Rugby: NZ team of the week - Round 16

By Nigel Yalden

Ben Smith of the Highlanders. Photo / Getty Images.
Ben Smith of the Highlanders. Photo / Getty Images.

If you think five wins from five game makes picking a NZ Form Team of the Week easier, you're very much mistaken.

So much so that when Radio Sport Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden sent through his team, the opening line of the email read "What a nightmare".

However after some longer than usual deliberations, here are the selections for the penultimate round of Super Rugby's regular season:

1. Sam Prattley (Blues) produced a solid all round outing, highlighted by the way he handled the Brumbies international tighthead prop Ben Alexander with aplomb at scrum time (and Alexander knows all the tricks of the trade in that department); busy, physical and accurate in all other aspects.

2. Ash Dixon (Highlanders) continues to remind the All Blacks selectors that he's worthy of selection if something happened to any of the three chaps ahead of him in the pecking order. Lineout throwing was accurate, contributed to a good scrummaging effort, he's a lot more physical than some give him credit for and always as busy as the proverbial blue back-sided fly around the field.

3. Struth Siosiua Halanukonuka (Highlanders) got through a mountain of work in Buenos Aires on Sunday morning! He delivered quality, powerful cleanouts; strong, stinging defence around the fringes; scrummed mightily and was on point with his lifting work come lineout time. On a weekend that produced a lot of great individual forward performances amongst great team wins, for me Halanukonuka's was the best of the lot - Forward of the Week

4. Vaea Fifita (Hurricanes) garnered plenty of attention for his performance against the Blues last weekend but his efforts against the Waratahs were way better. He was excellent at lineout time, securing his own ball and disrupting opposition ball and whilst he's better known for his athletic prowess in space, Fifita showed he can play the tight, physical game with the best and (in the case of Will Skelton) biggest of them and with a high work rate too.

5. Couldn't have Fifita without selecting his second row partner Michael Fatialofa (Hurricanes). As a combination, they worked brilliantly together in an area that Waratahs always look to dominate/intimidate in. Fatialofa stole a couple of lineouts, muscled up in the middle of the field and generally just work his tail off for his team ... man oh man New Zealand has some depth at lock at moment.

6. Elliot Dixon (Highlanders) gets the nod for his obvious influence on the game and that's not a reference to tries scored. Another big effort defensively, stopping some excellent ball runners but also in cover defence too; he was used frequently at lineout time as well as claiming one of the four lineout steals recorded by the defending champions. NB a really tough choice as Jerome Kaino (Blues) Tom Sanders (Chiefs) and Brad Shield (Hurricanes) also produce high quality efforts

7. Ardie Savea (Hurricanes) gave everyone a timely reminder that he is just as adept at grinding away at the coal face as he is talented in open field play. His work rate was significant against the Waratahs, particularly on defence with 16 tackles and a couple of very timely turnovers to boot. NB the standard of openside play was so good, you could easily make cases for Kara Pryor (Blues), Lachlan Boshier (Chiefs), Matt Todd (Crusaders) and James Lentjes (Highlanders) ... which I actually did while writing this piece.

8. Steven Luatua (Blues) delivered another high quality, high involvement, skill laden effort in the Blues dispatching of the Australian conference leaders. Luatua's consistency is now matching his level of play, something he needed to do in order to get back into All Black consideration, which you suspect he most certainly is.

9. TJ Perenara (Hurricanes) played the game that was required of him in Sydney. He made good decisions in tandem with his first five, kicked accurately and defended well in a performance that was reflective of his leadership role in the team.

10. Yet another calm , intelligent and controlled performance from Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes) in a big game for his team and this one away from the cosy confines of the Cake Tin. So much to like about how Barrett's game has matured in recent times.

11. Julian Savea (Hurricanes) might not be firing on all cylinders just yet, but he was really effective at the weekend. He was patient as he wasn't afforded nearly the same amount of opportunities as came the way of his Blues, Chiefs, Crusaders and Highlanders counterparts but he took those limited chances and made 86 metres, breaking the line 3 times and beating 7 defenders.

12. Willis Halaholo (Hurricanes) ran hard, straight and often. He defended really strongly despite the yellow card (which I thought he should have got some leeway given Foley was falling) at second five then centre and was a key reason the Waratahs got very little reward through midfield (the Folau try came will Halaholo was in the bin)

13. After being a non-factor in Suva, Seta Tamanivalu (Chiefs) showed what he can do when he gets himself involved, one of his key areas for improvement as highlighted by the All Blacks coaches. Not only was he active, but he also was accurate, running great lines and getting the ball at paced whilst on those lines. On defence made much, much better decisions, another area noted as a work on.

14. Following a tough outing in the 2nd test against England in 2013, Cory Jane (Hurricanes) said "it's not about how many touches you get, but about making those touches count". That's exactly what he did against the Waratahs in setting up the Hurricanes first try and scoring the second while his positional play and defence was as you'd expect from an experienced players like Jane.

15. Ben Smith (Highlanders) must have done Nicolas Sanchez and Juan Martin Hernandez heads in. Every time thought they were kicking to space, they were wrong cos Smith would scoot over and claim the ball with time and space to spare. The one time (that I noted anyway) the Jaguares did get the ball behind him, he tracked back, stepped the on-coming defender and started a counter attack up the middle of the field. Smith was pure class and it showed every time he was involved - Back of the Week

Statistics used were obtained from NZ Heralds Rugby Stats Centre

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