Kris Shannon reviews the best players and most impressive teams from week 13 of Super Rugby action.
Back of the week
Aaron Cruden - Chiefs
Cruden rarely ran against the Rebels. In fact, with six metres on two carries, even loose head prop Mitchell Graham provided a greater output with ball in hand. But Cruden was the most influential member of a Chiefs attack that, for 40 minutes at least, looked like it was again nearing early-season form. The first five found Seta Tamanivalu's angling run for the Chiefs' opener, prodded a perfect grubber into the corner for Nathan Harris to score a second, and sneaked across the line himself for the third. And, for good measure, Cruden was four-from-five off the tee,missing only from the sideline.
Forward of the week
Kieran Read - Crusaders
The Crusaders are hard enough to beat when a team takes care of all their own ball. But when Read becomes a possession-hunting menace all over the field, that task becomes near-impossible. The Waratahs certainly weren't able to cope when, after the All Black captain helped to set the physical tone early, Read set about pinching their pockets at every opportunity. He claimed two turnovers at the breakdown to disrupt the Waratahs attacking rhythm and completely devastated their lineout, stealing three against the throw as the visitors lost six overall.
It's becoming quite staggering just how bad this Kings team is. Almost Football Kingz bad. Their 53-0 loss against the Sharks was the fourth time the South African side have shipped more than 50 points this season and the fourth time they've scored 10 or fewer. A points differential of -315 from 11matches means they're being beaten by an
average of 28.7 points every game. Think about that for a second- they're losing by four converted tries week in, week out. And it could get worse, considering three of their final four contests will come against opposition currently in the top half of the competition.
The Fab Four
• 36-15 win over the Rebels
• 1st in NZC, 1st overall
Yes, the second half of the Chiefs' win over the Rebels was one worthy of watching with the thumb on the fast forward button. But the table-toppers did all that was needed, jumping clear of the inactive Highlanders and Hurricanes courtesy of a dominant first 40 minutes. And given last year's finalists play each other this weekend, a victory for the Chiefs in Sydney will provide even more breathing room heading into the international break.
• 29-10 win over Waratahs
• 2nd in NZC, 5th overall
The Crusaders, though, continued their iron grip on the Chiefs' coattails. Far too good for the Australian leaders, Todd Blackadder's men still own the best points differential in the competition, denied top spot only by the pesky return of Zac Guildford. The next task for the Crusaders: put a fork in all the talk about the Blues' faint playoff hopes remaining alive. And if they manage that, a blockbuster clash with the Chiefs awaits in Suva on July 1.
• 52-24 win over Jaguares
• 1st in SAC2, 2nd overall
Would you look at that, a foreign team ranked ahead of New Zealand sides maybe on merit rather than a conference quirk. The Lions' crushing win over the Jaguares saw them pull a point ahead of the Hurricanes and level with the Highlanders, edging the champs on
points differential. And given the Lions have completed their allotment of Kiwi opposition, they could even challenge for top spot with what appears a straightforward run home.
• 17-13 win over Stormers
• 1st in SAC1, 3rd overall
Unlike the Lions, whom they encounter next week, the Bulls are absolutely a team enjoying an inflated standing courtesy of their conference. Their narrow win over the ninth-placed Stormers was the Bulls' first against a top-half team all season, having feasted on substandard opposition, avoided New Zealand sides entirely and lost whenever they've played someone decent. And they're third overall. Super Rugby, ladies and gentlemen.
Hurricanes v Highlanders, Wellington, 7.35pm
Waratahs v Chiefs, Sydney, 9.40pm
Kings v Jaguares, Port Elizabeth, 5am
Blues v Crusaders, Eden Park, 7.35pm
Brumbies v Sunwolves, Canberra,9.40pm
Stormers v Cheetahs, Cape Town,1am
Bulls v Lions, Pretoria, 3.05am
Rebels v Force, Melbourne, 6.05pm