Finally a new face at fullback. He certainly took his came to come into some form, but Dagg did so in emphatic fashion. Hitting top gear couldn’t have come at a better time for the Crusaders as they head into the knock-out stages. He was running the ball from everywhere, doing the unpredictable with such skill and ease, simply put, exciting each and every one of us.
14. Kade Poki (Highlanders)
I was on the verge of selecting both left wingers from the Hurricanes-Highlanders match, but decided to stick to the restrictions of like-for-like and after having a second look at the performance of Poki, I needed no more convincing. This player caught my eye way back in February when he scored four tries in two consecutive matches and I was as gutted as anyone when he got injured so early in the season. Poki is a hard and strong runner, breaking tackles left, right and centre. On top of that he appears to have brushed up on his defensive skills during the long period he spent on the sideline.
13. Ryan Crotty (Crusaders)
There seems to be some agreement on the notion that Crotty is considered one of the most underrated players in New Zealand. Back when Robbie Fruean occupied the 13 jumper, Crotty’s work often went somewhat unnoticed, but he has shown some versatility in moving from inside to outside centre with ease; in fact I feel that he is more dangerous since having a bit more time and space to move. Between him and Tom Taylor they look to have found a partnership in midfield that compliments the rest of the outfit very well.
12. Robert Ebersohn (Cheetahs)
The Cheetahs inside centre was very unlucky not to have earned his first Springbok cap during the June internationals, but rejoined his team with the same amount of enthusiasm nonetheless. He is just one of those guys that rarely disappoints and his strong work on defense helped to achieve a number of turn-overs in addition to being a thorn in the Blues side when he got his hands on the pill.
11. Hosea Gear (Highlanders)
Snubbed last week during his 100th match, Gear made sure he couldn’t be ignored this time around. Three tries in three outings with a handy assist to boot, the Landers’ speedster got into the action at every single opportunity. Pity he is still missing more tackles than he makes, but when one is capable of doing so much damage on the run, that little titbit can be overlooked at times.
10. Colin Slade (Highlanders)
Not to say that Dan Carter wasn’t once again outstanding, but Slade’s performance was near flawless. Both his tactical and goal kicking was spot on bar a single miss at the posts, and the way he distributed the ball made for extremely attractive rugby. In a game that leaked eleven tries, the Highlanders pivot surely stood his ground making a large number of successful tackles.
9. Aaron Smith (Highlanders)
You may well ask why so many Highlanders, but they were fantastic, even considering that their opposition wasn’t of the highest quality, the players still need to show up on the day. The Smith at the back wasn’t at his best, but the one dictating matters from behind the scrum evidently did come to the party. The All Black scrumhalf was a menace on the attack with little darts and passes ensuring everybody stayed awake.
8. Kieran Read (Crusaders)
Welcome back Captain Courageous! Injury has starved him of game time and it was clear that his hunger could only be stilled by the try-line. His outing against the Chiefs was like poetry in motion. He made sure to do his bit on the ground and defense, but still found plenty of time to lurk out wide, scoring two excellent tries in the process.
7. Elliott Dixon (Highlanders)
He has had to fight hard for a starting berth among his fellow loose forwards, but every time the youngster has been given a chance, he has grabbed it with both hands. None more so than this past weekend. His try early in the final quarter turned out to be a match winner in the end. Having the ability to cover all the spots in the backrow is a handy feature, one that will likely see him grow into a great player.
It’s been a rather dull season for the Durbanite that turned Springbok last year after a magnificent season. A call up for the June Tests apparently sparked a fire in the youngster. The way he through his body into tackles and carried the ball with vigour brought a smile to my face.
5. James Broadhurst (Hurricanes)
Often overshadowed by his lock partner Jeremy Thrush, Broadhurst ran rampant against the Highlanders as much as a second rower can. He provided a secure option in the line-outs, cleared the rucks well and showed some surprising skill in possession of the ball. A well deserved try late in the game got his team within striking range.
4. Eben Etzebeth (Stormers)
It is said that he is currently the most prized possession in world rugby, and why not? Not even 22 year old yet and the Stormers lock already intimidates the veterans of the game. Although he needs to learn to keep his temper in check, there is nothing wrong with his aggressive ball carrying and this boy has no qualms of putting his body on the line in defense. Having someone there to ensure a good platform for the driving maul is a valuable asset in today’s game, and Etzebeth fits that bill perfectly.
3. Owen Franks (Crusaders)
All things good in rugby starts with forward domination and the younger Franks brother is the rock around which the Crusaders scrum is built. He is one of those silent yet deadly types, but when the bulldozer gets rolling, better best stay out of its way. Franks is a great ball protector and his work on the ground is vital to the Crusaders success.
He has seen very little of the green thus far this season, and considering that it’s almost over for the Hurricanes, we won’t be seeing much more of him this year, but I for one consider him a great find for the Wellington based franchise. With his notable turn of speed, strength and accurate work at the line-out, he is surely one to keep an eye on for the future. Whereas Elliott Dixon scored the last try for his team, this Dixon opened the scoring for his.
1. Ben Franks (Hurricanes)
It’s been a while since the Franks brother featured in the same team. Ben enjoys running much more than his brother does and therefore his chances of bagging a five-pointer is increased as shown this weekend against the Highlanders. He has had a very up and down season after exiting the Crusaders squad, but take nothing away from his ability to bounce back and continue to be a threat, whether it is on the wing or up front at scrum time.
By Jackie Smit