Andy Burt is a Wellington-based writer for allblacks.com and co-host of the All Blacks Podcast. He covers all levels of the domestic game in New Zealand and monitors the international game closely.Read more exclusive columns
The 2017 New Zealand Form XV
Andy Burt 22 Dec 2017 Getty Images
At the start of the season it was unclear what Jordie Barrett’s favoured position was or if he would even be a regular starter for the Hurricanes in Super Rugby. Fast forward six months and Barrett found himself starting at fullback for the All Blacks in the Lions series decider. Although the Test ended in an anticlimactic draw, Barrett announced himself on the world stage by playing a hand in both of the All Blacks tries. The first showcased his superb aerial skills by punching a crosskick into the waiting arms of Ngani Laumape while the second was all about his classy finishing ability. Unfortunately Barrett’s season ended early due to a shoulder injury but his remarkable rise from Super Rugby debutant to All Blacks-starter was complete.
14: Portia Woodman (Black Ferns, Counties Manukau Heat)
The superlatives ran dry on Portia Woodman’s stunning 2017 season. At the Woman’s Rugby World Cup in August, Woodman was in a class of her own in crossing for 13 tries as the Black Ferns lifted their fifth crown. Her stunning solo effort against USA was the only woman’s try to be featured among the four nominations for the International Rugby Players’ Association Try of the Year award and was the winner of the SKY TV Fans Try of the Year in New Zealand. With ball in hand, Woodman was a constant threat and will have defensive coaches scratching their heads again in 2018.
Each year we see a number of genuine future stars unearthed, and Braydon Ennor was one such player in 2017. The electric 20-year-old made waves in the midfield for the New Zealand Under 20s at the World Championships in Georgia before switching to the wing for Canterbury’s successful Mitre 10 Cup campaign. Playing at centre, Ennor was a standout for the New Zealand Under 20s with his blistering pace and line-breaking ability helping New Zealand to the title. In the Mitre 10 Cup, Ennor was one of the leading attacking players in the competition with 10 tries, 31 clean breaks and 845 metres made. Ennor’s impressive season was capped off by being named in the Crusaders squad for 2018.
11: Rieko Ioane (Blues, All Blacks)
The accolades flowed for Rieko Ioane in 2017 and rightly so. The electric 20-year-old set tongues wagging with 10 tries from the 11 Tests he played this year. While his pace is an obvious weapon, Ioane’s timing is equally potent. Whether hitting the line at speed or pouncing on intercept opportunities, Ioane had a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Ioane capped off his incredible season by being named the Breakthrough Player of the Year at the World Rugby Awards and the Maori Player of the Year at the ASB Rugby Awards.
Classy pivot Richie Mo’unga called the shots for both the Crusaders and Canterbury in their successful campaigns this year. The 23-year-old first five-eighth was prolific from the tee in finishing as the fifth highest point scorer in Super Rugby and the leading point scorer in the Mitre 10 Cup. 2017 will go down as the year that Richie Mo’unga came of age. While his promise has never been questioned, Mo’unga elevated himself to the top table of pivots in New Zealand and was rewarded with an All Blacks cap against the French XV on the Northern Tour.
9: Kendra Cocksedge (Canterbury, Black Ferns)
Cocksedge has been regarded as one of the world’s best players for a number of years now and further enhanced that reputation in 2017. At the Women’s Rugby World Cup, Cocksedge was a key cog in the Black Ferns success. Her swift distribution and quick decision-making ensured that the Black Ferns played the game at speed. Her goal-kicking was another major asset at the tournament, racking up 62 points as the Black Ferns went unbeaten. Cocksedge was again a key figure in Canterbury’s historic Farah Palmer Cup victory, slotting a crucial penalty as Canterbury edged Counties Manukau 13-7 in the final.
8: Kieran Read (Crusaders, All Blacks)
The All Blacks skipper endured an injury hit season but showed his class in the black jersey and ensured that All Blacks trophy cabinet remained full. After missing a big chunk of Super Rugby through wrist and thumb injuries, Read bounced back to lead the All Blacks to the Rugby Championship title, the Bledisloe Cup, the Freedom Cup and the Gallaher Trophy while the Lions series was shared. Despite the injuries, Read’s work rate was high and a double against Argentina showed that his try-scoring prowess remains strong.
7: Sam Cane (All Blacks, Chiefs)
Sam Cane stamped his mark as one of the world’s leading loose forwards in 2017 – and it was on the back of a mammoth defensive effort. Cane made 182 tackles in Tests for the All Blacks this year – 40 more than the next player. This was exemplified in the Test against Wales where Cane led the defensive effort with an incredible 21 tackles and stalled the momentum of Warren Gatland’s side. Although not as flashy as other loose forwards on the global scene, there is no one better defensively than Cane.
Fifita’s stunning try against Argentina in New Plymouth summed up the impact the 111kg loose forward had in 2017. With the All Blacks trailing 22-15 after 50 minutes, Fifita got the ball on a standing start and blitzed Argentina’s outside backs to run 40 metres for a stunning solo try. All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was quick to acknowledge Fifita’s x-factor: “He’s a really good athlete, probably one of the best athletes I’ve had anything to do with from natural sheer ability,” Hansen said.
While long recognised as one of the best locks in the world, Sam Whitelock stepped up as an influential leader in 2017. As skipper of the Crusaders, Whitelock led the Christchurch-based side to their first Super Rugby title since 2008. In the black jersey, Whitelock appeared in 12 Tests and captained the All Blacks for the first time in the final Test of the year against Wales. The 29-year-old was one of the hardest working players on the park with 142 tackles in Tests this year – second only to Sam Cane.
4: Jackson Hemopo (Highlanders, Manawatu, Maori All Blacks)
Jackson Hemopo was one of the form locks of the Mitre 10 Cup. Superb at set-piece time and strong with ball in hand, Hemopo was a consistent force for the Turbos this year and was rewarded with the union’s player of the year award. Although the 24-year-old had limited chances for the Highlanders, his performance against the British and Irish Lions in Dunedin was a head-turner. In a relentless display, Hemopo seemed to be everywhere on both attack and defence and got the better of his more fancied opponents. He capped off a fine season by making his debut for the Maori All Blacks against Canada in Vancouver.
At the Under 20 World Championships, 130kg powerhouse Alex Fidow terrorised opposition defenders with his powerful displays from the bench. But it was just a taste of what to come as Fidow resembled a one-man wrecking ball during Wellington’s successful Mitre 10 Cup Championship campaign. With 47 defenders beaten and eight tries scored, no other forward in the competition matched Fidow’s attacking statistics.
Fiao’o Fa’amausili has enjoyed a long and storied career for the Black Ferns, but 2017 could well be the highlight for the 37-year-old hooker. The Black Ferns captain became the first Black Fern to reach 50 caps during the year, led the Black Ferns to the Women’s Rugby World Cup title and had the Farah Palmer Cup player of the year award named after her (the Fiao’o Fa’amausili medal). While her leadership was inspirational, Fa’amausili made the most carries over the gain line of any Black Fern at the Women’s Rugby World Cup to show that her ball carrying is still world class.
Three tries in a world cup final is an impressive feat, but even more impressive when it is a prop doing the scoring. That’s exactly what Toka Natua did in the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup final against England where she crossed for an impressive hat-trick. But it wasn’t just Natua’s devastating ball-running that was influential in the Black Ferns success, Natua was a cornerstone of the Black Ferns impressive scrum and was imposing on defence.