Patrick McKendry ranks New Zealand's big movers
(Up 2) (Beat Blues 29-6) (Record: 6-2)
Rumours of their impending demise may have been slightly exaggerated, as it were, because the Crusaders put the Blues in a headlock in the first half in Christchurch and gave the visitors a painful rub on the scalp with their knuckles after the break. In other words, the visitors were bullied.
Biggest mystery: How long it will take for Will Jordan to become the All Blacks' first-choice fullback. He's a super quick, beautifully balanced runner with uncanny instincts (who pulled off a try-saving tackle on Hoskins Sotutu). He is making a compelling case to start the first test (whenever that will be), but with Damian McKenzie and Jordie Barrett (and Beauden Barrett) also in the mix, that black No15 jersey will be one of the most fiercely contested this year.
Problems on the horizon: The bye factor. The Crusaders were terrible after their bye when meekly surrendering to the Highlanders recently. With a home final to prepare for on May 8 after their break they will have to learn from that failure in a hurry.
Special mention: Sam Whitelock. The 32-year-old played 80 minutes, made all of his tackles and got around the field like a loose forward. He's playing some of the best rugby of his career. According to Scott Robertson, the renowned perfectionist is even a little less grumpy at training.
(Down 1) (Beat Hurricanes 26-24) (Record: 5-2)
Won a game in Hamilton they probably should have lost. In the end Damian McKenzie once again kicked them home but in the minutes before that he kicked the ball dead and threw an intercept pass. Fine margins indeed.
Biggest mystery: Where Clayton McMillan, a head coach who overcame a fair bit of adversity early in the season but one who now appears to have the golden touch, plays McKenzie against the Blues at Eden Park on Saturday; fullback, first-five, or not at all given the Chiefs have already qualified for the final against the Crusaders.
Problems on the horizon: The Chiefs were loose against the Hurricanes in the second half. They can't afford to have a similarly laissez faire attitude towards retaining possession in the final.
Special mention: Lock Tupou Vai'i – one of several Kiwi locks putting his hand up. Vai'i was brutally effective in the final quarter, just when the Chiefs needed him to be.
(Up 2) (Lost to Chiefs 24-26) (Record: 1-6)
Lost a game in Hamilton they should have won.
Biggest mystery: Why their strategy in defending a one-point lead in the final five minutes was to continually kick the ball back to a Chiefs team who included one Damian McKenzie at the back.
Problems on the horizon: They appear to have forgotten how to win, which doesn't bode well for the visit of the Highlanders next weekend, not to mention the trans-Tasman competition which follows.
Special mention: They remain extremely fortunate to be in the possession of Dane Coles and Asafo Aumua, two of the form hookers in the competition (Codie Taylor is the other). Coles' workrate was exceptional against the Chiefs and good luck to anyone trying to stop Aumua close to the line.
(Down 2) (Bye) (Record: 3-4)
A victory over the Hurricanes in Wellington in their last match will add a little gloss to a season of highs and lows but little in between.
Biggest mystery: The reasons behind what for head coach Tony Brown must be an infuriating inconsistency.
Problems on the horizon: Pari Pari Parkinson's injured ankle. It wrecked the big lock's season last year and required major surgery. Hopefully for him and the Highlanders it won't keep him on the sidelines too much longer.
Special mention: Playmakers Mitch Hunt and Josh Ioane both need to fire against the Hurricanes. Aaron Smith is in sparkling form but he can't do it all himself.
(Down 1) (Lost to Crusaders 6-29) (Record: 3-4)
They needed only a losing bonus point against the Crusaders to stay in the hunt for a place in the final - instead they turned in one of their worst performances of the season. It was a mistake-ridden, clueless effort which lacked composure and creativity. They've gradually regressed after a bright start to the season.
Biggest mystery: Why isn't Leon MacDonald selecting Finlay Christie as his starting halfback? Jonathan Ruru is a powerful and very fit No9 but his clearances from the breakdown are occasionally reminiscent of Piri Weepu at the tail-end of his career. In a word: laboured.
Problems on the horizon: The Chiefs. Losing a dead rubber at home to a team already guaranteed a spot in the big show would be the final insult.
Special mention: Dalton Papali'i for his tireless and extremely brave work in securing multiple turnovers at the breakdown against a ruthless pack. The No7 was a standout and is firmly putting himself in the All Black frame alongside Ardie Savea, another who has been inspirational in a losing team.