Two cracking yet contrasting New Zealand derbies gave Radio Sport Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden plenty to ponder as he returned to NZ Form Team of the Week selection duties following the June internationals, though it is pertinent to remind Highlanders fans that their lack of representation this round is due to Yalden's "Kings Clause" as first stated in this publication on Tuesday 22 March 2016.
1. Reg Goodes (Hurricanes) picked up right where he left off before the break with another quality display in all facets of the game. If it were compulsory (as I believe it should be) for international rugby squads to carry six props (three each of loosehead & tighthead) this guy is the All Blacks third loosehead behind Moody and Crockett.
2. Hikawera Elliot (Chiefs) 100th game for the franchise was reflective of that significant milestone. Hooking the ball is an underappreciate skill, but Elliot's work, in conjunction with Brad Weber, to get a quick strike when the scrum was under duress was impressive. His lineout throwing and the work around the field was excellent, highlighted by the instinctive touch pass back to McKenzie in the lead up to the second Chiefs try
3.Owen Franks (Crusaders) continues to set the benchmark for tighhead props in Super Rugby and personally I found it very surprising that he was taken out of the game early by comparison to previous key Super Rugby games this season, especially given that he was well rested having not played the third test against Wales in Dunedin the weekend prior.
4. Of the four busy locks on the field in Wellington Saturday night, Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues) was the busiest for mine and in the robust areas of the field. He carried the ball hard on all 16 carries, offloading judiciously on four occasions; won his lineout ball when called as well as scrumming and defending well too. Others may have done the flashy stuff but Tuipulotu did the grunt work in a full eighty minute effort
5. You just get used to Brodie Retallick (Chiefs) performing to an impressively high standard in Super Rugby and then taking up another notch when his team plays the Crusaders. It was a massive shift put in by Amberley's finest and while most have been delighting in his breakaway-with-goosestep, it highlights that not only is he playing well, but he's also enjoying his rugby too - Forward of the Week
6. Just another reminder from Jerome Kaino (Blues) as to why he, and not other younger equally as talented players, is still the All Blacks first choice blindside.
7. Kara Pryor (Blues) is one heck of an athlete which he showed in spades outplaying another impressive athlete in Ardie Savea. His speed around the field, physical toughness over and around the ball and industrious attitude in all areas was evident in a standout performance.
8. Tom Sanders (Chiefs) role at the back of the Chiefs pack was pivotal in lessening the impact of that dominant Crusaders scrum. Sanders and Brad Weber made a really rough ride a little smoother at set piece time. Around the field Sanders was his typically industrious, ripping into everything with gusto a plenty and he snaffle a couple of key turnovers in a game where turnovers, forced and unforced, were a huge factor. Steven Luatua (Blues) performance in a losing effort in Wellington also warrants acknowledgement.
9. As the number four halfback in the All Blacks pecking order, all Brad Weber (Chiefs) can do is turn up and play as well as he can to put pressure on the three blokes above him in said pecking order and the three blokes that pick said All Blacks, which he did with an excellent display, especially at scrum time behind a pack getting shunted around a fair bit in that area.
10. It wasn't the usual performance you'd associated with Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes) but it was a key element of the Canes comeback victory. The Blues attacked his channel hard and he defended it with stout accuracy; he read the opposition defence then directed his team's attack with calmness and assuredness while he was perfect off the kicking tee - Back of the Week
11. It is an insanely tough choice between James Lowe (Chiefs) and Nemani Nadolo (Crusaders) but I'm going to go with Lowe (having changed my mind constantly over the last 48 hours). His kicking game and vital to extricating the Chiefs out of their own half during key moments in the first half; he ran great support lines, isn't afraid to have a go at his opposite with ball in hand and defended well, both one on one and scrambling back. No matter what type of body shape you are as a winger - big, small or any point in between - you'd have learnt plenty about how to play the position by watching Lowe and Nadolo in Suva on Friday night.
12. Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs) rolled up the sleeves and did his job excellently. It wasn't a flashy performance by any stretch of the imagination, but it was effective particularly on defence where he nailed attackers with some outstanding one on one tackling, a couple of times having rushed up out of the line sensing danger looming out wide.
13. Matt Proctor (Hurricanes) is flourishing with regular game time in the centre position this season. He was mighty for the Canes on Saturday night, particularly on defence, but his presence on attack cannot be understated either. While the other New Zealand franchises centres gave you little to write home about, Proctor's effort warrants a lengthy email to family and friends.
14. Jone Macilai (Crusaders) was the best of a very ho-hum group of right wing efforts.
15. Damian McKenzie (Chiefs) gets the nod over Melani Nanai (Blues) on the basis that McKenzie's effort was influential in the outcome of a match between the top two New Zealand teams (top three overall) while his standard of play, especially when setting up the Brad Weber try, made light of the trying weather conditions the match in Suva was played in. Nanai was just as noteworthy, punishing the Canes for some porous defence especially in the first half.
NIGEL YALDEN IS THE RUGBY EDITOR FOR RADIO SPORT & NEWSTALK ZB