NZ Power Rankings:
1) Crusaders: A brilliantly conceived and executed game plan had a potentially troublesome clash in Pretoria all but decided by the break.
After last week's scrum issues in Christchurch, they refused to allow the Bulls any chance of turning the set piece into a dog fight by clearing their own ball in lightning fashion and not allowing the Bulls a single scrum feed in the first half. The rest came down to superb use of possession, aided no end by the Bulls insistence on hacking hard won ball downfield into grateful Crusader hands.
2) Hurricanes: Eclipsed in the battle for territory and possession at Eden Park, they showed great determination to defend their line until either winning a penalty or the inevitable Blues mistake, and then struck whenever a chance presented itself. Only an outside chance of pipping the Crusaders for pole position, but two more wins should be enough to at least secure a deserved home quarter-final.
3) Chiefs: For all their troubles, there is something quite admirable about the way, in the last two weeks, they have been able to overcome a shocking run of injuries and late deficits to snatch an unlikely draw in Dunedin and a priceless win over the tough Sharks. The go ahead try by Brad Weber was a thing of desperate beauty.
4) Highlanders: Managed to tough it out against the Jaguares by nabbing their chances, and battling away on defence against the muscular Argentinian pack.
Discipline has never been the Jaguares strongest suit, but it’s fair to say that, in this one, that Highlanders got the rub of the green with a run of penalty awards in the last twenty that had the Jaguares players perplexed, and coach Gonzalo Quesada absolutely fuming.
5) The Blues: Their ability to hold the ball for longer than any other team in Super Rugby has actually become a liability, because eventually someone is going to succumb to frustration, or anxiety to make something happen, and the ball will be coughed up to the opposition.
If they can sort that out they can still make the playoffs, but it seems ingrained.
The Brumbies have gone to the top after actually allowing the backs to score a few tries in their win over a flat Sunwolves outfit on Sunday. The Rebels made hard work of beating the Reds, but the Waratahs were dead set robbed in South Africa. More on that in a moment.
South African Conference
The Lions were lucky, the Jaguares were not, and the Sharks couldn’t quite nail a chance to go home from a very tough tour with an even record.
Key thing for the Sharkies is that they now go back to their own beds, while the Bulls are about to hit the road, and the Jags have three more to go on tour, starting in Wellington this weekend. Moving time.
Six of the Best:
1) Ardie Savea: Has probably been the best player in Super Rugby this season. Relentlessly good.
2) Richie Mo’unga: Sporting a sensational set of mutton chops, he not only claimed the early lead in the Crusaders Annual Facial Hair on Tour Competition, he turned a much anticipated head to head with Springbok lynchpin Handre Pollard into a no contest.
3) Brad Weber: His go ahead try was another example of his ability to run brilliant support lines. Continues to keep All Black preference Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi on the bench.
4) Liam Coltman : Keeps putting it out there for the Highlanders. Yes, like a fourth loose forward.
5)Marcos Kremer: A colossal presence in Dunedin, topping all forwards for combined attacking and defensive effort.
6) Tyler Ardron : The big Canadian has posted a tortuous 860 minutes for the Chiefs out of a possible 960, and given it everything. Let’s hope he’s got something left for the World Cup. By comparison, some All Blacks are being handled like Takahe chicks.
Refs (Gold) Watch
This week’s gem came in Johannesburg from Egon Seconds. True, his 11-2 penalty count against the Waratahs is better than the ludicrous 20-1 he awarded the Lions against the Rebels in March, but things like the miss of a blatant forward pass in the leadup to the Lions go-ahead try simply shouldn’t happen.
The Jaguares struggled to contain their frustration with World Cup bound Ben O’Keeffe in Dunedin, and teams have left Australia shaking their heads in recent weeks.
No matter how much the powers that be insist that all refs are neutral, why leave the door open to criticism with the appointment of “home” refs to important games?