Round three of Super Rugby served up another hellacious New Zealand derby, a strong win at home by the defending champions and large, though error ridden victory by the Chiefs in South Africa.
Radio Sport rugby editor Nigel Yalden and his many personalities have sat around the selection table to produce the New Zealand Team of the Week:
1. Brendon Edmonds (Highlanders) - whilst he was good around the field, it was Edmonds efforts in "the dark art of scrummaging" that gets him the nod at loosehead. Won more scrum battles than he lost, pushing the boundaries at times (but hey, don't they all) and was a key cog in the destabilising of what has been a very good Lions scrum to date.
2. Ricky Riccitelli (Hurricanes) - Upon entering the game as an early replacement for Leni Apisai, he didn't look like a 21 year old playing his 3rd game of rugby at this level. He did his core hooking roles very well and galloped around the field with great gusto and purpose.
3. Charlie Faumuina (Blues) - A superb eighty minute effort from the All Black tighthead. He dominated his side of the scrum, great in the tight stuff, defended like a demon (a team leading 13 tackles) made excellent decisions at first receiver, where he popped up a fair bit, and highlighted his lovely balance and athleticism by running, dancing & spinning his way past five defenders on eleven impactful carries - NZ Forward of the Week
4. Alex Ainley (Highlanders) - Whenever he plays, you can rely on Alex Ainley to deliver a rock solid all round performance, adding serious grit to the second row. Saturday night was another wonderful example of why players of Ainley's ilk are so valuable to New Zealand Super Rugby franchises and provincial teams.
5. Mark Abbott (Hurricanes) - continues to step up and deliver in the absence of James Broadhurst. As he did last week, he carried well and was an excellent lineout opinion but was just ridiculous in defence, tying the human tackling machine that is Force flanker Matt Hodgson with 21 tackles for best in the round.
6. Elliot Dixon (Highlanders) - broke the line, made metres (2nd most of any forward in the round) forced turnovers, won his own lineout ball as well as stealing one and as always never shirked his work to stand out against one of the hardest working and hitting loose forward trios in the competition.
7. Ardie Savea (Hurricanes) - Looked like an 80 year old as he stiffly shuffled off Eden Park after a simply outstanding performance to help the Hurricanes to victory. You name, he did but his ability to put himself near or over the ball to produce a key moment of the game was the most impressive feature
NB. Dan Pryor's tireless performance against the outstanding Lions loose forward trio more than warrants a mention. Whilst different to Savea effort, it was almost as vital for the Highlanders as Savea's was for his side.
8. Victor Vito (Hurricanes) - a typically industrious Vito effort where he features in all facets and features in a muscly, robust fashion.
9. Aaron Smith (Highlanders) - he's just doing everything quicker, cleaner and more accurately than the other halfbacks in New Zealand.
10. Lima Sopoaga (Highlanders) - if he maintains that level of form, he's going to be the All Blacks starting first five against Wales in Auckland on11 June; best of the contenders in the opening three weeks of the tournament.
11. Tevita Li (Blues) - Despite his young age, Li has been around Super Rugby for a bit now and you just sense that he finally understands what is required of him at this level (the Umaga influence?) Li was very good in all aspects versus the Hurricanes & whether the pass was forward or not, what he did to get to the line once taking the ball shows how talented he is.
12. George Moala (Blues) - When he gets involved in the game rather than waiting for the game to come to him (as 20 carries & 8 offloads indicates) he's gives the Blues attack a hard, uncompromising edge. He did that on Friday night at Eden Park and for me the difference was very evident.
13. Malaki Fekitoa (Highlanders) - playing like a (now) first choice All Black centre should. He ran with purpose and defended with intelligence and starch ... yet again.
14. Matt Faddes (Highlanders) - backed up a solid debut last week with an even better outing this week. He didn't get down on himself when he spilled a pass with the try line beckoning early in the match, instead shaking it off to contribute to win with great line running, solidity in defence, as well as excellent positional and support play.
15. Ben Smith (Highlanders) - its week three & I'm already running out of words to describe this man's play this season. PS Whatever Ben thinks the flag should be is good by me - NZ Back of the Week
** Statistics via NZ Heralds Rugby Stats Centre
NIGEL YALDEN IS THE RUGBY EDITOR FOR RADIO SPORT & NEWSTALK ZB