I know the Highlanders, and to a lesser extent the Blues, probably did the most to put their campaigns on track over the weekend, but I fancy the Crusaders and Hurricanes as the most likely to take control of the New Zealand conference.

That's not to say I wasn't impressed by the Highlanders - even if I hadn't backed them at the TAB. Sharks coach Jake White looked to be pulling out what little hair he has - because, let's face it, the Sharks had a mare.

The Highlanders played well, put them under pressure and took their chances - but the Sharks still had a mare. I'm not dismissing the Highlanders as a contender but they have a tough draw with which to contend that will test them to their limits.

Secondly, if you look at their squad, they need everyone in it to be at the top of their game each time they play. Other than the two Smiths, Ben and Aaron, they have a lot of emerging talent - players you would say are really good ITM Cup men but still not consistently proven at Super Rugby level. They look well coached and I wouldn't count them out ... but they need a few more wins yet before I will be convinced.


That's the same with the Blues. If they can win three or four in a row and get more of their senior players performing as Jerome Kaino did on Friday night, then I'd see them differently.

As for the Chiefs ... I backed them to beat the Crusaders last week and they didn't. I thought they would win in Canberra as well - or at least take it to the wire - but they were walloped and they appear to have a lot of woes.

They have big issues at the lineout, injury problems and now I would imagine some confidence issues as well. They will be there or thereabouts, it's just that I see the Crusaders and possibly the Hurricanes as having more momentum and being in better shape to surge ahead.

Those two wins in Africa have transformed the Crusaders and we will see the effect of their victory in Hamilton when they return to action this week. The return of one RH McCaw will hardly upset their rhythm either.