Here are five things we learned.
1. The Highlanders may have just been played into form
Attacking issues... What attacking issues?
In the same sense the Blackcaps tend to play overseas traveling batsmen into form, the Rebels may have done the same to the Highlanders on Friday. After a scratchy win over the Brumbies and issues arising over their ability to score points last week, it was the perfect time for the Rebels to hit town.
Balls stuck and training drills worked, all without two of the team’s biggest stars in Ben Smith and Lima Sopoaga. With the Blues next week followed by the bye before they head to Africa, the beast has woke.
2. Will the real Ihaia West please stand up?
It’s amazing the amount of difference a little bit of time out of the limelight makes to a player’s confidence. For the second consecutive week, West has come onto the pitch and dominated play, putting players into space, scoring tries and directing traffic.
West is a curious case and he’s shown that he’ll need to be managed carefully by coach Tana Umaga. But with Piers Francis not exactly setting the world alight at 10, if West can approach starting a game like he does finishing one, he could be a special player after all.
3. Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Aaron Cruden are the best nine and 10 on form in New Zealand
As a ‘Canes fan it breaks my heart to say this, but Kerr Barlow and Cruden are, without doubt the best nine and 10 in New Zealand at the moment. Without the pressures of contract negotiations, et cetera weighing on their mind, they look as fluid in the backline as they ever have.
While it helps that they’re behind a dominant forward pack, the speed with which they’re moving the ball is very impressive. The only thing I’d worry about if I was a Chiefs fan was if they’ve already played their best rugby of their season.
4. The Super Rugby pecking order is as clear as it ever has been
I’ve always said that for New Zealand Rugby to stay at the top of the world, they need Australian and South African rugby to be strong. At the moment, it couldn’t be further from it. Just this week alone, four New Zealand teams won their matches over Australian opponents with a cumulative points tally of 150-64.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see all the Kiwi teams winning, but NZR isn’t an island and we can’t sustain this competition by ourselves. It’s not our problem that we’re completely dominant, but this competition is sinking and whether we like it or not, we’re sinking with it.
5. Codie Taylor is some kind of player
You have your Dane Coles, your Brodie Retallicks and your Ardie Surveyors (thanks for that Aussie commentators), players who are front and centre during matches. But in the Crusaders’ unbeaten run, while Taylor may not be as prominent, he’s proven to be just as important and as hard-working.
Watching him play in isolation, you can understand why he’s been a favourite of the All Blacks’ selectors in recent times. The 26-year-old’s work rate and efficiency in the set piece, around the ruck, in the defensive line and even with ball in hand, is hugely impressive.