It is against the back drop of two contrasting local derbies that Radio Sport Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden sat down to select his New Zealand Form Team of the Week for round nine of Super Rugby:
1 Karl Tu’inukuafe (Blues) delivered his best performance of the season. He was rock solid at scrum time, lifted well in the lineouts, carried robustly, moved bodies and provide a couple of delightful pieces of skill in the open field, one which help create a walk in try for his side. Special mention for Angus Ta’avao (Chiefs) who was on the brink of being yellow carded, but was to make the adjustments needed to stay in the fight and got through a mountain of work in a 78 minute shift
2 Andrew Makalio (Crusaders) was the best of a group of hookers who played well but hardly set the world on fire
3 Great shift from Ofa Tuungafasi (Blues). He put early heat on Ta’avao at scrum time, got reward for it and industriously worked his through his 51 minutes on the field
4 Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues) is fully engaged in beast mode at the moment. The Blues skipper powered through the work on Saturday night as he continues this outstanding vein of form that he is currently in – Forward of the Week
5 Just like the man previously mentioned, Brodie Retallick (Chiefs) was all over it in Hamilton. His carries took some stopping, his defence was excellent (18 tackles) his lineout work high quality and he affected two turnovers in an typical robust display
6 If Luke Jacobson (Chiefs) tackles you, you know all about it at the time and you probably still do so a few days later too. He moved plenty of bodies come breakdown time as well and his game compliments the work of the tight forwards as much as it does his fellow loose forwards.
7 Matt Todd (Crusaders) is his own special type of weapon. His work on defensive is massive, as making 22 out of 23 tackles on Friday night would indicate, but he’s getting plenty of carries to and often in the type of channels you’d expect a much large body to be running into; James Lentjes (Highlanders) was pretty good in a losing effort
8 Kieran Read (Crusaders) got stronger the more the Southern Derby went on and whilst overshadowed in the early stage of the contest by Elliot Dixon (Highlanders), who reminded us of the quality of his underutilised talents, Read’s first full game of the season was easily the best outing from the All Blacks captain since his return
9 Bryn Hall (Crusaders) is the epitome of do-your-job within the structure and do it to the best of your ability. The consistency of his play must be getting hard to ignore for the All Black selectors. Same could be said for Brad Weber (Chiefs)
10 After a slow start to the season, Richie Mo’unga (Crusaders) is fully into stride and ran the show in Christchurch quite beautifully. In light of the season ending injury to Damian McKenzie, the suggestion has to be put forward (again) that under the dual playmaker system, the All Blacks best starting combination is arguably Mo’unga at first five and Beauden Barrett at fullback
11 Several people are already tipping Braydon Ennor (Crusaders) to play test rugby in the future and Friday night’s performance showed why. He does the vast majority of things right and if he does make a mistake or misses a tackle, he busts his butt to get back and atone for it.
12 The standard of second five play in the New Zealand derbies was just superb. I’m going with Ma’a Nonu (Blues) because of the influence he had in a tight contest, especially in the second half of that tight tussle in the Tron but Ryan Crotty (Crusaders) Tei Walden (Highlanders) and Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs) were all just as good for their teams - Back of the Week
13 Another good outing by TJ Faiane (Blues) earns him the nod though the impact of the centres this round was not as great as we’ve seen in previous weeks
14 Sevu Reece (Crusaders) continues to make the most of every opportunity the defending champs afford him. Some pretty impressive numbers reinforce how nicely he’s operating within the system and secures him the Russell Westbrook Stat Line of the Week award with 8 carriers for 108 metres gained, 5 clean breaks, 9 defenders beaten, five tackles, three turnovers won, a try and a try assist
15 After a couple of quiet games by his high standards, Ben Smith (Highlanders) was back to his outstanding best. The try to open the scoring was a work of art and that set the tone for an excellent individual performance over eighty minutes on what was a tough night for the southernmost franchise.
Selection criteria: Must play for a NZ franchise but does not have to be eligible for All Blacks
Nigel Yalden is Rugby Editor for Radio Sport and Newstalk ZB.