Super, thanks for asking
May 13, 2010
George Gregan hoists the 2001 Super 12 trophy aloft © Getty Images
The Super 14 could bid farewell to one of its most enduring figures this weekend as Brumbies legend George Smith prepares for a win or bust showdown with the Crusaders. The openside, capped 110 times by Australia, is heading for pastures new after a Super Rugby career that brought two titles, Player of the Year awards in 2006 and 2009, four consecutive Australian Super 14 Player of the Year honours and numerous Brett Robinson accolades as the Brumbies' most valuable player. With his achievements in mind we've selected the stars of the southern hemisphere's top competition in our latest Scrum Seven.
Many a tree has gone the way of the pulper in order for praise to be lavished on George Gregan, the most capped Test player of all time. The diminutive scrum-half won the World Cup with Australia in 1999 as well as the Tri-Nations in 2000 and 2001. His Super Rugby career was equally successful, with titles for the Brumbies in 2001 and 2004 while in harness with his long-time halfback partner Stephen Larkham. Gregan is to date the most capped Super Rugby player and his name, along with Larkham's, now adorns a stand at Canberra Stadium. Gregan ended his Super 14 career in 2007 to join French side Toulon before moving to Japan with Suntory.
A brooding presence in New Zealand rugby, Thorne's Super Rugby career was about as showy as King Midas' sock drawer. The versatile forward, capped 50 times by the All Blacks at lock and flanker, captaining them 22 times, rode the crest of the Crusaders' wave at the turn of the century as they swept all before them. He won titles in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2008, bowing out of New Zealand rugby, along with coach Robbie Deans, following victory over the Waratahs in the 2008 final. In 2002 he skippered the franchise to an unbeaten season en route to the title. Following his exit after 13 seasons and 129 games for the Crusaders, Thorne joined Japanese side Yamaha.
The Springoks flyer has always had the showbiz mix of pace and personality and with his winning try in the 2007 Super 14 final he ensured the most dramatic end to a final in memory. With the Sharks and Habana's Bulls scrapping it out to be crowned the first South African champions, the game was poised at 19-13 to the men from Durban. With seconds left, Habana cut his way through a tired Sharks defence and past Springbok team-mate JP Pietersen for an injury-time try that set up the match-winning conversion for fly-half Derick Hougaard.
Joe Roff's career spanned Australian rugby's halcyon period following the 1999 Rugby World Cup, but the Brumbies utility back had already made his mark in Super Rugby by racking up 15 tries in the 1997 season, a mark equalled only by Rico Gear of the Crusaders in the first season of Super 14 competition. Roff's appetite for competition saw him pick up a French Top 14 championship with Biarritz in 2002, inbetween Super Rugby successes with the Brumbies in 2001 and 2004. He took leave of the Brumbies following success in the 2004 final, heading to Oxford University, where he won Blues in the famous Varsity Match.
Carter's status as the poster boy of New Zealand, if not world, rugby is not without basis. The All Black fly-half's class is well documented and has been demonstrated at every level of competition. In Super Rugby he has overhauled the points scoring record, previously held by Brumbies stalwart Stirling Mortlock and has won the title on three occasions, in 2005, 2006 and 2008. On two occasions he has taken home top prize in the Player of the Year stakes and in 2006 he bagged a haul of 226 points, the current record for most in a Super Rugby season, although that mark could soon be eclipsed by Bulls points machine Morne Steyn.
Howlett is one of a rare breed of players to have lifted top prize in both of world rugby's premier competitions - the other being Australian Rod Kafer. In 2003 he blazed a trail with the Blues as they claimed the Super 12 title and in 2008 he donned the red of Munster as they wound a path to victory in the Heineken Cup. Howlett, capped 62 times by the All Blacks, is New Zealand's leading try-scorer in Tests and also holds the record for most Super Rugby tries. His 59 five-pointers make him the deadliest finisher in the history of the competition, and all that while sporting a perm.
Ralph's Super Rugby legacy did not translate into success in the Test arena, but his contribution to the great Crusaders sides was huge. The winger was capped 14 times by New Zealand but it was at domestic level that he excelled and like Thorne, his trophy cabinet is full to bursting. It was his longevity and hardiness that led to him becoming a linchpin of the Crusaders setup, with his caps tally falling only one short of Gregan's. The amazing thing about Ralph's career is his stat for consecutive games at Super Rugby level - 103 in a row for the Crusaders between 1999 and 2006. He has since plyed his trade in Japan and recently began the season with the Brisbane club side Sunshine Coast Stingrays - alongside former Wallabies Toutai Kefu and Morgan Turinui.