With the rest of the weekend’s action ready to unfold on Saturday evening, there’s already been plenty of cause for excitement in the first batch of fixtures from the final round of this Super XV regular season.
So far, the Auckland Crusaders are the only qualified side who know where they’ll be ending up in the playoffs, with the Cheetahs, Reds, Blues, Bulls and Chiefs still waiting to find out their placement.
With three matches down and another four left to go, the following picks have impressed greatly in this weekend’s early outings, regardless of their postseason fate.
Victor Vito, Hurricanes
Although their season was rounded off in undesirable fashion, crashing out as 25-17 losers to the Crusaders, the Hurricanes put up a worthy fight against their wild-card opposition this weekend.
In the end, the irrepressible boot of Dan Carter was enough to ensure the victory for the Christchurch side, although the eight-point deficit perhaps doesn’t speak kindly enough of the Hurricanes’ resolve.
Tested as the rounded outlet he’s proven himself to be in the past, Victor Vito was a major instrument for the Wellington visitors both with the ball and without.
Showing a great eye for support, the 26-year-old made the most of a Matt Proctor break, latching onto his teammates’ offload and crashing over from short range.
However, it was the defensive graft put in by the back-rower at the breakdown that pointed him out as a key performer, working hard for the turnover and giving the Hurricanes reason to believe they deserved more from this encounter.
Ben Tameifuna, Chiefs
Admittedly, the Chiefs’ most recent clash against the Blues was helped leaps and bounds by the sending off of opposition forward, Kane Barrett, but that isn’t to dampen the personal exploits of “Big” Ben Tameifuna.
The heavyweight prop capitalised on the 14-man opposition, scoring his fifth and sixth tries of the Super XV season, providing his side with the stimulus for their 26-16- victory.
With that victory, the Chiefs move to the summit of the standings as a result and the Waikato side can only hope that Tameifuna’s confidence comes to the plate in the coming stages of the competition.
James O’Connor, Rebels
Without a doubt the best player in this weekend’s action so far, James O’Connor’s contribution to the Rebels’ cause this weekend can be described as nothing other than game-changing.
They say that the mark of a great player is one who can lift the playing standard of not just himself, but of all those playing around him—O’Connor did just that.
At halftime, the Melbourne Rebels were 31-7 to the Highlanders, but managed to finish with a 38-37 victory following the second half introduction of O’Connor.
The 23-year-old proceeded to have a direct hand in three Rebels tries, improving the overall morale of his side with a touch of calmed skill more than anything.
Absolutely thrilled, boys dug deep & showed what we can do. Been an awesome ride & have played with some of the best guys you cld ever meet— James O'Connor (@JamesOConnor832) July 12, 2013
The performance is only dampened by the news that O’Connor would not be renewing his deal with the Australian outfit and was released earlier this week, per the Telegraph.
From his above tweet, it would seem O’Connor is sad to see his time as a Rebel come to its end.