By NIGEL YALDEN
Following a weekend in which the Crusaders outclassed the Blues and the Chiefs, Hurricanes and Highlanders defeated overseas opposition, Radio Sport Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden sat down with a freshly brewed plunger of coffee to select his New Zealand Form Team of the Week for round three of Super Rugby:
1. Another strong yet spritely performance from Karl Tu’inukuafe (Blues). He was excellent in his core rolls and carried the ball with vim and vigour. Nice work in extended playing time by Pouri Rakete-Stones (Hurricanes) as well.
2. Codie Taylor (Crusaders) was the most efficient & effective hookers, on point at lineout time, scrumming well and busy, with being spectacular, around the field. Good energy & involvement from Bradley Slater (Chiefs) in his first Super Rugby start also.
3. Coming on just eight minutes into the match, Michael Alaalatoa (Crusaders) delivered an industrious 72 minutes of physicality in the tight.
4. A typically strong, direct and impactful hour’s work by Scott Barrett (Crusaders) on Friday night, while you can see his captaincy confidence growing week by week too.
5. An excellent all round performance by Josh Dickson (Highlanders) in Canberra, highlighted by his dependability in the middle of the Highlanders lineout and his willingness to throw his body around, with or without the ball.
6. Cullen Grace (Crusaders) was exceptional in his first Super rugby start. He was relentless for 80 minutes, always near the heart of the action as is reflected in his individual stats. He made 19 tackles, got three turnovers, was the main man at lineout time with 10 takes and helped ruined the Blues lineout, grabbing three lineout steals in the process. – FORWARD OF THE WEEK
7. Tom Christie’s (Crusaders) thirst for work step up another notch with a game high 23 tackles and like his blindside team-mate, he was always near or on the ball as you expect your opensider to be. Great shift by skipper James Lentjes (Highlanders) in that muddling contest in Canberra.
8. Hoskins Sotutu (Blues) maintained his excellent early season form with another top display against the defending champions. While his work with ball in hand stands out - 16 strong carries for 59 hard earned metres - he also snaffled three turnovers.
9. We always expect Brad Weber (Chiefs) to look to run when it’s on, which he did very effectively in Tokyo, but his defensive work was just as accurate as he was asked to do a fair chunk of it by the Sunwolves (12 tackles and a turnover)
10. Richie Mo’unga (Crusaders) was just a class above any other kiwi first five on display during this round. Decision-making, vision, control, poise, he just looked exactly like what he is – the incumbent All Blacks first five.
11. Not a lot really ran Ben Lam’s (Hurricanes) way in the first half on Saturday night in terms of attack. However he was dominant in the second half with chances presented to him, scoring two fine tries and reminding us all of the pace and power he possess with ball in hand - BACK OF THE WEEK
12. Alex Nankivell (Chiefs) was an absolute workhorse against the Sunwolves. He charged headlong into the defence repeatedly and effectively and was rock solid on defence in both midfield positions.
13. Braydon Ennor (Crusaders) never got his hands on the ball in attack (seriously not once … just extraordinary) but defensively he was superb with 15 tackles and two turnovers. He was part of great centre battle with Joe Marchant (Blues) a standout in the home sides back line.
14. Sevu Reece (Crusaders) made the most of limited opportunities on attack and when call upon to defend, did that efficiently as well; he’s very adept at stripping the ball from the oncoming ball carrier which accounts for his two turnovers versus the Blues.
15. Tough choice this one - David Havili (Crusaders) was class yet again while Jordie Barrett (Hurricanes) had a hand in three tries and saved another. Both timed their involvements in attack really, were positionally sound and kicked well off the tee and in general play. Take your pick – no wrong answer here.
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