Round two of Super Rugby is in the books with the Crusaders and Highlanders picking up contrasting wins in the weekends derby games over the Blues and Hurricanes respectively, while the Chiefs found out first hand that the Lions aren't the Lions of old.
Our Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden watched the games twice (the Highlanders and Hurricanes three times we're reliably informed) in order to come up with his Team of the Week from the five New Zealand franchises:
1. Joe Moody (Crusaders) - anchoring his side of a dominant Crusaders scrum with powerful aplomb which he backed up with excellent work around the field especially in the tight stuff - his cleanout work was outstanding.
2. Codie Taylor (Crusaders) - packed a good amount of quality work into his 58 minute shift against Blues. Doing his part in a Crusaders tight five that's top five in lineout (95.5% - 2nd), scrum (95% - 4th) and ruck success (95% - 4th=) a fortnight into the tournament **
3. Owen Franks (Crusaders) - see Joe Moody
4. Sam Whitelock (Crusaders) - So busy, so combative, so accurate; he might not be the flashiest player ever to lace boots, but in turn of effectiveness from first whistle to last, Whitelock is one of the best ever - simply excellent against the Blues.
5. Mark Abbott (Hurricanes) - gave the Hurricanes the strong, direct ball carry's up the middle that are normally provided by the currently injured James Broadhurst & by george did they need that. The Magpies lock was also very active around the park; should be used more at lineout time though.
6. Jordan Taufua (Crusaders) - prior to last season, the knock on Taufua was inconsistency. Well he's followed up his best Super Rugby season last year with two excellent outings to start 2016. He does everything with such intensity and energy, as was evident in a standout effort against the Blues where he was rarely far the heart of the action - my NZ Forward of the Week
7. Ardie Savea (Hurricanes) - tough call this week between Savea, Shane Christie and Blake Gibson this round. I've gone Savea because of his more balanced effort. He popped up at the right place at the right time, be it on attack, with a strong run or excellent support line, or defence, with a strong tackle, a turnover or disruption to Highlanders ball.
8. Victor Vito (Hurricanes) - got the Hurricanes out of a couple of pickles with his power and speed off the back of a scrum when it was back peddling. Always does his share of grunt work around the field and Saturday night was no exception.
9. Aaron Smith (Highlanders) - aside from the quick 22 metre drop out kerfuffle early on, Smith was top drawer as always. Had to deal with some messy ball at times, something he hasn't always dealt with very well, but adjusted accordingly to provide great service for his first receiver; solid defensively too
10. Lima Sopoaga (Highlanders) - just got to like the heady, mature play the Sopoaga brings week on week. Thought it was a big call to take him off with the game so close solely on the basis that he seemed so calm and assured despite the tightness of the match. Also very solid under the high ball
11. Nemani Nadolo (Crusaders) - He's the Crusaders only backline threat ... but what a threat he is when he gets those big mitts on the ball, just ask Matt Duffie. At his best when given space to work in, rather than as a battering ram in midfield, Nadolo provided the impetus when needed in the second half - my NZ Back of the Week
12. Kieron Fonotia (Crusaders) - it wasn't spectacular, but what Fonotia gave the Crusaders in midfield is exactly what the Crusaders need without Ryan Crotty - a rock solid assuredness that gives confidence to others around him. Fonotia just shades Charlie Ngatai who had another excellent outing for the Chiefs.
13. Malaki Fekitoa (Highlanders) - great performance across all facets; he ran excellent lines & ran them extremely hard and was excellent defensively. Rewarded with two tries though only credited for one ... don't get me started.
14. Jone Macilai (Crusaders) - much of muchness for the NZ right wings to me. Granted the ball didn't seem to head their way a heck of a lot during the three games. Macilai did the most with what little ball he saw, running directly in those limited chances.
15. Ben Smith (Highlanders) - Smith's leadership was as excellent as his play on Saturday night. When things are tight, you want your senior players to be calm and make the right decisions
** Statistics via NZ Heralds Rugby Stats Centre
NIGEL YALDEN IS THE RUGBY EDITOR FOR RADIO SPORT & NEWSTALK ZB