Following the completion of the Super Rugby Pacific round-robin phase, Planet Rugby delves into the players who have shone the brightest this season.
Damian McKenzie (Chiefs)
Probably the standout player in 2023 having returned to New Zealand following a stint in Japan. Handed the fly-half shirt at the start of the campaign, the 28-year-old has been key to their outstanding year so far as they finished at the Super Rugby summit.
They went on a 10-match winning run, which included doing the double over the defending champion Crusaders, with McKenzie very much at the heart of that superb form. The playmaker’s ball in hand work has always been out of the top drawer but the pivot has also shown impressive game control and accuracy off the tee.
Shaun Stevenson (Chiefs)
The best player never to feature for the All Blacks? Stevenson has always been a fine player but he has often been on the periphery of the squad, although that may change over the coming weeks and months. His performances in a slick Chiefs unit have gone up another level in 2023 and he has scored a superb 11 tries in 14 matches from full-back.
Stevenson has excellent pace and balance but the 26-year-old is also a very smart decision-maker and would fit well into that New Zealand back three. They obviously have plenty of competition at wing and full-back, but there is no reason why he can’t force his way into the 23 for the Rugby World Cup.
Harry Wilson (Reds)
The number eight was a surprise omission from Eddie Jones’ squad for a training camp in April, but that has spurred him on to even greater heights. Wilson might lack out and out power due to his slighter frame, which is probably the reason why Jones has reservations, but his footwork, athleticism and intellect means that he cannot be discounted heading towards the Rugby Championship and World Cup.
The 23-year-old has certainly done more than enough to force his way into the squad following another superb campaign for the Reds. Wilson has consistently made ground with ball in hand and ended the season with five tries scored.
Mark Telea (Blues)
When we’re talking about Stevenson and the battle for a spot in the back three, Telea is another that is very much in contention ahead of the naming of New Zealand’s Rugby Championship squad. There is no doubting that he will be in that group and on form should be in the XV after another stunning campaign for the Blues.
He impressed throughout 2022, culminating in him starting the All Blacks’ final two Tests of the year, and Telea has simply built on that in 2023. At the moment, the speedster is simply unstoppable and 11 tries in as many matches shows the level he is operating at. The wing is not just a poacher, however, with the 26-year-old racking up the metres throughout the year.
Levi Aumua (Moana Pasifika)
The Pacific Islanders may have finished at the bottom of the Super Rugby Pacific table with just one victory – achieved on the final day of the season – but the centre was still one of the best players in 2023. Particularly in the second part of the campaign, Aumua was simply sublime and touched down five times in his last eight matches.
Unfortunately for Moana, his displays alerted the attentions of the Crusaders who have snapped him up for the 2024 season. Combining pace, power and an outstanding skill set, Aumua proved to be a nightmare for opposition defences and duly deserves his place on this list. It will be fascinating to see how he goes in a better team next year.
Langi Gleeson (Waratahs)
The athletic back-row made his Test debut last season despite primarily featuring off the bench for the Waratahs. Dave Rennie could see his raw talent as he earned three caps, but the Wallabies set-up no doubt needed him to iron out his flaws. Since then, Gleeson has developed tremendously and, although he spent a period out through injury, the youngster has enjoyed a fine campaign.
Immensely quick off the mark, which makes him an incredibly dynamic ball carrier, and with an improving skill set on both sides of the ball, Gleeson has been superb for the ‘Tahs in 2023. Very much one to watch looking towards the World Cup and beyond, especially with the Wallabies struggling to find that back-row balance under Rennie.
Tamaiti Williams (Crusaders)
Has gone from from bench impact player to certified starter on the tighthead side thanks to his impressive all-round game. It is easy to forget that Williams is just 22 considering the youngster’s maturity in his set-piece work, and his ability to play both sides of the scrum – a rare quality for modern day props.
Tighthead appears to be his long-term position, however, and New Zealand head coach Ian Foster will no doubt be taking a look at him ahead of the World Cup. A force in the loose and a strong scrummager to boot, he will add depth to the All Blacks’ ranks after shining for the Crusaders this year.
READ MORE: How the Super Rugby Pacific playoff picture changed in one year
The article Seven standout players from the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific season appeared first on Planetrugby.com.