With the dust having settled on Round 8 of Super Rugby, we have gone through the action to pick out the best players last weekend.
Representation this week is spread across the board, with three Crusaders and three Lions the most from any one team after a competitive round.
Let’s see who made the cut.
Team of the Week: Super Rugby, Round 8
15 Karmichael Hunt (Reds): Two tries and a couple of assists to boot for Hunt as the Reds picked up a much-needed win over the Kings. Hunt made 124 metres with ball in hand and edges out Jordie Barrett, Damian McKenzie and Jesse Kriel, who were impressive for the Hurricanes, Chiefs and Bulls respectively. It was particularly good to see Kriel recapture some of his best form.
14 Henry Speight (Brumbies): Despite being on the losing side we opt for Speight, who scored a double against the Rebels in Melbourne in a 158 metres showing over the weekend. Another man to pick up a brace, Chiefs wing Toni Pulu, also impressed, as did Travis Ismaiel and Matt Duffie of the Bulls and Blues, but Speight gets in and is key to their hopes of topping the Conference.
13 Sam McNicol (Chiefs): Matías Orlando was solid for the Jaguares but McNicol, given a chance in the 13 jersey, was prominent throughout against the Cheetahs, totting up 96 metres and beating six defenders in the process. A versatile, under-rated player.
12 Harold Vorster (Lions): The Lions needed to make an early change when Rohan Janse van Rensburg came off early against the Stormers but due to Vorster’s qualities, they were not affected. He made 11 runs for 52 metres and five tackles in a solid display, edging Duncan Paia’aua and Mitch Inman, who were good for the Reds and Rebels in victories over the Kings and Brumbies respectively.
11 Melani Nanai (Blues): The try assist for Augustine Pulu was something special as Nanai grows in confidence having settled on the left wing. He also scored a try and while it’s tough on Crusaders hat-trick man Manasa Mataele and two-try Kings finisher Makazole Mapimpi, Nanai gets the nod here. The British and Irish Lions would be wise to give him extra attention in Auckland on June 7.
10 Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes): What can we say? 204 metres, a try and general play of the highest order, the ‘Canes and All Black fly-half sent out a warning to the Lions. Bulls playmaker Handré Pollard gets a mention but our 10 shirt was always Barrett’s.
9 Ross Cronjé (Lions): How he’s so far down the Bok pecking order is a mystery and Cronjé sent a message to selectors of his qualities on Saturday. Two try assists and fine game management sees him edge Chief Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Bull Piet van Zyl.
8 Kieran Read (Crusaders): Welcome back. It didn’t take long for the All Blacks captain to make his mark on his first game of the year for the Crusaders, powering his way over in the opening minutes. Read had a productive night, beating four defenders and making a couple of clean breaks, to go with four takes at the lineout. Hanro Liebenberg performed well for the Bulls.
7 George Smith (Reds): 150 Super Rugby appearances in the bag and Smith looked fresh as ever in the big win over the Kings at Suncorp. The former Wallaby scored a try, was a prominent attacking threat, but his best work came on defence with 12 tackles and a remarkable five turnovers. Not forgetting a lineout steal either. Jaco Kriel and Matt Todd also impressed.
6 Ruan Ackermann (Lions): Close contenders in Pete Samu of the Crusaders and Jerome Kaino, but Ackermann was one of many standout performers in that Lions pack at Newlands. The dynamic back-row made 11 carries, and also 11 tackles, while chipping in with a vital three turnovers. A couple of takes at the lineout rounded off another good shift.
5 Lood de Jager (Bulls): Enjoyed his best game for the Bulls since arriving from the Cheetahs in the win over the Jaguares, with De Jager even crossing for a rare try. The Springbok was everpresent in defence with 13 tackles, and a towering presence both in the scrum as the Bulls got the edge, and at the lineout where he won eight balls. Brodie Retallick was close.
4 Mark Abbott (Hurricanes): A matchwinning effort from Abbott rightfully wins him this spot, after it was the lock’s quick-thinking snipe down the blindside of the ruck that led to his second try and a win at Eden Park for the ‘Canes. The unsung hero of the Hurricanes pack was excellent, additionally making 11 tackles and also winning a turnover. Steven Cummins, Luke Romano and Guido Petti all had good weeks.
3 Trevor Nyakane (Bulls): Part of a Bulls front row who enjoyed a good day in the scrum up against the Jaguares, with the Springbok prop also putting the work in around the field. Nyakane impressed on defence with 13 tackles and winning three turnovers for his side, giving him the edge over Super Rugby centurion Laurie Weeks.
2 Ben Funnell (Crusaders): Another classy effort from the Crusader, who scored a try of his own cleverly grounding the ball against the base of the post from short-range and then showed brilliant timing and hands to put away Pete Samu in the second half. Funnell also hit his target eight times at the lineout. Malcolm Marx and Adriaan Strauss deserve nods.
1 Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders): Like many of his record 176 appearances, Crockett quietly went about his business on a landmark occasion for the All Blacks prop, making mincemeat of his opposite man at the scrum before quite rightly getting a rapturous reception when he left the field. Credit to Pierre Schoeman of the Bulls.