There’s one round of league action to go before the playoffs and that’s all the reason we need to debate which pack monsters were the greatest in Super Rugby history!
The NZ Herald used the Elo rating system – designed to measure the relative merits of chess masters – to name the unbeaten 2002 Crusaders as the greatest Super Rugby team to walk the planet.
Their pack looked like this: 8 Scott Robertson, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Reuben Thorne (c), 5 Chris Jack, 4 Norm Maxwell, 3 Greg Feek, 2 Mark Hammett, 1 Greg Somerville.
Job done? Perhaps not so fast. A real team may indeed be about making the whole greater than the sum of the parts, but we have the opportunity to just look at the parts, and NOT make it work as a whole!
So my GOAT Super Rugby pack is …
Front row: Beast Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, Carl Hayman
Locks: John Eales, Victor Matfield
Back row: Richie McCaw, Jerry Collins, Kieran Read
Leaving out the Franks brothers seems criminal. They ate scrums (and squat machines) for breakfast for the Saders, but as individuals, Mtawarira and Hayman had more of an impact on the game. And together with Du Plessis, this front row on their own could take on most packs!
Which would be key, given the athletic lock pairing I have gone with. This in honour of their out and out domination come lineout and kick receipt time.
McCaw owns the open side spot as the ideal fetcher. In Collins I have gone with a proper thumper with ball in hand, while Read balances the trio perfectly as a ball carrying link man who offers plenty as a lineout option.
In essence, I went with players who would be used in a rugby dictionary to define the number on their backs.
Close but no cigar: Keven Mealamu, Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Olo Brown, Chris Jack, Ali Williams, Bakkies Botha, Michael Jones, George Smith, Liam Messam, Duane Vermeulen, Bob Skinstad, Zinzan Brooke.
Measuring the careers of standout players across a 25-year period that saddled the shift from amateur to professional rugby ain’t easy. It’s tough to choose between a starburst talent and another whose impact lasted more than a decade, or to gauge the legacy of a multiple champion against a rival whose team never hoisted the trophy.
Disclaimer: I have failed to stick to one metric and my selections are tainted by subjectivity.
Front row: Wyatt Crockett, Bismarck du Plessis, Ben Alexander
Locks: Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield
Back row: Richie McCaw, Owen Finegan, Kieran Read
If you were picking on scrumming ability alone, Crockett and Alexander probably wouldn’t make the cut. Greg Somerville was a master technician, and the likes of Tony Woodcock, Jannie du Plessis and the Franks brothers are more respected scrumhogs.
However, Crockett’s 200 appearances are the most in competition history, while the Brumbies’ most-capped player, Alexander has (incredibly) scored 21 tries in 153 appearances.
Bismarck du Plessis is the marquee option at hooker, dominating all comers by some margin.
Though not quite as peerless, lineout virtuoso Victor Matfield remains the clear choice for the No 5 jersey, and his finesse was (over) compensated for by the nicest ‘bad cop’ you will ever meet, second-row sledgehammer Bakkies Botha.
Many would scribble down Richie McCaw’s name first on a shortlist for the Greatest Super Rugby Player award but there’s a longer queue of brutes vying to pack down on the blindside.
It was an easy choice for me: Owen Finegan. The backbone of the Brumbies pack that won the ball for George Gregan and Stephen Larkham, Finegan scored 31 tries in 90 appearances.
Pierre Spies won three titles, and Duane Vermeulen and Sione Lauaki flattened defenders like playdough, but the No 8 jersey has to go to Kieran Read.
The backs will be unveiled next week – who is the best player not named in either pack?