The first round of Super Rugby is in the books with great wins by the Blues and Chiefs, excellent performances in hard fought New Zealand derbies by the Highlanders and Crusader, while Hurricanes enjoyed an early crack at duty free shopping. Our Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden watched all the action (he has to, it's his job) to produce his New Zealand Team of the Week:
1. Ofa Tu'ungafasi (Blues) -
after a solid first half Tu'ungafasi become more and more prominent as the game progressed through the second; rock solid at set piece to compliment the work rate around the field
2. Liam Coltman (Highlanders) - industrious as always around the paddock, good at scrum time and while the Highlanders lineout had a couple of miscues only one could be attributed to a poor throw by Coltman.
3. Owen Franks (Crusaders) - it's been a while since the All Black tighthead has had to play more than an hour of rugby, but he chugged away to the end, delivering quality work at the scrum, ruck cleanout and defensively.
4. Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues) - In his first competition game since double hip surgery last year, he thought he was going to play around sixty minutes. Then Steven Luatua got injured and he had to go the full eighty. His ball carrying in midfield (crikey he took some stopping) was the pick of a top quality all round second row performance - great to see him back and into it with such gusto.
5. Brodie Retallick (Chiefs) - he was ... well, you know ... Brodie Retallick.
6. Teleni Seu (Chiefs) - Mighty fine debut wearing the Chiefs number 6 jersey that's synonymous with work hard, physicality & athleticism courtesy of Liam Messam; excellent lineout forward too. The prospect of Seu, Cane and Michael Leitch combining is a rather exciting one for Chiefs fans based of this young man's first effort at this level.
7. Blake Gibson (Blues) - there were three outstanding openside performances from the New Zealand teams, but while Sam Cane and Shane Christie were standouts for their sides, Gibson was even better. Watching the replay, you consistently saw him in and around the action. Great at the breakdown, quick around the park, did his share of the work of defence and capped it off by rampaging through Ben Smith for a try - my NZ Forward of the Week
8. Kieran Read (Crusaders) - he's going to be held to a higher standard than any other New Zealand player this season, but Read was extremely busy and physical on Saturday night.
9. Bryn Hall (Blues) - made really good decisions, gave Ihaia West great service and thus helped lead that backline the way a nine/ten combo at this level should. It was also brilliant to see him creating chaos by having a dart or too around the fringes of the ruck
10. Ihaia West (Blues) - despite the early goal-kicking wobbles, West, in tandem with Bryn Hall, controlled and guided things very well for the Blues. Great recognition of space behind the line & a deft kick set up the Blues first try and displayed the steely calm you want to see from the on-field general -
Honourable Mention: Aaron Cruden (Chiefs) - directed the Chiefs nicely in a performance that was subtle yet still very influential. Others got the plaudits & justifiably so, he's impact on that game was there for all to see.
11. James Lowe (Chiefs) - very little action went the left wings way for all the franchise, but Lowe found a way to get more involved than others & a key figure in some very clinical exit plays by the Chiefs.
12. Charlie Ngatai (Chiefs) - Ngatai and George Moala are likely contenders to fill the vacant All Blacks second five jersey against Wales in June and both showed way. Ngatai had a more complete involvement than Moala, who I felt drifted in and out of his game a bit. Ngatai does everything well and even has a spiral punt to keep us old fella's happy.
13. Malaki Fekitoa (Highlanders) - all the centres this weekend were solid defensively but didn't show out to any significant level on attack. Felt that Fekitoa made the most of his few opportunities with the ball in hand, hence he gets the nod, but overall an unspectacular weekend in the race to replace the Snake.
14. Melani Nanai (Blues) - plays very physical for a slightly built young man and finds a way to get involved in the game, yet never got badly out of position on defence.
15. Damien McKenzie (Chiefs) - he's just so much fun to watch play rugby. Great hands, great feet, no fear, full noise for the full 80 minutes and impressed with some excellent goal-kicking (that penalty from 50 metres was a peach of kick) - his positional play was pretty darn good too - my NZ Back of the Week