With World Cup spots on offer, an exciting Super Rugby season is upon us! Here are ten stars set to stick in the headlines over the next 16 or so weeks.
‘Towering’ is a word thrown around rather loosely when describing forwards approaching 2 metres, but in this case it’s well earned. Only Rory Arnold of the Brumbies stands above the 206cm Canterbury standout. In the past his workrate and fitness have been criticized, but an impressive ITM Cup followed by an invitation to play with the Barbarians prompted a late call into the All Blacks tour in November. His athleticism marks him as a genuine talent, and though he is already a full international there are much higher expectations for him going forward.
After blowing out his left knee against Scotland in June of 2013, he suffered the very same injury in a pre-season comeback match in February of last year. For most high level athletes, that pretty much spells the end. The dynamic back rower with a superhero physique has been earmarked as a future Springbok captain since he captained his country at u20 level, and was hugely impressive in his test debut. It will have been more than 18 months since that day in Nelspruit when he takes the field this weekend, an achievement in and of itself, and all concerned will be hoping he sticks around for a while this time.
New Australian coach Michael Cheika is on the lookout for some imposing tight forwards. One quick stop in Perth might do the trick. The son of former Tongan test captain Pau’u Afeaki, he combines huge physicality with an immense frame that proves more than useful in the set piece. Coleman took a big step forward in 2014, if he takes another at the start of this season he could be in a test jumper by the end of it.
Tall and rangy, the Kiwi-born flyhalf resembles a certain Brumbies head coach, albeit a little bigger and with a better boot. He also has a habit of breaking defensive lines, either by ghosting through a gap himself or using an impressive passing arsenal to spring his strike runners. Easily the standout performer in the new NRC competition, he outscored his closest competitor by 40% and tied for 3rd in tries scored. Wallaby honours aren’t so much an ‘if’ as a ‘when’.
It’s been more than two years since the pocket dynamo won the last of his 14 Springbok caps, and it’s starting to look pretty obvious that his style just doesn’t fit into Heyneke Meyer’s plans. All of a sudden, however, those plans might need revisiting. With terrible injuries to Jean de Villiers and Paul Jordaan combined with Jaque Fourie’s retirement from test rugby, South African midfield options have thinned out dramatically. After a terrific 2014 that saw finish as the form centre in the Currie Cup, another dominant run with the Stormers could vault him back into international contention.
Few players have arrived on the scene with so much hype as this young man. South African fans have been salivating at the thought of a second row combination with Eben Etzebeth, a duo seen as the natural long-term successors to the legendary engine room of Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield. The rise of du Toit was temporarily derailed with a serious knee injury, but he is set to resume regular duties and prove himself ready to take on the world in England later this year. His potential showdown with Big Vic and the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld on February 28th should make for a thrilling lineout contest.
If you haven’t seen this bloke in action yet, you are in for a treat. The former Fijian u20 midfielder looks certain to follow in the footsteps of Tevita Kuridrani and trade the white jersey for a gold one. A powerhouse build with excellent footwork, he revels in taking the ball to the line and breaking through heavy traffic. Anthony Fainga’a, Ben Tapua’i, these are yesterday’s men. The time is now for Kerevi to wreak havoc on Super Rugby.
Three years ago he was tearing up the 7s circuit. A year later he was playing for the Blues. Roll on another 12 months and he was nowhere to be seen, dropped by the Blues and unwanted by Gordon Tietjens. Questions about his dedication, his defense, and some injury problems had his star on the wane. Thankfully his try-scoring abilities did not go to waste, and his character shined through in an outstanding ITM Cup season in 2014 which earned him a contract with the Highlanders. They could have a real gem on their hands if he lives up to his potential.
It’s about time for Wellington’s golden boy to stop being Julian’s younger brother and make a name for himself. An openside of tremendous athletic ability, he has been the next big thing since exploding onto the 7s scene as an 18 year old under the tutelage of Wise Master Tietjens. Now entering his third Super Rugby season and with Jack Lam now in England, the Hurricanes no7 jersey is his to lose. His task now is to wrestle the black jersey from Sam Cane. The world is watching and waiting.
At the ripe old age of 23, Sio is already an automatic selection at loosehead for the Brumbies, and has been for the past two seasons. He has 5 test caps and would have had more if not for an untimely ankle injury that has kept him on the shelf since July. Given that props invariably get better with age, the sky appears the limit for one of Australia’s brightest talents. A World Cup spot should be a given, and a starting spot might yet be up for grabs.