NZ Conference Power Rankings
1) Crusaders: Glued to the top of the table after another dominant second half performance that leaves them eleven points clear of their nearest challenger. The only downside is the 18 penalties conceded.
A less tolerant ref than Ben O’Keefe would have been quicker to the pocket. They might not get away with it in Cape Town or Pretoria.
2) Hurricanes: Unharmed by the weekend off. They’re probably not going to catch the Crusaders, more now a case of winning the fight for a home quarter-final.
3) Chiefs: Just as they get their season pointing in the right direction, they lose Damien McKenzie. Shame for him, shame for the Chiefs, unwanted news for the All Blacks, and a blow for the fans, because he can light a game up like few others.
As for the Chiefs, they won an epic thriller, again missing too many tackles, but taking their scoring chances wonderfully well.
4) Blues: Stay in the top eight despite the loss, and were not far off another win.
Now the monkey to get off the back is an away win over a fellow New Zealand side, which they will aim for this weekend in Dunedin.
5) Highlanders: They’re a brave, battling team, but right now it’s not enough to win games.
Need to avenge their recent loss to the Blues or the space between them and the playoff race begins to widen.
South African Conference:
Trying to pick the results in this group is like trying to hit bullseye on a dartboard, while wearing boxing gloves.
The Jaguares, against all expectations, ran the Sharks off the park. Or to put it another way, the Sharks looked like their crumbling Kings Park, while the Jaguares looked like the much flasher football stadium right next door.
The Stormers and Bulls restored pride with good wins, the Stormers upsetting the form book in Melbourne, and this remains the most evenly fought of the three conferences.
It hasn’t been a great week for rugby in Oz and it was perhaps merciful that the Waratahs were absent, given the storm over Israel Folau.
The Rebels failed to fire against the Stormers, a game many had down for a banker, while it was business as usual for the Reds,
determined, muscular, and a clear second.
Forward of the Week:
Pablo Matera (Jaguares): We’ve always seen him as a young bull, powerful with ball in hand, hard hitter on defence, but against the Sharks he showed some real skill quality with his chip and chase try. If you haven’t seen it, do so, it’s as good as any solo effort this season. An inspiration to his team, and possibly the best No.6 in the game right now.
Back of the Week:
Anton Lienert Brown (pictured): He’s been the best for the Chiefs all season. If it is really down to a race between he and Ngani Laumape for the fourth midfield spot in the All Blacks, then the all round game, versatility and the brilliant support play of ALB has him in front by a whisker. And given how good Laumape has been, that’s saying something. (Photo: Photosport)
Catching the Eye:
1) Ma’a Nonu: Keep this up and he might yet be the sixth wheel in that All Black midfield conundrum. He clearly really wants it and that is a great sign.
2) Luke Jacobsen: His return may not have been instrumental in turning the Chiefs around, but neither is it pure coincidence. Lachlan Boshier got the chocolates on Saturday, and fair enough, but Jacobsen was every bit as effective.
3) Tom Banks : If Folau is a gone burger, the talk is that Dane Haylett Petty is the natural fit at fullback for the Wallabies. Thing is, to really be a contender for the World Cup, they need something out of their own ordinary, and Banks could be the man to provide it.
4) Domingo Miotti: The departure of Nico Sanchez was a big loss for the Jaguares, but this kid has shown match winning qualities over the past fortnight.
5) Sevu Reece: Only the world’s best winger Rieko Ioane has made more clean breaks than this rehabilitated youngster. Pure excitement every time he touches the ball.
A limp second day performance by the “All Black” Sevens in Singapore, losing to Samoa in the playoff for fifth.
A lack of pace is not a new problem, but this team is executing poorly at key times, shying off too many tackles and fading towards the business end.
A criticism of Sir Gordon Tietjens was that he had become obsessed with diet and boot camp type training, but is it unreasonable to suggest some of their current shortcomings could be down to lesser fitness levels? Who would have been smiling Sunday night?
They are still comfortable in the top four for Olympic qualification, but there’s no medal for fourth, fifth or sixth and that’s where they are right now.