One of each possible result for the New Zealand franchises in action last weekend – a win for the Hurricanes, a loss for the Blues, a draw for the Highlanders and a shellacking delivered by the Crusaders. So with the penultimate round of Super Rugby done and the games fully reviewed, Radio Sport Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden has selected his New Zealand Form Team of the Week:
1 Alex Hodgman (Blues) was really busy around the field and accurate in all areas against the Reds
2 Liam Coltman (Highlanders) continues to deliver a high standard of rugby with an excellent all round effort on Friday night. Shout out for Dane Coles (Hurricanes) for his impact in the second half in Johannesburg too
3 A solid, if unspectacular, group of tight head prop performances with all parties doing their jobs to a good level. Hard to differentiate but Ofa Tuungafasi’s (Blues) higher involvement (more carries and tackles than the others) would be the way I’d lean though without a lot of conviction it must be said.
4 Jackson Hemopo (Highlanders) worked really hard in the Bulls game. He carried well, tackled well, snaffled some turnovers and did his core roles at set piece time
5 Sam Whitelock (Crusaders) has returned from paternity leave absolutely hissing. Lost amongst the back three running amok on Saturday night was yet another 80 minutes of excellence from the Crusaders skipper
6 Despite earning a yellow card, Dalton Papali’I (Blues) was a standout in Brisbane. His strength in the tackle helping force turnovers was a standout but overall he was just everywhere bringing physicality and intensity. By the way, Jordan Taufua (Crusaders) entering the game 10 minutes into the second half is my new favourite thing in rugby - have some of that!!!
7 This is a tough one as I’m normally behoved to select players off the bench over starters who play big minutes like James Lentjes (Highlanders) and Blake Gibson (Blues) did with such industriousness in their respective outings, but by golly gosh people, Ardie Savea’s (Hurricanes) influence in the second forty minutes in Johannesburg is awfully difficult to overlook. Really not sure which way to go … might need your help on this one team.
8 Kieran Read (Crusaders) is grinding out industrious eighty minutes performance, mainly in the tighter channels of the game. He’s ball carrying is really good, in particular the little skip step before going into contact that’s seeing get in between tacklers rather than hitting them head on; excellent in all other areas too
9 Aaron Smith (Highlanders) is doing everything he can to get his team to the playoffs. His passing and kicking game has been as good as always, but as mentioned in previous weeks, his running game and support lines on attack is the difference to his overall play; did a good chunk of defensive work versus the Bulls as well
10 Richie Mo’unga’s (Crusaders) reading of space and deliver of the ball into said space via his kicking game was simply delightful as he pulled the strings with ruthless beauty on the Rebels demolition job – Back of the Week
11 You can see why All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is pretty interested in Brayden Ennor (Crusaders). Yes the finishing of the three tries (should have been four) are the obvious stand out, but his defence is very accurate and he even effected a turnover out wide; a really nice job by Tanielu Tele’a (Blues) on Friday night as well.
12 Take your pick of veteran second five this week. Ma’a Nonu (Blues) provided yet another compelling case for All Blacks inclusion – he should be chosen for his glorious passing game alone - while Ryan Crotty (Crusaders) was his typically reliably, accurate, savvy self in his 150th appearance for his beloved franchise
13 Rob Thompson (Highlanders) continues to get better and better at this level, which is a statement that’s been written several times over the last three years of NZ Form Team of the Week selections. He’d go up another cog with input from the All Blacks coaching staff though I doubt we’ll see this season.
14 Sevu Reece (Crusaders) kept the bolter fire burning for another week with an excellent display in the systematic disembowelment of Melbourne
15 David Havili’s (Crusaders) approach on Saturday night seemed pretty straight forward – have space, have fun. Well David had heaps of space; hence he had heaps of fun as part of a back three that accounted for eight of the ten tries on the night. He’s getting back to the confidence and form that saw him involved in the All Blacks in 2017.
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