The Hurricanes won another frenetic New Zealand derby in Dunedin while the competition leading Crusaders and playoff contending Blues recorded wins over Trans-Tasman opposition as Super Rugby inches ever closer to the midway point of the regular season. Once the dust settled, Radio Sport Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden inched himself closer to a freshly filled coffee plunger, cracked open a pack of cameo cremes and proceeded to select his New Zealand Team of the Week for Round Eight:
1 As we’ve seen from several others this season, Alex Hodgman (Blues) is thriving on the regular playing time he’s getting at this level. The best thing about his play against the Waratahs was the accuracy and intent in all his core roles
2 A very industrious outing from Ben Funnell (Crusaders) with but especially without the ball (14 tackles in 45 minutes shows he wasn’t shirking defensively) as well as being solid in the set pieces
3 Tyrel Lomax (Highlanders) was the best of a group of solid performers
4 After playing a typically robust, combative and all round high quality 60 minutes at lock, Scott Barrett (Crusaders) played the final twenty at blindside. When watching the replay, if put the volume right up and listen very, very closely, you will hear, faintly on the breeze, the shrilled squeals of the delight from the “Scott Barrett for All Blacks blindside” brigade when did so.
5 Patrick Tuipulotu’s (Blues) work rate and physicality has never been better than it is at the moment. The numbers would tell you that he didn’t make much ground with his 12 carries on Saturday night, but he bruised some Waratahs bodies whilst doing so, as he also did during another powerful defensive display.
6 Shannon Frizell (Highlanders) continues to impress this season. His appetite for hard physical contact was great on both sides of the ball against the Hurricanes. He is also taking his lineout ball when called, lifting well towards the back of the Highlanders and is playing very disciplined rugby; just one penalty conceded in 331 minutes played this season.
7 Ardie Savea (Hurricanes) is playing the rugby of his life at the moment and we should all be feeling pretty chuffed to be able to watch and enjoy it; yet another supreme, match influencing performance on Friday night - Forward of the Week
8 Feel free to pick who you want, as while the starting number eights or their placements played well, none of them really delivered the kind of standout performance to warrant inclusion. If pressed, I’d probably lean to Luke Whitelock (Highlanders) but would do so with very little conviction.
9 Mitchell Drummond (Crusaders) did a lot of very good work during the toughest portion of the Crusaders victory on Saturday night. Kayne Hammington (Highlanders) was pretty darn good too under the roof twenty four hours earlier.
10 Hard to separate Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes) and Richie Mo’unga (Crusaders) this week given the vastly contrasting natures of the respective games they played in; plenty to like about both performance, just a shame we have to wait and hope that the two sides meet in the playoffs before we can see them go head to head again.
11 By now you know I love the Cory Jane “it’s not how many times you touch the ball, but the quality of those touches” quote. Well that’s what Ben Lam (Hurricanes) showed on Friday night. All six of his carries were high impact and effective, one leading to Ardie Savea’s second try while defensively he was equally impressive. Others had more touches and better stats from this round, but Lam provided the quality
12 Ryan Crotty (Crusaders) and Ma’a Nonu (Blues) produced the sort of performances you just come to expect from them. They did everything well and I mean everything. Both showed delightful touches that led directly to two tries for their respective sides; defensively they made some telling reads and shuddering tackles, the pair kicked when required and did so accurately, but above all they provide so much information and direction for their halfbacks and first fives that those particular players must be pinching themselves to have that standard of play and experience outside them - Backs of the Week
13 In a similar vein to the number eights, I thought all the centres played solid rugby but no one player really did anything to differentiate himself from the others. Again, if pushed to make a selection, probably a toss-up between Rob Thompson (Highlanders) and TJ Faiane (Blues) but I rarely push myself … just ask my old coaches.
14 Will Jordan (Crusaders) is very talented with a solid all round game but I just don’t know how long he’s going to last at this level if he continues to run chin first in opposing defenders. Caleb Clarke (Blues) provided a nice reminder of his outrageous potential too … add this pair to the list of All Blacks contenders from 2020 onwards.
15 Another excellent outing from David Havili (Crusaders) in the number fifteen jersey as he continues to get back to the form that made him an All Black in 2016
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 & NEWSTALK ZB