Aaron Cruden of the Chiefs leads a team haka to celebrate winning the Super Rugby title on Saturday. Photo: Getty Images
The talking points from Super Rugby.
1. The player of the tournament was Aaron Cruden. The Chiefs' five-eighth finished as the competition's top points-scorer and expertly directed his side around all season. The strength of the Chiefs' coaching panel has been frequently remarked upon, but it doesn't mean a thing unless you have a navigator such as Cruden who can implement the game plans. Against the Sharks on Saturday night, he repeatedly found space with his clever short kicking game and gives the impression he always has options and time when he carries the ball to the line in both hands. Dan Carter has a challenger for his All Blacks jersey.
2. The burning issue was the Australian conference. There isn't enough talent for five healthy Australian teams at the present. That argument is best articulated by the actions of the players themselves, who are migrating away from the teams that give them little chance of winning a title or participating in a finals series. Opening the door for more foreign players has been proposed as one solution, but the quality of the imports has been an issue from day one – some have prospered, while others have added little. There will be a great deal of scrutiny on what Michael Foley can produce at the Force in the next three years. The arguments goes that a fifth team is for the national good but not one single player who will play in Perth next year has made the Wallabies squad.
3. The Australian player of the year was Will Genia. It is a measure of Genia's class that when he is not regularly putting in game-winning performances people start to quibble about his form. He carried a heavy load at the Reds this year, especially in the first part of the season when his five-eighth partners were changing every week, but he was wonderful in the later stages. The Reds will be back in 2013 – and years after that – because this little fellow is around. One of the few players New Zealanders really fear, the Wallabies' chances in the Rugby Championship will mirror Genia's form.
4. The rookie of the year was Eben Etzebeth. Even more difficult to choose than the player of the year, given the incredible range of talent across all conferences. But in ratings of difficulty, the feat achieved by Etzebeth – emerging as an enforcer at the tender age of 20 against packs laden with Springboks and All Blacks – really stood out. A long and successful Test career is ahead if the injury Gods are kind. Already, they have him in doubt for the Rugby Championship.
5. The disappointment of the year was shared between the Waratahs and the Blues. Perhaps disappointment is an inappropriate choice of word, as both have become accustomed to underachievement. Yet there was something in the scale of their respective failures that caught the eye. The Waratahs looked off the pace from the early rounds, when it became clear that had an inability or unwillingness to chance their arm in attack, especially from turnover ball. The Blues were quite simply, at times, as bad as any Super Rugby side to come out of New Zealand. Injuries played a role in both sides' campaigns, but it didn't tell the full story.