While the Hurricanes blew the Lions off Ellis Park (we can still call it that right?) the Chiefs, Blues and Highlanders had to battle hard to claim their respective single digit Super Rugby victories.
Three arm-wrestles and a shellacking made things quite challenging for Radio Sport Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden as he pieced together his NZ Team of the Week:
1. One suspects that the image of Reg Goodes (Hurricanes) face featured prominently when Lions tighthead prop Pieter Scholtz went to sleep on Saturday night in Johannesburg. Goodes power scrummaging meant Scholtz's head spent more time being popped out of the scrum than in it. In addition, Goodes was his typically excellent self in and around the ruck & scored a nifty try down the right hand side that most wingers would envy.
2. Ash Dixon (Highlanders) put in one heck of a shift in the Deep South on Saturday night. The 18 tackles (100% success rate; didn't look like missing one either) shows that he did his fair share of defence during the numerous goal stands the Highlanders had to endure, he was at the centre of a rock solid scrum that also ran at a 100% success rate and was good and pesky at the breakdown.
3. Charlie Faumuina (Blues) got the upper hand in a great scrummaging duel with the Rebels international loosehead prop Toby Smith, showed up frequently around the field as well as being at the forefront of the tight exchanges, as illustrate by the try he scored.
4. I've been fortunate to cover Brodie Retallick's (Chiefs) Super Rugby career in its entirety and am still regularly amazed by his unfathomable work-rate, immensely physicality and endurance, wonderful rugby nous and ability to get his large frame around the field at a pace that belies his size. Friday night in New Plymouth was yet another shining example of this, particularly his omni-presence to the ball in the final 15 minutes
5. You'd suspect that Tom Franklin (Highlanders) was a very sore boy on Sunday morning. He had 23 tackles (his second row partner Alex Ainley had 20 as well) a pair of vital turnovers, rock solid at scrum time, good at the lineout and often at the coal face of the breakdowns in a game that was overtly confrontational - my Forward of the Week
Note - the standard of second row play from the starting lock in the New Zealand teams was exceptional in round 10 and made picking the locks a nightmare. I suggest that the combined statistics of Josh Bekhuis, Patrick Tuipulotu, Dominic Bird, Alex Ainley, Vaea Fifita and Michael Fatialofa as well as Retallick & Franklin would make for some impressive reading.
6. Elliot Dixon (Highlanders) got back to his best in Invercargill, playing a lead role in a loose forward trio that negated the influence of Messer's Pocock and Fardy, something that in that style of game, is no easy to do. NB - I'm starting to think his lineout work could be a tie breaker in the battle for high honours.
7. Ardie Savea (Hurricanes) get the nod ahead of Sam Cane (Chiefs) as the All Blacks openside flankers elect showed why that is the case. The Lions loose forward combo is one of the best in the competition, yet Savea was able to pilfer four turnovers and out play them for the vast majority of the match in partnership with cohorts Shields and Vito.
8. Michael Leitch (Chiefs) is one of the most relentless, uncomplicated, efficient players going around in Super Rugby. It seems that everything he does, as it was in New Plymouth on Friday, is done with unerring accuracy. Leitch's work at the back of a scrum that was under a bit of pressure cannot be understated, while everything else - the carries, the tackles, the lineout takes, the support play - was top drawer as usual.
9. TJ Perenara (Hurricanes) continued his fine run of form with another excellent display behind the Hurricanes pack. As it has been in recent weeks, his option taking was on point, likewise his tactical kicking game while there appears (to this observer anyway) to be a little extra speed on pass.
10. To use a basketball analogy, Lima Sopoaga (Highlanders) did it on both ends of the court. He made some telling tackles, a couple of them timely and very well read with the Brumbies threatening the try line, to pacify their attack in the first half. He then took control in the second half with his tactical kicking game and a wee dollop on running thrown in for good balance.
11. Another good outing for Julian Savea (Hurricanes) as he continues to put plenty of space between his current form and that of the start of the season. He scored a couple of nice tries, with the second of the brace showing his pace is back close to full noise, as he made an excellent contribution to a great team performance.
12. When he selected Piers Francis (Blues) to start against the Jaguares, Coach Tana Umaga said Francis was one of his team's most reliable defenders. He continued to prove that statement accurate against the Rebels with excellent defensive reads and well executed tackles, but it was his increased involvement with ball in hand that made a significant difference. By running a little more, it allowed Ihaia West to do the same and vice versa. With that duo attacking the line more, players like Moala, Li and Visinia were more effective.
13. Matt Proctor (Hurricanes) though if I remain true to my form while writing this piece, I'll switch back to Malakai Fekitoa(Highlanders) then back Proctor then Fekitoa and so on and so forth. This was by far the toughest decision of the weekend given both players standouts in their respective team's vastly different forms of victory. Matt Proctor's all around excellence is reflected in some of the statistics - 98 metres made; 2 line breaks and 2 turnovers the main three - while Fekitoa's defence, especially his nullification of Brumbies opposite Tevita Kuridrani, and the way he set up the Highlanders second try were his main influences. No wrong answer for mine but let the record show that Matt Proctor was the official selection and also my Back of the Week
14. After a couple of ropey (by his standards) performances for the All Blacks in 2014, Cory Jane (Hurricanes) told the media that it's not about how many times you touch the ball, it's about doing your job and making any touches you get meaningful. That's just what the veteran winger did in Johannesburg, playing his part extremely well.
15. Watching Ben Smith (Highlanders) prowling up and down behind the defensive line, stepping up to make a key tackle, then dropping back to prowl and bark further instructions was fascinating on Saturday night. He did everything else we've come to expect of the world's best fullback but it was an aspect of the game that aspiring fullbacks should look to watch and learn from.
And now an apology:
"Last week I used my "selector's choice" to name Damian McKenzie at fullback for the NZ Form Team of the First Half of Super Rugby ahead of Ben Smith. My records showed both players with three selections however that was incorrect. Ben Smith had four selections (weeks 2, 3, 4 and 9) so as such there was no need for me to a make a choice and I apologise for that error - cheers"
** Statistics via NZ Heralds Rugby Stats Centre
NIGEL YALDEN IS THE RUGBY EDITOR FOR RADIO SPORT & NEWSTALK ZB