Kris Shannon reviews the best and worst performers from the latest Super Rugby action.
Vince Aso (Hurricanes)
Well, it would be a bit boring if we picked Beauden Barrett every week. And while the world's best player was again in transcendent form in the Hurricanes' crushing of the Brumbies, Aso was the able beneficiary to much of Barrett's playmaking. Back in his more familiar midfield role, the 22-year-old led both teams in metres (131), defenders beaten (eight) and clean breaks (four). He also bagged a hat-trick, taking his tally to a competition-leading 10 tries from eight games. With seven round robin matches and as many as three playoff fixtures awaiting the Hurricanes, Aso should make a serious run at Joe Roff's single-season Super Rugby record of 16, set in 1997
Matt Hodgson (Force)
After the Force had their future thrown into doubt a fortnight ago, captain Matt Hodgson put an emotional face on his side's fate, breaking down in a press conference and issuing a plea for the franchise to remain in Super Rugby.
And on Saturday, in the Force's first action since, Hodgson turned that sentiment into a fiery display against the Chiefs. Expected to finish a distant second, Hodgson's fight and first-half try instead carried the Force to the verge of an epic upset. The skipper led his team with 48 metres, eight tackles and two turnovers won, again showing there's at least one person who truly cares about rugby in Perth.
What do you get when you add 18 points, 36 turnovers and 25 penalties? The worst game of the season, that's what. The Sharks and Rebels spent 80 interminable minutes in Durban showing they should be the teams who see the Super Rugby axe, playing out a 9-9 draw for the ages. It was almost impressive how the teams failed to manage a try between them, given the Sharks played 63 minutes with 14 men and the Rebels received two yellow cards and a late red of their own. But despite the reduction in defenders, the only points came from the boots of Curwin Bosch and Reece Hodge. More like Stupor Rugby.
The Fab Four
That was a statement victory. The Crusaders' unbeaten record to this point had been compiled in two distinct phases: incredible comebacks (Highlanders, Reds, Blues) and romps over easy opponents (Force, Waratahs, Sunwolves). This was something different. The Stormers, after all, had come into the contest with only one defeat and a fortnight earlier had shown their quality in beating the Chiefs. But the Crusaders juggernaut rolled through them with ease, highlighted in the first half by a four-try, 12-minute blitz. Now it rolls to the Republic.
Speaking of juggernauts, anyone sick of the Hurricanes' incessant scoring? No? Well, that's fortunate. With another half-century, the Canes have now cracked that mark three times. Their 369 points lead the competition by 74 and are more than double what six sides have managed. Their 56 tries, meanwhile, lead Super Rugby by 12 and double up an incredible 14 teams. Second in points and tries, by the way, are the Crusaders, whom the Hurricanes meet on May 13. Circle the date.
Across the last two seasons, the Lions have been beaten exclusively by New Zealand opposition and the Jaguares. Four defeats to the Kiwis, two defeats to the Argentinians. And this week the Lions were almost defanged by their bogey team yet again- at home this time. But thanks to a converted try with 10 minutes to play and Elton Jantjies' 77th-minute penalty, the Lions escaped and now head to Australia. Given their imperviousness to Aussie opposition, it should be a pleasant trip.
The Kings have certainly enjoyed their time in the lucky country. After coming agonisingly close to upsetting the Force and putting 34 points on the Reds in defeat, the South African strugglers finally pulled off victory against the woeful Waratahs. Since re-entering the competition last year, the Kings had triumphed only over expansion teams (twice against the Sunwolves, once against the Jaguares). But that all changed after overcoming a 17-0 deficit in Sydney, moving the Kings to the rarefied heights of 12th.