 214 this season, with his club mate Bernard Foley second on 184. Fifteen clean breaks, 20 offloads and seven tries highlight his importance to the side with arguably the sharpest attack in the tournament.

    None of this has gone unnoticed by the powerbrokers of the 13-man game, who see Beale as a potential superstar in rugby league.

    Star of both codes, Lote Tuqiri is confident Beale could make the change easily, as he told ABC: "Definitely. I've spoken to him about it before. I think Kurtley has got a bloody heap of talent and he grew up playing rugby league, so he can play both games with ease."

1. Israel Folau

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    Possibly the player of the season.

    Folau’s 12 tries put him two clear of Nemani Nadolo, which is impressive given he was stood down for two weeks with a throat problem and rested in the last round.

    His 1,031 metres is the fourth-highest total of the season, while 25 clean breaks is the highest of any player.

    With 48 defenders beaten and 43 offloads, it’s clear to see why the Waratahs and the Wallabies alike have formulated a simple, but effective strategy: Get it to the big man as often as possible.

    A stellar season for the No. 15.