Patrick McKendry ranks the top four teams from the first round of Super 15 and picks the standout players.
The Fab Four
1. Southern Kings
won 22-10, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium
3rd overall, 1st in SAC
Wow, who saw that coming? Written off as an almost guaranteed victory for opposition teams this season, the Southern Kings announced their arrival in the competition with a stunning upset win over the Force in front of a crowd of 30,000 at Port Elizabeth. Down 5-10 at half time, the Kings, wearing a black strip reminiscent of the Sharks', dominated the second half, scoring 17 unanswered points. Their hero was Seargal Petersen, an 18-year-old wing who was at school last year. His first try came via a lucky bounce and some good juggling skills; his second thanks a a solid fend. A controversial addition to the competition at the expense of the Lions, the Kings top the South African conference. They haven't a hope of winning the title, so strictly speaking they shouldn't be appearing here, but let's give them their time in the spotlight. The Kings players seemed almost as surprised as everyone else.
won 41-27, Forsyth Barr Stadium
2nd overall, 1st in NZC
Weight of expectation as defending champions? Missing the midfield grunt of SBW? Not a bit of it.
In a high-quality game the Chiefs had too much firepower for the Highlanders, who looked strangely subdued up front (although at least they weren't wearing those ridiculous green jerseys from last season). Jamie Joseph's men deserve to be growled at this morning and they probably will be. Brad Thorn, out with a calf injury, can't get back quickly enough. The Chiefs, meanwhile, deserve to be cock a hoop. The renowned coaching nous of Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith pulled off a masterstroke playing Tim Nanai-Williams, usually a wing or fullback, at centre. The foundations of this victory were built by the excellent Chiefs' pack and the individual brilliance of the 23-year-old Nanai-Williams. They will fancy their chances of another this weekend when they play the Cheetahs in Hamilton before their trip to South Africa.
won 34-20, Westpac Stadium
4th overall, 2nd in NZC
A great start by Sir JK's men against a disappointing Hurricanes in Wellington. The Blues played with much better structure than they did last year and displayed a rarely-seen resolve to come from behind to win. The sin binning of Frank Halai didn't faze them a bit. It was comfortable in the end, though not for the Hurricanes, who seemed clueless. Centre Conrad Smith, said to be taking sabbatical later this year, looks like he could do with a rest already, and 26 missed tackles from his side tells its own story. In Halai, Charles Piutau, Rene Ranger and Francis Saili, the Blues have plenty of game-breakers. Skipper Ali Williams seemed to be enjoying himself and Piri Weepu controlled things nicely. The challenge for the Blues is to repeat it against the Crusaders at Eden Park on Friday.
won 25-17, Suncorp Stadium
9th overall, 3rd in AC
An important victory this for the Reds. Having lost their opener against the Brumbies in Canberra, Ewen McKenzie's outfit needed to get their season under way with a win over their greatest rivals or they would have slipping down the Australian conference table. It wasn't all that convincing - they let a 17-3 halftime lead slip before needing a Ben Tapuai try to seal it - but they won't care. Points banked, they will look back satisfied at the way they handled high-profile code switcher Israel Folau, although he did dot down in the second half. Quade Cooper was much better than his subdued match in round one. The Reds look ordinary when he's not playing with confidence and flair. They're not the team of 2011 when they won the competition but the Reds are tough at Suncorp Stadium. They host the Hurricanes this weekend.
Back of the week:
Tim Nanai-Williams (Chiefs)
Having just watched Ben Smith work some magic to score for the Highlanders, Nanai-Williams did one better. From a scrum inside his own half, Nanai-Williams, playing in an unfamiliar centre position, drifted expertly outside All Black Ma'a Nonu, skipped through, straightened up fullback Smith and then with a hop simply ran around him to score untouched. He scored another in the second half to give his side some breathing room by standing up Kade Poki. Pure brilliance by the little bloke with the fast feet. Southern Kings wing Seargal Petersen, an 18-year-old, deserves a mention for scoring a double in his side's upset win over the Force.
Forward of the week:
Steven Luatua (Blues)
He created talk last year with his performances in a losing team and Steven Luatua turned up the volume with a storming display against the Hurricanes in Wellington. He added serious thrust to a hard-working Blues pack and was a constant threat with the ball. Luatua thrived on the Hurricanes' inaccuracies and will face much tougher tests - the Crusaders this weekend, for instance - but it was a fantastic start for him. His form is more good news for Sir JK, who will be feeling pretty chuffed.
A couple of things for Mark Hammett's men to consider this week - hang on to the ball and when the other guys get it, tackle them. Both Hammett and midfielder Tim Bateman said after this stinker of a match from the Hurricanes that they turned the ball over 18 times. A more detailed look at the stats shows they were guilty of six turnovers and 12 errors, often while in promising positions. They missed 26 tackles. Must do better.
15 Ben Smith - Highlanders
14 Frank Halai - Blues
13 Tim Nanai-Williams - Chiefs
12 Francis Saili - Blues
11 Hosea Gear - Highlanders
10 Aaron Cruden - Chiefs
9 Piri Weepu - Blues
8 Peter Saili - Blues
7 Sam Cane - Chiefs
6 Steven Luatua - Blues
5 Brodie Retallick - Chiefs
4 Ali Williams - Blues
3 Ben Afeaki - Chiefs
2 Rhys Marshall - Chiefs
1 Pauliasi Manu - Chiefs
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- APNZBy Patrick McKendry Email Patrick