Super Rugby 2012 is a great stage not only for existing stars like Sonny Bill Williams, Bismarck Du Plessis and Will Genia to strut the stuff, but it is always exciting to see the new talent coming through the ranks and New Zealand’s cupboard of young scrum and fly halves look encouraging.
It is amazing how Colin Slade went from second choice first five eighth to Dan Carter at the Rugby World Cup 2011 and now he would be lucky to be included in the top handful of first fives in the country. Jimmy Cowan is a similar case, except he entered Rugby World Cup 2011 as the starting All Blacks halfback and now he is starting from the Highlanders bench behind the impressive Aaron Smith. Here are some people putting the heat on incumbent’s Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden, Piri Weepu, Jimmy Cowan and Andy Ellis.
Fly-half (First five eighth in New Zealand)
Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes) – The Taranaki and Hurricanes first five eighth is a prolific talent. He kicked the Naki to their Ranfurly Shield win over Southland last season (ouch baby!). He reminds me of Stephen Larkham with his casual upright running style, but he reads the game so well. He is also such a gifted timer of the ball when kicking goals or out of the hand.
Gareth Anscombe (Blues) – Blues pivot Gareth Anscombe is a star of the future and he showed that in his first start at the weekend. He scored all of the Blues 29 points and the only reason he didn’t start earlier in the season for the Blues was so he would have the experienced duo of Piri Weepu and Ma’a Nonu playing inside and outside him. Anscombe and Barrett look like contenders for the All Black first five. It will be interesting to see how he goes without his father Mark Anscombe as coach. His father was the Auckland coach before leaving to coach Ulster.
Lima Sopoaga (Highlanders) – Lima Sopoaga looks sharp and has an amazing running game for the Highlanders. He did hurt his shoulder against the Waratahs. Sopoaga has had to move to the Highlanders to get some opportunities at this level under coach Jamie Joseph.
Mike Harris (Reds) – The Blues didn’t want North Harbour’s Mike Harris and so he went to the Reds last season and now finds himself starting in the Number 10 jersey vacated by Quade Cooper. Mike Harris has kicked 18/21 from the kicking tee. It will be interesting to see if he wants to play for Australia or follow his youth level appearances for New Zealand by taking the more difficult route to the All Blacks.
Tyler Bleyendaal (Crusaders) – He is filling the huge boots of Daniel Carter at the Crusaders, but Tyler Bleyendaal is an accomplished goalkicker who has been given a rude awakening to Super Rugby being the victim of a few “Smashed ‘em bros!” He needs to work on his running game, but does boost the stocks of young first fives.
Scrum-half (Halfback in New Zealand)
Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Chiefs) – Kerr-Barlow started the season on the bench, but quickly made himself at home in the Number 9 jersey for the Chiefs. He had an awesome ITM Cup for Waikato and is of great nuisance value for the Chiefs. He had a blinder against the Blues where he made 13 tackles (as first tackler) and four line-breaks, also scoring a try.
Aaron Smith (Highlanders) – The New Zealand Maori representative followed coach Jamie Joseph down to the Highlanders. He is electric and his fast pass gives the now dangerous Highlanders backs more time than Jimmy Cowan does. Initially used off the bench, it looks like Aaron Smith has ousted All Black Jimmy Cowan from the Number 9 jersey. Smith has scored two tries this season.
TJ Perenara (Hurricanes) – Perenara who is still a teenager scored a hattrick of tries in his run on debut against the Force on Friday. He seemed to be in the right place at the right time. He also made eight tackles and took three lots of go-forward ball. He also made five tackles the week before off the bench.
Who impresses you in this bunch of New Zealand’s new breed of half? Is there anyone else who deserves to be on this list?