Super Rugby: 2013's breakout XV
I want to put out there a starting XV of players I expect to make a name for themselves or live up to their potential in the upcoming Super Rugby season.
1. Ben Franks (Hurricanes): Breakout? Huh? Already an All Black but his former strength of playing both sides of the scrum has turned in to a weakness with the new 23-man bench rule. Hopefully the change to Hurricanes lets him establish himself as a specialist loosehead and puts him in the driver's seat for the inevitable life after Woodcock.
2. Quinten MacDonald (Blues): After signing with the Blues for 2013 after a few seasons with the Crusaders (and being overlooked for youngsters Taylor and Funnell) MacDonald should have first crack at the No. 2 jersey in Mealamu's early season absence.
3. Ben Afeaki (Chiefs): After breaking his forearm in 2012, Afeaki looked a man among boys when he returned for the under performing North Harbour side in the ITM cup. Barring injury, I am picking him to edge out Charlie Faumauina for an All Blacks jersey come June.
4. Jarrad Hoeata (Highlanders): Hoeata was an All Black in 2011 and was seen to be the solution to life after big bad Brad Thorn. Now he is sure to find himself a locking partner to the ageless Thorn. He may force his way back to black if he injures enough of New Zealand's locking prospects (which isn't all that unlikely).
5. Craig Clark (Chiefs): An excellent captain and over looked for the ABs when he wouldn't be out of his depth. Age is not on his side, so time is running out for Clarke to make his All Blacks debut.
6. Steven Luatua (Blues): A silver lining from the Blues' horror season in 2012. He's big, tall, athletic and has a good work ethic for a young man. He will don the black jersey in years to come, but he'll need to be an aggressor in the Blues this season to add some sting to the pack.
7. Ardie Savea (Hurricanes): An easy pick. I can't recall the last time someone blasted his way on to the scene the way Ardie has. Young, quick, skillful, quick, powerful, quick. Did I say quick? Skills of a mid-fielder, pace of an outside back and mongrel of old. My not-so bolter bolter for the ABs (remember a certain someone is unavailable).
8. Brad Sheilds (Hurricanes): For either eight or six, I am not fussed. Undoubted potential and was in the wider ABs squad in 2012. Coming back from injury and now in to his second season, this could be a defining point in the young man's career.
9. TJ Perenara (Hurricanes): The find of the season for the Hurricanes in 2012 and so sharp it is dangerous. Hopefully he can rediscover his 2012 form and bounce back from that broken leg. If he does, Weepu and Kerr-Barlow will be sweating for a phone call come June.
10. Lima Sopoaga (Highlanders): Sopoaga battled through injury since making his Super Rugby debut. He will definitely challenge Slade for the number 10 jersey. He's a slick operator and hopefully he can fire an impressive Highlander back line.
11. Johnny McNichol (Crusaders): Should have 11 on his back this year with yet another Zac Guildford scandal. He was one of the form players in the ITM cup. If he can transcend that form to Super Rugby level, he will be among the top try scorers
12. Tim Bateman (Hurricanes): A seasoned campaigner who has no doubt been on Steve Hansen's radar. Another season like 2012, Ellison injured, Kahui polishing up on his Japanese, could mean he finally dons the Black Jersey this year.
13. Jason Emery (Highlanders): Smooth criminal. Silky skills and genuine ability.n He should learn a lot from Nonu and Ellison. It may take a few seasons to get on the national selectors' radars, but he will get there eventually. He may be out of his depth defensively in this level, but that is outweighed by his potential and attacking prowess.
14. Tim Nanai-Williams (Chiefs): Now one of the best wingers around, if he can continue his 2012 form, he is my pick to replace the injured Cory Jane in the All Blacks.
15. Charles Piutau (Blues): Another silver lining from the Blues 2012 season (R.I.P.). He has the ability to attack from anywhere and explosive pace. He's been echoed as a bolter for the All Blacks already. I don't think he is ready, but I am willing to be proven wrong.
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