Ten talking points from the latest Super Rugby round, and a team picked only on form in the weekend.
As good as a Fonterra bonus
The match of the round by a mile got the audience it deserved in Suva. The Chiefs stunning 40-27 win over the Crusaders had everything. A huge upset? The TAB, who think with their heads, not their hearts, had the Chiefs as $4.70 outsiders. An amazing comeback? To be down 20-0 after 20 minutes and then win makes it the comeback of the season. Exciting rugby? There was more dynamic running than we saw in all of this year's Six Nations.
Forward of the round: Samisoni Taukei'aho
The only thing more inspiring than the storming game the Chiefs' hooker played in Suva is the 21-year-old's back story. As a 15-year-old he came from Tonga to St Paul's Collegiate in Hamilton on a sports' scholarship. The first task he faced was learning to speak English. He applied himself so well that when he's not playing rugby he's now studying for a law degree at Waikato University. "He's a good man," Andrew Gibbs, the master in charge of rugby at St Paul's has said. "What sets him apart is his character, his leadership, and his focus." And maybe the fact that when he got his chance on Saturday night he ran like a raging bull.
Pass of the round
Props are my favourite rugby players. I admired the Chiefs' 127kg loosehead prop Atu Moli anyway, for coming back after four operations last year on a freak thigh injury. But as the Chiefs made their rampaging comeback late in the first half in Suva, the ball came to Moli just inside the Crusaders' half, and he threw a 20 metre cut out pass to Alex Nankivell so perfect Conrad Smith would have been proud to own it. Moments later Nankivell sent Jesse Parete in for a try. Props, Moli proved yet again, can do anything.
This is a job for Minogue and O'Leary from 'Wellington Paranormal'
Who knows what body snatching, mind-blowing, weirdness happened at the 28 minute mark in Suva that turned the embarrassingly one-sided rout, epitomised by the beautifully timed feed by Braydon Ennor that put Sevu Reece in for the third successive try for the Crusaders, into the thriller the match became. Last year Crusaders' coach Scott Robertson told me he was getting better at not letting random thoughts about rugby keep him awake at night. The strange goings on in Suva will test that resolve this week.
Back of the week: Beauden Barrett
Plenty of contenders, most prominently Anton Lienert-Brown in the Chiefs' midfield. But Beauden Barrett provided a master class at first-five as the Hurricanes beat the Sharks, 30-17, in Durban. How lucky are the All Blacks to not only have Barrett, the best 10 in the world, but also Richie Mo'unga, another world class first-five?
Quote of the round
"You boys finished?" Queensland referee Nic Berry to Hurricanes captain TJ Perenara, and Sharks captain Louis Schreuder, as the two halfbacks yapped at him like outraged Pomeranians, after Berry had called them together after one of the numerous push and shove and glare moments in the game. Berry, himself a former halfback, a famously vociferous breed, did pretty well keeping the lid on a game that often felt like it might erupt to the point where we might see the return of the generally believed extinct part of the sport, a punch thrown with intent.
No real argument
Once they showed the replay, the red card for Vaea Fifita for a shoulder charge that hit Sharks No.8 Daniel du Preez in the neck and chin was inevitable. "It's not good," said Berry, and unfortunately for Fifita, who had played very well until then, it wasn't.
Would one oxen on a spit be enough for the Du Preez at the Braai?
Daniel and his flanker brother Jean-Luc in the Sharks are a throwback to the days when giant South African forwards had heads like breeze blocks with a wig. My favourite story from the days when massive Afrikaners ruled the day in South African rugby involves All Black Tane Norton on the 1976 All Black tour. Trying to make small talk in the tunnel Tane looked out at the dusty field for a provincial game and said to the behemoth he'd be marking, "Not much grass out there." The man mountain grunted. "We're not here to graze."
This is the way to kill a coach
At Eden Park the Blues showed how to blow a seven point lead, and a vital win, to end with a 22-all draw with the Bulls, and playoff hopes all but dashed. Step one. With eight minutes to go, prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi makes a malice free, but thoughtless, high tackle on Bulls' fullback, Warrick Gelant. The kick to the sideline now means the Bulls are camped in the Blues' 22. Step two. With five minutes to go TJ Faiane makes a mad rush out of the Blues line, leaving a massive gap for Bulls' first-five, Manie Libbok, to stroll through for the match equalling try. I watched the game with my eight-year-old grandson, Cooper, who probably summed up the feelings of all the other hardy souls in the north stand, when he said, "That was disappointing."
Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
I won't hammer this, as it's getting crowded at the wailing wall reserved for commentators whose high hopes for the Blues over the last decade have been dashed, but I do believe the Blues are getting better. Physically they've been more committed this year, and there are signs of better on field organisation. But they seem to collectively lack the rock solid belief that winning brings to a team. The massive Catch-22 is that they need to find that belief before they can start winning. Unearthing that composure is the hardest job any coach can tackle. Spare a kind thought for Leon McDonald as he hunts for the answers over the next six months.
Team of the week
Fullback: Solomon Alaimalo (Chiefs)
Right wing: Shaun Stevenson (Chiefs)
Centre: Jack Goodhue (Crusaders)
Left wing: Rieko Ioane (Blues)
Second-five: Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs)
First-five: Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes)
Halfback: Brad Weber (Chiefs)
No.8: Pita Gus Sowakula (Chiefs)
Flanker: Ardie Savea (Hurricanes)
Lock: Scott Barrett (Crusaders)
Lock: Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues)
Flanker: Lachlan Boshier (Chiefs)
Tighthead prop: Michael Alaalatoa (Crusaders)
Hooker: Samisoni Taukei'aho (Chiefs)
Loosehead prop: Atu Moli (Chiefs)
Reserves: Jordie Barrett (Hurricanes), Jack Debreczeni (Chiefs), TJ Perenara (Hurricanes), Sam Cane (Chiefs), Sam Whitelock (Crusaders), Joe Moody (Crusaders), Ofa Tuungafasi (Blues), James Parsons (Blues).