It was a weekend of contrasts for the New Zealand franchises.
The Chiefs and Hurricanes played out a spiteful but skill laden contest in the Tron; the Highlanders held out the Blues in a game whose tense final ten minutes was born out of below average rugby for the preceding 70 while 80's punk band Razor and the Cardiac Crusaders snaffled another four points on the road.
Having taken it all in and re-watched all the games (yes he sat through the Highlanders, Blues and Crusaders twice ... how's that for dedication/self-flagellation) Radio Sport Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden presents his NZ Form Team of the Week for Round 3 of Super Rugby:
1. Joe Moody (Crusaders)
Amongst what was a muddling display from the Crusaders, Moody was active around the field, strong in the tight exchanges and was wrongly penalised at scrum time because he was (legally) dominating his side.
2. Liam Coltman (Highlanders)
Has stepped up his level of play to start this Super Rugby season. Whether its confidence gained from being in the All Black environment or the increased game time and responsibility with co-captain and fellow hooker Ash Dixon out injured, Coltman has delivered three excellent performances with Saturday night's effort against the Blues another industrious one.
3. Nepo Laulala (Chiefs)
The sturdy scrummaging which had been there in the opening fortnight continued and was complimented by his best contribution in general play of the season. The All Black selectors will be encouraged by what he showed them but will need to see that consistently as the season progresses.
4. Brodie Retallick (Chiefs)
Was 2.04 metres and 121 kilograms of relentless forward progress on Friday night, powering his way through his now standard ridiculous amount of work around the field, whilst using the moments where most of us would draw breath to have a verbal dig or ten at his opposition - Forward of the Week
5. Tom Franklin (Highlanders)
Just like Retallick, Franklin was perpetual motion in another display that personifies work rate and intent.
6. Brad Shields (Hurricanes)
He was at his physically busy best in the losing effort, doing a bucket load of graft in and around the breakdown and excelling at line out time with five takes and a steal against a Chiefs unit that is very efficient in that aspect of the game.
7. Sam Cane (Chiefs)
Was meant to play around 40 to 50 minutes; was "blowing hard after 30" and ended up playing the entire 80, during which time he made 15 tackles (sixth best for the week) had 18 carries (second best) and hunted the ball like the T-1000 from Terminator 2. Elliot Dixon (Highlanders) was pretty sharp too, likewise the ever energetic Blake Gibson (Blues).
8. Luke Whitelock (Highlanders)
In his first game of the year, Whitelock showed why he kept Liam Squire on the bench for the majority of last season with a strong all round game highlighted by a couple of quality turnovers at key moments as well as providing good leadership support for new captain Elliot Dixon. Have to make mention of Whetu Douglas (Crusaders) again after he had another quality game in another come-from-behind win and looks so at home at this level.
9. Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Chiefs)
He's played many fine games at Super Rugby level, but that was arguably TKBs finest outing as he, more than his first five, controlled that somewhat damp encounter . He was quick to the breakdown, threw accurate passes with a nice snap to them and his kicking game was on point, with the "tops" kick that Toni Pulu ran down for the try right on half time the shining example of that - Back of the Week
10. Mitchell Hunt (Crusaders)
While the match winning kick was the memorial moment, there was plenty more to like about the way Hunt played at Suncorp Stadium. In combination with Ryan Crotty, directed the team nicely, bar two blips he kick well in general play, got stuck in at the break down when needed (like that from a ten) and his front on defence and scramble/clean-up work was excellent. PS Nice swag on the game winner too.
11. Digby Ioane (Crusaders)
Ioane was clearly intent on playing well at his old stomping ground and did just that. For the most part he ran with good intent, defended well, good positional play as part of an enforced re-jigged back three and made a nice read with the kick ahead that lead to the Crusaders first try. Made the best of his chances on a weekend where few wings got involved to any level for their respective sides.
12. Rob Thompson (Highlanders)
Speaking on running with intent, Thompson was the standout in that regards at Eden Park Saturday night. Invariably seemed to beat the first defender and make metres past the gain line with a combination on instinctive and incisive running; defended nicely in tandem with Malakai Fekitoa.
13. Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders)
Fekitoa's involvement was so evident during that much needed win for the Highlanders. He carried the ball 13 times including scoring the only try of the game, but it was his defence in tandem with Thompson which stood out; he got a couple of timely turnovers too. The previous night's duel between Matt Proctor (Hurricanes) and Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs) who shifted out to centre, was great display of their respective talents too.
14. Toni Pulu (Chiefs)
A tough weekend for wings on kiwi teams but Pulu was solid all around the park with a try and a couple of turnovers to boot. Worthy of mention is Matt Duffie (Blues) who continued his run of consistent play the following night in Auckland.
15. A. McKenzie
Seriously, take your pick. Damian (Chiefs) was excellent showing some sublime pieces of skill that belied the atrocious weather as well as being perfect from the kicking tee, while Marty (Crusaders) was just as impressive when coming on early to replace Israel Dagg in Brisbane; excellent positional play, accurate under the high ball & rock solid in defence including a try saver on Scott Higginbotham in the second half.
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