Four from four the New Zealand franchises in Super Rugby this weekend with the Crusaders win the most impressive, the Highlanders and Chiefs efficient in knocking over Aussie opposition while the Hurricanes scored a win undeserving of a bonus point against a plucky Kings outfit.
After an Easter weekend of post summer maintenance around the home, Radio Sport & Newstalk ZB's Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden presents his NZ Team of the Week:
1. Joe Moody (Crusaders) - did his job brilliantly at Kings Park, forming a front row that owned the Sharks right up to the point when he was removed from the fray. He continues to make improvements around the field and is far and away the best loosehead prop in NZ.
2. Codie Taylor (Crusaders) - a really busy effort as part of a fluid tight five. Taylor was on point the vast majority of the time with his lineout throwing; scrummed well in the middle of dominant Crusaders pack and while he's good around the field, showed he can muscle up and play the tight game just as effectively.
3. Owen Franks (Crusaders) - dominated a world class loose head prop in Beast Mtawarira in a technical and powerful display of scrummaging as well as getting through a good amount of work around the field. Franks appears to be thriving on the extra work, playing late into this encounter as we have seen in the early part season to date.
4. Sam Whitelock (Crusaders) - just as Moody, Taylor & Franks led the dismantling of the scrums, Whitelock was at the fore of the discombobulation of the Sharks lineout, even though the stats credit him with just one steal. Typically combative and busy in all the tight stuff, Whitelock was unrelenting from first whistle to last.
5. Joe Wheeler (Highlanders) - was outstanding aerially in Melbourne, owning the kickoffs & restarts and providing quick, clean ball for his halfback at lineout time. He complimented that with excellent work rate around the field, racking up a joint team high 13 tackles.
6. Jordan Taufua (Crusaders) - a muscle bound bundle of explosive energy and intent, Taufua was into everything at a disturbing rate of knots. His defence was bone shuddering; he takes some stopping when he carries the ball and was always exactly where you wanted your blindside flanker to be. He's also did some nice work at the front of the Crusaders lineout - my NZ Forward of the Week
7. Sam Cane (Chiefs) - blended all aspects of his game nicely against the Force. He was tough in the tackle and irritating at the breakdown, however it was his link and support play on attack that shone the most. Cane takes some excellent form with him to Canberra and a likely clash with the best in the business this weekend.
8. Michael Leitch (Chiefs) - apparently the Japanese skipper was unimpressed with his efforts in Buenos Aires last week. How he responded was with a performance that highlighted the vast array of skills that he has and the exacting high standard that he sets for himself.
9. Aaron Smith (Highlanders) - bar one slight miscue, Smith box kicking was pin-point, giving Rebels fullback Jonah Placid kittens and the Highlanders outsides plenty of opportunities to compete for the ball - all other aspects of his play were impressive as usual.
10. Lima Sopoaga (Highlanders) - in tandem with Aaron Smith, he controls everything with growing aplomb. The variety of kicks he put in on Saturday night was matched by its accuracy and execution while he made a couple of key tackles as the Rebels threatened the Highlanders line in the second half too.
11. Nemani Nadolo (Crusaders) - yeah, he has the occasional misfire on stuff that he shouldn't, but when he gets it right, which is pretty darn often, he is so influential. The angled run and offload with defender hanging off him to set up the Havili try was delightful while the brute strength to muscle his way to the line for the second try was as impressive and key to an important Crusaders win in Durban - my NZ Back of the Week.
12. Charlie Ngatai (Chiefs) - look past the record equalling four tries and you'll see that he showed the entire gambit of skills against the Force. Ngatai straightened the attack, elude would be tacklers with ease, ran incisive support lines, showed judicious use of the off-load, made good decisions on when to kick and what type of kick to employ and defended strongly
13. Kieron Fonotia (Crusaders) - was active both on attack and defence, doing a lot of grunt work around the field in a very robust encounter.
14. Johnny McNicholl (Crusaders) - the best performance of McNicholl's injury hampered Super Rugby career to date. He returned the ball strongly, chased and contested kicks and was strong and accurate on defence - the turn and chase on Mvovo was pretty darn impressive too as Lwazi can haul.
15. David Havili (Crusaders) - was outstanding in Durban. He got himself involved a lot on attack, stepping in at first receiver a lot and showing good awareness and control. Havili carried the ball a team high 13 times against the Sharks gaining 86 metres in a five point win (by comparison Damian McKenzie (Chiefs) had 18 carried for 90 metres in a blowout win at home) Yes he did get a yellow card for ill-discipline, but for mine still did more than enough to shade McKenzie, who was impressive but nowhere near as sternly tested as Havili.
** Statistics via NZ Heralds Rugby Stats Centre
NIGEL YALDEN IS THE RUGBY EDITOR FOR RADIO SPORT & NEWSTALK ZB