Super Rugby Power Rankings - Week 8
The decision to hoist the Crusaders to the top spot of Power Rankings, for the first time this season no less, may cause a number of disgusted Chiefs' supporters to spit their coffees on to their keyboards or kick a hole in the bathroom door. Don't do it. Give us a moment on this one. Factoring in how a team performed in the previous round has a major part in how Power Rankings determines its placings and the Chiefs, who had been wedged in the No 1 spot for so long that we had to take a jammer hammer to chisel them off the throne, had the bye.
The Crusaders, meanwhile, recorded their sixth consecutive win by beating the Jaguares 32-15 in Christchurch. That takes them to second overall on the points log (behind the Chiefs), but the batty format - which must account for the leaders from the other three conferences - has them placed as just the fifth qualifier.
The big news is that Israel Dagg announced his return in emphatic fashion, scoring two tries - and the second was a belter. So it is all good in the Crusaders' world. Well, to a large degree. Richie Mo'unga's goal kicking, which sits at around 60 per cent, needs to improve and their lineout has some uncharacteristic misfires in the bonus-point win over the Jaguares.
That 38-13 clobbering of the Rebels in Melbourne told us a few things. One: that the Hurricanes are slowly grinding their way back to peak form. Two: that the Rebels aren't as good as the Aussies have been making them out.
But Power Rankings isn't interested in what is happening across the Tassie just yet. Let's briefly discuss the Canes: openside flanker Ardie Savea looks better with each outing and first five-eighth Beauden Barrett showed some terrific touches on an AAMI Park field that cut-up like warm margarine and was little short of a disgrace.
Off the field there is the speculation about whether assistant coach John Plumtree will apply for the Highlanders job. Plumtree doesn't appear to have denied being interested, yet his boss Chris Boyd indicated his old mate will stay in Wellington. Reading between the lines, it seems to be a good position for Plumtree to be in. If the Hurricanes want to keep him, they might have to bump-up his pay packet a few notches.
A 29-22 win over the Stormers in Johannesburg confirms it: the Lions are the best team in South Africa. Yes, the Stormers have two more competition points, but it is their mates from up on the high veldt who are doing the business. First-five Elton Jantjies kicked 19 of his side's points to be awarded the man of the match award, while his replacement halfback Faf de Klerk went off like a cherry bomb in the second half.
De Klerk injected pace into the Lions attack, scored a try after taking a quick tap and grabbed a crucial turnover right on the fulltime bell. His forwards must love that.
Wing Joe Tomane grabs a hat-trick as the Brumbies gobble a rare 26-20 win over the Waratahs in Sydney. Even without suspended flanker David Pocock, the Brumbies were able to slow the opposition ball down, something the Crusaders will have noted before their match in Canberra on Sunday.
It wasn't all about Tomane, though. The Brumbies, having scored a couple of early tries, did well to stay calm after surrendering their lead. No-one was surprised to see them score off a lineout drive, with captain Stephen Moore picking a rare plum in the NSW capital.
Had the bye. Yet they still sit at the head of the points table on 29, so it would seem churlish to demote them any further down the order. The Chiefs travel to Wellington to meet the Hurricanes this weekend.
Stormers president Thelo Wakefield declared that referees were "better protected than the rhino" following his side's 29-22 loss to the Lions. He was unhappy about some rulings by referee Stuart Berry at Ellis Park, although coach Robbie Fleck was more sanguine. Publicly, he didn't gripe. Perhaps that is because the Stormers still sit at the head of the Africa 1 conference.
Had the bye. Good enough to remain in Power Rankings' top eight. They also sit seventh on the log, just one place inside the top eight. Fullback Ben Smith (head knock) and flanker Elliot Dixon (head cut) should return to play the next game against the Sharks, having missed the shock loss to the Reds in Brisbane. Wing Waisake Naholo cannot be too far away, either, having been sidelined with a fractured leg for almost two months.
The deadly boot of Francois Brummer contributed to the Bulls' 41-22 swamping of the Reds in Pretoria. Brummer kicked seven conversions and two penalties and his side were never in danger of losing at Loftus Versfeld. It was their third win of the season, and now they have the bye. Here's a fast fact: the Bulls won't travel to New Zealand under the new format, but will play their next three games in Australia against the Force, Brumbies and Rebels.
Get this. Last week we shifted the Blues to sixth, despite losing to the Chiefs in Hamilton. Now we have relegated them three spots, even though they beat the Sharks 23-18. Why? Because they made such tough work of it at Eden Park. We salute the Blues for having the grit to hang in there, but their attack wasn't as nearly as polished at it was against the Chiefs. The bad news is that Rene Ranger is out for the season with a knee injury.
And get this, too. How can a side that scores 13 tries in the 92-17 destruction of the Sunwolves be ranked behind teams that either had the bye or lost? The answer lies in the opposition. The poor old Sunwolves. It was a bloodbath at Bloemfontein and the credibility of the Super Rugby competition suffered a fearful hit. That isn't the Cheetahs' fault, we know, but let's not get too carried away. Now they go on the road, playing the Rebels in Melbourne on Friday night.
Didn't do much in their 38-13 loss to the Hurricanes in Melbourne. Prior to kick-off there had been talk that this Rebels team could be a play-off contender, maybe the dark horse of the Aussie conference. That chatter had died off. They looked pretty ordinary.
Showed a willingness to move the ball in their 23-18 loss to the Blues at Eden Park. That is a positive. Still, it wasn't enough and the fact the Blues took a long time to get into their work keeps things in perspective. Next stop for the Sharks is Dunedin, where the refreshed Highlanders are waiting to give them a chilly reception.
Trouble in Sydney and already there is talk that they must win eight of their remaining nine games to qualify for the playoffs. That 26-20 loss to the Brumbies hurt and the scrutiny on coach, former All Blacks midfielder Daryl Gibson, has intensified. Some Aussies are preparing to swing their hobnails into the Kiwi's ribs. "Gibbo" remains staunch. "To me, it's irrelevant (being a New Zealander)," Gibson said. "If you're questioning my loyalty and commitment to the team ... I am here to coach the Waratahs and I'm very, very privileged and honoured to do that."
Got stuffed 41-22 by the Bulls in Pretoria. Next they face the Stormers in Cape Town. Another tough ask.
Their disappointing season continues. That 32-15 loss to the Crusaders means they have won just one of their seven games. One of the biggest mysteries is their scrum, which has failed to fire. The Argies should have more success against the Sunwolves in Tokyo.
Had the bye. Let's leave it there.
Also had the bye. Let's leave it there.
Probably wished they had the bye after getting tonked 92-17 by the Cheetahs. Let's leave it there.