The Super Rugby competition for 2014 is now over and the Waratahs have been crowned champions. It has been a long season and as with any season there are always winners and losers. Here are my winners and losers from the 2014 Super Rugby season:
New South Wales Waratahs:
What a season it has been for Michael Cheika and his Waratahs. Coming into this season they had not won in Super Rugby competition and were desperate to get that monkey off their backs. Simply put: they were the best team in the competition in 2014 and its biggest winner.
2013 was the worst season the Highlanders have had in Super Rugby competition, particularly with the squad listing they had. 2014, after a clear out of playing stocks that saw many consider that they would be in the fight for the wooden spoon again. They over-performed with the line up they had and were in the running for a finals spot right up to the final weeks of the competition.
The Western Force have long been the perennial strugglers of the Australian conference in this competition whilst also being one of its off field success stories, particularly when you consider the excellent crowds the franchise garners to its games. Those die hard fans were treated this year to the best season on record for the Force. If they keep up their improvement from this season a finals birth can not been out of the question in future seasons.
Biggest Winner: Israel Folau
This is tough for me to say but after only two seasons Folau is fast becoming, if he is not there already, one of the best players in the game. Yet again this season he dominated opposition whenever had ball in hand and was the cornerstone of the Waratahs first championship victory.
The Cheetahs came into the 2014 season off the back of a 2013 season in which they were finalists and, in my view, the biggest winner of 2013. What a difference 12 months can make. The Cheetahs were nothing short of ordinary this season and have lost any of the impetuous they had gained from the 2013 season.
It has not been a happy season for refereeing in the Super Rugby competition. 2014 has seen everything from the referees from inconsistent interpretations, incorrect decisions, over use of technology and suggestions of bias. There is no doubt that refereeing is a thankless task but this season has not been a good one for the whistleblowers.
SANZAR this season has trumpeted its expansion plans with the addition of two more teams on the agenda. For all of the expansion talk I, for one, don’t believe we have seen a season where the gap between the best and worst teams in the competition has been more obvious. Frankly, I will never be convinced that the Australian and South African conferences do not have one team too many in them and the results again showed this season. Add that fact to another end of season exodus of players from the competition and I wonder if SANZAR is reconsidering its position on expansion.
Biggest Loser: Queensland Reds
I am a passionate Reds fan and have written earlier about my views on the Reds season. There can be no doubt that the Reds were hamstrung by injuries during the season. That said, the fact is that the Reds have gone from a team that was one of the bunch marks for discipline in the competition to the worst disciplined team in it. Add to that the fact that the skills of the Reds looked to evaporated the longer the season went on makes the Reds the biggest loser for 2014.
Super Rugby 2015 starts in seven months time: I am already counting down the days!