Patrick McKendry names the top back and standout forward from the weekend's Super 15 action while the Blues lead the list of inform sides.
Back of the week - Chris Noakes (Blues)
One of the No 10s in the Blues v Crusadersmatch at Eden Park on Friday appeared to have all the time in the world. The other was Dan Carter, a veteran of 94 tests for the All Blacks and a world record test points scorer. This isn't to denigrate Carter, but Chris Noakes simply outplayed him. Just as importantly, his team allowed him to.
It's a lot easier to navigate your team around the field when you're on the front foot and your outsides are in such good form. The Blues owned the breakdown, made very few mistakes, and tackled everything in red that moved.
Noakes calmly took advantage and impressed mightily as a result. A mention also for Chiefs fullback Gareth Anscombe - 20 points against the Cheetahs and looking every bit a polished No 15. He also kicked seven from seven.
His goalkicking record after two rounds is 15 from 16.
Forward of the week - Ben Afeaki (Chiefs)
His coach thought he was "on fire" the previous week. Unfortunately for the Cheetahs, they couldn't find a way to extinguish Ben Afeaki either. The tighthead prop was outstanding for the Chiefs in Hamilton. He played 80 minutes, looking as sharp in the 79th as he was in the first, and scored a try which showcased his pace, awareness and balance. The Chiefs' forwards didn't have it all their own way in the first half but Afeaki's quality was plain to see throughout. The North Harbour 25-year-old's career appears to be taking off after injury problems last year.
The sticking-to-his-guns-in-a-losing-battle award goes to Crusaders No 8 Kieran Read, whose defensive ability and commitment didn't extend to his teammates. He is such a talisman for the Crusaders that Todd Blackadder will be crossing everything that Read doesn't get injured this season.
Coach killer - Steve Walsh
It takes a special effort to overshadow Public Enemy No 1 Quade Cooper for New Zealand rugby fans. Step forward Steve Walsh, a referee who is never reluctant to enter the spotlight - all waving arms, shrill whistle, and with hair just so. The Hurricanes have only themselves to blame for a miserable loss to Cooper's Reds in Brisbane, but Walsh played a decent cameo.
Skipper Conrad Smith diplomatically said he couldn't understand half the decision smade by the Kiwi official now based in Sydney. How diplomatic? He was shoved out of the way by Walsh when questioning yet another strange call in the second half. "Easy, easy," said Smith. "Sorry mate, I didn't mean to push you, I was trying to get there," replied Walsh,who was marching the Hurricanes 10m for backchat and appeared frustrated. Sorry, Steve, you can't push players around. Not good enough.
The Fab Four
-Won 34-15, Eden Park
- 4th overall, 2nd in NZC
Careful Sir JK, expectations are going to go through the roof if your team keeps this up. This makes it two comprehensive victories from two - against the Crusaders and Hurricanes in a conference thought to be the toughest. The Blues host the Bulls next weekend and will be confident of making it three from three, and then they have a bye which is four points straight away and then ...OK, let's stop it there for now but after the lows of last season, what the Blues are producing this year is breathtaking.
Rene Ranger, Francis Saili, Frank Halai, Charles Piutau, a guy called Chris Noakes, Piri Weepu et al are in form. The forwards, led by the impressive Tom McCartney at prop, are doing pretty well in the set pieces and owning the breakdown. Expectations, indeed.
-Won 45-3,Waikato Stadium
- 2nd overall, 1st in NZC
A bit of a slow start against the Cheetahs, who aren't a bad team, and then a riproaring second half. The defending champions have a few things to iron out - too many penalties at the break down in the first 40, for instance - but they're in good shape as they head to South Africa. They are exciting to watch. Why? The skills of their players appear at a level above the opposition and their enthusiasm as they throw themselves into the breakdown and put themselves in attacking positions is a sight to behold.
On paper it's a difficult assignment against the Stormers at Newlands, but they should win it and in style. They then travel to Port Elizabeth to play the Kings. That could be painful viewing for the Kings' Kiwi coach Matt Sexton. Adecent old contest is looming between the Chiefs and Blues. They play each other for the first time on March 30 in Mt Maunganui.
Lost 45-3,Waikato Stadium
15th overall, 5th in SAC
Why has a teambeaten by 42 pointsmade this list? Because they gave it a good go, should have been closer to the Chiefs than the 10-3 halftime score (but for poor goalkicking by Johan Goosen), and they play against type. They are also not the Bulls or the Stormers, two supremely boring South African sides who look to kick first, ask questions later. The Bulls, at Loftus, struggled to subdue a woeful Western Force (who lost to the Southern Kings a week earlier).
The Stormers, meanwhile, beat the Sharks 4 kicks to 2. The less said about the Reds and the Hurricanes this weekend the better. The Cheetahs should be everyone's second favourite team- they are perennial underdogs but consistent entertainers.
-Won 31-26, Allianz Stadium
- 8th overall, 3rd in AC
Hurrah for the Tahs. Their win over the Rebels broke a nine-match losing streak and they did it the hard way, recovering froma 16-6 halftime deficit and taking the lead only in the final quarter of the match. Kurtley Beale scored a late bonus point try. Meanwhile, on Israel Folau watch, the code-hopper helped set up the Waratahs' first try scored by Bernard Foley and then moved from fullback to the wing to accommodate the entry of Ben Volavola. This match was the best of the rest. Thank heavens for the Blues and Chiefs.
NZ Form XV
15 Gareth Anscombe - Chiefs
14 Frank Halai - Blues
13 Rene Ranger - Blues
12 Francis Saili - Blues
11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma - Chiefs
10 Chris Noakes - Blues
9 Piri Weepu - Blues
8 Keiran Read - Crusaders
7 Luke Braid - Blues
6 Steven Luatua - Blues
5 Brodie Retallick - Chiefs
4 Culum Retallick - Blues
3 Ben Afeaki - Chiefs
2 James Parsons - Blues
1 Tom McCartney - Blues