Patrick McKendry names the top back, standout forward and the four in-form teams from the weekend's Super 15 action.
Forward of the week:
Sam Whitelock (Crusaders)
Yes, he is an excellent lineout technician, and yes, he's got great handling skills to go with his high workrate. But what about this developing edge to Sam Whitelock's game? Up against old stager Ali Williams, Whitelock delighted in getting the better of him - rubbing it in with a wave and smile after one particularly brutal scrum which saw his pack walk over the disintegrating Blues. Has established himself as the premier lock in New Zealand. Skilful and increasingly ruthless.
Back of the week:
Piet van Zyl (Cheetahs)
How's this for a start to a game? The Cheetahs halfback charges down an attempted scrum clearance by opposite Will Genia near the halfway mark, chases down the ball, sits Quade Cooper on his backside with a shimmy and scores in the corner.
Twenty minutes later, from a scrum, the 23-year-old receives an inside ball from his No8 and, showing the speed and elusiveness of an outside back, scores in the other corner. Both tries came within the first 25 minutes of the match. The Cheetahs' other halfback is the superb Sarel Pretorius.
Asaeli Tikoirotuma (Chiefs)
He got away with it this time, but next time Asaeli Tikoirotuma might not be so lucky. The Chiefs wing sparked a dispute which could have had big connotations for his team in Wellington against the Hurricanes when feigning injury after a push from hooker Ash Dixon. Tikoirotuma had refused to give Dixon the ball for a lineout - cue push from Dixon. Down Tikoirotuma went, in went the forward packs, and Liam Messam threw the shortest of right hands to TJ Perenara's jaw, for which he was only penalised. "Simulation" is bad enough in soccer, there's
no place for it in rugby.
Won 23-3 v Blues at AMI Stadium
5th overall, 2nd in NZC
The Crusaders appear to be making their move. Not only was this an extremely impressive physical performance from Todd Blackadder's men, it was also an intelligent one. In difficult, wet, conditions, the Crusaders played it close and waited for the Blues to make mistakes. Dan Carter set the tone for his backline with an outstanding defensive effort; Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks and the returning Kieran Read did likewise for the forwards. Last week's bye did nothing to disrupt the ominous form of the week before in Canberra.
Won 17-12 v Hurricanes at Westpac Stadium
1st overall, 1st in NZC
Dave Rennie's men just keep rolling on despite a backline held together with bits of tape, such is the injury toll. The Hurricanes pose all sorts of attacking threats yet hardly looked like scoring a try, even in the final 10 minutes when they had a numerical advantage following the sinbinning of Ben Tameifuna (although the non-contestable scrums hurt the home side here). The outright leaders of the competition, the Chiefs face a real test of their credentials when they host the Crusaders on Friday night. They could be hoping for a dry track.
Won 27-13 v Reds at Free State Stadium
7th overall, 2nd in SAC
In the midst of their most successful season ever, it was hardly a surprise to see the Cheetahs beat the Reds, the champions of two years ago. The Reds remain a bit of an enigma, although they had four tries ruled out by the television match official, which suggests they suffered more than their share of bad luck. The men from Bloemfontein possess such talent they are a good shout to make the play-offs, although they face tough conference rivals the Bulls and Stormers in the run-in.
Won 28-22 v Brumbies at ANZ Stadium
8th overall, 3rd in AC
Good things are happening in Sydney, but have the Waratahs left their run too late? They struck gold in Port Elizabeth with their 72-10 hiding of the Southern Kings, travelled home and edged the Stormers 21-15 and most recently triumphed over the competition's former high-flying team the Brumbies 28-22. In Dave Dennis they have a useful loose forward and captain and in Israel Folau a match-winner. Two of their remaining matches look like tough ones, though - the Crusaders in Christchurch and the Reds at home.
15. Robbie Robinson (Chiefs)
14. Frank Halai (Blues)
13. Tamati Ellison (Highlanders)
12. Ryan Crotty (Crusaders)
11. Zac Guildford (Crusaders)
10 Dan Carter (Crusaders)
9. Andy Ellis (Crusaders)
8. Kieran Read (Crusaders)
7. Matt Todd (Crusaders)
6. Liam Messam (Chiefs)
5. Sam Whitelock (Crusaders)
4. Luke Romano (Crusaders)
3. Owen Franks (Crusaders)
2. Liam Coltman (Highlanders)
1. Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders)