It was a bit of mixed bag from the four New Zealand teams involved in week seven of Super Rugby.
The Hurricanes delivered a clichéd game-of-two-halves performance, the Highlanders and Blues showed why New Zealand derbies are such a sort-after broadcast commodity while the Chiefs lost to the Stormers in a cracking encounter full of great skill and intent.
Radio Sport Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden wants it known that picking the Form Team of the Week for round seven was an absolute sod of thing to do, but done it he has.
1. Kane Hames (Chiefs) has been one of the most consistent performers for the Chiefs and continued that at Newlands. His scrummaging was rock solid, likewise his defensive work, especially against the Stormers pick-n-go.
2. The drop off from Dane Coles to Ricky Riccitelli (Hurricanes) appears to be dropping by the game.
Riccitelli plays a little tighter than Coles but his execution of the core roles of a hooker is excellent and when he does decide to venture wide, he looks very comfortable. In my pecking order for All Black rakes, he's behind only Coles, Taylor and Coltman at present.
3. Each week, Charlie Faumuina (Blues) reminds us what a skilled rugby player he is and what a loss he'll be when he heads to France at the end of the season. He was quite outstanding in all facets during his 55 minutes stint on Saturday night and claims Forward of the Week honours. Faumuina's opposite in Dunedin, Siosiua Halanukonuka (Highlanders) wasn't far behind with a physical, high work-rate effort for the victors.
4. Best game of the season by Mark Abbott (Hurricanes) as he stood out with great work-rate, as illustrated by 15 ball carries, same amount as Beauden Barrett (good company that) good physicality against a forward pack that included a block of flats with eyes (struth Will Skelton is a massive human being) and good accuracy in his roles at set piece.
5. Alex Ainley (Highlanders) produced another tireless effort, powering through eighty minutes of confrontational, raw boned rugby in the Highlanders engine room.
6. Liam Messam (Chiefs) was mighty against the Stormers in all areas. He tackled, carried, scrambled, organised, took lineout ball and supported the ball carrier, with the latter highlighted by a couple of delightful passes in the Chiefs outstanding opening try.
7. Blake Gibson (Blues) plays rugby relentlessly. Whether it was carrying the ball, hunting the ball at the breakdown or tackling the bloke who had the ball, Gibson seemed to be always in the action in Dunedin. Like Riccitelli at hooker, Gibson must be in the mix behind the three incumbent opensides for higher honours if injuries were sustained.
8. Three excellent number performances from Luke Whitelock (Highlanders), Steven Luatua (Blues) & Reed Princep (Hurricanes). Whitelock gets the nod but I kid you not, I've sat here for the last 34 minutes ... make that 45 minutes as I've just come back to it again ... after re-watching portions of both games trying to decide and I'm still not sure.
9. Gave serious consideration to putting this up for public vote because Aaron Smith (Highlanders) and Augustine Pulu (Blues) were so influential for their sides, but in contrasting ways, that I'm struggling to separate them. Pulu was prominent in establishing the Blues lead in the first half and made a couple of brilliant defensive plays, but Smith's kicking game and consistent speed and delivery from the base of rucks and mauls gave the Highlanders attack some great flow particularly in the second half.
10. Despite the 2 yellow cards that saw him sent off with just minutes remaining, Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes) left his imprint on this game early and often. He's kicking a fair bit (15 times vs NSW) but he's doing so accurately and his overall option taking, especially when he chooses to run, is bang on point.
11. James Lowe (Chiefs) got himself into the Stormers game and had plenty in impact in doing so to claim the Russell Westbrook award for Stat Line of the Week award - 16 carries for 123 metres including 5 defenders beaten, 4 line breaks, 3 off loads and a try.
12. There is so much to like about what Richard Buckman (Highlanders) does for his team and the way he goes about it as he produced more high level solidity across the entirety of the game against the Blues.
13. Another excellent outing in an already excellent season for Matt Proctor (Hurricanes) against the Waratahs. He regularly breaks the opposition line and makes gains plenty metres when he does, while he rarely allowing his opponents to do the same and is very effective at the breakdown, either contesting or cleaning out, when required to head into the dark place.
14. Matt Duffie (Blues) has been the best, most consistent player for the Blues this season and deserves the plaudits he's getting after yet another strong outing at the weekend. Toni Pulu (Chiefs) was also very sharp in Cape Town and worthy of mention.
15. This was almost as tough a choice as halfback. I've gone with Ben Smith (Highlanders) over Damian McKenzie (Chiefs) because while McKenzie had some big plays, including triggering the try of the year thus far, Smith was at his world class, precise, influential best. Smith was in the right place at the right time making the right decision followed by the right action in a display that reinforces why he is the best fullback in the game - Back of the Week
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