The highs and the lows of Super Rugby this week, with Toby Robson's 'Teamtalk'.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Beauden Barrett. The Hurricanes first five-eighth was at his elusive best in scoring 23 points against the Cheetahs. Halfback Chris Smylie's pinpoint passing was a factor in getting Barrett's running game going, but his x-factor and composure did the rest. It's notable that after a tense week of criticism, Barrett's relaxed demeanour remained unchanged and that calmness rubbed off on those around him. When he gets go-forward ball he's one of the best running No 10s in world rugby, while he is also lethal from broken play. His first half grubber and regather produced the pick of nine tries by the home team and his defence has improved markedly on last season. If there's a work-on for Barrett it's to increase the length of his clearing kicks, but that's splitting hairs on the basis of his last effort.
In the news: Conrad "Snakey" Smith. The highlight of his 100th match had to be the early mugshots the franchise dug up during the week. Smith's early 2000s hairdo was compared on social media with the 1970s TV show The Brady Bunch, but Teamtalk's research shows Smith's misguided styling was more akin to '70s teen idol David Cassidy from The Partridge Family.
Physio's table: Tim Bateman (knee), Brad Shields (knee), Victor Vito (knee), Reggie Goodes (toe).
The good: Faifili Levave. At 28, and with six Super seasons behind him, the blindside seems to be hitting his prime. The Hurricanes defence is wanting at times, but those running at Levave would argue otherwise. Was missed badly during the loss to the Brumbies and showed why with a brilliant allround performance against the Cheetahs.
The bad: Defence continues to hold the Hurricanes back. They might feel like it's a broken record, but conceding 25.5 points per match this season is not a recipe for success. Talk of adjusting in the second half against the Cheetahs is well and good but this win would have been banked by halftime but for a couple of one-on-one missed tackles.
In the news: Deciding on your first five-eighth before the season begins is a good idea. Having "found" a solution in Simon Hickey two weeks ago, the Blues went back to Chris Noakes. Now they will presumably switch again.
Physio's table: Keven Mealamu (calf), Patrick Tuipulotu (leg)
The good: Benji Marshall's efforts at fullback. The much-hyped code hopper made a good fist of his first Super start. Positionally he was sound and while there is still a little hesitancy, he worked his way into first receiver well towards the end of the match and challenged the defence with his sidestep.
The bad: Moving Charles Piutau to the wing. The All Black was exceptional in everything he did against the Lions, but simply wasn't involved enough. If Marshall is to be persevered with at fullback, then Piutau should be at centre and George Moala on the wing, rather than the other way around.
In the news: Tanerau Latimer caps his 100th Super Rugby match in style with a late try. The reaction of his team-mates said everything about the humble Bay of Plenty openside. But it was his failed conversion that got Teamtalk thinking. Would the sometimes derided conversion be more interesting if the try-scorer had to kick the conversion?
Physio's table: Fruean (heart problems), Charlie Ngatai (calf), James Lowe (knee), Kane Thompson (groin)
The good: Confidence. When Aaron Cruden forgot the rules and tried to cross kick a penalty attempt to his wing, it said everything about the Chiefs' mentality. These guys aren't overcoached to the point of being scared to try things, or scared they'll be ticked off by their coaches at halftime for making a mistake. Even rookies like James Lowe race in to take quick tap penalties. Such confidence doesn't always pay as Cruden found out, but the Chiefs are showing that with total buy-in the odds usually swing their way.
The bad: Robbie Fruean's heart problems have reared their head again. It comes a week after his former Northern United and Wellington team-mate Buxton Popoalii was forced into retirement following heart surgery. Teamtalk is in awe of their courage to carry on playing rugby at all.
In the news: The Honey Badger. Forget the match and just forward your MySky to the Force wing Nick Cummins' after-match interview with Melodie Robinson. On the game plan: "Into 'em, up the guts and in at the corner." His search for a try: "I was busting for a bit of meat this game." And how he got his nickname after watching a honey badger defeat a lion: "The big fella got his canastas clawed off."
Physio's table: Brad Thorn (ribs)
The good: Malakai Fekitoa. The centre is fast suggesting the Blues might have missed a trick in letting him go down south. As the Blues struggle to find a specialist to wear the No 13 jersey this season, the man who couldn't get a minute last season is making his mark with simple, straight running and hard tackling in the Highlanders midfield.
The bad: Liam Coltman's horror 15 or so minutes proved costly. The hooker has had a golden run in Super Rugby, but won't included the Force match in his highlights reel. An intercept pass gifted the Force's second try, a missed tackle on Ben McCalman led to their third. Two not-straight throws after halftime saw coach Jamie Joseph sub his struggling No 2.
In the news: Crusaders scrum coach Dave Hewett reveals new scrum laws are taxing his props and locks to exhaustion. He says tight forwards will be subbed earlier and rotated more often. Teamtalk misses the days when players could stay on the field for 80 minutes and for more than a couple of weeks in succession.
Physio's table: Richie McCaw (broken hand), Willi Heinz (calf), Corey Flynn (eye-socket).
The good: Colin Slade. Back at his preferred position of first five-eighth, Slade didn't set the world on fire, but he did look a lot more comfortable than at fullback. His kicking out of hand was also an improvement on previous weeks, allowing the Crusaders to get out of their half.
The bad: Referee James Leckie made sure this was one of the less entertaining watches of the round in finding constant fault with seemingly everything and anything. It was baffling and frustrating and probably kept the Rebels in the match.
At 25-16 with 17 minutes to play, the Waratahs sat and failed a basic maths test. Multiple penalties on offer should have been taken. 16+3=19. 19+7=26, which would have meant a one point lead. Eventually the freak that is Tahs fullback Israel Folau turned the Brumbies defenders into his personal slalom to make it 25-23, with only a few minutes to play. Those working the team abacus back in the sheds must have been aghast when they finally got their beads lined up and realised they were two points out.
You have to wonder what Lions coach Johan Ackermann was on when he dithered over whether to start Marnitz Boshoff or Elton Jantjies at first five-eighth against the Blues. "My policy is that if you've got a Springbok you must use him," Ackermann said of his decision to start Jantjies the previous week. Only in South Africa. Boshoff looks the total package, a player with a magical boot, an eye for the overlap and plenty of courage. He was the star of the the Currie Cup and superb again against the Blues. His selection right now should be a no-brainer.
15 Gareth Anscombe (Chiefs)
14 Julian Savea (Hurricanes)
13 Conrad Smith (Hurricanes)
12 Tom Taylor (Crusaders)
11 Charles Piutau (Blues)
10 Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes)
9 Chris Smylie (Hurricanes)
8 Kieran Read (Crusaders)
7 Luke Braid (Blues)
6 Faifili Levave (Hurricanes)
5 Brodie Retallick (Chiefs)
4 Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues)
3 Ben Tameifuna (Chiefs)
2 Dane Coles (Hurricanes)
1 Kane Hames (Highlanders)
- The Dominion Post
What have you made of the ITM Cup this season?