Super Rugby round 16 team of the week
June 3, 2013
Michael Hooper was superb in Christchurch © Getty Images
The final full round of Super Rugby for six weeks threw up some interesting combinations for the Team of the Week. Props are scoring tries again, but is it enough to gain selection? As always, have your say on my selections by leaving a comment at the foot of the page, or by using the #ScrumFive and #TotW hashtags on Twitter.
15. Ben Smith (Highlanders)
A wonderful, wonderful game from the Highlanders fullback, and it was no surprise at all to see him among four outside back options within Steve Hanson's 32-man All Blacks squad for the three-Test series against France. In truth, Smith has been in outstanding form for the past month or more; the difference against the Blues was that he wasn't on his own.
14. Cam Crawford (Waratahs)
The big winger was dynamic against the Crusaders, popping up all over the field whenever and wherever work needed to be done, but his wider positioning in attack also kept the defenders honest, while creating opportunities further infield. Scored a great try on the back of an excellent team build-up.
13. Adam Ashley-Cooper (Waratahs)
Crawford's wide positioning is creating space inboard, and Ashley-Cooper has been one of the big benefactors. His form has been strong all season, but he was a constant metre-eater in contact against the Crusaders, regularly making the gain line and surging beyond. The real test of his 2013 form comes in the next month, of course.
12. Jan Serfontein (Bulls)
The 2012 IRB Junior Player of the Year has really grown into Super Rugby, and he was the clear standout from the engaging Cheetahs-Bulls derby in Bloemfontein. Was a proper handful for the Cheetahs midfield, making linebreak after linebreak throughout the match. He straightens an attack not unlike Jean de Villiers, whom he can now study at close quarters after his well-deserved Springboks call-up on Sunday.
11. Luke Morahan (Reds)
He doesn't quite have the roaming broken midfield running game of Digby Ioane, but Morahan's size and pace on the flank made him just as dangerous an option for the Reds. Snaffled an intercept try after swooping from nowhere onto a wide pass, and ran strongly all night.
Just in case you've forgotten why the Highlanders dominate this team (video available only in Australia)
10. Colin Slade (Highlanders)
Not unlike Aaron Cruden last week for the Chiefs, Slade was the maestro conducting the Highlanders onslaught against the Blues. His vision and distribution was superb; while the Blues' defence certainly aided the cause, Slade pulled all the right strings at all the right times in attack.
9. Fumiaki Tanaka (Highlanders)
A superb game from the Japan International, the biggest compliment being that the Highlanders attack suffered no adverse affect by his starting over All Blacks No.9 Aaron Smith; indeed, they benefitted greatly from his ability to deliver constantly quality front-foot ball. Tanaka's service is flat and crisp, and his enthusiasm around the field and at the back of rucks is exactly what you want from your No.9.
8. Ben Mowen (Brumbies)
Another quality captain's knock from the Brumbies skipper, leading the way when they really upped their intensity and launched wave after attacking wave at the Hurricanes line after half-time. His disallowed try came on the back of a skilful hit-and-spin in contact, which had him in open space before anyone realised. Only the scrambling hands of at least three Hurricanes prevented a great individual try. His referee management grows with every game, too.
7. Michael Hooper (Waratahs)
Openside was going to be a flip of the coin between Colby Faingaa and the equally-excellent John Hardie from the Highlanders, until I finally got around to watching the Crusaders-Tahs in full. A truly marvellous game from Hooper, both at the breakdown and in open play, and he was a major reason for the Waratahs leading 22-10 with less than 20 minutes to go. Couldn't be in better form ahead of the Lions series.
6. Ed Quirk (Reds)
The other flank was no easier to pick, with new Springboks squad member Lappies Labuschagne of the Cheetahs again showing why he's the leading tackler in Super Rugby. Quirk got the nod, though, for his ability to lift the Reds' intensity at the breakdown, and in defence particularly. Hard to ignore the flowing red locks when things start getting a bit willing, as it did a few times against Melbourne Rebels in Brisbane.
5. Ali Williams (Blues)
I never thought I'd ever type these words, but I'm feeling genuinely sorry for Ali Williams. He's almost been the lone ranger in a blue jersey over the past couple of games, doing everything possible to lead by his actions. He's now in the twilight of his career, but his set-piece work is still high quality and he still has the happy knack of getting the offload away. Plays with his heart on his sleeve, and there may not be another player in the game who hurts as much after a loss.
4. Brad Thorn (Highlanders)
What more can be said about the man who's done just about everything in rugby? Father Time is being very kind to Thorn, who like a good bottle of red just seems to get better with every birthday. At his typical best against the Blues, and his battles with Williams in the lineout were worth watching on their own.
3. Ma'afu Fia (Highlanders)
The Highlanders tight-head had a massive game. He gave Blues loose-head Tim Perry an absolute towelling for 33 minutes, and then did the same to replacement Sam Prattley for another 20 minutes before being rewarded with a well-earned early mark by coach Jamie Joseph. And that was more than enough for me to ignore Werner Kruger crossing the stripe for the Bulls.
2. Andrew Hore (Highlanders)
Comfortably Hore's best game in a Highlanders jersey, with his breakdown, set-piece, and general play all from the top shelf. When his breakdown and running game is on, he essentially becomes a second fetcher, and there were numerous times when the Blues simply had no answer at the breakdown for the twin threats of Hore and Hardie.
1. Jamie Mackintosh (Highlanders)
It only seemed fair that I maintained the Highlanders front row, a rich reward for a dominant scrum performance and across the park. He finished the game in the sin-bin with a massive smile on his face after a bit of a dust-up in the final minutes at "For Barr", for which there probably hasn't been a more warmly-appreciated yellow card in 2013.
Notable mentions: Tamati Ellison (Highlanders outside centre), Bernard Foley (Waratahs fly-half), Nic White (Brumbies scrum-half), TJ Perenara (Hurricanes scrum-half), Jake Schatz (Reds No.8), Elliot Dixon (Highlanders No.8), Chilliboy Rallepele (Bulls hooker).
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