Seven talking points from Super Rugby Aotearoa.
LEON MACDONALD IS RIGHT. THEY'RE STILL THE BENCHMARK
Certainly the scoreline, a 40-20 win for the Crusaders over the Highlanders in Dunedin, didn't reflect how hard-fought the game was. But the fact is that when it was needed the Crusaders threw in a blistering, unstoppable, last five minutes that included the best passage of play in Super Rugby Aotearoa.
In the lead-up to the 76th minute try by Tom Christie that put the Crusaders out to an unassailable 31-20 lead, there were 16 phases and 22 passes, all executed with a precision that belied the bruising, exhausting, arm wrestle that had gone before.
It was a tribute to the level of skills throughout the Crusaders that the last sequence of passes in the movement came from halfback Mitch Drummond, as his forwards recycled at speed, to hooker Codie Taylor, who flicked the ball on one-handed to lock Quinten Strange, who passed to flanker Christie for the try.
RAZOR ROBERTSON SUMMED IT UP: WOWEE!
Every week Crusaders outside back Will Jordan seems more like a work of fiction, mild-mannered and unassuming until he puts on his uniform. Then he starts playing like a superhero. Jordan's try that ended the game was the exclamation mark on a performance that once again showed an astounding ability to get rid of tacklers who look bigger and stronger than he does.
In Dunedin, local fans might have recognised the phenomenon - for years Ben Smith did the same thing for the Highlanders and the All Blacks.
FOR THE BLUES TO WIN, THEY WILL NEED CONCENTRATION
There'll be a sellout at Orangetheory Stadium on Saturday night, and saying the vast majority will be backing the home team is a greater understatement than suggesting Americans who say wearing a mask is an attack on their constitutional rights are a few lassoes short of a rodeo.
AND MORE CONCENTRATION
At every scrum and lineout, the Blues will need to be operating at 100 per cent. The Crusaders make an art of attacking an opponent's set piece. A key man at lineout time, now looking right back to his aggressive best, is Sam Whitelock, a looming menace to a rival hooker's throw.
AND TO NEVER YIELD TO WHITE LINE FEVER
Your heart has to bleed a little for Highlanders wing Jona Nareki. With his team just four points behind, and 54 minutes into the game, he had only Crusaders first-five Richie Mo'unga between him and the goalline.
If Nareki had scored, with the way Mitch Hunt was kicking, the Highlanders could have gone ahead 24-21. Nareki is only 22, and, more importantly, in just his first season of Super Rugby. He naively thought he could bash through Mo'unga, who's a very good defender.
So Mo'unga flattened him, and the two men supporting Nareki - Sio Tomkinson and Vilimoni Koroi - were left staring at the open line a pass would have offered. The good news for Blues fans is that this season the Blues have always resisted the temptation to take a 50/50 chance to score when there's a support player outside with a guaranteed way to the line.
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE GAME NEXT SATURDAY? HUGELY, ESPECIALLY FOR THE BLUES
Super Rugby Aotearoa will only be at the halfway mark, but the Saturday night game in Christchurch could basically decide the competition.
Right now the Crusaders top the table, with the Blues second, and daylight third.
The Crusaders are on 14 points, with two bonus points, and the Blues are on 12, with no bonus points. If the Crusaders win they'll open up a big lead.
No pressure, but if the Blues lose in Christchurch the points mountain might be too high to climb in the last game of the Super season at Eden Park on August 16. At all costs, the Blues can't afford to see the Crusaders have a bonus point victory.
WHAT A LONG, STRANGE TRIP IT'S BECOMING IN HAMILTON
There were many weird moments in the 25-18 victory for the Hurricanes against the Chiefs in Hamilton. There was a 58 metre penalty goal by Jordie Barrett that the Chiefs coaches thought should have awarded 10 metres further back. There was a red card for Canes lock Scott Scrafton that was about as technical as it gets. And best of all there was hooker Dane Coles not only running like a twinkle-toed wing, but also picking off an intercept and flicking the ball on.
Even stranger is the fact that when Covid-19 stopped the full bore Super competition the Chiefs had won four out of six games, and were a solid third in the New Zealand conference. Now they've lost four in a row and are last in Super Rugby Aotearoa. The video analysis in Hamilton over the next two weeks (they're on a bye next weekend) will be like a sporting horror film festival.