2 Fijians in top list

THE Super Rugby regular season is done and dusted.

Four teams remain after an exciting quarter-finals stage saw the Chiefs, Crusaders, Hurricanes and Lions progress to the final four.

The Fox Sports Lab team has crunched the numbers and put together Super Rugby’s XV of the year from the regular season.

It includes two Fijians; Samu Kerevi of the Reds and Waisake Naholo of the Highlanders.

1: Jacques van Rooyen (Lions)

The Lions finished on top in the regular season and were the most consistent team all year – albeit they didn’t play a New Zealand team.

But if they are to break their duck and win their maiden Super Rugby title, they will have to beat two New Zealand teams, including last year’s champions, the Hurricanes, in this weekend’s semi-finals.

Like any great team, it starts up-front and the Lions have been well led by their loose-head prop van Rooyen.

The 30-year-old was colossal at the set-piece forcing 28 penalities at the scrum and played in all 15 matches throughout the season.

Hardly a one-trick pony, van Rooyen ran 310 metres from his 57 runs and scored two tries, as well as making 61 tackles in defence.

2: Malcolm Marx (Lions)

With the Springbok hooker position open following the international retirement of Adriaan Strauss, Marx has been the dominant hooker in South Africa this year.

And the 23-year-old’s been rewarded for his stellar season too after being selected in all three June Tests against France.

A master at the throw, Marx hit the mark with 115 of his 128 throws.

Across the ground he also scored eight tries and made 18 tackle busts. This guy’s going to play a lot of Test match rugby.

3: Allan Alaalatoa (Brumbies)

With Test loose-head Scott Sio missing for much of the year, young Alaalatoa stepped up and built upon last year’s breakout season.

He’s now well and truly established himself as one of the premier props in the world.

The scary thing is Alaalatoa’s just 23-years-old. Australian rugby desperately needs damaging forwards who can truck the ball up and that’s exactly what they’ve got in Alaalatoa.

He made 84 runs this season for 410 run metres and bumped away five defenders along the way.

His 118 tackles and 16 scrum penalties showed that the young tight-head is great in tight and at the set-piece.

4: Brodie Retallick (Chiefs)

He was always going to feature in the team, wasn’t he?

Retallick’s the world’s best second-rower and he once again delivered in spades in 2017.

Dynamic in attack and brutal in defence, the Chiefs’ premier forward was everywhere.

His 371 run metres, 19 tackle busts and four line breaks highlighted his ability with ball-in-hand. While his 37 lineout wins, two against the throw, showed his set-piece prowess.

5: Franco Mostert (Lions)

Mostert continues to get better and better and his fantastic form meant he was once again a lock for the Springboks earlier this year.

The 26-year-old, who made his Test debut last year, clocked up close to 500 metres from 95 runs and pulled of a mighty 140 tackles. He was the Lions’ go to man at the lineout, too, winning 56 throws, of which 11 came from opposition ball.

6: Siya Kolisi (Stormers)

Kolisi is very much the heart of the Stormers.

The 26-year-old flanker played in every match for the Stormers this year and regularly played out the entire 80 minutes.

His fine form saw him called up to the Springboks and Kolisi started at open-side flanker in the three June Tests against France.

In Super Rugby, Kolisi scored five tries, made 444 run metres in attack and made 10 linebreaks.

While in defence he was just at strong making 134 tackles and three pilfers.

7: George Smith (Reds)

By his own lofty standard, George Smith took a couple of weeks to find his groove after a three-year absence from Super Rugby.

But by anyone else’s standard, Smith was outstanding for the Reds in what was a difficult season for the club.

He played in every match for the Reds and his leadership and presence, on and off the field, was important for a club that has been on their knees since 2013.

On the field he clocked up a staggering 533 run metres, which included 21 tackle busts and 19 offloads.

While in defence he was a rock over the ball pulling off 169 tackles and a competition high 17 breakdown turnovers.

The 37-year-old, who will also feature for the Reds next season, was a little too consistently on the wrong end of the whistle, but his influence on the side will be invaluable going forward.

8: Amanaki Mafi (Rebels)

Despite excelling at the 2015 World Cup, Mafi came to the Rebels a relative unknown in 2017.

By the end of the season many were lamenting the fact he’s been capped 16 times for Japan and ineligible for the Wallabies.

Wouldn’t the Wallabies kill for a No 8 of Mafi’s quality.

Mafi was the Rebels’ best in 2017 and indeed one of Super Rugby’s best performers too.

His enthusiasm, willingness to get involved and effectiveness, particularly in tight, was outstanding. The 27-year-old made a competition high 184 runs, which saw him run a staggering 1378 metres.

He was hugely difficult to bring down, shrugging of 48 tackles and making 12 line breaks.

Nor was he just sea gulling in defence, making 166 tackles and pulling off 15 breakdown turnovers.

9: TJ Perenara (Hurricanes)

It’s quite amazing to think that this bloke didn’t even start for the All Blacks against the Lions.

Perenara’s form has simply been through the roof this year.

What stands out is Perenara’s consistency.

And with regular captain Dane Coles missing for much of the year because of injury, Perenara’s leadership has been on display too and he’s done a fine job leading last year’s Super Rugby champs.

On the field Perenara’s been at the forefront of the Hurricanes’ attack, which was the best in the competition.

As well as his impressive numbers in attack, Perenara’s a gun over the ball and has won seven breakdown turnovers.

10: Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes)

The All Blacks’ fly-half has edged out Elton Jantjies for the playmaking role after yet another influential season.

Earlier in the season Barrett came under fire for not being able to lead the Hurricanes out of trouble against the Chiefs and Crusaders.

But on the whole Barrett has been electric as ever and he remains the world’s best playmaker, and his contest against Jantjies in this weekend’s semi-final shapes as a beauty.

His numbers were as usual strong even though his younger brother, Jordie, took the kicking responsibilities for most of the season. Barrett ran 847 metres and scored four tries, while setting up another 11 and making nine linebreaks too.

11: James Lowe (Chiefs)

It’s a shame Lowe is heading to Leinster at season’s end because the Chiefs winger is a player who puts bums on seats.

The 25-year-old possesses blistering speed and a booming long left-boot. In attack Lowe ran 1431 metres, made 19 linebreaks and scored 11 tries and his combination with Damian McKenzie was something to hold your breath for.

12: Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes)

The obvious choice at inside centre given his rapid rise to the All Blacks in 2017.

Laumape broke the Hurricanes’ tryscoring record this year, crossing 14 times throughout the regular season.

To go alongside his tries, Laumape made 58 tackle busts and 11 linebreaks. And it’s that attacking potency which impressed All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.

13: Samu Kerevi (Reds)

The Reds’ acting captain missed the final two games of the season because of injury, but until bowing out in the first few minutes against the Blues in Samoa he was very impressive.

Kerevi is one of the most potent threats in Australian rugby.

He’s extremely difficult to cut down when running with the ball and it’s that threat which has many pundits hoping that Wallabies coach Michael Cheika picks him for the Bledisloe Tests.

On the field this year he scored five times and ran an impressive 1211 metres, which featured 69 tackle busts and 15 linebreaks.

But once again Kerevi’s dodgy defence was exposed at times and that remains the biggest concern over his game.

14: Waisake Naholo (Highlanders)

Missed six weeks early on because of injury, but Naholo was damaging every time he set foot on the field.

The All Blacks winger ran almost 1000 metres in attack and made 10 linebreaks, which sat nicely alongside his nine tries.

Naholo’s explosive form saw him start against the Lions in the second Test in Wellington.

15: Damian McKenzie (Chiefs)

The kid that can’t get a start with the All Blacks has been arguably Super Rugby’s best player for the past two seasons.

McKenzie is one of the most electric players in World Rugby and his influence on the Chiefs has been profound.

His numbers are freakish.

Playing predominantly at fullback, the 22-year-old ran a competition high 1545 metres, made 77 tackle busts and 19 linebreaks.

McKenzie also scored six tries and kicked at 77 per cent from the tee.

Bench:

16: Codie Taylor (Crusaders) – Did you see me score the opening try against the Lions in Auckland?

17: Thomas du Toit (Sharks) – A loose-head prop for the future!

18: Sekope Kepu (Waratahs) – Scored the best individual try of the season against the Chiefs.

19: Eben Etzbeth (Stormers) – A boss at the set-piece.

20: Ardie Savea (Hurricanes) – The most explosive back-rower in the competition.

21: Ross Cronje (Lions) – See ya, Faf.

22: Elton Jantjies (Lions) – See what happens when you pick me in a Test, Allister? We win.

23: Dillyn Leyds (Stormers).

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