Yet another perfect weekend of results for the New Zealand franchises.
You'll be unsurprised by an absence of Chiefs in this week's team and that's all about their performance, not the oppositions; the Highlanders were great fun, the Crusaders pretty entertaining too while the Blues got a much need win and in doing so gave Australian rugby another punch in the gut. With all that said, here's Radio Sport Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden's NZ Form Team of the Week.
1. While all the razzle dazzle was going on out wide Daniel Lienert-Brown (Highlanders) was rock solid in tight stuff (though the goose step & offload during the second half did not go unnoticed young man). He scrummed, cleaned out, tackled and supported well in an excellent effort.
2. Codie Taylor (Crusaders) really put himself around the park in Bloemfontein. He was busy, robust and athletic during a longer than usual 70 minute outing.
3. Charlie Faumuina (Blues) is one of the most complete players in rugby. In addition providing quality in the core roles of a prop, he always made it well past the advantage line when he carried on Sunday night using a delicious combination of a strong fend, quick feet and raw power. On his current outstanding form, Faumuina's going to provide a massive point of different off the All Blacks bench during the Lions Series - Forward of the Week
4. I'm already looking forward to Wednesday the 13th of June so I can see Alex Ainley (Highlanders) against the British and Irish Lions. He showed again against the Stormers that he is the equal of any international opposite in terms of work rate, intent, accuracy and endurance.
5. Scott Scrafton's (Blues) quick adjustment to Super Rugby has been very timely for the Blues. In addition to great work-rate and physical presence around the field, his inclusion in the team's starting line-up in tandem with Gerard Cowley-Tuioti has helped turn a shaky lineout into something more appropriate for this level of competition.
6. Are we sure that Steven Luatua (Blues) can't get out of his contract with Bristol? Are you positive? Just had to ask again cos he's playing some seriously good rugby at the moment and the Brumbies game was another example of how purposeful he is with or without the ball.
7. Dillon Hunt (Highlanders) played an excellent role on Friday night's victory over the Stormers. He was top drawer on defence (16 tackles made) and always seemed to on the spot to take a pass; hit a ruck or carry into contact then turn and present the ball on attack.
8. Akira Ioane (Blues) had 55 minutes of complete involvement in Canberra. I say that because he has a tendency to drift in and out of the games, but not on Sunday. He was busy, physical and along with Gibson and Luatua, gave their team an advantage in a key area of the game. Liam Squire (Highlanders) was on point in Dunedin as well, highlighted by 19 tackles, many of quite bone jarring.
9. Aaron Smith (Highlanders) was back to being Aaron Smith and it was outstanding. The speed and accuracy of his long passing game was at its Laidlaw-esque best while the timing and placement of the short passes were of equal quality. And having set the Stormers up with the passing game, he then used the running the game judiciously to excellent effect while the kicking was on point too - Back of the Week
10. Richie Mo'unga (Crusaders) ran the Crusaders attack in tandem with Ryan Crotty with aplomb in Bloemfontein. He also ran the ball well himself; kicked accurately in general play (just see the 2nd George Bridge try for an example of that) and off the tee (6 of 7 attempts). Also have to mention Marty Banks (Highlanders) who helped guide the attack in Dunedin but was more impressive with some solid front-on defence when challenged.
11. This was the toughest decision of the weekend as Patrick Osborne (Highlanders) and George Bridge (Crusaders) were terrific for their respective teams. I've gone with Osborne who had a better standard of defence to deal with, scored a couple of nice tries and that offload for Rob Thompson was quite brilliant. Bridge was as good as his stats suggest - 142 metres made, 8 (at times weak) defenders beaten, 4 line breaks, 3 tries and 2 off loads - and it wouldn't take much to change my mind.
12. Ryan Crotty (Crusaders) provided an excellent foil for Mo'unga in directing the Crusaders around Free State Stadium. He stepped into first receiver, carried directly including a couple of nice line breaks and was defensively solid with his midfield partner.
13. Jack Goodhue (Crusaders) didn't put a foot wrong on Sunday morning. He defended strongly, carried the ball in the same manner and made great rugby decisions, be it when to push up in defence, whether to promote the ball or take the ball to ground and runs excellent support lines.
14. Another good week's work under the belt for Waisake Naholo (Highlanders) who was busy throughout his 58 minutes on the field in Dunedin. Finished off a couple of nice attacking movements, good on kick chase and can foot it with the best of them in a breakdown.
15. Ben Smith (Highlanders) gets the nod ahead of David Havili (Crusaders) despite Havili's statistics being a very accurate reflection of his involvement against the Cheetahs. Smith though was almost flawless in a typically all-encompassing performance, both as a fullback and captain. Havili doesn't go away empty handed though as he claims the prestigious Russell Westbrook Stat Line of the Week award - 13 carries, 125 metres gained, 10 defenders beaten, 5 off loads, 3 line breaks and 2 tries.
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