The four New Zealand franchises in action at the weekend played in three contrasting games.
The Highlanders were shaded in a butt ugly encounter in Dunedin, the Hurricanes and the Chiefs played game only a smidge below test match level in terms of intensity while the Crusaders were clinical and efficient in Canberra.
As we get him to do each week, Radio Sport Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden has selected his NZ Form Team of the Week.
Note - keep an eye out for Nigel's form team for the first half of the Super Rugby season later in the week
1. Reg Goodes (Hurricanes) was very impressive in dominating his opposites at scrum time and as always got through a power of work around the field, especially in the tight exchanges. One wonders whether his recent outings have piqued the interest of the All Black selectors.
2. Codie Taylor (Crusaders) is clearly the second best hooker in New Zealand at the moment. His lineout throwing and scrummaging continues to improve and this weekend he reminded everyone that Dane Coles isn't the only hooker who has a turn speed when he gets into open space.
3. Owen Franks (Crusaders) was scrummaging against one of the better loosehead props in international rugby in Scott Sio and handled him with strength and skill. Franks doesn't have the footwork of Charlie Faumuina, but he has underappreciated ball skills while his love of moving bodies at the breakdown and defending with accuracy and power is second to none.
4. The work rate of Brodie Retallick (Chiefs) is the best feature of a player who has the entire range of physical and mental skills as it relates to rugby. He was the main target at lineout time (6 takes), defended rigidly (credited with 12 tackles) and threw his body into countless rucks.
5. Luke Romano (Crusaders) has responded to the challenge posed by Scott Barrett with some outstanding rugby and none better than what he played in Canberra. Almost everything he did was on point, with some strong ball carries and big tackles part of a very industrious effort.
6. For the second week in succession, I've been very underwhelmed by the blindside play from the New Zealand franchises, though acknowledge that the Chiefs lost both of their sixes to concussions. Elliot Dixon (Highlanders) worked hard against big bodies of the Sharks pack in a solid effort which included a couple of nice lineout steals.
7. On Sunday night, I stated on social media that Matt Todd (Crusaders) was the best of the NZ opensiders over the weekend. That claim was challenged strongly, so I went back and started again. After a second viewing of the games, I concede I was wrong but not by much. Sam Cane's (Chiefs) effort against the Hurricanes was robust, combative and tireless as he led a big defensive effort which ultimate helped secure the win. Todd and Ardie Savea (Hurricanes) weren't far behind Cane in terms of endeavour and influence for their teams - my Forward of the Week
8. Kieran Read (Crusaders) had himself a night in Canberra. He was never far from the ball or the man carrying it, he tackled strongly, snaffled three turnovers, carried the ball hard, won his lineouts when called and provided great excellent leadership as the Crusaders efficiently picked apart the Brumbies.
9. Since coming back from the bye, TJ Perenara (Hurricanes) has played some of his best rugby of his career. The key has been his excellent reading of a situation and the accurate decisions he's made. Perenara identified and kicked to space or to the sideline beautifully against the Chiefs, as well as providing great service to his first five - my Back of the Week
10. Beauden Barrett's (Hurricanes) inaccurate goal kicking (1 success from 6 attempts) cannot be glossed over when you lose a game by a solitary point. However Barrett was also the primary reason the Canes finished within one point and should have won the game with his incisive break setting up Woodward for what should have been the game winning try. As he did last week, Barrett worked much flatter to the advantage line and again was far more effective than what we'd seen in the early stages of the season.
11. Nemani Nadolo (Crusaders) is the most unique player in world rugby. He can be a bit rocks'n'diamonds at times, but the rocks are more akin to pebbles, while the diamonds are usually 9 carats or above. He was consistently a handful for the Brumbies with a couple of lovely off loads highlighting another strong outing from the Fijian international.
12. David Havili (Crusaders) showed his impressive versatility again at the weekend. He slotted in outstandingly at second five, showing he's as adept there as he has been playing at centre, wing and fullback previously, while his reach down, scoop up the ball at pace to put Codie Taylor away for his second try was a delightful piece of skill.
13. Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders) was at the centre of a defence that did not concede a try, despite being a man down for 68 minutes of the game. He was busy on attack (15 carries in that department) but defensively, along with Ben Smith, he was a key component in keeping the Sharks try less.
14. Jone Macilai-Tori (Crusaders) hasn't had many changes at Super Rugby due to injury but when he gets them, he's very effective. The touches Macilai-Tori got on attack in Canberra were effective and impactful while on defence, he was strong and always well positioned.
15. When you lose a player from the backline as the Highlanders did against the Sharks, extra responsibility falls to the fullback, especially defensively. While he was helped by an opposition who didn't seem to realise they had a man advantage, Ben Smith (Highlanders) positional play and speed in cover was near flawless. And it's not like he wasn't involved on attack too. He had 15 carries for 113 metres gained (the 2nd most of the round)
** Statistics via NZ Heralds Rugby Stats Centre
Nigel Yalden is the rugby editor for Radio Sport & Newstalk ZB