Super Rugby 2019 season review

3:48 pm on 8 July 2019

Analysis - Thank goodness that's over.

Jordan Taufua of the Crusaders celebrates . Crusaders vs. Jaguares. 2019 Investec Super Rugby Final. Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch, New Zealand. Saturday 6 July 2019. © Copyright Photo: Martin Hunter /

The Crusaders celebrate their 10th Super Rugby title and third in a row. Photo: Photosport Ltd 2019

The Super Rugby season reached reasonable heights at times, but the alleged showpiece final was rendered an afterthought once the All Blacks' squad was named.

That was a shame, but hardly a shock, given the wants and needs of the All Blacks were one of the competition's strongest storylines.

The champion Crusaders team won't care, but it felt as if the timing of things did do the Jaguares a bit of a disservice.

The final itself

A decent game, as deciders go. The Jaguares produced the kind of direct, abrasive, confrontational footy you'd expect and breached the Crusaders' defence on occasions.

But, on the back of a dominant scrum, the Crusaders played textbook finals footy to finish worthy 19-3 winners.

It wasn't pretty or thrilling, but it mightily effective and any time you can keep an opponent to three points in a final you've done pretty well.

Three of the best

Nothing should diminish what the Crusaders have done in winning three titles on the trot.

Given the travel teams face and the contrived conference system, winning just once is some achievement, so to back that up again and again is remarkable.

Too often teams lack the hunger for that, particularly those laden with All Blacks. With this being a world cup year as well, it's been an impressive effort.

More on the Crusaders' Super Rugby dominance

But where was everyone else?

The Jaguares had a big year and produced a worthy effort in the final, while the Hurricanes had another strong campaign.

Overall, though, there was a pronounced lack of nous and mental toughness on show from the other teams.

Jaguares Agustin Creevy scores a try against the Hurricanes.

The Jaguares and Hurricanes were the only other teams genuinely capable of contending for the 2019 Super Rugby title, according to Hamish Bidwell. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Brumbies did a bit with comparatively little and the Chiefs overcame some difficult circumstances to make a quarterfinal, but not many other sides can look back on their seasons with any pride or satisfaction.

Salary caps and conferences and travel are meant to be equalising factors, but the Crusaders looked the best team from day one and nothing happened to change that. That says as much about their professionalism as it does the lack of it in other teams.

Going forward

Super Rugby is an increasingly tough watch. Too many teams are still only making up the numbers, meaning too few games of any importance.

Throw in a halving in the number of local derbies from next year, and sabbaticals for a few elite players, and New Zealand fans might have even less to enthuse about.

Yes, the abolition of the conferences should make things more equitable but the competition won't become any more 'super'.

Administrators agonise over how to engage fans and foster strong attendances and television viewership and the answer is simple. Get the best players on the park.

If people tune in and see TJ Perenara or Beauden Barrett are having a rest this week, or read that Brodie Retallick's taking the season off, then they know the product's inferior and understandably seek entertainment elsewhere.

The sports world over, fans are increasingly loyal to players rather than teams, so when you sit those star players out you give people a compelling reason not to watch.

Match of the year

It wasn't all awful. Several games stood out, arguably none more than the Chiefs' 40-27 win over the Crusaders in Suva.

The fact there was a large and engaged crowd didn't hurt, nor the hard and fast conditions.

The Crusaders shot out to an early 20-0 lead and then got the staggers. With their legs seemingly gone and the points no longer coming at will, the Crusaders looked mortal for once, offering little or no resistance as the Chiefs got back to 20-19 by half-time and then ran away with the game in the second spell.

The rugby might have been a bit error-ridden and frivolous for some, but most fans were just happy to be entertained and see the Crusaders struggle for once.

NZ Super Rugby player of 2019

There's candidates galore, from Liam Coltman and Patrick Tuipulotu, to Brad Weber and TJ Perenara. Scott Barrett and Sam Whitelock were superb for the Crusaders, as were Sevu Reece and David Havili.

Anton Lienert-Brown took his rugby to a whole new level, just like his childhood team-mate at Christchurch's Marist-Albion club Richie Mo'unga, but no New Zealand player influenced matches in quite the single-handed fashion of Hurricanes flanker Ardie Savea.

Hurricanes loose forward Ardie Savea against the Bulls.

Ardie Savea was Hamish Bidwell's Super Rugby player of the season in 2019. Photo: Photosport

If he wanted the ball, there were times when he just took it. If he didn't want to be tackled, then often he just refused to be. Not content with a covering tackle here, Savea rose and ran to make another over there.

Time and again, the 25-year-old changed the momentum of matches through his own force of will and not many players have ever been capable of that.

An honourable mention

Recency bias plays a part here, but not partisanship.

It would be remiss to review the Super Rugby season and not mention the performances of Jaguares flanker Pablo Matera.

He was Ardie-like at times, in the way he took over games and refused to be dominated or beaten. A player who carries strongly, can offload, is great at the breakdown and in defence, Matera won many admirers this season, not least because of his effort in the final against the Crusaders.

Super Rugby is an unsatisfactory competition in so many ways, but the introduction of the Jaguares is not one of them. Long may Matera and company continue to shine.

*Hamish Bidwell is a contributor to RNZ. He has previously worked at The Northern Advocate, Gisborne Herald, Hawke's Bay Today, The Press, The Dominion Post and Stuff.

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