Kris Shannon reviews the best and worst performers from the latest Super Rugby action.
Back of the week:
Of all the gaudy numbers Rieko Ioane recorded in the Blues' win over the Waratahs, perhaps the most impressive statistic could be counted on one hand. By earning three turnovers on Saturday, Ioane led both teams and contributed to victory as much with defence as attack, showing his rugby brain can be as influential as his raw athleticism. And there was certainly no doubting Ioane's athleticism, scoring a spectacular brace while making 148 metres on 12 carries, good for an average gain of 12.3metres. All his attributes means the 20-year-old is unlikely to be overawed if thrown in the Lions' den.
Forward of the week
Missing Sam Whitelock and Kieran Read, stand-in skipper Matt Todd certainly accounted for any deficiency in the leadership department as the Crusaders won at Loftus Versfeld for the first time since 2008. The openside set the tone by regularly snuffing out the Bulls' attacking opportunities, making 12 tackles and winning five turnovers to leave the hosts wary of each and every breakdown. His menace enabled his own side's explosive attack to launch and, given Whitelock and Read will both miss this weekend's clash with the Hurricanes, would have left the Crusaders confident they can cope without the experienced duo.
Throwing away a 24-point head start against the Chiefs last month was surprising, but merely an appetiser. What the Cheetahs managed against the Highlanders- squandering a 17-point lead in the final five minutes- was one of the more astounding feats of the season. But their collapse in Bloemfontein was only indicative of their season as a whole, dropping seven straight after winning two of their first three games. If it's any consolation, at least Sanzaar will soon put the Cheetahs out of their misery. After all, a team can't endure the pain of blown victories if they never even take the field.
The Far Four
1st in NZC, 1st overall
These Crusaders are now the second side in Super Rugby history to win their opening 10 games, after the 2002 Crusaders team who recorded a perfect season. And this year's group have been doing it easily, too, winning their last six matches by an average of 32 points. But now it's about to get much tougher, finishing their season with four Kiwi derbies in five matches, starting with Saturday night's long-awaited showdown with the Hurricanes.
47-10 win over Rebels
1st in SAC2, 2nd overall
The Super Rugby final is still, rather incredibly, three months away, but it's only a slight stretch to say the venue for the showpiece could be determined by the Lions' encounter with the Brumbies this weekend. Providing the Crusaders don't run the table against the other New Zealand teams, a victory in Canberra would leave the Lions with four matches in the Republic between them and home advantage.
46-17 win over Reds
2nd in NZC, 5th overall
After the struggles of recent weeks the Chiefs needed that victory- 47 points is the most they've scored this season and the 29-point winning margin is the best they've managed. And now Dave Rennie's men can enjoy a week's holiday before heading to Fiji and facing what may be a travel-weary Crusaders, given by then the red-and-blacks will be playing in a third different country in three weeks.
41-22 win over Stormers
3rd in NZC, 6th overall
There appears to be a gap in quality between this quartet and the rest of the competition- four teams who have a combined three defeats in 39 games. In some order, they are the four favourites to win the competition, and a victory over the Crusaders this weekend will see the Hurricanes position themselves at the top of that list, considering already they boast the best attack and best defence in Super Rugby.