Patrick McKendry names the top back, standout forward and the four in-form teams from the weekend's Super 15 action.
Back of the week:
Ben Smith (Highlanders)
It can't be easy being Ben Smith at the Highlanders - constantly called on to clean up the mess happening in front of him. Yet he's shining in his role of Mr Fixit and offers a fair bit more besides. His efforts at the back in the last couple of weeks - losses to the Bulls and most recently the Force - have been outstanding. He is breaking the line a lot more than Israel Dagg, who will wear the No15 jersey against France next month, fitness permitting.
Forward of the week:
Tanerau Latimer (Chiefs)
A timely performance from Tanerau Latimer and a reminder that if the All Blacks selectors need a back-up for Sam Cane, the only specialist No7 in their squad, they don't need to look too far past the Chiefs for a back-up. Latimer was at the forefront of an outstanding defensive effort from the Chiefs against the Crusaders, a victory which will surely cement their place at the top of the New Zealand conference and possibly the competition ahead of the play-offs.
Maritino Nemani (Highlanders)
There were a few contenders here for the Highlanders in this most dispiriting of defeats to the Force in Perth.
Ma'a Nonu was a contender when, with 12 minutes left and an unmarked Ben Smith outside him, he chose to take the ball into contact when hot on attack. However, Maritino Nemani gets the nod, when, after his team had gained the lead through Colin Slade, the right wing tackled Force fullback Jayden Hayward in the air. Hayward kicked the penalty from in front. The Highlanders had been two minutes from their second win of the season.
Won 28-19 v Crusaders at Waikato Stadium
1st overall, 1st in NZC
After this match Dave Rennie reckoned his Chiefs don't get the recognition the Crusaders do. If true, that might be about to change. Was this the match they finally overtook the Crusaders as New Zealand rugby's benchmark for high performance? Possibly. The Chiefs will probably top the competition heading into the play-offs and their result in Hamilton blew away all doubts about Rennie's outfit after some less than convincing performances recently.
Won 20-13 v Blues at Eden Park
2nd overall, 1st in AC
Like the Chiefs, the Brumbies appear well coached, and probably more importantly, play with intelligence. They were on a slightly different level to the Blues in the wind and rain at Eden Park and thoroughly deserved their win after two defeats which suggested their season was heading in a downward spiral. With the demise of the Reds in South Africa and Waratahs' loss to the Rebels, the Brumbies are shoo-ins to win the Australian conference and could cause problems.
Won 18-16 v Sharks at Kings Park
3rd overall, 1st in SAC
The Bulls have almost become a parody of themselves, so predictable have they become. And yet, they are lurking, ever dangerous in the Republic. Morne Steyn's six penalties (no surprise there) were enough to sink the Sharks in Durban, and the Bulls are now steeling themselves for run-in which involves only South African teams. No team will fancy the trip to Pretoria to play them come play-off time.
Won 24-22 v Waratahs at AAMI Park
12th overall, 4th in AC
This is the first time they have beaten their Aussie mates and it comes a week after their high of beating the Stormers. Like last week they did it without the the injured James O'Connor and troubled Kurtley Beale. This come-from-behind win against a team containing Wallabies Berrick Barnes and Israel Folau did a few favours for the Crusaders (as did the Blues' loss), who have clung to sixth place.
15. Ben Smith (Highlanders)
14. Frank Halai (Blues)
13. Rene Ranger (Blues)
12. Bundee Aki (Chiefs)
11. Asaeli Tikoirotuma (Chiefs)
10. Aaron Cruden (Chiefs)
9. Piri Weepu (Blues)
8. Kieran Read (Crusaders)
7. Tanerau Latimer (Chiefs)
6. Liam Messam (Chiefs)
5. Sam Whitelock (Crusaders)
4. Luke Romano (Crusaders)
3. Ben Tameifuna (Chiefs)
2. Liam Coltman (Highlanders)
1. Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders)