The Highlanders beat the Stormers by a record margin and the Crusaders are 9-0 but they still can’t crack the top spot of Scotty Stevenson’s Super Rugby Power Rankings.
1. HURRICANES (N/C)
Despite the fact that Dane Coles has been out with a knee – oh, we meant head! – issue for a month, the form of his replacement Ricky Riccitelli, who has one of the most phonetically pleasing names in Super Rugby, shows just how much forward depth the Hurricanes have at their disposal. It’s hard to imagine the week off has done this team any harm and now they face a Stormers side that has been slapped like a red-headed step child for two straight weeks. There were audible groans from Stormers fans at full time last week, when they realised they still had one more kiwi team to face on this tour.
2. CRUSADERS (N/C)
They’re 9-0 and they still can’t make number one. They should be, and in any other season they probably would be, but recent history tells us to keep our powder dry when it comes to the Crusaders. The suspension of Sam Whitelock for dropping some Richard Loe elbow justice last weekend against the Cheetahs is probably a blessing for the big skipper. He would have wanted to play every game and this at least forces him to take a break. It’s not as if they are struggling with second-rowers. The Crusaders bench has been clutch all year, and that won’t change this week.
3. LIONS (N/C)
It’s the same top three this week and the Lions keep their place because they keep winning. It wasn’t pretty against the Force, but not many games involving the Force are. They still scored three tries to none and threw the ball around like puns at a dad joke convention, and the back three of Skosan, Coetzee, and Mahuza were outstanding again. When Elton Jantjies, the Carlos Spencer of South Africa, is given freedom to be himself, he is one of the best players to watch. On recent form, the Rebels don’t stand a chance this week.
4. HIGHLANDERS (up 1)
Here they come! An unnamed Rugby Pass colleague demanded I put the Highlanders top this week, but I will not be coerced like that. The Highlanders had no Luke Whitelock, no Elliot Dixon and still no Lima Sopoaga, and yet managed to absolutely annihilate the Stormers last Friday night, setting a record high score and record winning margin. Much of the credit must go to Aaron Smith who has literally pulled his game out of the toilet and orchestrated everything the Highlanders did. I would give love to Marty Banks too but I just can’t bring myself to do it.
5. CHIEFS (down 1)
The word from inside the Chiefs camp is that they are playing like a bag of spanners lately. Yet they are 8-1 for the season and remain the only team this year to hand the Hurricanes a loss. Can’t wait to see the Chiefs when they are back in business. It’s patently clear that their first up tackling is still not what it needs to be, and without guys getting pushed back over the gainline, their supply of turnover ball is lacking. If, and when, they sort that, it’ll be the D-Mac and Lowe Show once more.
6. BLUES (up 3)
This massive jump up the Rankings is more to do with the lack of any other legitimate option to fill this spot, rather than the Blues’ newfound success. Yes, it was a win for the Blues last weekend, against a gritty Brumbies side, but in all honesty, bonus points should have been handed out to any fans who got through the entire 80 minutes. I think it is safe to say most other kiwi teams (three out of the four, anyway) would have crushed the Brumbies. That the Blues had to scrape their way to victory is an illustration of where they are at spiritually. Maybe that was the win they needed.
7. SHARKS (N/C)
Jean-Luc du Preez is my new favourite loose forward, which is tough on his twin brother Daniel, but I am not Mr or Mrs du Preez so I can play favourites if I want to. An 8-point win over the Jags keeps the Sharks in contact with the Lions in their conference, which is what it’s all about. They can throw the ball around when they want to, the Sharks… they just don’t seem to want to. Which is why they will not catch the Lions this year and probably will never climb higher than this on the rankings.
8. KINGS (up 4)
Oh yes I did. I know exactly what’s happened here. As soon as the Kings were forced to play in those unforgiving and incredibly revealing grey shirts, they immediately got fitter to try to look good in them. It is one of the greatest fashion-focussed team turnarounds in history.
9. STORMERS (down 4)
Deer in the headlights would be the best way to describe the Stormers on this New Zealand tour. They have leaked 114 points in two games, look bereft of any variation on attack and even their back three look to have left their counter-attack back in South Africa. The Stormers changed their game plan after last year’s quarterfinal hammering at the hands of the Chiefs, only to lose their nerve the moment they faced another New Zealand team. There is no way they beat the Hurricanes this weekend.
10. WARATAHS (up 4)
Pushed to the end by the Reds, the Waratahs showed some genuine commitment over the weekend in what passes for the biggest Australian derby. They were the better team in terms of closing out the game, but they were outplayed in so many facets of the match that it seems a little unfair they won. That said, winning games isn’t always about playing the most rugby, which is good for the Tahs, because they certainly don’t do that.
11. JAGUARES (down 3)
My high hopes for this bunch are heading south. The Sharks match last week was a chance to turn things around for the Jags, but it was not to be. Not many teams can say they were outrun by the Sharks. Also, they need to find a way to turn chances into points. When Joaquin Tuculet is responsible for a third of your running metres, you have an issue.
12. BULLS (down 1)
The Bulls had a bye this week, which is the only reason they slip down the rankings. Actually, that’s not true. They return to Loftus this weekend to face the 9-0 Crusaders. Good luck. It would take a special performance from them to get the W over a team that fears none. Coach Marais wants the Bulls to play expansive rugby (and they should have been rewarded for that against the Chiefs a few weeks ago) but I suspect they will go back to high kicks and mauls against the Crusaders.
13. BRUMBIES (down 3)
14. REDS (down 1)
There was a lot to admire about the Reds last weekend. They ran the ball, created some good tries (if they found a way to get Karmichael Hunt into every move, they would probably start winning more) and didn’t miss many tackles. But they still lost. Against the Tahs. Which is horrible.
15. CHEETAHS (up 1)
Scored their customary 20 points against the Crusaders and conceded their customary 40. Just another day in Bloemfontein.
16. SUNWOLVES (up 2)
A bonus point loss against the Chiefs in Hamilton! Praise the Lord the moondogs won some serious respect last week in Cowtown. That they saved their best performance of their New Zealand tour until the last game shows how committed they are to improving.
17. FORCE (N/C)
Jedi mind screwing the opposition into playing ugly rugby is not a game plan.
18. REBELS (down 3)
The Rebs hit rock bottom against the Kings. They cannot play worse than that. At least, we hope so.
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