Fairfax Media rugby writer Toby Robson analyses the week of Super Rugby in 'Teamtalk'.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Smith encompasses everything a coach is looking for from a fullback.
Good decision-making, decisive counter-attack, accurate kicking and brave defence.
Against the Hurricanes Smith's all-round skills were a decisive factor in the match.
On counter-attack he made the visitors pay for their poor kicking by finding holes in their poorly organised chase line, but wasn't suckered into running at a brick wall.
He defused kicks defensively, but also chased up his own rather than sitting back and hoping for a good outcome.
Teams that kick to Smith should do so in the knowledge they will probably come second in the exchange.
The thought of him playing centre for the All Blacks right now does not sit comfortably.
Aussie rugby finally gets a national championship sorted to bridge the gap between club rugby and Super Rugby.
Long overdue and could eventually be a major deal for the game in Australia.
Teamtalk would pay good money to watch a three-way series between the top two teams from the Aussie comp, New Zealand's npc, and South Africa's Currie Cup champions. It'd be Super.
Wait a minute...
The Sharks have lost their halves.
Patrick Lambie (bicep) is out for the season and Cobus Reinach (hand) for eight weeks.
It's a big test for coach Jake White and comes just as the Bulls start to rediscover their swagger under lock Victor Matfield.
With the Lions on fire and the Cheetahs and Stormers back home for the second half of the season, South Africa could be a graveyard for New Zealand and Australian teams this season.
In the news: Teamtalk has cracked the Hurricanes code. The entire squad, coach Mark Hammett, Tana Umaga, chief executive James Te Puni and all the yellow seats at Westpac Stadium all need to be thrown into the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Only then can the Higgs boson, Hammett-Ieremia, or Umaga-Tiatia particles be proven or disproven for certain.
Physio's table: Brad Shields (knee), Victor Vito (knee), Reggie Goodes (toe), Blade Thomson (neck).
The good: Andre Taylor. The fullback did more than just look amazing during his cameo in Dunedin. He reminded everyone where the Hurricanes' strengths truly lie. There may have been a lack of structure at times during Colin Cooper's reign as coach, but there was no doubt in the players' minds about how they wanted to play.
The bad: Dropping Cory Jane. Really? Can this team afford to drop one of their best and most talented players? Apparently Jane has parts of his game that need work. Former All Black coach John Mitchell once had a similar view on Christian Cullen. Nuff said.
In the news: The Blues have a barista at training. A barista, not a barrister. As in making coffee. JK's blue suede shoes were next level, but this is top floor. For the record, Aucklanders, Wellington is supposed to be New Zealand's coffee capital. CNN said so, which makes it fact. Teamtalk is willing to put a short black on the next Hurricanes-Blues match.
Physio's table: Keven Mealamu (calf), Francis Saili (foot), Patrick Tuipulotu (knee), Jamieson Gibson-Park (foot), Kane Barrett (concussion).
The good: The return of Ma'a Nonu and Jerome Kaino. Forget their impact or otherwise when they came on against the Cheetahs, this duo had upside just by sitting on the bench. Anyone notice how well Steven Luatua and Jackson Willison played?
The bad: The way the Blues defence fell to pieces out wide against the Cheetahs. To reach their potential the Blues need to stop coming in and out of matches. Scoring a try seems to be followed by a lull in intensity.
In the news: Winning ugly is not sustainable. The Chiefs will be the first to admit they haven't really played that well this season despite scrambling three wins from four matches. A far more controlled performance will be needed in Pretoria.
Physio's table: Charlie Ngatai (calf), Robbie Fruean (heart problems), James Lowe (knee), Robbie Robinson (hip), Bundee Aki (shoulder).
The good: Force halfback Alby Mathewson's sense of humour. After being suspended for one week for stomping on Sam Cane, the former All Black took to Twitter in a response to a tweet by @skyrugbynz asking followers whether Mathewson deserved more than a one-week ban. The player chimed in to the conversation with the most simple and biased of responses: "No".
The bad: Centre is a problem. For all his brilliance Tim Nanai-Williams is not a natural No 13, but, in the absence of Ngatai, Fruean and Aki, is probably the only man for the job. Mils Muliaina might be an option, but he looked down on confidence and out of form in Perth.
In the news: A two-vehicle crash involving Malakai Fekitoa and Conrad Smith saw play backed up for several minutes on the Hurricanes 22m line at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Friday night. In all seriousness, Fekitoa's tackle on his opposite has booked a place near the top of 2014's top 10 Smashed 'em Bro moments.
Physio's table: None.
The good: Lima Sopoaga. The way he responded after missing an early penalty from in front of the posts said a lot about the young first five-eighth's progression. Last year Sopoaga imploded during his side's loss to the Cheetahs as errors compounded upon each other. He can still have "moments" in games, but his response against the Hurricanes was measured, calm and precise as he slotted nine out of 10 shots at goal and kept the ship steady until he was subbed.
The bad: Jamie Joseph subbing Aaron Smith and Lima Sopoaga with 18 minutes to play. Taking the halves off at such a crucial stage gave the Hurricanes the pause to swing the momentum of a match that was all but out of reach.
In the news: Teamtalk understands Israel Dagg spent Friday night with injured Hurricane Cory Jane watching movies. They worked their way through Memento, Total Recall, the Bourne trilogy, 50 First Dates, and Mulholland Drive before finally falling asleep.
Physio's table: Tim Perry (hamstring), Willi Heinz (calf strain), Joe Moody (leg), Richie McCaw (hand).
The good: Dagg assures everyone his sleeping pills experience was a "oncer". But given he can't remember any of it, how does the All Blacks fullback know it hasn't happened before or since? And does Dagg suffer from a sleeping disorder such as somnambulism or noctambulism? Could he play a match in a sleep state? And does he see dead people? So many questions, but Teamtalk is tired . . . zzzzzzzzzzz.
The bad: Amnesia. But fear not, Izzy, there is hope. A recent edition of science journal Neuropsychological Rehabilitation (Teamtalk's a regular reader) has shown popular music can help bring back lost memories. Find the playlist from that fateful night at Mac's Brewbar and all could be restored.
NZ FORM XV round six
15 Ben Smith (Highlanders)
14 Alapati Leiua (Hurricanes)
13 Malakai Fekitoa Highlanders
12 Jackson Willison (Blues)
11 Patrick Osborne (Highlanders)
10 Lima Sopoaga (Highlanders)
9 Aaron Smith (Highlanders)
8 Peter Saili (Blues)
7 Shane Christie (Highlanders)
6 Steven Luatua (Blues)
5 Brodie Retallick (Chiefs)
4 Joe Wheeler (Highlanders)
3 Charlie Faumuina (Blues)
2 Ged Robinson (Highlanders)
1 Ben Franks (Hurricanes)
- Fairfax Media
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