With the tournament set to begin soon, our friends at SA Rugby Mag take a look at players to watch for each team.

Super Rugby Players To Watch

Super Rugby is back this week! The competition, featuring teams from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Japan, has many of the finest players in the world competing in it.

All Blacks, Springboks, Wallabies, Pumas and Brave Blossoms are plentiful so to celebrate the return of this brilliant competition Jon Cardinelli, Craig Lewis, Dylan Jack & Mariette Adams from SA Rugby Mag have put forward their players to watch for each team.

BLUES - Karl Tu’inukuafe

New Pastures: The All Black has moved from the Chiefs to the Blues (Getty Images)

He completed a remarkable rise from nightclub bouncer to All Black in 2018 and was a nominee for the World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year award. The 25-year-old mustachioed loosehead prop began playing rugby as a way to lose weight and was first spotted playing for North Harbour by Chiefs scouts.

After an impressive 2018 campaign, Tu’inukuafe could have signed for the Blues, Chiefs or Highlanders for the 2019 season, but his close family ties to Auckland and Tom Coventry’s appointment as Blues forwards coach lured him home. He is a powerful scrummager and fearless ball-carrier.

BRUMBIES  – Peter Samu

Dynamic Brumbie: Peter Samu has moved from the Crusaders to the Brumbies (Getty Images)

The Brumbies traditionally boast strong, competitive loose-forward trios and the addition of Pete Samu has boosted their back-row stocks for the new season. The former Crusader, who was at the centre of a tug-of-war between Australia and New Zealand, is a dynamic player whose pace and power are complemented by his vision and skill execution.

The 27-year-old’s career has been hampered by injuries but he finally made his Wallabies debut, against Ireland, last June. And now that he’s based in Australia, you would expect his cap tally to increase at a rapid rate, provided he stays fit and in form.

BULLS - Embrose Papier

Big Potential: Papier will be looking to build on his fantastic 2018 season (Getty Images)

The Bulls boasts plenty of great backs, but it’s the prodigiously talented scrum-half Embrose Papier who will be determined to build on an unforgettable 2018 season. The 21-year-old was backed by then Bulls coach John Mitchell as one of three young nines in the squad last year and grabbed his opportunity with both hands.

His potential was also recognised by South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus, who drafted him into the national set-up before handing the youngster two starts on the end-of-year tour. Papier came of age with composed performances against Scotland and Wales, which
will stand him in good stead for this campaign.

He will once again face competition from Ivan van Zyl and André Warner for the Bulls’ No 9 jersey, but he can expect to receive plenty of game time this season.

CHIEFS - Angus Ta’avao

Hard Worker: Angus Ta’avao has risen up the ranks quickly in New Zealand (Getty Images)

Having started 2018 without a contract, prop Angus Ta’avao more than exceeded expectations after being called into the Chiefs squad as injury cover. The former Waratah became an integral part of the team and went on to make his All Blacks debut later in the year.

Coach Colin Cooper singled out Ta’avao as one of the hardest-working members of the Chiefs squad and with a pack containing the likes of Brodie Retallick and Nepo Laulala, the Hamilton-based franchise could inflict plenty of damage up front this season.

CRUSADERS – Jack Goodhue

Dependable Centre: For the Crusaders and NZ, Goodhue has shown his class (Getty Images)

A mainstay in the Crusaders midfield, Jack Goodhue followed up his breakthrough 2017 season with an excellent 2018, helping the Crusaders successfully defend their title. Yet he will remember 2018 as the year he managed to break into the All Blacks squad and make his international debut, in the June Test series against France.

The centre made six Test starts, slowly proving his worth alongside franchise team-mate Ryan Crotty. A deadly finisher with an eye for a gap, Goodhue will be hoping another excellent Super Rugby campaign is enough to seal a spot in the All Blacks’ World Cup squad.


Injury Struggles: Hopefully Squire can remain fit throughout the year for club and country (Getty Images)

A cornerstone of the Highlanders pack when fit, Liam Squire has had a tough time with injuries. He has started only 40 of a possible 95 games for franchise and country over the past three years, due to knee, hand and shoulder issues.

Dynamic with ball in hand and always keen to use his big frame to good effect, the blindside flanker is still a favourite of All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. If he has a good run of games, 2019 could be a big year for the 27-year-old.

HURRICANES – Ngani Laumape

Tough to Stop: Laumape may not be the biggest, but he knows his way to the try-line (Getty Images)

Ngani Laumape scored nine Super Rugby tries in 2018, including four in an outstanding display against the Blues, and was named the Hurricanes Player of the Year for the second season in a row. The centre’s form over the past two years has seen him earn ten Test caps, his debut coming in the series decider against the British & Irish Lions in 2017.

While not the biggest midfielder in Super Rugby, Laumape is still a devastating ball-carrier with a low centre of gravity that has helped him evade tackles throughout his career.

JAGUARES - Domingo Miotti

Orchestrator: Miotti is taking over from Nicolas Sanchez as fly-half for the Jaguares (Getty Images)

As Nicolás Sánchez’s replacement, fly-half Domingo Miotti has big boots to fill, but the 22-year-old is talented and level-headed enough to take the pressures that come with senior rugby in his stride.

Miotti first rose to prominence at the 2016 Junior World Cup when inspiring Argentina to two wins against South Africa. He is an accurate goal-kicker, but it’s his ability to orchestrate an attack from anywhere on the field that could make him an instant hit in Super Rugby

LIONS - Aphiwe Dyantyi

Big Impact: Dyantyi has incredible speed and can finish well (Getty Images)

On the back of several potent performances for the Lions last year, Aphiwe Dyantyi was brought into the Springbok mix as Rassie Erasmus looked to harness the 24-year-old’s speed and finishing ability.

The wing started in 13 of the Boks’ 14 Tests in 2018, and his impact was recognised when he was named World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year. Now the challenge is to replicate the form he showed in his breakout season.

His attacking play has undoubtedly boosted the Lions and the Boks over the past 12 months, but he has room to improve in defence and under the high ball. What’s been encouraging to note is the youngster’s attitude and work ethic.

REBELS - Adam Coleman

Senior role: The time has come for Coleman to become a leader (Getty Images)

Former Reds fly-half Quade Cooper will have a point to prove as he tries to resurrect his rugby career in Melbourne, but it’s
Adam Coleman who could play the biggest role in this team’s season.

He joined the Rebels in 2018 and has made 12 appearances for them, mainly off the bench, but the experienced Geoff Parling’s move to the coaching team means the Wallaby is now the most senior lock in the Rebels’ ranks and will have a greater responsibility.

The 27-year-old can be hot-headed at times and will need to exercise more self-discipline. But he is a great lineout exponent who likes to exert pressure.

REDS - Caleb Timu

Wandering Youngster: Caleb Timu will look to repay Brad Thorn’s faith in him (Getty Images)

Caleb Timu is a threat to any defence with his power-running game. A Mormon who asked for an early release from his Brisbane Broncos contract as he was required to play on Sundays, Timu joined the Reds in 2016. A pre-season injury left him in limbo for most of the next two years, during which time he worked as an Uber driver to provide for his family.

The 24-year-old back-rower, who is studying for a Bachelor of Commerce degree, will hope to repay coach Brad Thorn’s faith in him this season.

SHARKS - Akker van der Merwe

Point to Prove: Van der Merwe will look to become a Springbok again in 2019 (Getty Images)

Akker van der Merwe will head into the 2019 season with a point to prove. The explosive hooker featured in three Tests for the Boks last June, then fell by the wayside. However, the 27-year-old sent out a stark reminder of his class with a couple of standout performances
during the 2018 Currie Cup play-offs.

He will be more determined than ever to make the Sharks’ No 2 jersey his own and force his way back into the South Africa reckoning before the World Cup.

While Van der Merwe is renowned for his mobility and robust ball-carrying, it’s in his primary set-piece role where he’ll be looking to establish real consistency.

STORMERS - Damian Willemse

Last line: Willemse will likely act as the Stormers last line of defence at full-back this year (Getty Images)

Damian Willemse, 20, troubled the better defensive sides with his speed, stepping ability and distribution last year, then received a call-up to join the Springboks. Rassie Erasmus compared him to Frans Steyn and captain Siya Kolisi confirmed that Willemse’s mental strength would stand him in good stead at the highest level.

The youngster made his first Test start at No 15 against England at Twickenham and Erasmus has made it clear that he wants Willemse to receive more game time at full-back for the Stormers before the Boks travel to the World Cup. With more time and space to work his magic, Willemse should provide the Stormers with plenty of impetus from the back.

SUNWOLVES - Michael Leitch

Looking Ahead: Leitch will look to have a big year with the Rugby World Cup looming large (Getty Images)

After a solid debut season for the Sunwolves last year, Michael Leitch has a big role to play for franchise and country in 2019. The loose forward has never been short of work-rate, with his ability to force turnovers and physicality in the tackle often proving his strongest assets.

The 30-year-old Japan captain will also have to stand up as a leader in what could be a defining season for his teams. The spotlight will be firmly fixed on the Sunwolves and their future in the competition, as well as on Japan as World Cup hosts, so Leitch will have to draw on his experience to guide his franchise and country to new heights.

WARATAHS - Jake Gordon

First Choice: Gordon will likely be the starting scrum-half for the Waratahs (Getty Images)

In 2018, Jake Gordon eclipsed Nick Phipps as the Waratahs’ first-choice scrum-half and while he didn’t set Super Rugby alight, he didn’t disappoint either. He played in 17 of the Waratahs’ 18 matches, amassing a total of 757 minutes.

With a crisp passing and strong running and kicking game, 25-year-old Gordon brings unpredictability to the No 9 position. He does have defensive frailties but the Waratahs conceded 67 tries in 2018, so the same can be said of several of his team-mates.

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