The Super Rugby season is done and dusted, but what can we take out of another Kiwi championship?
1. Kiwi glory years aren't over just yet
The production line of Kiwi rugby talent never seems to be switched off. Even with the mass departure of some of their biggest names, the New Zealand sides dominated their opposition. Australian sides managed just three wins against their trans-Tasman rivals through a whole season of Super Rugby and none of those came outside Australia. Dan Carter and Richie McCaw left a void at the Crusaders but Richie Mo’unga and Matt Todd looked plenty capable of playing crucial roles as their careers go on. Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie, Melani Nanai all showed their wares in their respective backlines. Meanwhile, future All Blacks captain Sam Cane faces a major threat from boom flanker Ardie Savea, who was superb for the tournament champion Hurricanes. The ease with which they can turn players over is the envy of the rest of the rugby world.
2. South Africa can play running rugby
South Africans play set piece, field position, kick-heavy rugby. Try telling that to the Lions, who were spectacular with some of their running rugby this season. Flyhalf Elton Jantjies had a breakthrough season as the Lions surfed a fairytale wave all the way through to their first Super Rugby grand final. They finished with the most tries of any team across Super Rugby (81) and it will be interesting to see if that translates into the Test arena. Springboks coach Allister Coetzee has spoken about the need for the Springboks to change the way they go about winning Tests and with nine of that successful Lions side in his recently named 31-man squad, he could have the chance to test his theory straight up.
3. Conference win critical
If there was one thing made pretty clear in a sometimes confusing Super Rugby format, it was that winning your conference is the only way to go. Even a dominant home an away season for the New Zealand teams netted just one home quarter-final, making that top spot even more coveted. The Hurricanes were able to stay home throughout the finals, as were the Lions for the opening two weeks and the home ground advantage paid dividends
4. Defence wins championships
The Hurricanes’ scintillating attack was the most spectacular part of their game, with the Wellington side lighting up the Super Rugby competition. But in three matches played in torrential conditions, it was their defence that will define their season. The Hurricanes kept the Sharks to a shutout in the quarter-finals and neither the Chiefs nor the Lions could manage a five-pointer against the ultimate champions. The Hurricanes managed 72 tries all season, conceding just 37, the second fewest of any team bar the Highlanders, Waratahs and the Bulls. The most telling statistic is their try differential finished at 35 - the highest of any team across Super Rugby.
5. Long road ahead for Australian conferernces
As spectacular as the New Zealand teams were, the disappointment of the Australian conferences was almost as extreme. The Brumbies were touted as Championship winners in preseason but fell short of that mark, due to a number of factors. The Waratahs rallied after a slow start but were left to rue missed chances when their season ended before the playoffs began. Injuries cruelled the Rebels, who have ordered a review to address their health issues, while the Reds and the Force will both move forward with different coaches. In a year that started out so optimistically, Australia’s Super Rugby teams failed to capitalise on the World Cup momentum.