The two All Blacks contenders who stood out this week - and the man to replace the injured Sam Cane?
The Crusaders and Chiefs secured their places in next week’s Super Rugby Aotearoa final with vital wins over the Blues and Hurricanes, respectively, and there was no shortage of players who stood out in those fixtures.
Among those to have caught the eye included Crusaders midfielder David Havili, who played a key role in his side’s 29-6 thumping of the Blues at Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch.
According to Havili’s teammate Bryn Hall, the 26-year-old utility back was “world-class” throughout the encounter, which was enough for the halfback to select him as his Farmlands Workhorse of the Week on the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“Just with his work off the ball, we’ve talked about he obviously set up a couple of tries on the weekend, but his ability to be a second pivot for us is massive,” Hall said.
“His distribution skill was world-class, and I think his tackles as well, he was rocking at about 92 percent with his tackling.”
Puzzled by Hall’s selection of a fellow teammate and a backline player, fellow panellist James Parsons opted to pick a player who shone in a losing effort in his nomination for the Farmlands Workhorse of the Week.
The two-test All Blacks rake, who played alongside Hall for the Blues and North Harbour, decided to pick Blues No. 8 Hoskins Sotutu as his standout player for his impressive influence in what was an otherwise lacklustre showing from the Aucklanders.
“Hoskins Sotutu is my Farmlands Workhorse of the Week. 15 carries, 132 metres, two line breaks, 100 percent tackle success rate, just an absolute beast. Just everywhere,” Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
Sotutu wasn’t the only Blues loose forward to have starred in minds of Parsons and Hall, both of whom were in awe of the display of openside flanker Dalton Papalii.
Joining midfielder Rieko Ioane in making his co-captaincy debut for the Blues, Papalii was a menace in all facets of the game for Leon MacDonald’s squad.
The 23-year-old’s efforts earlier in the season led to calls from Parsons for the All Blacks to involve Papalii more prominently throughout tests later this year given the latter has featured in just four tests since his debut in 2018.
Papalii’s rich vein of form continued on Sunday when he played in what Parsons described as “one of his best games” in a performance that validated MacDonald’s decision to hand him a co-captaincy role.
Damian McKenzie has been a game-winner for the Chiefs for the past five matches while Will Jordan is starting to find some incredible form – but it’s Jordie Barrett who’s leading the charge to play at fullback for the #AllBlacks. #SuperRugbyAotearoahttps://t.co/MSmIuGB5zM
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 26, 2021
“I thought Dalton Papalii was really good yesterday,” Parsons said.
“Sometimes you think, ‘He’s playing so well, is captaincy potentially going to burden that play?’. I thought it was one of his best games. I thought he was great in terms of his play around the field.
“I think Luke Jacobson was leading the charge for turnover stats. I’d say Dalton, after yesterday, will be leading that now. I think he got three breakdown turnovers.
“I thought his way of communicating with the ref was exceptional and he was really making sure that he was part of the conversation during the day and it brought the best out of him.
“I think there’s a great future for him in that leadership role in that Blues environment, which is awesome to see, our environment in the Blues is growing future leaders.”
Hall added that Papalii has built himself a reputation as a formidable competitor and defender, both of which were traits he said were exemplified over the weekend.
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“When you watch him on the field, you’re just like, ‘Man, that guy right there, due to his actions, we talked around his great leadership, but he’s a guy who plays like that’. He plays big, we’ve talked about it before,” Hall said.
“The thing that I love about his breakdown turnovers, they’re in big moments where you need a turnover.
“One of the turnovers he had, we had a great ball carry, two cleaners there, and he’s on the ball straight away, gets a steal just like that, and it’s that kind of moments in games there where he does that really, really well.”
Parsons noted that Papalii’s explosive power and ability with ball in hand makes him a multi-faceted threat in multiple aspects of the game, which he and Hall said could propel him to extensive game time with the All Blacks in the wake of Sam Cane’s injury.
“He’s a power athlete. His carries, I think he’s averaging nine metres per carry. He’s strong in the carry. For an openside flanker, that’s impressive numbers,” Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“I think RugbyPass put up post-contact metres. He’s in the top five for post-contact metres as well, so once he hits contact, he’s going through that collision as well.
“He’s doing the business with ball in hand, he’s doing the business in defence, and now he’s adding that leadership. He’s got a big career ahead of him, not only at Super Rugby level, but All Black, I think.”
Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:
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