RYAN VREDE looks at the backline men who could play an important role in the 2014 Super Rugby tournament.
CHRISTIAN LEALI'IFANO (BRUMBIES)
Last season was a defining one in Leali’ifano’s career. He emerged as a world-class player, capable of winning games with ball in hand and with his deadly accurate boot. The Test season would have refined him further, helping to fill in the holes in his game and temperament. There is every reason to believe the 26-year-old will get better in the coming season under the tutelage of Stephen Larkham, who was one of the best pivots ever to play the game. He needs to improve his consistency, and start to boss games against the tournament’s top teams – especially away from home. If he manages to do that, the Brumbies will benefit immeasurably.
KYLE GODWIN (FORCE)
The 21-year-old delivered strong performances that belied his age in 2013. Being deployed mostly at inside centre (he played the bulk of his junior career as a flyhalf), Godwin was skilled and fearless, tormenting more experienced opponents. He has few technical faults, and adds to his threat with good decision-making. Godwin will develop into a top Super Rugby player and has the potential to make the step up. The Force will do well to retain his services in the years ahead.
TAMATI ELLISON (REBELS)
Ellison’s reputation has been built mostly on the back of his performances for the Hurricanes. A pacey, elusive and strong ball-carrier, the Rebels will look to Ellison to give them a game-breaking quality they’ll lose with the departure of Kurtley Beale, James O’Connor and Cooper Vuna. That is a heavy burden to bear, and one, we suspect, will prove too heavy for the 30-year-old.
WILL GENIA (REDS)
When Genia is playing well, the Reds thrive. Genia at one stage challenged Fourie du Preez as the world’s best scrumhalf, but has regressed. Injuries haven’t helped, but that alone cannot mitigate his drop-off. At his best Genia is the complete player, adept at a passing, running and tactical kicking game. He takes pressure off Quade Cooper, offering another creative force. The Reds will hope he puts the inconsistency of 2013 behind him.
ISRAEL FOLAU (WARATAHS)
Folau was slow out of the blocks after his switch from rugby league, but his influence grew as he settled. By the tournament’s midway mark, you realised why the Tahs had pursued him so aggressively, and when he showed his class in the Rugby Championship, despite the Wallabies’ struggles, you knew he was a special player. Having had a year to bed in, and being surrounded by better players than in 2013, you’d expect Folau’s influence to grow.
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