The Bulls, The Stormers, The Waratahs and The Crusaders. That's all that is left in the 2010 Super 14.
The Waratahs and Crusaders both face the daunting task of having to play off with the competitions two top teams in South Africa. It will be especially hard for the Crusaders, having just arrived back in New Zealand last week from a disastrous trip. They have shown that they are capable of winning after a good performance against the Bulls in Loftus, but I fear fatigue might catch up to them and they will be doing well to put up another performance that good against the Bulls. In the other game the Stormers should comfortably account for the Waratahs.
The 2010 season has been one of the best we have had in years. The new law interpretations has meant that we have seen a good brand of fast, running rugby and we have seen some exciting games with some fantastic tries scored. Such was the closeness of the competition, we had six teams still in the hunt for a semifinal place before the final round. To add to the spectacle, we saw two virtual Quarter Finals with the Crusaders vs Brumbies and Waratahs vs Hurricanes.
The year was one of the most successful for South Africa as for the first time ever, they had teams filling the top two slots on the table. The Australian teams looked up this year too, with the Brumbies, Waratahs and Reds all in the hunt for the top four right until the end. The New Zealand teams were slightly off the pace this year but don't underestimate them once they get their top team out on the field come Tri-Nations time.
My Power Rankings this week will take a slightly different look at things, focusing more on each team's season, rather than their recent form. I will also look to name an MVP for each team who will be the player that I think influenced their performance the most.
1. The Bulls (1): Last Week: Lost vs Stormers 38-10 Win/Loss: 10-3
The Bulls complete the season on top of the Power Rankings, just as they have been all season. By finishing on top of the table they ensure they are guaranteed a home semifinal and a home final should they win their semi. This should be enough to get them their third championship but anything could happen.
Positives: A great season. Scored plenty of points, proved unbeatable at home.
Negatives: Struggled away from home at times, defence was a bit shaky too.
MVP: Victor Matfield. He was his consistent brilliant self once again, cleaning up in the lineouts and remained a cool head around the field leading by example.
2. The Stormers (5): Last Week: Won vs Bulls 38-10 Win/Loss: 9-4
The Stormers have done enough to secure a home semifinal after a comfortable win over a second string Bulls side. They will be favoured heading into their semifinal where they will take on the Waratahs for a spot in the final.
Positives: Defensively they were awesome. Pretty good on attack too, but their defence was flawless.
Negatives: They had the odd off-day, they will be wanting to make sure this doesn't happen next week.
MVP: Andries Bekker. Was outstanding this year. This award could have easily gone to Habana or Burger but the way Bekker controlled the lineout and his work rate around the park was what sold him to me.
3. The Crusaders (4): Last Week: Won vs Brumbies 40-22 Win/Loss: 8-4-1
The Crusaders got their campaign back on track with a comprehensive win over the Brumbies. In doing so they qualified for their 12th semifinal in the 15 years the competition has been running. They will be doing well to win their 8th championship however, as they will most likely have to beat both the Bulls and Stormers in South Africa.
Positives: They were able to play typical Crusaders rugby for much of the season which is a recipe for success.
Negatives: They proved to be a bit dodgy on the road, losing every game outside of New Zealand.
MVP: Richie McCaw. It was a toss up between Richie and Zac Guilford but McCaw gets the award for being his consistent self after coming off an injury.
4. The Waratahs (3): Last Week: Won vs Hurricanes 32-16 Win/Loss: 9-4
The Waratahs were too good for the Hurricanes and finished as the third qualifier for the semifinals. They were a team who was generally consistent all year, although they will want to forget their horror performance against the Highlanders where their forwards were destroyed.
Positives: Played a good style of rugby and showed good ability to win close matches which can be the difference between finishing high up on the table or low down.
Negatives: The Highlanders showed how to beat them, they didn't like getting hit hard up front which is something that the Stormers are likely to do to them next week.
MVP: Drew Mitchell. Scored nine tries, was always a handful and had a top season.
5. The Reds (7): Last Week: Won vs Highlanders 38-36 Win/Loss: 8-5
Won one of the most exciting games of the season by beating the Highlanders 38-36. The most successful season for the Reds in almost a decade. They have a young team who will continue to improve and will be serious contenders in years to come.
Positives: Were excellent this year, particularly in their wins over the Bulls, Stormers and Crusaders. Played a positive style of rugby and were rewarded with many tries.
Negatives: Consistency was a problem towards the end of the season.
MVP: Will Genia. Cooper and Braid both make valid cases but Will Genia was the main reason for the Reds success this year. He was simply fantastic, I couldn't find a flaw in his game.
6. The Brumbies (6): Last Week: Lost vs Crusaders 40-22 Win/Loss: 8-5
The Brumbies couldn't get over the final hurdle to make the semifinals in playing off with the Crusaders. They were generally consistent throughout the competition never being beaten by a great deal. Their performance of the season came against the Reds where they won 32-12.
Positives: Were consistent as I said above, were capable of beating every team in the competition. This wasn't the case however, losing five matches by narrow margins.
Negatives: Struggled to put away the weaker teams at times, only securing five bonus points.
MVP: Matt Giteau. Giteau was warmly welcomed back to the Brumbies this year and after a slow start to the season, reminded us just how good he is by the end.
7. The Hurricanes (2): Last Week: Lost vs Waratahs 32-16 Win/Loss: 7-5-1
It was very much a season of 'what if?' for the Hurricanes. They started off well, going three from three. The wheels fell off when the went to South Africa and only really came back on in the last four weeks. They should have qualified for the top four, but a shocking middle phase of the season saw that dream go out the window.
Positives: Were almost unstoppable on attack when at their best with the likes of Hosea Gear, Cory Jane, David Smith and Tamati Ellison all showing their flair.
Negatives: That middle part of the season was a killer.
MVP: Cory Jane. He was classy from the back all year. Dangerous on attack, safe under the high ball and generally very good on defence.
8. The Sharks (8): Last Week: Won vs Force 27-22 Win/Loss: 7-6
After losing their first five games the Sharks went 7-1 for the rest of the season. Had they not left their run so late they could have surely qualified for the top four, prospects look food for next year.
Positives: Their finish to the season was amazing, losing to only the Bulls in their last eight games.
Negatives: In contrast, they started the season with a 0-5 run which effectively ended their playoff hopes.
MVP: Ryan Kankowski. Ran well and had a high work rate, carrying the Sharks all year. Narrowly edges out Ruan Pienaar who also had an excellent season.
9. The Blues (9): Last Week: Won vs Chiefs 30-20 Win/Loss: 7-6
Inconsistency. That was the story of the Blues season. On their day they were world beaters, putting up the best performance of the year against the Blues. Inability to do this consistently was the difference between them and the top teams.
Positives: Looked good on attack and showed they can be an excellent team.
MVP: Joe Rokocoko. It was great to see Joe back on try scoring form as he dotted down nine times to be the competitions leading try scorer along with Drew Mitchell.
10. The Cheetahs (10): Last Week: Won vs Lions 59-10 Win/Loss: 5-7-1
The Cheetahs capped off their most successful season in Super 14 with a big win over the Lions. They were very good at home but tended to struggle on the road. They should be happy with their season as they are moving in the right direction and should be a better team next year.
Positives: Five wins is a big improvement on last year’s 14th place performance.
Negatives: Weren’t so good on the road, this should be their focus for next year.
MVP: Juan Smith. He was injured for half the season, but the Cheetahs good runs did coincide with when he was playing.
11. The Force (11): Last Week: Lost vs Sharks 27-22 Win/Loss: 4-9
A team who got better as the season progressed. Were hard hit by injuries for the first few weeks and suffered correspondingly. They showed good grit to fight back for four wins with the best of these being their victory over the Stormers.
Positives: A young team who must not hang their heads after a below average season. They showed in the second half of the season that they can play rugby and they must take that attitude into next year from round one.
Negatives: That slow start didn’t help, even so, I don’t think they were a top four team.
MVP: James O’Connor. This kid is good. After being thrown straight into the deep-end last year, O’Connor excelled this year, proving to be a year more mature and was key to the Force in their four wins.
12. The Highlanders (13): Last Week: Lost vs Reds 38-36 Win/Loss: 3-10
Another typical season for the Highlanders. So close, yet so far. Their inability to win close games has once again cost them many wins with games against the Blues, Hurricanes, Reds and Chiefs all being ones that they should have won but let slip away with basic errors.
Positives: Were good in patches this year, need to be more consistent next year.
Negatives: Couldn’t close out those close games, continuing their trend from the past few seasons.
MVP: Israel Dagg. Dagg was a class above this year, proving to be deadly from the back, rarely putting a foot wrong and set up many a try.
13. The Chiefs (12): Last Week: Lost vs Blues 30-20 Win/Loss: 4-7-1
The Chiefs started off like a house on fire, winning their first three matches, all on the road. Since then however, the Chiefs only managed one more win, and a lucky win at that. The loss of their captain Mils Muliaina was devastating but I think the problem was a mental one for the Chiefs as they showed at the start of the year just how good they could be.
Positives: Their first three games, the positives end here.
Negatives: Going 1-7-1 for their last nine games.
MVP: Liam Messam. I was grasping at straws a bit here but Messam was generally pretty good in comparison to the rest of his team.
14. The Lions (14): Last Week: Lost vs Cheetahs 59-10 Win/Loss: 0-13
The 2010 Lions finish the season as the worst team in Super Rugby history, remaining winless for the entire season. Need I say anymore?
Positives: They showed they can score tries.
Negatives: Defensively they were awful.
MVP: Michael Killian. If I was grasping at straws with the Chiefs, I’m grasping at thin air here. I go for Killian purely because he was their leading try scorer.