Patrick McKendry names the top back, standout forward and the four in-form teams from the weekend's Super 15 action.
Back of the week:
Ben Smith (Highlanders)
Recognised in this column last week, Ben Smith takes it again. Scored two tries in the Highlanders' stunning first half but offered more than that. His eye for a gap and incredible knack for squirming through tackles means he is harder to catch than a cold in a desert. All eyes will be on Thursday morning's All Blacks team announcement because if Smith isn't in a starting role somewhere in the backline against France he has every right to be offended.
Forward of the week:
Luke Braid (Blues)Wins by virtue of his sustained and high-quality performance in the midst of the Blues' wreckage in Dunedin. His opposite John Hardie was pretty good too and fellow No7 Matt Todd excellent for the Crusaders the night before but Braid was brilliant from start to finish.
Supremely committed at the breakdown but also tackled superbly and carried well - his break allowed Rene Ranger to score. Fittingly, Braid scored the Blues' bonus point try.
Berrick Barnes (Waratahs)Both the Crusaders and Blues have claims here this week after insipid first-half performances against the Waratahs and Highlanders respectively. However, the unfortunate Barnes deserves it with his terrible penalty attempt after the hooter which would have secured the Tahs a victory in Christchurch for the first time in nine years. Coach Michael Cheika responded accordingly with a good rant. "I don't want to be whinger but what can you do?" he whinged.
Won 38-28 v Blues at Forsyth Barr Stadium
15th overall, 5th in NZC
The Blues looked like ghosts in their white strip and they tackled like them - the Highlanders were forever running through Sir John Kirwan's men like they consisted of thin air. A committed, direct, intelligent performance from the Highlanders. In other words, the exact opposite of what they have been serving up thus far.
Won 30-23 v Hurricanes at Canberra Stadium
3rd overall, 1st in AC
Possibly a bit lucky not to lose a player to the sinbin in the final minutes of this important victory due to constant offending on their try-line, but, boy, this lot can tackle. The Hurricanes played well at times, and with the strike power they have out wide they are always a threat. A deserved win which cements the Brumbies on top of the Aussie conference.
Won 30-25 v Cheetahs at Free State Stadium
2nd overall, 1st in SAC
A departure from last week in that the Bulls scored a try - three in this case, against a Cheetahs side which also scored three - but the influence of Morne Steyn remains. The metronomic first-five kicked three conversions and three penalties to keep his side on track for hosting rights at the play-offs. This was the Bulls' 11th win over the Cheetahs in 11 matches.
Won 33-20 v Rebels at Suncorp Stadium
4th overall, 2nd in AC
Quade Cooper is, to paraphrase Forrest Gump, like a box of chocolates and against the Rebels we got the full selection. He saw two of his kicks charged down for Rebels' tries, yet turned it around in the second half, scoring one of his team's four tries. May not have done enough to get into Robbie Deans' good books, though.
15. Ben Smith (Highlanders)
14. Alapati Leiua (Hurricanes)
13. Rene Ranger (Blues)
12. Shaun Treeby (Highlanders)
11. Hosea Gear (Highlanders)
10. Dan Carter (Crusaders)
9. TJ Perenara (Hurricanes)
8. Victor Vito (Hurricanes)
7. Luke Braid (Blues)
6. Brad Shields (Hurricanes)
5. Josh Bekhuis (Highlanders)
4. Brad Thorn (Highlanders)
3. Ma'afu Fia (Highlanders)
2. Andrew Hore (Highlanders)
1. Jamie Mackintosh (Highlanders)