Phil Gifford analyses six talking points from this weekend's rugby.
He played like a giant
We almost certainly won't see a better game by a wing this season than the one Jona Nareki provided for the Highlanders in their 39-23 win over the Chiefs in Hamilton. He scored three tries, and was a major contributor to a fourth, by Shannon Frizell. Added to a stunning display of not only speed and skill, but also huge power, was the fact that in the process of setting up Frizell's try he shrugged off a tackle by one of the best defenders in world rugby, Sam Cane, and for his second try slipped away from another man who's usually a brick wall on defence, Anton Lienert-Brown. What's extraordinary is that Nareki isn't a Lomu-like giant. He weighs 83kg. To fully grasp how unusual that is, the last time the All Blacks had a lighter wing at a World Cup was when Terry Wright played in Britain and France in 1991.
Yes, Nareki was the guy in the story that made every male's eyes water
When Otago successfully challenged Waikato for the Ranfurly Shield in 2018 Nareki suffered what his coach, Ben Herring, described as a "bullseye on the nether region" and had to limp off the field after 59 minutes. But when injuries to other players meant Otago were down to 14 men, Nareki returned for the last two minutes. The next morning he had an operation on a testicle, and then flew home with the team. In an understatement for the ages, coach Herring noted that while Nareki was "a buoyant fella" he was "a bit ginger and slow this morning."
The Chiefs may be the new Blues, but the Crusaders are still the Crusaders
What's happening with the Chiefs was easily the biggest question from the weekend's rugby. Last year could almost be excused on the grounds that Warren Gatland, on his international record a top shelf coach, was possibly readjusting to rugby played Kiwi-style on firm grounds in good weather. But the shock second-half capitulation in the loss to the Highlanders came from a team now coached by Clayton McMillan, who, apart from four seasons playing in Japan 13 years ago, has never strayed too far from his home town of Rotorua. The defensive errors by the Chiefs, and then the hints of panic on attack as the game got away from them, brought back unfortunate memories of the Blues in their plague years. On the other hand, the Crusaders under Scott Robertson are, it seems, once again a machine that only the new-look Blues look capable of possibly tipping up.
About those Crusaders
For the first 20 minutes of the game in Christchurch the Hurricanes played with massive enthusiasm, but could still only muster six points. The energy of the Canes was absorbed, and handled, the way the Crusaders so often blunt the edge feisty challengers bring to the table. Then the Crusaders put the foot down for the 20 minutes to halftime. That was all it took. Ahead 26-6 at the break, a muddling second half didn't matter, the Crusaders won 33-16, and took a bonus point too. Look out for the big one on March 21 at Eden Park when the Crusaders come to Auckland. If there's no more lockdowns we should see the sort of massive crowd for this clash of the titans denied by Covid-19 last year.
Codie Taylor running like a back? Or maybe like a league player?
Hooker Taylor was again dynamic for the Crusaders, darting off a quick tap near the line for his first try, and then sprinting like a midfielder in open play, before smoothly linking up with halfback Mitchell Drummond, who put Richie Mo'unga in for a try. It may be no surprise then to know that Taylor, born in Levin, first pulled on footy boots to play league when his family was in Australia, or that, when the Taylors came home to Levin, with Codie starting high school, he played as a flanker when he turned to rugby. He doesn't shirk the tight stuff, but there are times when he looks born to run. Some good hookers are in contention for the All Blacks, but Taylor already looks like the man with the inside running.
For some, the ball just comes their way
Will Jordan was denied a breathtaking late try by technology, in what felt like a cruel decision by television match official Brendon Pickerill. But in the course of a 70-metre chase after the ball was kicked ahead, there was a huge reminder of the stunning pace Jordan showed in the intercept try against the Pumas in Newcastle in November that announced (after being injured in his first test) his real arrival on the international stage.