Super 14
The dust has settled
Keiran Smith
May 24, 2010
Waratahs centre Tom Carter breaks clear, Stormers v Waratahs, Super 14 semi-final, Newlands, Cape Town, South Africa, May 22, 2010
Waratahs centre Tom Carter in action in Saturday's defeat by the Stormers in Cape Town © Getty Images
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Tournaments/Tours: Super 14
Teams: Australia | Brumbies | Force

With the Waratahs meek, yet ultimately expected, exit to the Stormers on Saturday night, another year will pass without an Australian province being etched on to the Super Rugby trophy.

The focus now turns to who will make the cut in Robbie Deans 3rd season at the helm, but first lets look back at a season where the Aussie teams, in the majority, performed with distinction.

Again the Tahs were the last team standing at the end of the regular season and again they have been pilloried for winning ugly by the media and supporters alike. Coach Chris Hickey will point to the team's success in finishing third in the world's strongest provincial competition but it did take his team some time to find their feet, particularly in midfield as new recruit Berrick Barnes struggled to adapt.

The frustration for many with the Waratahs is that they have a backline of world class finishers, who rather than counter attack are largely instructed to kick for territory instead. Certainly this is a percentage play and in most parts has been successful, but when you have the talent and raw speed of Messrs Mitchell, Turner and Beale on hand, surely you must let them off the leash. The Mitchell and Beale blitzkrieg of the Hurricanes in week 14 is exactly what the supporters want.

While the backline generates debate, the forward pack certainly does not as they consistently grind their opponents into submission. Prop Benn Robinson's reputation continues to grow, while 20-year-old rookie lock Kane Douglas was one of the finds of the season.

With a young team, a new coach and years of poor results, not much was expected of the Reds in 2010. Fortunately, no one told the players as their attacking style became the feel good story of the season. Their positive mantra led them to eight victories, including three wins against the top four, while also going within a breath of deservedly claiming the prized Waratahs scalp (how costly those three lost points turned out to be!).

That they were still in contention until the penultimate round, despite losing talisman James Horwill to injury in only week two, spoke volumes of the leadership ability and sheer talent of Will Genia and the cohesive influence of coach Ewen McKenzie - the two stand out personalities of the 2010 season.

Although, most pleasingly, the Reds charge was equally led by their 'young-guns' and when Robbie Deans announces his Wallabies squad later this week it will be a travesty if the likes of centre Will Chambers, wing Rod Davies, prop Laurie Weeks and backrow Scott Higginbotham (if not out injured) do not receive their first call up.

With a roster consisting of three Wallabies captains past and present and several other frontline Wallabies, a sixth-placed finish in 2010 can only be classed as disappointing for the Brumbies. Yes, it will be argued they were still in the mix until the final round, but the Brumbies never really lived up to their potential this season and ranking below the Reds and Waratahs will not be easily digested by the most-credentialed squad in the country.

There were glimpses of the undoubted potential, not least in their performances against the Reds in Canberra and Stormers in Cape Town, but the consistency needed to challenge for the championship was sorely missed. Really, it was the loss to the Hurricanes and then the controversial defeat at the hands of the Waratahs - or to some, referee Steve Walsh - that sounded the death knell for the Brumbies in 2010.

With George Smith also deciding to move on, the likes of Matt Giteau and Rocky Elsom will need to carry more of the burden in 2011, a weight unlikely to faze two players primed for a big occasion.

Western Force
All in all it has been a season the very loyal Force fans will want to forget, even despite the long-awaited move away from the 'Siberian-like' vastness of their former home to a more viewer friendly stadium. They suffered ten defeats and finished only above the Lions, while coach John Mitchell also flagged his intentions to move on after his current contract.

However there were some bright points to a disappointing season, not least the continued renaissance of Nathan Sharpe, who in the absence of Dan Vickerman and James Horwill will form the spine of the Wallabies pack in the domestic Test season. Considering Sharpe was in the international wilderness after being dumped from the Tri Nations squad in 2008, his return to form will be a welcome blessing for Robbie Deans.

From veteran to tyro, David Pocock confirmed his form of 2009 was not solely a flash in the pan and with the international retirement of George Smith, opportunity now beckons for him to lay permanent claim to the gold No.7 jersey. Fullback James O'Connor also excelled, particularly in the early rounds. His strong performances during the six straight defeats to open the season spoke volumes of his growing maturity at this level and the 19-year-old has done no harm to his Wallabies aspirations.

So that leads me to selecting the inaugural 'Aussie Super 14 Team of the Year'. With three Australian provinces finishing inside the top six, there were plenty of strong candidates, but nevertheless here it is....

15. James O'Connor (Force)
14. Drew Mitchell (Waratahs)
13. Will Chambers (Reds)
12. Matt Giteau (Brumbies)
11. Lachie Turner (Waratahs)
10. Quade Cooper (Reds)
9. Will Genia (Reds)
8. Stephen Hoiles (Brumbies)
7. David Pocock (Force)
6. Scott Higginbotham (Reds)
5. Nathan Sharpe (Force)
4. Van Humphries (Reds)
3. Laurie Weeks (Reds)
2. Tatafu Polota Nau (Waratahs)
1. Ben Alexander (Brumbies)

16. Stephen Moore (Brumbies)
17. Benn Robinson (Waratahs)
18. Dean Mumm (Waratahs)
19. Leroy Houston (Reds)
20. Berrick Barnes (Waratahs)
21. Rob Horne (Waratahs)
22. Digby Ioane (Reds)

Coach: Ewen McKenzie (Reds)


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