A couple of strong team cultures have been among the highlights this weekend with the Highlanders' come-from-behind win over the Force and the Crusaders' consecutive triumphs in South Africa.

The Highlanders gave away two soft tries when the Force struck a purple patch in the first quarter, but they fought back through hard work and self-belief. The Dan Pryor try, after a movement which stretched the best part of 80m, was a beauty to level the score at halftime. The pace and accuracy was outstanding as each player seemed to know exactly where to pass next.

Credit to the Highlanders' early-season progress must go to Aaron Smith. He put in a stellar display at halfback, especially given they lost Lima Sopoaga before kick-off and Ben Smith early in the second half.

The defending champions might not have the biggest names, but the team continue on their merry way regardless. Whoever comes on consistently exceeds expectations.


They've taken another step in the right direction after last year, which is a tip of the cap to Jamie Joseph and his coaching team.

It's no wonder the Japanese have brought Jamie in to replace Eddie Jones as they build towards their home World Cup in 2019, but it makes it a difficult job for whoever takes over in Dunedin.

Similarly, the Crusaders are shaping up to deliver Todd Blackadder a memorable final season. He will leave regardless of how they finish up.

This is a chance for the players to show respect for the coach, take ownership of their season and live up to the Crusaders' best traditions.

Achieving two wins on the road in Africa is no mean feat. One win in the republic is valuable, two is exceptional. If they complete three away victories by delivering against the Force in Perth next weekend, it will place them in a formidable position as the competition unfolds.

Credit needs to go to Toddy for sticking with Richie Mo'unga at first-five after his kicking struggles in Durban. It's never going to be easy coming into the No10 jersey at a franchise after Dan Carter exits. Likewise, Matt Todd is making a decent fist at openside flanker in Richie McCaw's absence.

It's a situation where both can now cement their positions, playing week-in, week-out and making the most of their talents.

Hopefully, they won't be pressured to match the superstars they've replaced too early.

The Crusaders are also benefitting from having the two best loosehead props in the country in Wyatt Crockett and Joe Moody on their roster. Elsewhere, they appear to have a well-drilled forward pack with plenty of depth and the backline is served well with Andy Ellis as the experienced general alongside the skills of midfielder Ryan Crotty.

While I'm delivering the bouquets, I had a crack at referees recently but so far this week I think the TMOs have asked the right questions within a reasonable timeframe, so at least they're making a step forward.