Four from four for the local teams in Super (especially in New Zealand) Rugby this week made for some challenging selections for Radio Sport Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden.
But after a long and painful deliberation process, here is his NZ Team of the Week for round 6.
1. Mitchell Graham (Chiefs) - solid in a scrum that was being test on the side opposite to his, great fringe defending, excellent cleanout work, good lineout lifting (not as easy a task as some would have you think) and good work around the pick and goes, either as a carrier or support player.
2. Hika Elliott (Chiefs) - the lineout was superb against a Brumbies side with quality aerial forwards. Wherever Michael Allardice called the space, Elliott put the ball in that spot with unwavering accuracy. Always busy around the field, his presence and leadership up front was vital on Saturday night for the young quartet around him in the Chiefs tight five.
3. Charlie Faumuina (Blues) - not sure why you'd removed Faumuina with 30 minutes to play, especially considering his effectiveness in all areas during those preceding 50 minutes.
4. Scott Barrett (Crusaders) - so much to like about this young man's game. From his abrasiveness to his work at both set pieces to his skills and work rate around the field, Barrett was excellent at Ellis Park.
5. Taleni Seu (Chiefs) - I know what you folk north of the Bombays are thinking - why is this bloke playing for the Chiefs and not the Blues? (Best not to think about that, especially this week) In a game where there were 9 current or former internationals in the two starting packs, the former Onehunga High School student's athleticism, physicality, appetite for work and ball skills shone in an eye catching performance - my NZ Forward of the Week
6. Jimmy Tupou (Crusaders) - relished the extended time on the field as a loose forward and reminded us of what a talented ball player, powerful defender and damaging runner he is.
7. Sam Cane (Chiefs) - after a slow(ish) start to the season, the Chiefs co-captain is pinging along nicely now. Took his game up another notch, as you have to when David Pocock and Scott Fardy are in the opposition loose forward trio; the way he interacts with the refs is pretty beneficial for his side too. Matt Todd (Crusaders) also warrants a mention as he was darn good at Ellis Park with 17 tackles and generally being you're A-typical openside irritant.
8. I am behoved to do this but I can make strong cases for Liam Squire (Highlanders) Keiran Read (Crusaders) and Michael Leitch (Chiefs) and simply cannot figure out a way to separate them. This trio were industrious, physical, brilliant at set piece (especially the lineouts) great over the ball and always lurking in support. Honestly folks, just take your pick because there is no wrong answer ... and yes I acknowledge this is a cop out.
9. Aaron Smith (Highlanders) - with no Lima Sopoaga and his team trialling 14 nil, Smith took control and helped get the Highlanders back on track with some quality decision making and direction. He ran more (14 carries including 2 line breaks) which gave a nice balance to his (as always) accurate kicking and passing game
10. Aaron Cruden (Chiefs) - With Lima Sopoaga (injury) and Beauden Barrett (bye) not playing this week, Cruden had the stage to himself and he produced a superb display of control and option taking as the Chiefs ran amok in Canberra. Not only that but Cruden is defending his position very well as oppositions send some rather large bodies down his channel, as the Brumbies did again on Saturday night - my NZ Back of the Week
11. James Lowe (Chiefs) - got a multitude of opportunities to contribute on Saturday night and made the overwhelming majority count in spades. A lovely blend of speed, elusiveness and strength when he gets the ball, Lowe's kicking game is a major strength as proven with the chip and chase that led to Brad Weber's try; solid defence.
12. Charlie Ngatai (Chiefs) - he's making the game look easy, which it isn't. Last week he was the recipient; this week he was often the provider to the provider, making subtle plays and decisions that along with Cruden helped dictate and control the game. Ryan Crotty (Crusaders) and his effective, steadying presence at Ellis Park cannot be ignored either.
13. Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders) - I always take statistics with a grain of salt, but in the case of Fekitoa against the Force, the numbers are reflective of his busy and effective night. 16 carries, 69 metres made, 7 defenders beaten, 3 line breaks and 3 off loads on attack was complimented by another rock solid night on defence.
14. Johnny McNicholl (Crusaders) - you know how last week I said was his best performance in his Super Rugby career? Well that was last week. McNicholl went next level at Ellis Park. He was unflinching under the high ball; he ran with intent, incisiveness whilst showing judicious use of the off load; he defended stoutly and was never out of position.
15. Damian McKenize (Chiefs) - its performances in games like the one in Canberra that will earn McKenzie high honours. It was a much hyped game against vaunted opposition and the young Southlander showed wonderful composure as well as the dazzling array of skills New Zealand rugby fans are falling in love with. Damian McKenzie is flat out fun to watch play rugby ... mind you, that comment could also apply to the Chiefs in general.
** Statistics via NZ Heralds Rugby Stats Centre
NIGEL YALDEN IS THE RUGBY EDITOR FOR RADIO SPORT & NEWSTALK ZB