The wins for the Crusaders and Chiefs illustrate why the phrase "game of two halves" is now such a well-used cliché in rugby circles, while the Blues, well the Blues won ugly again, but they won and still have a sniff at the playoffs ... come on admit it, you didn't think we'd be saying that with a four games left to play as much as I thought I'd be writing it.
The three victories over trans-Tasman over gave Radio Sport Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden plenty to mull over before naming his NZ Form Team of the Week for week 13 of Super Rugby:
1. Mitchell Graham (Chiefs) played a key role as the Chiefs pack out scrummed the Rebels; an area where many thought the Melbournians would have an edge, while contributing plenty around the field as he invariably does.
2. Nathan Harris (Chiefs) revelled in his first start in just under two years with an excellent all round hooking performance. His lineout throwing was accurate; his scrummaging was strong and technically proficient, he was busy in general play and showed a nice turn of speed to capitalise on an Aaron Cruden grubber kick in the 14th minute for a try.
3. Owen Franks (Crusaders) delivered yet another quality effort in all facets against the Tahs and produced an outrageous piece of skill, perfectly executing a headed pass back to Israel Dagg in the first half, highlighting the confidence that he's playing with at the moment.
4. Can't say enough about Luke Romano's (Crusaders) form at present. On Friday night he was once again tough, combative and tireless in the tight exchanges, powerful in the scrum and excellent as either a lifter or a target at lineout time.
5. Brodie Retallick (Chiefs) executed a key task of negating the threat of Rebels flanker Sean McMahon at the breakdown brilliantly. His cleanouts were powerful and accurate and along with second row partner Dominic Bird was excellent as a ball carrier and decision maker in midfield. His defence, lineout and scrum work was of the highest order as usual.
6. Taleni Seu (Chiefs) just knuckled down from the first whistle and ground away in a workman like effort against an as workman like Rebel loose forward trio. He didn't gain many metres when he carried the ball but he always got to or over the gain line and presented the ball quickly. Seu's support play was excellent, didn't shirk his responsibilities in tight stuff and is proving a very reliable lineout option.
7. Sam Cane (Chiefs) led the defensive line in a typically industrious effort, accumulating 16 tackles, and the majority of the time was looking to regain his feet to contest for a turnover. Like Seu, Cane didn't make much ground with his carries but committed defenders, smashing into them and recycled the ball efficiently.
8. Kieran Read (Crusaders) is hitting peak form at a time that's agreeable to the Crusaders and All Blacks alike. He was a constant presence around the ball but it was his ball pilfering that stood out. He recorded 3 turnovers in general play and stole 3 lineouts in addition to securing 6 takes of his own calling. Right or wrong, Read's always held to the standard he set in 2013 and Friday night's effort against NSW suggests he's tracking well to repeat that come the international window - Forward of the Week
9. Brad Webber (Chiefs) got a pretty sweet ride behind the Chiefs pack but he made the most it by being quick to the breakdown and with his distribution. He did a fair bit in defence too in a performance that would have helped his All Blacks chances.
10. It's now 12.04am on Tuesday morning as I type in the name of Aaron Cruden (Chiefs), having alternated between he and Richie Mo'unga (Crusaders) numerous times since 11.18pm Monday evening. Here's my reasons - Mo'unga had the more obvious plays - the delightful cross kick which led to the Dagg try and the dancing run to the line off the Andy Ellis knock on (oh you know it was Crusaders fans) in addition to guiding his side with an ever growing maturity and confidence at this level. But Cruden was as brilliant, pulling the strings beautifully on an outstanding first 35 minutes with a near flawless combo of run, pass and kick. Cruden was also heavily targeted all game long by the Rebels ball runners. Yes, he got some help (as a first five should get) but more often than not he was hitting low, hard and hanging on, not shirking the job which earns him the spot, given the first half was the best half for Chiefs and Crusaders alike- Back of the Week ... 12.23am
11. James Lowe (Chiefs) looked more like the player we saw during the first ten weeks of the season. He was actively looking for work and when he got his chances he took them well, complimenting that with good defensive and positional play.
12. We didn't see much of Piers Francis (Blues) on attack, but by gees he did a bucket load on defence and it was timely too. He had a team leading 15 tackles with a couple of crucial hits late in the contest to slow down the Force attack as they searched for victory. Yes Anton Leinert- Brown (Chiefs) probably had a more balanced game, but for me Francis's defence heavy effort was too significant to overlook.
13. George Moala (Blues) like his midfield partner got few opportunities on attack, but he made the most of them and they were all impactful; his off load with bodies hanging off him as part of the Tevita Li try was pure strength & finesse, while his defence was solid too.
14. Highlighted by the high flying catch and pass off the Mo'unga cross kick for the Dagg try, Johnny McNicholl (Crusaders) had a profitable night down the right wing against a good opposite in Rob Horne. He had 11 carries including 4 line breaks and totalled 108 metres as well as having a good positional game to boot.
15. For mine Israel Dagg (Crusaders) was the best of three very good performances by NZ fullbacks over week 13. He and Damian McKenzie (Chiefs) were excellent in all facets of play, while Melani Nanai (Blues) was stronger with ball in hand whilst solid on defence. Dagg's performance though was more accurate and polished than the other two, hence he gets the nod.
** Statistics via NZ Heralds Rugby Stats Centre
NIGEL YALDEN IS THE RUGBY EDITOR FOR RADIO SPORT & NEWSTALK ZB