It’s time for a new season of Super Rugby, the world’s fastest competition with big hits and mad skills aplenty. Here are ten players to keep your eye on this year.
It’s not often that roster spots in the All Blacks become available, and even less so starting ones, but that’s exactly what the young Otago hooker has on offer. Andrew Hore has retired, Keven Mealamu is on his last legs, and Dane Coles is hardly convincing, so Steve Hansen has made it abundantly clear that he’s looking for a new no2. Coltman seems to have everything: size, physicality, work rate, a great beard; it will be the consistency of his throwing that makes or breaks his chances this season.
Perhaps it was the selection of Joe Moody for the All Blacks that set his sights on Australia, but whatever it was he’ll have the attention of Ewen McKenzie pretty quickly if he settles in early. Australia’s prop stocks have been precariously thin in recent times and the Super Rugby winning loosehead could not have come at a better time. He’s not the burliest specimen around but he’s powerful and if he proves comfortable with the new scrum engage he could be wearing a Wallaby jumper sooner than later.
It would be hard not to watch this bloke given the size of him. The giant lock of Samoan heritage showed some of his potential with an eye-catching display against the British & Irish Lions. With Sitaleki Timani heading north, most pundits agree that a serious piano mover is required in the Wallaby pack, and while the Manu would love to have him in a blue jersey, it’s the gold jumper that almost certainly awaits the next big thing.
Quality opensides are a dime-a-dozen in Australia, blindside flankers not so much. This young man has quietly gone about establishing himself in Perth, packing down in the no6 jersey on a dozen occasions over the past two seasons, and effectively keeping former Wallaby Richard Brown out of the side. He’s not the biggest option, but his work rate is outstanding, his tackling exemplary, and he’s a surprisingly effective runner.
The long-striding no8 started every match for the Free State franchise last year, and was among the competition leaders in both tackles and carries. His season was so impressive it was a surprise not to hear his name called for the Springboks, though such is the life of a back rower in South Africa. While he may not have the destructive power of a Duane Vermeulen or Willem Alberts, his overall contribution makes up for it and if he carries on like he has been, it will be increasingly difficult for Heyneke Meyer to leave him on the outer.
The only player not to win a cap on the All Blacks tour in November must be wondering what he did wrong. Unfortunately his style doesn’t seem to suit Steve Hansen just yet, with Aaron Smith’s quickness and Tawera Kerr-Barlow’s size preferred. The Hurricane halfback has time on his side and has managed to overtake Piri Weepu in the pecking order, but if he’s going to have a crack at a spot in the World Cup team, he’ll have to prove this season that he can be a point of difference too.
An obvious choice but one impossible to ignore, most union fans will know the league convert only through highlight clips, if at all. There’s no doubting the talent, but fast approaching his 29th birthday he’ll have to reacquaint himself to the bigger game quicker than most. John Kirwan looks set to start him at flyhalf, an exciting prospect that could rapidly conjure memories of another magical Blues no10 of days gone by.
Not too many would have blinked at the arrival of this lad given that Fumiaki Tanaka and Shota Horie have already made their mark, but they would be well advised to keep an eye on one of the very best Japanese players on the planet. Equally comfortable at flyhalf or inside centre, his physical strength combined with his footballing skills marks him as an exceptional talent. Once he gets a better grasp on the language and his team’s strategies, he should prove an inspired signing.
Another import from Japan, but this time a Fijian one. The Cantabrians needed some bulk when Robbie Fruean moved to the Chiefs, and they’ve gone over the top to sign probably the biggest back in pro rugby. While Australian fans might remember him as something of a failed experiment from his time with the Waratahs, the big man has proved an unstoppable force in Japan, racking up 44 tries in 37 games, and doing his best impression of a bulldozer in the centres for Fiji. It’s the wing where he’ll most likely end up for the Crusaders, and on the highlight reels at the end of the season.
After the Kings languished in the basement last season and were summarily replaced by the Lions, it didn’t take long for the Sharks to snap up one of their most impressive talents. Beyond Willie le Roux there are precious few genuine attacking fullbacks queuing up for South Africa, and after enjoying a strong Currie Cup season with his adopted province the former Paarl Boys HS star is hoping a similar run in Super Rugby and an endorsement from new coach Jake White will improve his chances to win a Springbok cap. It certainly wouldn’t hurt them.