A weekend for the New Zealand Super Rugby franchises that can be summed up with some traditional clichés: “a game of two halves” in Christchurch; “take the points and move on” in Melbourne & “normal service resumes” in Wellington.
Radio Sport Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden has ploughed his way through another viewing of the games (NB he did seek dispensation to not re-watch the Chiefs game; that was denied) to help compile his NZ Form Team of the Week:
- While he only played half a game, it was an impressive 40 minutes from Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders). His involvement, along with that of fellow Crusaders reserve Luke Romano, played a key role in the tight five led comeback against the Blues in Christchurch. He was accurate, energetic and robust.
- Codie Taylor (Crusaders) gets the spot though unconvincingly as all the rakes were much of a muchness; good but hardly standouts.
- Nepo Laulala (Chiefs) was excellent in the midst of a frustrating Chiefs performance. He owned his side of the scrum, lifted well, cleaned out and carried with purpose and made 12 hefty tackles.
- Brodie Retallick (Chiefs), as well as the next player mentioned, has revealed themselves to be in top early season form. Retallick was busy throughout but stepped up even more in the final 15 minutes as the Chiefs ground the Rebels out of the game, leading several power forward surges down the stretch.
- Sam Whitelock’s (Crusaders) play was quite superb - mind you it normally is – but it was his captaincy, especially during a third second half comeback in as many weeks that stood tall. He’s a naturally calm man; that calmness allowed him to read the game with great clarity and that clarity meant he had a wonderful feel for the contest thus leading him to make the right decision the vast majority of the time – Forward of the Week
- Tom Sanders (Chiefs) certainly looked like a bloke who was keen for a run having watched the first three weeks of the tournament from the sidelines. After being a bit too eager early on, he settled down nicely into the game and produced an industrious performance. Elliot Dixon (Highlanders) went well too, which makes his substitution with twenty minutes to play more than mildly perplexing.
- Sam Cane (Chiefs) produced an excellent all round effort in Melbourne. Like several of the top All Blacks, Cane has returned to action and immediately hit the high standards expected. Also deserving of mentions are Blake Gibson (Blues), who continues to run himself to a standstill, Dillon Hunt (Highlanders), who stood out in his run-on debut.
- How good did Ardie Savea (Hurricanes) look at number eight? Rhetorical question … we all know the answer. He used his explosive speed off the back of the scrum quite impressively & just worked his tail off in every other facet of play around the field.
- Aaron Smith (Highlanders) produced his best performance since September last year before he was inexplicably removed from the contest on the hour mark. He was rapid to breakdown, clearing the ball with the crispness and speed we had been accustomed to. Smith’s kicking game was on point and best of all, he’s starting to have a crack around the fringes again. Augustine Pulu (Blues) was also impressive in a losing effort on Friday night.
- Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes) was the best of out a bunch of serviceable first five performances but nothing really to write home about from that group.
- Melani Nanai (Blues) showed why he has to be on the field more often than he has been this season. Nanai was strong and powerful with ball in hand in the opportunities afford him against the Crusaders. Personally, as solid as Michael Collins has been, I’d like to see Nanai get an extended run at fullback for the Blues.
- Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes) edges George Moala (Blues). Both provided midfield punch/go forward for their team; scored two tries and were defensively solid when tested however Laumape’s influence was felt throughout the entire game, hence he gets the nod.
- Rieko Ioane (Blues) showed glimpses of what we were all so impressed with during the opening game against the Rebels. He started to get to the outside of defenders which is always a dangerous thing when you’re as fast and strong as Ioane is. Defended well though like Moala, little chance to influence the second half in Christchurch. Matt Faddes (Highlanders) also showed incisiveness upon replacing Malakai Fekitoa.
- Vince Aso (Hurricanes) has made the Hurricanes number 14 jersey his own in the first month of the season. In addition to another strong showing on the ring wing against an inform opposite in Tevita Li, Aso further showed his worth with an accomplished effort moving into centre following Matt Proctor’s injury enforced departure midway through the second half.
- Jordie Barrett (Hurricanes) is as advertised and then some. The delightful moments of skill – the cross field kick for Laumape’s first try & the behind the back pass for Proctor’s try – were backed up with good positional play, good decision making; well-timed injections to the backline and a solid defensive effort. Early stages I know, but a young man who can cover 10, 12 & 15 would be quite hand on an international reserves bench don’t you think?
Selection criteria: Must play for a NZ franchise but does not have to be eligible for All Blacks
** Statistics via the NZ Herald Stat Centre **
NIGEL YALDEN IS THE RUGBY EDITOR FOR RADIO SPORT & NEWSTALK ZB