Kris Shannon reviews the best and worst from week 12 of Super Rugby.
Back of the week
Matt Faddes - Highlanders
In a backline with All Blacks in almost every position, it was the odd man out who sparked the Highlanders to their most impressive win. This time last year Faddes was playing club rugby in Dunedin but the centre is shining in his maiden Super Rugby season, producing his best performance in a top-of-the-table clash. Faddes had to do plenty of work for both of his tries and did so with a level of expertise that the Crusaders just couldn't handle. He finished the game with 115 running metres, four clean breaks and half a shout that he could one day join his teammates at the next level.
Forward of the week
Luke Whitelock - Highlanders
Playing against the All Black captain, his older brother and the franchise he left behind, there was no shortage of motivation for Whitelock. And the No 8 was in inspired form while setting the defensive tone in the victory over the Crusaders, tackling with accuracy and thriving at the breakdown to earn his side plenty of turnover ball.
The youngest of the Whitelock brood, the 25-year-old forms with Liam Squire a potent pair at the back of the scrum. And given he, like Faddes, is another first-year Highlander, it's easy to see why the champs now appear even more dangerous than last year.
What a way to follow up their first away win in two years - with the second-heaviest defeat in franchise history. The Blues coughed up 21 turnovers and missed 20 tackles on a miserable night in Johannesburg, playing passive and being dominated in every facet of the 38-point defeat. Kara Pryor's late try at least prevented the ignominy of being held scoreless, but calling it consolation would be stretching the definition of that word. After a weekend in which the top four Kiwi sides moved to within a point of one another,the Blues reinforced how big the gap is down to fifth.
It's rather amusing the Highlanders - currently the best team in the competition- sit sixth in the standings. Trailing the Crusaders and Chiefs only on points differential, the southerners have in the last week offered a pretty comprehensive demonstration that they're worthy of a loftier perch than their rivals. Unfortunately for those who enjoy watching the defending champions in their present mood, the Highlanders' next four games are spread over two months.
Beating up on the Blues was just the latest illustration the Lions are the best non-New Zealand team in the competition. Their three losses this season all came against Kiwi opposition so, despite beating the Chiefs in round two, they're still a little short of the top tier. But at least the Lions -unlike the Stormers, the other South African side at the pointy end of the table - have to actually come up against Kiwi opposition.
Speaking of sides who are thriving by avoiding the toughest conference in the competition, this victory helped the Waratahs edge ahead of the Brumbies to top Australia. But Daryl Gibson's side may want to enjoy that standing while it lasts. Having played only one Kiwi side in their first 10 games, the Waratahs round out the season with four transtasman clashes in their final five games, starting with Friday's trip to Christchurch.
We were only seconds away from Japan-South Africa Part II. It wouldn't have merited quite the acclaim of that World Cup shock but the Sunwolves beating the Stormers would have
been almost as stunning. Remember, this was a team who shipped 92 points to the lowly Cheetahs, who were last week thrashed at home by the woeful Force. But Brandon Thomson's conversion with the last kick of the game saved the Stormers from humiliation.
Crusaders v Waratahs, Christchurch, 7.35pm
Reds v Sunwolves, Brisbane, 5.05pm
Chiefs v Rebels, Hamilton, 7.35pm
Force v Blues, Perth, 9.40pm
Lions v Jaguares, Johannesburg, 1am
Sharks v Kings, Durban, 3.05am
Bulls v Stormers, Pretoria, 5.10am