After a 28 day absence, how good, HOW GOOD, to watch two New Zealand teams go hammer and tongs over 80 enthralling minutes in Christchurch.
Unsurprisingly the Crusaders dominate Radio Sport Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden's NZ Form Team of the Week but the vanquished Hurricanes and the victorious Blues and Highlanders are also represented:
1. Joe Moody (Crusaders) 2. Codie Taylor (Crusaders) & 3. Owen Franks (Crusaders) were core roles personified. The trio led a dominant scrum performance, provided accurate lifting and throwing at the lineout, carried strongly and provided their usual starch in defence, especially around the fringes of ruck and maul.
4. Luke Romano (Crusaders) threw his hulking frame into the Hurricanes with some stinging defence and nine muscly carries. And while he may not have made significant metres with ball in hand (29) he took some stopping on all occasions.
5. Tom Franklin (Highlanders) continued his tireless campaign with another busy, robust and intelligent effort against a Bulls side that actually resembled a rugby side with a clue in Pretoria. Franklin probably won't make the All Black squad, but he's not far off and it won't be for lack of performance.
6. Like Luke Romano, Pete Samu (Crusaders) played with a significant disregard for his own body or those of his opposition. He carried with purpose including a line break and was the leading tackler amongst the Crusader forwards with 11; is forgiven for the three turnovers conceded such was his effort in redeeming for those.
7. Matt Todd (Crusaders) was quite superb from first whistle to the moment he departed for a Head Injury Assessment just after the hour mark. Easily the best on the park, he was simply everywhere the ball was and complimented his outstanding physical effort by making great captaincy decisions in a pressure packed encounter - Forward of the Week. By the way, Ardie Savea (Hurricanes) was pretty darn good, a clear standout despite being part of a pack that was copping it.
8. Jordan Taufau's (Crusaders) effort was akin to those of Romano and Samu; rugged, confrontational and impactful. Tip of the cap to Akira Ioane (Blues) for another consistent effort.
9. The Hurricanes might have been beaten on Saturday night, but it wasn't for a lack of effort from TJ Perenara (Hurricanes). He was excellent behind a Canes pack that was placed under duress and was brilliant defensively especially on cover defence.
10. Richie Mo'unga (Crusaders) steered his side around the park with composure, control and maturity. Even though he got run over by Ngani Laumape, he didn't shirk his defensive responsibility, goal kicked well (five of six with the one miss from wide right) and while the pack in front of him provided a great platform, Mo'unga took full advantage of it the way a top first five should - Back of the Week.
11. Reiko Ioane (Blues) got the most opportunity to impact a game of all the left wings playing in round 12 and he took advantage of chances with an effort that continues to put his name right in the midst of discussions around the possible make-up of the All Blacks back three.
12. Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes) was the only Hurricane to consistently break the seemingly unbreakable Crusaders line and he did so three times. He made 60 metres on eleven energetic carries, beat six defenders (the rest of his team combined for nine) and did not miss a tackle. His opposite Ryan Crotty (Crusaders) was also great for his side and provided great leadership support for his captain.
13. Jack Goodhue (Crusaders) has All Black written all over him. It probably won't be for a year or two, but he just seems to make the right decision the vast majority of the time and then executes accurately; see Saturday night in Christchurch for a raft of examples. Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders) was also very accurate in everything he did and that winning try had a hint of his 2014 debut season about it.
14. Seta Tamanivalu (Crusaders) had few chances in a tight encounter but when those chances came, he made them count (with one notable albeit very difficult exception) and did his part defensively.
15. David Havili's (Crusaders) ability to step a player is right up with the best in Super Rugby. While there were a few moments where we saw that, it was his solidity and knowing when to get involved that impressed; the fact that he never had to make a tackle in that game is testament to the overall standard of the Crusaders defence. PS Anyone worried about Jordie Barrett's (Hurricanes) big game temperament should have had a fair portion of those concerns allayed on Saturday night.
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