1. Crusaders (up 1)
I am a man of my word. Last week I suggested the Crusaders were “the only team you would actually back right now to have the defensive wherewithal to work out the Hurricanes attack”, and did they ever do that on Saturday night? That was a win for substance over style, and they deserve to be top of this week’s power rankings after keeping the hottest attacking team in the competition tryless over 80 minutes of bare-knuckle brawling footy. If you’re looking for heroes in the Crusaders, give the management team a plug. They have done an amazing job in terms of empowering the youngsters in that team and that enthusiasm has rejuvenated the veterans. Scott Barrett will be a big loss, but the emergence of Quinten Strange is a massive positive.
2. Hurricanes (down 1)
The Hurricanes forwards may have been out-muscled on Saturday night but it is hard to see a team that proud not bouncing back, and bouncing back fast. After a month of pounding ten types of hell out of teams, they fell short of their own lofty standards against the Crusaders. The lineout (offensively and defensively) was well down on expectation and the scrum got tooled up. Worryingly for the Hurricanes, their two losses this season have both come against renowned breakdown ballbusters, the Chiefs and the Crusaders. Expect them to tear the Cheetahs to shreds this week, after tearing each other to pieces on the training field. They’ll find their running game again, too. Being restricted to just 300 metres on Saturday will not sit well.
3. Lions (N/C)
I don’t blame the Lions for what they served up against the Brumbies. That is a team that can drain the life out of anything. You have to hand it to the Lions’ defence in Canberra. They were under the hammer from a team that just kept the ball for the entire match, and they still kept their line clean. Kwagga Smith, the sevens specialist, was the star of the show. His 81 metres was a team-high in the game.
4. Chiefs (up 1)
It’s rare that a team leaps up a place on a bye-week but that’s just the way it is this round. There is nothing the Chiefs would have enjoyed more than sitting back and watching the other sides in the playoff hunt bash the living bejesus out of each other. You get the feeling that the round 11 win over the Reds may well have sparked something with Hamilton’s finest. They will be full noise in Suva this weekend, knowing that they prevailed against the Crusaders at the same venue last year.
5. Highlanders (down 1)
You can give grit points and not much more to the Landers this week after mud-wrestling their way to another last-gasp victory, this time over the Bulls. There are two ways to look at this result: either this is the most determined team in history, or they are fast using up all nine of their lives. They will see themselves as the former, but what toll this emotional rollercoaster of a tour has taken will be revealed this weekend against the Force.
6. Blues (up 1)
A third straight win for the Blues, who have mastered the art of making the easy look hard. Take nothing away from their attack, which was good for a half century on the weekend. On the face of the stats, their defence is also firing. They have missed the fewest tackles per game of any side, won the most rucks, and conceded the fewest penalties. They’ve achieved all of this by keeping the ball for longer than any other side. That makes the final scoreline a little bit baffling. Up 45-18 after 53 minutes, their fade at the close and their concession of late tries is a worry.
7. Kings (up 1)
When I said last week they were capable of beating the Sharks, I didn’t expect them to actually beat the Sharks. The Kings are still last in their conference, but with five games to go are still a chance to claim the African wildcard spot in the playoffs. That would be the most extraordinary result in Super Rugby history. I’m officially on the bandwagon.
8. Sharks (down 1)
Forget everything I said last week. The Sharks tried to defeat the Kings from depth. They are still not good enough to win games like that.
9. Stormers (up 1)
The break could not have come soon enough for the Stormers after their horror tour to New Zealand. Fortunately for them, their bye-week saw their closest rivals both beaten by kiwi sides. The Stormers will be better for being home and though they face a Blues team growing in confidence, if they can starve the visitors of ball, they can all but put the conference to bed.
10. Jaguares (down 1)
The Jaguares tried to beat up on the Force which is a rookie move. The way to beat the Force is to run around them, not through them. The Jags were outrun, out-passed and out-thought by the desperate Force who limited the home side to just three clean breaks. The insistence on confrontation in the Jags’ undoing.
11. Waratahs (N/C)
With the Rebels, Highlanders, Chiefs, Jaguares and Force still to come, the Waratahs are fast running out of ways to snatch the conference from the Brumbies. Like the Stormers, the weekend off would have been the best thing for the Tahs, who have spent the entire season giving the ball to the opposition. Hopefully they spent the week removing the toes that have grown where their fingers used to be.
12. Cheetahs (up 1)
At least they’re trying to entertain us. Mostly it’s the old pie-in-the-face trick but who doesn’t like that old gag?
13. Brumbies (down 1)
Give the Brumbies some credit for minimising the damage against one of the best offences in the competition last weekend. But this team boasts the fewest running metres per game, the fewest offloads, the second fewest defender beats, and the third fewest clean breaks. They can’t win an opposition lineout, and haven’t made a scrum steal. Those are not minor issues.
14. Force (up 3)
I’m going to give the Force some due credit here. Winning in Argentina is not easy. Especially when you are a team that averages 18 points per game. The Force’s biggest problem is they play like the Brumbies.
15. Bulls (down 1)
None of the current Bulls players were born the last time it rained at Loftus. Could be forgiven for wondering what was going on.
16. Sunwolves (down 1)
I missed the Moondogs this week. They shouldn’t be allowed bye weeks.
17. Reds (down 1)
Took 81 minutes to beat the most limited team in the competition.
18. Rebels (N/C)
Can’t buy a win. I feel for this team. The loss to the Reds was the cruellest cut of all.
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