Wins to the South Island franchises, losses for the three located north of Cook Straight and it’s against that backdrop that Radio Sport Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden sat down to selected his NZ Team of the Week for round 2 of Super Rugby.
1. Joe Moody (Crusaders) followed up his extended shift in the opening round by producing another solid effort in all areas against the Hurricanes.
2. Dane Coles (Hurricanes) delivered a typically busy effort in his first Super Rugby start since 2017 NB the standard of line-out throwing from the NZ hookers was very poor this round.
3. Owen Franks (Crusaders) did what he does each week; hit rucks, tackle well in the tight channels, scrummed and lifted well before heading to the sidelines for a well-earned protein shake.
4. Scott Barrett (Crusaders) has been fair hissing in all areas over the opening fortnight of the competition. On Saturday night he was damaging with the ball in hand, hurting people in defence, disruptive on the Canes line-out ball and nabbed a couple of tries to boot.
5. Quentin Strange (Crusaders) was as impressive as his second row partner. Just like Barrett, he was stinging in defence, a pain in the Canes backside at line-out time and busy all over the field. Strange is a player who grows with each opportunity he gets at this level.
6. Shannon Frizell (Highlanders) has laid down a marker in the first fortnight of Super Rugby to all other NZ blindside flankers. Impactful off the bench in week one, Frizell was even more impressive starting against a very physical Reds side Friday night; churning out an industrious 70 minute effort with 14 carries for 57 metres gained, 5 defenders beaten, 2 clean breaks, 2 tries, 11 tackles (no misses) two turnovers and a line-out take – Forward of the Week.
7. Tough call this week as there were four excellent open-side performances but Du’Plessis Kirifi (Hurricanes) unrelenting efforts, especially at the breakdown where he got three clean turnovers off the Crusaders pack, gets him the nod by the merest of margins over the tireless outings delivered by Matt Todd (Crusaders) Dalton Papali’I (Blues) and Dillon Hunt (Highlanders).
8. Luke Whitelock (Highlanders) is steadily improving his ball carrying while continuing to be the best lead-out tackler in the competition; one of the most consistent eighty minute rugby players in this competition over recent years.
9. Bryn Hall (Crusaders) kept the machine moving nicely from the base of ruck and maul and while he didn’t have to kick much, when he did he did so well.
10. A vastly improved effort from his week one outing by Richie Mo’unga (Crusaders) as he guided the attack well and put himself in the right place at the right time, as was evident in the two tries he scored and a couple of timely line breaks.
11. When he got the ball Ben Lam (Hurricanes) made good things happen for his side as he showed the sort of attacking form that saw so many calling for his inclusion in the All Blacks last year, as well as making a couple of nice scrambling defensive plays and snaring a turnover for his side.
12. As is his way, Ryan Crotty (Crusaders) produced an under radar performance of absolute quality. His ability to take or retrieve an errant pass and still get back to the gain line under duress is quite extraordinary as is the way he marshals the back-line defence.
13. Coming on as an early replacement, Matt Faddes (Highlanders) reminded us what a versatile and talented player he is. He runs lovely lines in attack, is strong with and without the ball and did well defensively against an excellent opposing midfield combination. He had a couple of key moments which gets him the spot just ahead of the returning and seemingly always impressive Jack Goodhue (Crusaders).
14. When his side finally managed to secure ball and got some attacking opportunities, Melani Nanai (Blues) involvement gave the Sharks a whole heap of trouble and unlike other right wings this round, he made his tackles and he didn’t turn over the ball.
15. A near flawless performance by David Havili (Crusaders) on Saturday night. His positional play was just superb, the decision making top drawer and those two things combined with his obvious skill lead to a lot of good things happening for his team – Back of the Week.
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