Radio Sport Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden has selected his New Zealand Form Team of the Week following a weekend that saw the Crusaders win with ease, though that last twenty minutes was disappointing, the Chiefs came from behind for victory on the Highveld and the Hurricanes heap more New Zealand derby misery on the Blues at Eden Park.
1. A solid shift 54 minutes shift by Pauliasi Manu (Blues) in which he scrummed, carried, cleaned out and tackled with great accuracy, though I must admit to being surprised that the Blues coaching staff didn't look to get another ten to fifteen minute of work out him especially heading into a bye week.
2. Ricky Riccitelli (Hurricanes) continues to impress in the absence of Dane Coles. Another excellent all round performance to enhance an already burgeoning reputation.
3. As he has been in the first two months of the season, Charlie Faumuina (Blues) was one of the best of the park for his side as he showed yet again what a loss he'll be to New Zealand Rugby when he departs at seasons end. And like Manu, you wonder whether he could have gone on for another ten minutes or so, given the significance of the game to the Blues.
4. Mark Abbott (Hurricanes) was simply colossal. Whether carrying or tackling, Abbott was relentless throughout the entire 80 minutes of an intense and demanding New Zealand derby. He scored two tries, including the match winner where he showed fleetness of foot 76 minutes into the encounter and for the second week in a row, raised his own personal benchmark by which all his performances will now be measured - Forward of the Week
5. Scott Scrafton (Blues) wasn't far behind Abbott in terms of quality of performance. He played a great game, excelling in the tight stuff, winning his lineout ball when called to and snaffling one against the throw too. Scrafton's locking partner Gerard Cowley-Tuioti (Blues) was also mighty good, as was Brodie Retallick (Chiefs) in Bloemfontein.
6. Jerome Kaino (Blues) led with his ball carrying on Saturday night. He was so strong with ball in hand, often the first ball carrier after the Blues received kick offs, always powering over the advantage line before eventually being dragged to the ground by multiple defenders while defensively he was, as always, a goateed brick wall.
7. Sam Cane (Chiefs) slotted straight back in the way you'd expect an All Black incumbent to do so. Never far from the ball, Cane got a couple of key turnovers (as well as a couple of questionable penalties against him), tackled anything wearing orange and along with co-captain Aaron Cruden, help lead an excellent comeback victory.
8. Steven Luatua (Blues) was quite tremendous in a losing effort. He was excellent at lineout time, tackled and carried with frequency and gusto, the latter highlighted by a wonderful break and subsequent off load down the right wing to set up the Blues second try. By the way, with Bristol being relegated on the weekend, I hope someone inquires as to whether Luatua's contract has an out clause in relation to that fact.
9. Can't say I was overly impressed with the halfback play at the weekend, given the very high standard that has been set over the opening eight rounds of play. Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Chiefs) had the most consistent, higher work rate game of the options available and helped control the comeback in Bloemfontein in tandem with Aaron Cruden.
10. Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes) is the rugby equivalent of Neo from "The Matrix". The way he sees what's in front of him and then reacts to it appears, to this observer at least, to be done in the blink of an eye, yet by the same token, he seems to have an extraordinary amount of time in which to do so ... and then there's his acceleration which is quite outrageous. He deserves all the plaudits heaped on him after that performance - Back of the Week
11. Melani Nanai (Blues) provided a ball fake then around the defender pass that James Harden would have been proud of to set up first Blues try, before popping up on the right wing to finish off the second. Nanai had more opportunities in this game than previous weeks and he turned most of those chances into positives for his side. James Lowe (Chiefs) continued his good run of form in the victory in Bloemfontein.
12. Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes) continues to press claims for higher honours with a solid, accurate effort against the Blues. The opportunities weren't as frequent as he's been used to in recent times but he carried hard and defended in the same manner in tough midfield battle.
13. With Anton Lienert-Brown out of the game early due to injury, Sam McNicol (Chiefs) stepped up to fill the void as midfield leader. He gave some shots, and took a couple as well, showed a useful left foot punt which will come in handy next year when James Lowe departs and attacked well, setting up Tawera Kerr-Barlow for a try with pure perseverance and a nifty off load.
14. Matt Duffie (Blues) continues to impress, even with far less chances than in previous weeks. He was sound defensively, good positional play and made a couple of nice injections on attack. Toni Pulu (Chiefs) grabbed a couple of tries as part of a good all round performance against the Cheetahs.
15. Jordie Barrett (Hurricanes) looks so at home at Super Rugby level and on the big stage. He adjusts easily from fullback to second five, as he was asked to do in the latter stages of Saturday night's game and looks to get himself involved. NB The Barrett boys had 30 carries between them - Beauden 16 & Jordie 14.
Selection criteria: Must play for a NZ franchise but does not have to be eligible for All Blacks
** Statistics via the NZ Herald Stat Centre **
NIGEL YALDEN IS THE RUGBY EDITOR FOR RADIO SPORT & NEWSTALK ZB