The regular season finished with the Blues stuffing the Waratahs hopes, the Hurricanes blowing out the Crusaders and the Highlanders continuing their dominance over the Chiefs in yet another cracking encounter between those two sides.
That also means it's the last Team of the Week for the regular season from Radio Sport Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden (though negotiations are underway to get one produced next week given the proliferation of New Zealand teams in the Super Rugby playoffs)
1. After replacing Reg Goodes in the first half, Loni Uhila (Hurricanes) scrummed better than he has done at this level, but it was around the field where he shone with good fringe defence and the repeated clattering into Crusaders defenders with ball in hand to get the Canes on the front foot. Goodes has been very impressive this season (a loosehead prop leading 5 team of the week selections) and Uhlia maintained the standard that had been set. Kane Hames (Chiefs) was really good too against his old franchise.
2. Ash Dixon (Highlanders) delivered another efficient performance in a willing contest however overall the standard of play and the impact on their respective games from the New Zealand hookers was below the high standard they've set throughout the season.
3. Owen Franks (Crusaders) was part of a forward pack that ripped their opposition apart at scrum in the early stages. He worked manful in the tight exchanges as usual, chugged around the park with good impact before being substituted early in the second half. The effort of Atu Moli (Chiefs) in Dunedin was the best of his short Super Rugby career and also deserving of recognition.
4. Speaking to Radio Sport post match on Friday night, Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues) acknowledged that he hadn't been consistent early in the season but after the All Blacks camp he came right. My oath he came right! Tuipulotu was massive against the Waratahs, with ball in hand and without and whatever the AB coaches told him in June, it needs to be recorded and placed into his pre-test play-list for the upcoming Rugby Championship.
5. Dominic Bird (Chiefs) was the best lock on the park Saturday night, and when you're paired up with Brodie Retallick and playing opposite Tom Franklin and Alex Ainley, that's saying something. Bird played with Retallick-like presence around the field, carried and defended strongly (better body height on both counts) and controlled the Chiefs lineout well, calling to right man in the right space to provide excellent ball from that facet of play.
6. Brad Shield (Hurricanes) was rarely far from the ball on Saturday night and he was busy (14 tackles, 15 carries including a couple of line breaks). Blessed as we are with loose forward talent, Shields effort at AMI Stadium was further proof to me that he'd be great at international level, given he absolutely thrives in the confrontational aspects of the game and he has one heck of a motor on him.
7. In the game of the round that ended up as arguably the best contest this season Sam Cane (Chiefs) was superb. For a man whose game is built around defence (which did very well) he was at the forefront of ball carrying (14 carries is a big number for Cane) as he was just everywhere the ball was, doing everything he could for his team for the entirety game in a tireless effort - Forward of the Week
8. Luke Whitelock (Highlanders) will take a rich vein of form into the playoffs after another excellent, industrious outing under the roof. Since taking over the starting duties due to a Liam Squire head knock, Whitelock's standard of play has given Jamie Joseph no choice but to continue with him in the run on side ... not that Jamie's complaining.
9. Aaron Smith (Highlanders) was at his pin point best as he helped dictate the game brilliantly, especially in the second half; so much so that there was a touch of Piri Weepu/Rugby World Cup 2011 about it.
10. Another week, another measured, mature performance by the form player of world rugby Beauden Barrrett (Hurricanes). What's scary about the control he's showing at the moment is that there's a hint of "rope-a-dope" to it; you're just waiting for the dummy then acceleration through a gap and one suspects his opponents are too. By the way, since returning from All Black duty, Barrett has kicked 17 of 19 attempts at goal. The unwavering effort of Aaron Cruden (Chiefs) against the Highlanders was top drawer as well but in a more physical way than Barrett, largely due to the nature of the Dunedin clash.
11. While the game never really flowed his way (mind it didn't much for the other left wings either), Patrick Osborne's (Highlanders) limited involvements on attack were good quality touches while defensively he was well positioned, worked nicely with his back three partners of Naholo & Smith.
12. Tough choice between Willis Halaholo (Hurricanes) and Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders) who were both great for their respective sides. I'm going with Halaholo as he carried frequently and strongly, made good reads in defensive and struck a key blow in the game when he powered out of the normally strong defensive grip of Matt Todd to scamper in for the Canes third try. Credit also to Halaholo for quickly figuring out the best way to work off his talented number ten and has adjusted his play accordingly. Fekitoa wasn't that far adrift of Halaholo with his outing against the Chiefs - toughest decision of the weekend.
13. Matt Faddes (Highlanders) got better the more the game wore on in Dunedin with industrious endeavour. He was part of a midfield that combined for 26 carries at the opposition defence (14 for Faddes, 12 for Fekitoa) invariably seemed to pop up just in the right spot when needed in defence or on attack, the latter because he runs great support lines.
14. Waisake Naholo (Highlanders) got involved and contributed significantly to the final result. The stats don't tell the full story but 13 carries, 80 metres made, 6 defenders beaten, 3 offloads, 3 line breaks and 1 highlight reel finish for a try is a fine stat-line. What stats don't measure is the attention he garnered when he did get those touches and his always impressive positional play in partnership with Osborne & Smith - Back of the Week
15. Ben Smith (Highlanders) ... that's all.
Statistics used were obtained from NZ Herald Rugby Stats Centre
NIGEL YALDEN IS THE RUGBY EDITOR FOR RADIO SPORT & NEWSTALK ZB