Kris Shannon reviews the best and worst performers from the latest Super Rugby action.
Back of the week
Ryan Crotty (Crusaders)
The impact some players make on a game cannot be captured by statistics. Case in point was Ryan Crotty on Saturday night. In the biggest match of the season, Crotty was the biggest influence in either backline, playing a key role in the Crusaders' cracking win over the Hurricanes and putting his hand up high for the All Blacks No 12 jersey. So what was the numerical value the second five supplied? Seven metres on four carries in attack, seven tackles and one turnover won on defence. But those numbers don't explain the control Crotty exhibited in both facets- nor do they provide evidence of the expert cross-kicks he unleashed.
Forward of the week:
Akira Ioane (Blues)
While there are parts of his game that still need some work, what Akira Ioane does well can be replicated by very few. That was clear in the Blues' big victory over the Cheetahs, where Ioane was again at his unstoppable best. Scoring one try and laying on another capped an outstanding attacking game and once more showed why Ioane already compares favourably to rugby's best ball-carrying loosies. In fact, in 200 fewer minutes this season, the 21-year-old barely trails Ardie Savea in metres (379-346), clean breaks (14-10) and defenders beaten (27-25). When his lightning is complemented by Steven Luatua's thunder, it gives a Blues a pair of formidable loose forwards.
RG Snyman (Bulls)
A free piece of advice for Bulls lock RG Snyman: when the scores are tied with 10 minutes to play and the referee has just illustrated his propensity to wave the red card, it's probably a good idea to avoid ramming your shoulder into an opponent's face. Snyman's moment of madness hurt his side in a multitude of ways. First, it wiped away the Bulls' numerical advantage, after Waisake Naholo had eight minutes earlier also been dismissed for his own shoulder charge. Second, it saw the hosts have a try scratched off, one that would have broken a 10-10 deadlock. And third, it enabled the Highlanders to soon find their own match-winner.
The Fab Four
20-12 win over Hurricanes
1st in NZC, 1st overall
What more can be said about these Crusaders? Playing without their two best forwards, the red-and-black pack dominated their Hurricane counterparts. Facing off against an attack historic in its scoring, the Crusaders kept the Hurricanes without a try for the first time since February 2014. Scott Robertson's men have a difficult run home, first heading to Fiji to face the Chiefs and eventually finishing their season in Wellington, but no challenge currently appears too great for this team.
13-6 win over Brumbies
1st in SAC2, 2nd overall
Did a thoroughly average Friday night in Canberra determine the fate of the Super Rugby title? That's probably drawing a long bow, but it could have decided the venue for the final. However, even if the Lions do run the table on their return to the Republic, and even if the Crusaders slip up to hand the South African side top spot, the Lions will still likely have to beat two New Zealand teams to lift the trophy. Home advantage counts for only so much.
17-10 win over Bulls
4th in NZC, 7th overall
Only one non-New Zealand team have a better record than the Highlanders- the Lions. They're the only one with more points, more wins and a superior points differential. So yeah, the Highlanders are the fourth-best team in the Kiwi conference and the fifth-best team in the entire competition. And considering they have only one Kiwi derby in their final four games, the southern side have a good chance to improve both rankings before the end of the season.
35-32 win over Sharks
4th in SAC2, 11th overall
This was a wonderful win for the Kings, but please allow me to use it to laugh at Australia. Now with four victories, the Kings - the soon-to-be cut-from-the-competition Kings - have enjoyed more triumphs than any Australian side this season. With 19 points, the Kings would be level with the Brumbies atop the Australian conference, having scored more points and more tries than any Aussie team. Should we really be removing two South African franchises and only one Australian?