Three New Zealand teams competed in the semi-finals of Super Rugby but only the in-form Hurricanes have made it through to the competition decider next Saturday night.
After some light hearted cajoling failed, as did a terse email from the sport editor, bribes of four packets of cookies'n'cream shrewsbury biscuits and a couple of 200 gram bags of top quality plunger coffee from the café across the road convinced Newstalk ZB/Radio Sport Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden to put together, for absolutely the final time this season, his NZ Form Team of the Week:
1. He may have struggled at scrum time, but the vim and vigour Loni Uhila (Hurricanes) brought around the field more than made up for that, highlighted by a team leading 11 carries and some very stout defence around the fringes.
2. Its most likely that Ricky Riccitelli (Hurricanes) knew early in the week that he would be starting in place of Dane Coles, but it was still an excellent effort from a young man who prior to that game had played just 177 minutes this season. He was effective with ball in hand (8 carries), defended well (9 tackles), was serviceable at set piece and did not look at overawed at any stage.
3. Atu Moli (Chiefs) scrummed well, got around the field and was good without being spectacular during his time of the field.
4. Michael Fatialofa (Hurricanes) wrapped up the NZ Super Rugby Rookie of the Year award with yet another industrious effort at the Westpac Stadium coal face. End of Year tourist? He deserves to be in the conversation. PS There is no official NZ Rookie of the Year award but if there was, he wrapped it up on Saturday night.
5. There is just no quit in Brodie Retallick (Chiefs) who did a heck of lot for his team across the board. His stats reflect a part of that - 10 tackles, 9 carriers, 6 lineouts won and 1 lineout steal - but there is no statistic than can accurately reflect the level of effort and intent he brings to a game and his team.
6. The more physical the encounter, the bigger the stakes, the better Brad Shields (Hurricanes) plays - which means he is going to be truly epic in the Grand Final.
7. Ardie Savea (Hurricanes) was the standout in a standout team performance. Whether it was with the ball (73 metres made, 2 line breaks, 6 defenders beaten) or without (16 tackles, 3 turnovers) Savea's influence on the game was undeniable as he continues to put for a very compelling case to start the first Rugby Championship test in Sydney - Forward of the Week
8. Victor Vito (Hurricanes) had a bit of work to do in the first half behind a scrum that was struggling, however he handled that with aplomb. While he was helped by a shocking defensive read by Brad Weber, his score was a classic number eight's try, and he provided plenty impact in the tight exchanges.
9. TJ Perenara (Hurricanes) delivered a controlled performance, snaring a couple of turnovers and doing his key roles accurately and efficiently. This came on a weekend where the halfback play was good, but not great.
10. Beauden Barrrett (Hurricanes) is, at this very point in time, the most influential player in world rugby - Back of the Week
11. A tough weekend for NZ left wings in the semi-finals as the play never really flowed their way. James Lowe (Chiefs) went looking for work and did some good stuff with those opportunities. PS - Anyone else surprised Melani Nanai got picked ahead of Lowe for the All Blacks training camp spot? Just asking for a friend.
12. Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs) battled hard for little gains but he did so with frequency, accuracy and physicality - he's sneaky quick too. Based on the last month, Lienert-Brown is more than deserving of his call up to attend the All Blacks training camp starting this Thursday. Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders) was remarkably busy at Ellis Park with ball in hand but was undone by his five missed tackles; way too many for a test player in a match of this importance.
13. As it's been most season, Matt Proctor (Hurricanes) had very few chances on attack, but was good on defence, save a couple of blips, as part of a well organised Hurricanes defensive system PS - Didn't think much of the centre efforts this week.
14. The positives that Waisake Naholo (Highlanders) bought to the games outweighed the negatives. He, along with Ben Smith, was at the heart of the majority of the positive play for the defending champs. He was in the top five over the weekend in carries, metres made, defenders beaten, offloads and turnovers.
15. Even in a losing effort, Ben Smith (Highlanders) showed why he is one of the complete rugby players of the modern game. Like Brodie Retallick, they are yet to come up with a statistic that accurately reflects what he does and how he goes about getting it done for his team.
Statistics used were obtained from NZ Heralds Rugby Stats Centre