Two New Zealand derbies ended in comfortable wins for the home sides while the Chiefs were lucky to escape with four competition points in Hamilton. After a week away, Radio Sport rugby editor Nigel Yalden returns with his N.Z team of the week for the penultimate round of Super Rugby’s regular season.
1. He came on after just four minutes for his 200th Super Rugby game and delivered the sort of performance you’d expect from a double centurion. Super Rugby is going to be a little less Super when Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders) retires at the end of the season. Shout out to Karl Tu’inukuafe (Chiefs) who, in addition to scrumming like a machine, increased his ball carrying frequency & ferocity versus the Brumbies
2. Whenever he gets the opportunity to play, be it off the bench or, as it was on Friday night, starting, Andrew Makalio (Crusaders) delivers solid, consistent performances highlighted by some quite lovely pieces of skill
3. Owen Franks (Crusaders) was rock solid & world class as usual.
4. Thank you Steve Hansen for helping Scott Barrett (Crusaders) enjoy rugby again. Barrett continued his impressive season with another sterling display against the Highlanders and might well be playing himself into Super Rugby player of the year contention
5. Sam Whitelock (Crusaders) … see Owen Franks. PS – I continue to be impressed by the substantial growth in Sam Lousi’s (Hurricanes) game this season; excellent work-rate versus the Blues
6. Liam Squire (Highlanders) was clearly FIZZED UP for Friday night and was into everything; great physicality and snared a couple of excellent turns over too
7. Matt Todd (Crusaders) … see Owen Franks and Sam Whitelock. PS – Nice defensive outing by Sam Henwood (Hurricanes) with 23 tackles
8. Some very good collective work by Kieran Read (Crusaders) & Blade Thomson (Hurricanes). The All Blacks captain was very busy in his 48 minute return to Super Rugby, while Thomson was as industrious during his 63 minute effort versus the Blues.
9. Bryn Hall (Crusaders) made the most of the great platform laid in front of him with an accurate display, invariably making the right decisions and passing crisply.
10. The other blokes might have had the highlight reel moments, but Richie Mo’unga (Crusaders) stamped his mark all over another dominated Crusaders display. His partnership with Bryn Hall was a key component in earning a title last year and that duo is doing the same again as they look to add a second in as many years.
11. George Bridge (Crusaders) highlights the wonderful depth New Zealand rugby has in its outside backs. He’s quick, evasive, finishes well and positions himself well on attack and defence.
12. Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes) delivered a dominant offensive performance and an outstanding stat line – 4 tries, 8 carries, 119 metres made, 10 defenders beaten (or was it barrelled), 3 clean line breaks, 1 off load & 1 try assist – which offsets the four tackles he missed.
13. While there was some nice attack, a combination of poor defence and concession of turnovers hurt all five New Zealand centres this weekend.
14. Waisake Naholo (Highlanders) got involved as much as possible and scored a cracking try while Nehe Milner-Skudder (Hurricanes) showed some lovely touches and that exceptional footwork of his in the opportunities afforded to him.
15. Despite being on the losing side of the contest, Ben Smith’s (Highlanders) influence and class was clear for all to see. His opposite David Havili (Crusaders) was pretty darn sharp too
Selection criteria: Must play for a NZ franchise but does not have to be eligible for All Blacks
**NIGEL YALDEN IS RUGBY EDITOR FOR RADIO SPORT & NEWSTALK ZB