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 2018 New Zealand Form XV
Andy Burt 20 Dec 2018 Getty Images
15: Ben Smith (Highlanders, All Blacks)
After enjoying a sabbatical at the end of the 2017 season, Ben Smith hit the ground running when he returned for the Highlanders in Super Rugby. Appearing in 15 matches for the Highlanders, Smith was one of the key attacking weapons for the southern team with 51 defenders beaten and 16 clean breaks to show he had lost none of his game-breaking ability during his time away. Operating at fullback for the Highlanders, Smith showed his versatility in the black jersey by switching between the right wing and fullback across his 12 Test appearances during the season. Strong in the air, sound on defence and dangerous with ball in hand, Smith was only bested by the electric Rieko Ioane in metres gained and clean breaks made for the All Blacks in 2018.
14: Renee Wickliffe (Bay of Plenty Volcanix, Black Ferns)
A consistent performer for the Black Ferns over recent years, dynamic wing Renee Wickliffe took her game to another level in 2018. Wickliffe started on the right wing in all five Black Ferns Tests this year and crossed for four tries to underline her status a potent finisher. The 31-year-old flyer was in particularly hot form for the Black Ferns against USA at Soldier Field with a double – including one effort that was nominated for the SKY Fan’s Try of the Year award. On the domestic stage, Wickliffe was a key performer for the Bay of Plenty Volcanix as they beat Auckland for the first time in their history to retain their spot in the Premiership division of the Farah Palmer Cup.
At the start of 2018 Jack Goodhue was yet to play a Test for the All Blacks. By the end of the year he was the side’s first choice centre. The hard-running 23-year-old set the tone for his season with a string of standout performances for the Crusaders as they won back-to-back Investec Super Rugby titles. While his ball-running and distribution skills were exemplary, it was on defence were Goodhue really shone with an average of nine tackles per game. Goodhue made his Test debut in the third Test of the Steinlager Series against France and went onto play seven Tests throughout the year. He started at centre in the big clashes against England and Ireland to show how highly he is regarded by the All Blacks selectors.
After taking the world by storm in 2017 and being named World Rugby’s Breakthrough Player of the Year, Rieko Ioane picked up where he left off this year. Ioane was one of the best for the Blues in a tough Super Rugby season for the club. Splitting his time between wing and the mid-field, Ioane crossed for 10 tries and topped the Blues attacking statistics. Ioane was even more potent in the black jersey with 11 tries in 11 Tests to take his career tally to 22 tries. Still a youngster at 21-years-old, Ioane has established himself as one of the most dangerous attacking weapons in world rugby and is a key part of the All Blacks 2019 Rugby World Cup plans.
A broken jaw in early March could have easily de-railed Richie Mo’unga’s season, but after a two-month recovery Mo’unga returned to lead the Crusaders to back-to-back Super Rugby titles. Mo’unga was simply brilliant in the pivot role for the Crusaders. His lethal running game, dead-eye goal-kicking and astute tactical game ensured the Crusaders were deserved winners in 2018. His form could not be ignored by the All Blacks selectors with a Test debut coming against France in June. The 24-year-old playmaker went onto play nine Tests and score 52 points. While excellent from the bench, Mo’unga showed his class in Test starts against Argentina and Japan with the All Blacks surging to big wins on both occasions.
This was the year of Kendra Cocksedge. A sublimely talented halfback, accurate goal-kicker and natural leader, Cocksedge showed every ounce of her world class in the 2018 season. In the Farah Palmer Cup, Cocksedge became the first player to surpass 1000 points and played a critical role in Canterbury securing back-to-back Farah Palmer Cup titles. Great players stand up in big matches, and so did Cocksedge in the Premiership final against Counties Manukau with 27 points as Canterbury won 52-29. For the Black Ferns, Cocksedge was impressive across all five Test appearances but saved her best for old foes Australia with 26 points as the Black Ferns retained the Laurie O’Reilly Trophy. Her season was capped off by being named as the first ever female winner of the Kel Tremain Memorial Trophy at the ASB Rugby Awards.
?? HISTORY! Re-live the moment when @kenj0119 is named as the first ever female winner of the Kel Tremain Memorial Player of the Year award.#ASBRugbyAwards pic.twitter.com/cdyMPD0HLT— Black Ferns (@BlackFerns) December 14, 20188: Akira Ioane (Blues, Auckland Maori All Blacks)
With ball in hand there was no one more devastating than rampaging No.8 Akira Ioane in New Zealand rugby in 2018. He started the season by beating more defenders (74) than any other player in Super Rugby aside from Damian McKenzie - a statistic made all the more impressive when considering the Blues failed to make the playoffs. Although he missed out on All Blacks selection in 2018, Ioane didn’t let the disappointment hamper his play with heroic performances for both Auckland in the Mitre 10 Cup and the Maori All Blacks on their tour of Chicago and South America. Ioane was one of Auckland’s best in their 100-minute extra-time final against Canterbury and finished his season with a sublime performance against Chile for the Maori All Blacks. Although he didn’t cross the chalk in Santiago, Ioane played a hand in no less than seven of the 11 tries scored by the Maori All Blacks.
7: Ardie Savea (Hurricanes, All Blacks)
Ardie Savea was handed an opportunity when incumbent All Blacks openside flanker Sam Cane injured his neck late in the Investec Rugby Championship and took it with both hands. Considered by many to be a great Test option from the bench with his high-tempo style of play, Savea proved that he is a Test quality starting number seven with a string of strong performances on the All Blacks Northern Tour. While his commitment of defence and x-factor with ball hand have long appealed to fans, it was in the turnover zone and through his high work rate that Savea proved he could match it with the best loose forwards in the world. A highlight of Savea’s season was a match-winning try against South Africa in the 79th minute in Pretoria.
Almost unknown at the start of the season, dynamic loose forward Shannon Frizell enjoyed a meteoric rise from Super Rugby bit-player to international star in 2018. An imposing physical presence at 1.95cm and 108kg, Frizell was a wrecking ball for the Highlanders in Super Rugby and showed his danger with a hat-trick of tries against the Blues early in the season. His game-breaking ability and thunderous defence caught the eye of the All Blacks brains trust who selected him to make his Test debut against France in Dunedin. Despite being behind Highlanders teammate Liam Squire on the All Blacks pecking order, Frizell impressed in all four of his Tests in 2018 and crossed for his first Test try against Argentina in Nelson.
If there were two words to sum up Sam Whitelock’s 2018 season they would be ‘tireless leader’. As captain of the Crusaders, Whitelock led from the front as his side won back-to-back titles. An ‘actions speak louder than words’ type of skipper, Whitelock was never far from the action throughout the entire campaign. At International level, Whitelock led the All Blacks to a 3-0 series win over France in June and captained the side in their 35-17 victory over Argentina in Buenos Aires. On a personal note, Whitlelock brought up 100 All Blacks Tests in 2018 and became one half of the All Blacks most capped locking combination of all time alongside partner in crime Brodie Retallick.
Riding the pine for large parts of the Crusaders Investec Super Rugby campaign behind All Blacks pairing Sam Whitelock and Scott Barrett, Romano gave everyone a reminder just how good he was in the Mitre 10 Cup. Throughout 11 matches for Canterbury, Romano was a force of nature for the southern team as they surged into the Premiership final. Every match was pure beast mode for Romano as he thundered into tackles, carried strongly and nailed his set piece play. The 32-year-old second rower was rewarded with the Duane Monkley Medal for the Mitre 10 Cup Player of the Year at the ASB Rugby Awards to cap off a brilliant season.
Congratulations to Luke Romano on being named the Duane Monkley Medal winner for 2018.3: Aldora Itunu (Black Ferns, Auckland)
Catch up on all the winners from the #ASBRugbyAwards here ???? https://t.co/y381ECSwHd pic.twitter.com/cQqX2PX7ua— Mitre 10 Cup (@Mitre10Cup) December 13, 2018
A rock in the Black Ferns front row since her debut in 2015, Aldora Itunu proved her world class in 2018 with a succession of powerful performances on the international stage. Able to play either side of the scrum, Itunu settled on tighthead prop for the Black Ferns in 2018 and didn’t look back. She laid the marker for her year with a brace of powerful performances against Australia as the Black Ferns retained the Laurie O’Reilly Memorial Trophy. Immovable at scrum time, dangerous with ball in hand and intimidating on defence, Itunu continued to shine on the Black Ferns end of year tour and ended the season with three Test tries.
Coming out of retirement to play for the Black Ferns in 2018, legendary hooker Fiao’o Faamausili proved she is still one of the best operators in the world game. Although it was going to be tough to reach the highs of 2017 where Faamausili led the Black Ferns to a fourth Rugby World Cup title and became the first Black Fern to play 50 Tests, the 38-year-old was the Black Ferns leading try-scorer with five tries and started each Test in the number two jersey. Although there was to be no fairy-tale finish in the final Test against France, Faamausili bowed out as an all-time great of the women’s game.
?? SPOTLIGHT | With the curtain drawn on a 22-year senior rugby career, Fiao'o Faamausili looks back on the highlights from her time on the field.1: Karl Tu’inukuafe (Chiefs, All Blacks)
READ ?? https://t.co/pNVU8PbnoY pic.twitter.com/LzEzdTqKgp— Black Ferns (@BlackFerns) December 12, 2018
The All Blacks Northern Tour capped off a whirlwind season for a player who started the year without a Super Rugby contract. After impressing for the All Blacks against France in June and in the Rugby Championship, Karl Tu’inukuafe faced his toughest challenge against the world class front rows of England and Ireland. While he wasn’t as dominant as he had been earlier in the year for the All Blacks and Chiefs, Tu’inukuafe held his own in what is one of the toughest environments in the world to play. The 2018 World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year nominee has switched to the Blues for the 2019 season and should continue to get even better with the more high level rugby he plays.
The emotion of a Test debut...#SteinlagerSeries #NZLvFRA ???????? pic.twitter.com/MD7ZHUFRvh— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) June 9, 2018