The return of Super Rugby brings with it many things including the return of Radio Sport Rugby Editor Nigel Yalden’s biscuit-and-caffeine powered NZ Team of the Week:
1) After an excellent 45 minute stint to start the season, Joe Moody (Crusaders) was replaced only to return to the field seven minutes later due to an injury to Tim Perry. Despite haven’t not played any pre-season (as is becoming the norm for All Blacks nowadays) Moody’s work rate never dropped through to the final whistle.
2) Nathan Harris (Chiefs) was rock solid in his core roles and showed some delightful skills whilst lurking out in the wide channels.
3) Tyrel Lomax (Highlanders) produced arguably his best Super Rugby performance, combining good work in the set pieces with excellent work rate around the field; showed some nice skills in the open field to set up the Shannon Frizell try.
4) A very industrious effort by Pari Pari Parkinson (Highlanders) especially in tight by moving bodies at the breakdown and supporting/driving his ball carriers.
5) Scott Barrett (Crusaders) has gone from thinking he’s an All Black to knowing that he is and his play reflects that. Confrontational and robust, as is evident by 18 tackles and two turnovers, he continues to be an absolute pest on opposition ball at lineout time – Forward of the Week.
6) I going to forgive Tom Robinson (Blues) for the infringement that led to the first Crusaders penalty try and his yellow card, as his involvement before and after the incident was first rate. His break directly after halftime set the tone for the Blues second half performance.
7) Tough choice this one, but I’m going Ardie Savea (Hurricanes) for his all round game leading the pack in Sydney just ahead of Matt Todd (Crusaders) who was a beast defensively at Eden Park with 25 tackles and two turnovers but it wouldn’t take much for me to reverse this; strong outing by both to start the season.
8) Akira Ioane (Blues) picked up right where he left off from the Mitre 10 Cup and that’s a very good thing for the Blues. He still does things that you question out loud, but the positives on Saturday night were way more than the negatives and he was busy too; 20 carries for 100 metres gained, 7 tackles (2nd= on his team) 4 defenders beaten, 2 clean breaks and a try.
9) TJ Perenara (Hurricanes) produced a very controlled playing and leading performance against the Waratahs, while it would be remiss of me not to mention Aaron Smith (Highlanders) influence in helping his side in their come-from-behind win in Hamilton.
10) Josh Ioane (Highlanders) was the pick of a very ordinary group of first five performances with Saturday night’s efforts in Auckland very underwhelming.
11) Etene Nanai-Seturo (Chiefs) showed glimpses of why NZ Rugby was so keen to secure his services. He finished his two try scoring opportunities with aplomb and showed good awareness and accuracy on defence during his 58 minute Super Rugby debut.
12) Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs) needed to step up to help lead a young backline and he did that in spades. Every touch of the ball or action on defence was on the highest order.
13) Braydon Ennor (Crusaders) was a key factor in the defending champions getting off to a winning start. He made line breaks, ran great support lines, made strong front on tackles and scrambled back when needed to; an outstanding all round performance from the 21 year old opposite three quality midfield backs who played very good on the night – Back of the Week.
14) Manasa Mataele (Crusaders) wasn’t called upon to do a lot, but what he did, he did it very well.
15) Ben Smith’s (Highlanders) poise and rugby nous was evident for all to see on Friday night in Hamilton. He plays and leads with great subtly and was just outstanding, in tandem with Aaron Smith and Luke Whitelock, in rallying the troops following the red card to Sio Tompkinson; all other aspects of his game were first class as usual.
Selection criteria: Must play for a NZ franchise but does not have to be eligible for All Blacks.
**NIGEL YALDEN IS THE RUGBY EDITOR FOR RADIO SPORT & NEWSTALK ZB