Kris Shannon reviews the best and worst performers from the latest Super Rugby action.
Back of the week
Augustine Pulu (Blues)
Yes, it came in a losing effort, but the performance of Augustine Pulu showed why halfback might be the position with the greatest depth in New Zealand rugby.The 27-year-old's recruitment from the Chiefs has so far appeared inspired and his efforts against the Crusaders were his best yet, at the heart of everything good while the Blues initially ran their opposition ragged. Pulu beat five defenders while making three clean breaks, scoring one try as he helped his side establish a 24-5 lead. If forming a power rankings for Kiwi halfbacks after four rounds, the once-untouchable Aaron Smith might sit in fourth.
Forward of the week
Ardie Savea (Hurricanes)
It's fair to say Ardie Savea's switch to No8 proved little problem for the dynamic loosie. Playing the position in SuperRugby for the first time, Savea was influential all over the park in the Hurricanes' win over the Highlanders, adding versatility to an already impressive repertoire. Savea was his typically busy self with ball in hand, leading the Hurricanes with 17 carries while amassing 59 running metres and beating a couple of defenders. The 23-year-old also tackled flawlessly and pinched three turnovers against the Highlanders' formidable loose forwards, adding a try from a lineout drive for good measure.
Piers Francis (Blues)
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Of course, the Blues ultimately blew their big lead, with Piers Francis' flub sealing the result and leading to one of the more amusing moments of the season. Plenty had already gone wrong- and Francis did have another wise-strong game- but the first five dropping the ball in front of his posts allowed the Crusaders to score the match-sealing try. And, boy, was Mitch Hunt keen to tell his opposite number all about it. Clearly buoyed by his go-ahead try and clearly unbowed by playing only his fourth Super Rugby match, Hunt gave Francis a real spray after the error-much to the Blues man's obvious chagrin.
The Fab Four
Even if their performance in Melbourne was far from fabulous, the Chiefs easily retain top spot in these arbitrary rankings. That's the lofty position a team deserve when they take 19 from a possible 20 points before their bye, going into their break having allowed the fewest tries (six) in the competition. They initially needed that defensive rearguard against the Rebels and, while less than convincing, the opening month has been almost perfect for Dave Rennie's men.
This whole comeback thing is starting to become a little predictable. I mean, of course the Crusaders scored 28 unanswered points in the last 30 minutes to beat the Blues. They had, after all, scored 24 unanswered in 30 against the Highlanders and 15 unanswered in 20 against the Reds. What did everyone expect? But, considering they're hosting the lowly Force this weekend, surely the script won't be repeated for a fourth straight week. Surely.
Crushing the 2015 champions was a decent way for the 2016 champions to rebound from their first defeat since last May. The Hurricanes will now head to their bye averaging more than 50 points and more than eight tries a game. Which seems good. And given they'll return to action by playing two Australian teams with a combined two wins between them (Reds and Waratahs), the deluge of scoring shows no sign of stopping any time soon.
Life is pretty good for the Jaguares right now. The Argentinian outfit have already equalled their win total from last season, earning back-to-back victories for the first time in their history. The Jaguares are also tied with the Chiefs for the third-best points differential in the competition and the good times should keep rolling, hosting the struggling Reds this weekend. Then a three-match trip to the Republic will provide a chance to prove their true quality.