Nine talking points from the weekend's Super Rugby, and a New Zealand form XV.
PLAYER OF THE ROUND
Richie Mo'unga played in the Crusaders' hard-fought 19-11 win over the Blues as if he'd didn't have a care in the world, and had no idea there had been an online storm all week. His general play was exceptional, and he kicked the penalty four minutes from the end that snuffed out the chance of an upset Blues victory with icy precision.
JUST GET THE BALL DOWN
Blues coach Leon MacDonald managed to laugh when asked about how stressful it was to wait to see if Rieko Ioane's trademark one-hand placing of the ball while diving for his 70th minute try was going to be awarded. "I'm trying to say this in a nice way. But if you can't put the ball down over the line, and you have to start practising it, that's a problem isn't it?" Ioane is the best wing in world rugby, but deciding to score the boring way with two hands cradling the ball may one day be the difference between winning and losing a test.
SHOULD HAVE GONE TO SPECSAVERS, PART II
Last week TMO Marius Jonker astonishingly denied a match winning try for the Crusaders in Cape Town. I'm still slightly amazed at the fact Sanzaar has now said he was wrong. In Christchurch this Saturday the match didn't turn on the try denied to Richie Mo'unga in the 53rd minute, but if that wasn't a high tackle on Mo'unga by Melani Nanai, then the Pope doesn't have a balcony. Referee Mike Fraser said the tackle was okay, and that it started "on the shoulder sort of area." It did. But Nanai's arm quickly moved to what I'd call the "head sort of area", which meant it should have been a penalty try. Will Sanzaar front up again?
AND IT'S HELLO TO JACK FROST
It's May, it's Christchurch, it's night-time, it's cold, even the press bench at the back of the stand is covered in dew, a covered stadium is still on the distant horizon, and so, as coach Scott Robertson pointed out, it wasn't the conditions for the razzle dazzle footy the Crusaders can turn on in good conditions. It's also a measure of the challenge this improving Blues side now provides that on five occasions when the Crusaders might have usually kicked for a lineout to try to score a try, captain Sam Whitelock opted for Mo'unga to kick for goal. "SW likes those three pointers," said Robertson.
Waisake Naholo's Highlanders were well beaten 34-22 by the Stormers in Cape Town, but Naholo, who has not played a game since he injured his knee in training on April Fool's Day, was in World Cup form. There wasn't a single mistake as he scored a try, stretched the defence every time he had the ball, made his tackles, and showed his skills with one sublimely confident overhead catch of a high kick. To a degree he's been the forgotten man in Super Rugby this year. Not anymore.
PLAYER OF THE ROUND, RUNNER-UP
Aaron Smith continues to play out of his skin. It isn't just the all-round technical excellence, his energy and enthusiasm are boundless.
THEY HEARD THE GRAUNCHING AS FAR AWAY AS CAMBRIDGE
As a player, whether in rugby or league, when Brad Thorn tackled someone the earth moved. In the first half of the 19-13 victory by the Chiefs over the Reds in Hamilton, Thorn must have been grinding his teeth to dust, as the fresh-faced kids he's coaching in the Reds offered defence you'd expect from wet tissue papers. Who knows what was said at halftime, when the Chiefs led 19-6, but in the 10-minute break the Reds morphed into hard-edged grownups, who almost stole the game away playing one-off, massively limited, but tough, brutally effective rugby.
THAT'S WHY HANSEN AND CO. LOVE THE GUY
Sam Cane's 49 minutes of action in Hamilton included two classic moments, when, bent like a staple, but still balancing himself, he turned over the ball at breakdowns. There are few positions a player can place himself in on a field where he's more vulnerable, so the fact Cane not only did so, but was also so effective, was compelling evidence that he doesn't have any mental hangups from the horrific accident that cracked vertebrae in his neck last year in Pretoria.
THE TALENT CAN FLOW BOTH WAYS
Chiefs' second-five Alex Nankivell grew up in Christchurch, starred in the 2014 South Island championship-winning Christchurch Boys' High First XV, and came to the Chiefs via the Tasman Mako. As a kid the 22-year-old was a Dan Carter and Ma'a Nonu fan, and as he brushed defenders aside in Hamilton there were plenty of signs he can channel Nonu's bruising running at will.
Now a team picked only on form in the latest round.
Fullback: David Havili (Crusaders)
Right wing: Waisake Naholo (Highlanders)
Centre: Jack Goodhue (Crusaders)
Left wing: Rieko Ioane (Blues)
Second-five: Ryan Crotty (Crusaders)
First-five: Richie Mo'unga (Crusaders)
Halfback: Aaron Smith (Highlanders)
No.8: Akira Ioane (Blues)
Flanker: Matt Todd (Crusaders)
Lock: Sam Whitelock (Crusaders)
Lock: Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues)
Flanker: Jordan Taufua (Crusaders)
Tighthead prop: Tyrel Lomax (Highlanders)
Hooker: Nathan Harris (Chiefs)
Loosehead prop: Joe Moody (Crusaders)
Reserves: Alex Nankivell (Chiefs), Harry Plummer (Blues), Bryn Hall (Crusaders), Sam Cane (Chiefs), Scott Barrett (Crusaders), Michael Ala'alatoa (Crusaders), Alex Hodgson (Blues), Liam Coltman (Highlanders).