Phil Gifford's eight takeaways from the weekend's Super Rugby, and a form XV.
Welcome back big guy
As stunning as Rieko Ioane was at Eden Park, as dazzling as Damian McKenzie was in Pretoria, the man who was once the biggest Vespa rider in the Waikato, Brodie Retallick, was the player of the week. His workload as the Chiefs have struggled has been brutal, but somehow he found the energy to dominate the lineouts against the Bulls in Pretoria, and to remind us that if he has the physical grunt of a blacksmith, he can also produce the delicate touches of a surgeon with the ball.
Who were those guys in the white jerseys?
In Pretoria a team in white play largely error free rugby. They're structured on defence, but can improvise brilliantly on attack. In the try of the weekend there are 21 passes in the 90 seconds after the kick-off for the second half before Retallick scores his second try. That'd be the Chiefs, beating the Bulls, the leading team in South Africa, 56-20. In Sydney a team in white make 18 handling errors, leak two tries in the first 10 minutes, and put just one brilliantly executed move together, for George Bridge's try in the 28th minute. That'd be the Crusaders, losing 20-12 to the Waratahs. The glorious uncertainty of sport hardly begins to cover the form reversals.
Uncorking the bottle
All Black attack coach Ian Foster fondly refers to Damian McKenzie as "a fly in a bottle". Against the Bulls McKenzie was more like lightening striking. The constrictions of first-five don't suit McKenzie, but as a bench player to be unleashed by the All Blacks when World Cup games loosen up, the way they used Beauden Barrett in 2015, he's pure gold.
Almost a coach killer
Time's up in the first half in Wellington. The Stormers are clinging to a one point lead, 16-15. Hurricanes' coach John Plumtree is getting up to head for the changing room. Then Vaea Fifita gets yellow carded for a high tackle. In the extra time Stormers hooker Bongi Mbonambi scores a try, and when halftime finally begins, it's a 21-15. The Canes always promised to be the better team, but their final victory, 34-28, went about as smoothly and painlessly as Brexit.
The Blues Brothers, Part One
Unity, belief, and a clear game plan all helped the Blues to their well deserved 33-26 win over the Highlanders at Eden Park on Friday night. It also was a big helping hand that in Rieko Ioane they have a wing well on his way, at barely 22 (his birthday was last Monday), to becoming an all-time great. His first try was a 45 metre, six second master class in how you can turn one of the simplest moves in rugby, a blindside wing hitting the openside as first receiver, into a breath taking try.
The Blues Brothers, Part Two
"Akira (Ioane) does things that nobody else can do," said Blues' coach Leon MacDonald after the Blues' victory. "In terms of carries, he's right up there with the best in the competition." MacDonald also acknowledged the Blues had feedback from the All Black selectors that they want to see a bigger workrate from the No.8. So it may be that the most promising sign for the All Blacks with Akira was in the 32nd minute, when he was the one who wrestled the ball clear from the Highlanders in the white heat of the centre of a breakdown, which cleared the way for some magical interplay between Melani Nanai and TJ Faiane, before Reiko was in for his second try.
Breeding will out
Tom Robinson, the dynamic No.6 with the mop of red hair, will remind Northland fans of a certain age that his father, Alistair, was a lock good enough to make the All Blacks on a 1983 tour of Britain. Tom has a similar work ethic to Alistair, with the tweak of quite stunning speed.
Didn't the other team knock on Phil?
Let's not say we're certain that Phil Kearns is the most biased, stunningly one eyed commentator on tv. But it's surely a fact that if you were an airline pilot, and he was a passenger, you'd never be sure if the engines were still running, or if it was just Phil whining.
Finally, a squad picked only on form in the weekend
Fullback: Damian McKenzie (Chiefs).
Right wing: Sean Wainui (Chiefs) .
Centre: TJ Faiane (Blues).
Left wing: Rieko Ioane (Blues)
Second five: Jordie Barrett (Hurricanes).
First five: Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes).
Halfback: Brad Weber (Chiefs).
No.8: Akira Ioane (Blues).
Flanker: Ardie Savea (Hurricanes).
Flanker: Tom Robinson (Blues).
Lock: Brodie Retallick (Chiefs).
Lock: Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues).
Tighthead prop: Angus Ta'avao (Chiefs).
Hooker: Nathan Harris (Chiefs).
Loosehead prop: Karl Tu'inukuafe (Blues).
Reserves: Melani Nanai (Blues), Marty McKenzie (Chiefs), Aaron Smith (Highlanders), Shannon Frizell (Highlanders), Mitchell Brown (Chiefs), Aidan Ross (Chiefs), Ben May (Hurricanes), Ricky Riccitelli (Hurricanes).
* Phil Gifford joins Simon Barnett on the new Newstalk ZB Afternoons show from July 2019