A look back at round 17 of the Super 15 and which teams and players stood out.
THE FAB FOUR
Each week the Armchair Coach looks at the four most impressive teams in the Super 15, with a view to their title chances.
won 32 - 10 v Bulls 3rd SAC, 6th overall
More storming than the Stormers. The Sharks have to be taken seriously on this form, and could be among three South African teams in the playoffs. Led by their fantastic front row, the Sharks - with a couple of top players missing - demolished the Bulls, whose own title credentials were severely tarnished. The Stormers head the South African challenge but are incapable of this quality. The Sharks would have to win the title the hard way but are good enough to do so judging by what we saw over the weekend.
won 28 - 21 v Chiefs 2nd NZC, 4th overall
The Crusaders are not entirely convincing given the quality of their lineup, although others would kill for what they do. All that history and experience is impossible to ignore in the title calculations and yet Lady Luck had a hand in the win over an underperforming Chiefs. The more Israel Dagg contributes the better though, and he needs a higher involvement.
Dagg can be a playmaker at speed, veering across defensive lines and delivering beautifully aimed and timed passes. The braveheart Kieran Read is just the man to run on to them as he did in Hamilton.
lost 21 - 28 v Crusaders 1st NZC, 1st overall
Dave Rennie should be happy on one hand and despairing on the other. Despite bungling the setpieces, they stayed very close to a high-quality side and nabbed what could be a vital bonus point in the race for top seeding. However a draw was there for the taking but for an SBW bungle and the Chiefs also dipped out in the video ref luck department. The big question: are the lineout and scrum gremlins-slash-disasters repairable for the big encounters ahead?
won 13 - 6 v Cheetahs 1st SAC, 2nd overall
The Brumbies deserve this spot for breaking a 10-year hoodoo in Sydney, but try as you might, and admire as you might, it's hard to see the underpowered and over-achieving Canberra mob challenging for the title. The Stormers always play wet-weather football so no surprise that they should account for the Cheetahs. Should the Chiefs trip up in the final round against Conrad Smith's Hurricanes, the Stormers will likely be top seeds, which would make them very tough title customers.
BACK OF THE WEEK
Tawera Kerr-Barlow - CHIEFS
The rising halfback built on his impressive domination of the Highlanders new test star Aaron Smith with another sharp effort, this time against Super 15 benchmark Andy Ellis and the Crusaders. K-B ain't perfect but he is to those who like halfbacks who shake, rattle and roll. Showed he can match his eye for a gap with a desperate and heady lunge which almost denied Kieran Read a try.
FORWARD OF THE WEEK
Bismarck du Plessis - SHARKS
The Bismarck that never sinks. The South African hooker is a cross between a motorway pillar and Fitzy. Thank you Peter de Villiers, for not starting him in the World Cup. Du Plessis led the assault on the Bulls, who took a backwards step. Du Plessis hardly missed a step as he ploughed right through the middle of Springboks fullback Zane Kirchner for the opening try and the Sharks never looked back
THE COACH KILLER
Sonny Bill Williams - Chiefs
Warmed up for today's big announcement by unveiling the dumbest play of the year. With the tryline and a drawn match begging, and the Chiefs holding more overlap than you'd find on a cheap suit, our Superhero did what all Superheroes do and went it alone. Even then, S-B should have got to the tryline but was halted by a smaller mob than the one he obliterated on the way to a sublime try earlier.
15 - Ben Smith - Highlanders
14 - Kade Poki - Highlanders
13 - Andrew Horrell - Chiefs
12 - Ma'a Nonu - Blues
11 - Zac Guildford - Crusaders
10 - Dan Carter - Crusaders
9 - Tawera Kerr-Barlow - Chiefs
8 - Kieran Read - Crusaders
7 - Richie McCaw - Crusaders
6 - Steven Luatua - Blues
5 - Luke Romano - Crusaders
4 - Sam Whitelock - Crusaders
3 - Owen Franks - Crusaders
2 - Corey Flynn - Crusaders
1 - Tony Woodcock - Blues