With the Super Rugby season entering the finals the RR looks at the young gun from each of the finalists that has emerged as a key player in their team’s respective push towards Super Rugby glory. In a season beset by form slumps from all of the six finalists, it is perhaps one of the hardest years to pick a bona-fide favourite to win the title. What isn’t in doubt is that in each team, a number of young guns, some unheralded or written-off, have hit form at the right time for their teams and are poised to be key players in the intensity and added-challenges of knockout rugby.
Chiefs: Ben Tameifuna (Prop)
Talent has never been in question with Big Ben Tameifuna. The 140kg monster is a precociously gifted player; combining incredible scrummaging proficiency with an all-round game not often associated with men of his size. Tameifuna’s purported character issues aside, few could argue that he has failed to perform for the Chiefs, particularly in recent months where he has become an important cog in the defending champions push towards the finals. A case in point was when he came on against the Hurricanes, in what was at that point a tightly contested affair, and preceded to destroy Ben Franks opposite him, giving the Chiefs the platform to kick on and win the game handsomely. Furthermore, his recent exploits against the Blues, which have generated an ounce of youtube stardom, show that he is currently firing on all cylinders – the unquestionable form player for the stuttering Chiefs. Indeed, the Chiefs’ scrum will be a huge factor in the semi-final as they need to give their vaunted backline a decent platform to unleash its attacking capabilities.
Bulls: Grant Hattingh (Lock)
The Bulls squad is replete with talented youngsters, but sadly their two superstars-in-the-making (Arno Botha and Jan Serfontein) are currently injured and will miss the entire Super Rugby finals. However, another, often-overlooked prospect, Grant Hattingh, has emerged in recent weeks as a key player for the Bulls’ title prospects. Hattingh has some pedigree as he was a Junior Springbok and amassed 9 caps with the Lions in last year’s Super Rugby campaign. However, Hattingh has never been held in the same regard as the other two emerging locks in South Africa: Etzebeth and du-Toit. Yet, he has been catapulted into the limelight and now, if van der Merve is injured as reported, is the most senior lock in the Bulls squad. Hattingh has versatility on his side; he is capable as a blindside and number 8 – safe to say he brings added athleticism to the lock position at the expense of raw power. Whether he can step up and play the key role the Bulls require of him will be interesting and something to keep an eye on in the semi-final.
Brumbies: Colby Faingaa (Openside flanker)
Colby, the younger brother of the Faingaa twins, has had something of a renaissance this year, particularly in the wake of George Smith and David Pocock’s injury woes. Entering 2013, few would have been brave enough to suggest Faingaa (despite obvious talent) would emerge as a key player for the Brumbies, but that is exactly what has happened. Tenacious, good with the ball in hand and possessing a bit of x-factor, Faingaa’s form has been so good in recent months (a great sign for the Rebels, where Faingaa will play in 2014) that he has been given the nod this weekend over George Smith (based on form not injury according to Jake White). The Brumbies looked awful last week (evoking memories of their Blues farce in 2012) and face a refreshed Cheetahs side this weekend. A lot rests on energy players, like Faingaa, to turn the tide and reinvigorate the Brumbies back into the title contenders they have looked all season.
Crusaders: Tom Marshall (Wing)
The Crusaders, in recent years, have become such an enigmatic team: inspired and unbeatable one week, unimaginative and clueless the next. Yet, while the team and certain star players can be characterized as being mercurial and unreliable, the same cannot be said of Tom Marshall who has been in consistently good form for the Crusaders all year long. Marshall, who emerged in the fabled 2011 season as a replacement for Israel Dagg, has put a disappointing 2012 behind him and turned himself into a mainstay on the wing, although his skillset is more suited to fullback (where he will aim to play for the Chiefs next year). Marshall lacks express pace but he is an extremely smart player and puts himself in great positions. He is also very combative and doesn’t mind putting his body on the line. The Crusaders will rue the loss of Marshall to the Chiefs next year, but in the meantime he could be an important attacking cog in their march towards the title.
Reds: Luke Morahan (Wing)
The Reds have a number of core youngsters that are integral to their team; their backrow, for instance, are all under the age of 23. However, while the likes of Gill, Schatz and Quirk have imposing tasks ahead of them this weekend against the Crusaders, the Reds’ youngster that may have a bigger role to play is the extremely-talented, yet often frustrating, Luke Morahan. Anyone that saw Morahan play, as either a sevens star or a key player in the Reds’ 2011 Super Rugby season, would have guessed that he would be at least a Wallabies regular by now if not an international star. Morahan has ridiculous speed and is very good in the open; he can score tries from all over the paddock. As he showed against the Lions, the boy can play and he could well be in the midst of turning his form around from what has been an 18 month long slump (he also suffered the ignominy of losing to Scotland in his Wallaby debut). The Crusaders should be warned as Morahan has the ‘home-run’ ability that could turn a close contest, it is just whether the right Morahan turns up.
Cheetahs: Raymond Rhule (Wing)
The Cheetahs are clearly the Cinderella story of the 2013 Super Rugby season. Drotske’s men have long been admired for their un-South African approach to rugby where they like to play expansive and innovative rugby, often to their own detriment. This year they have managed to add a bit of steel to their attacking instincts – winning the close games they were liable to lose, often in heart-breaking fashion, in the past. What makes this season all the more compelling is that it has occurred in the absence of their star fly half Johan Goosen. One of their young guns, who has perhaps flown under the radar outside of Bloemfontein, despite being a Springbok tourist at the end of 2012, is Raymond Rhule. The Ghanaian-born flyer is supremely raw but has express speed and has notched an impressive 5 tries this year. Furthermore, the Cheetahs’ heroic victory against the Waratahs earlier in the season was in-part inspired by Rhule who bagged two tries that night. As the Cheetahs try and register another historic victory on Australian soil, perhaps it will be Rhule again that emerges as the catalyst.