Super Rugby: Team of Round 11
The Sharks were felled for just the second time in their Super Rugby season this weekend, sinking at home against a spirited Highlanders side and losing some valuable ground at the top of the table.
Just behind them is the Brumbies, who after handing the Chiefs a 41-23 defeat in Canberra, now hold an identical seven wins and two losses record as their South African leaders, who remain at the summit by virtue of one more bonus point.
Win or lose, Round 11 threw up a bounty of individually marvel-worthy performances, the very best of which have been rewarded with a place in this week's team of the week.
1. Pauliasi Manu, Chiefs
The Chiefs may not be in jovial mood following their loss to the Brumbies this weekend, but their visiting outfit's scrum was one dimension of their efforts working in a well-greased fashion.
Pauliasi Manu helped his team steal four opposition feeds, but also made 10 tackles and made up 21 metres from a busy 10 carries.
2. Liam Coltman, Highlanders
Restraining one of the most devastating attacking set-ups in Super Rugby is work that requires all components moving in fluid motion in order to be pulled off to good effect.
So it's a good thing the Highlanders were able to rely on Liam Coltman in contributing a massive defensive shift as they rode to victory over the Sharks, the hooker making 13 tackles in total, a match-high sum.
3. Sekope Kepu, Waratahs
The Waratahs were spotless in protecting their own scrum during Round 11's trip to Auckland, and Sekope Kepu's performance at tighthead contributed a good deal of stability in that regard.
However, Kepu also showed a great need to make an impact in the loose, making six tackles and, albeit a small average, carrying for a 13-metre total that was superior to all but two of his pack team-mates.
4. Beau Robinson, Queensland Reds
The only Reds player managing to squeeze their way into our line-up this week, Beau Robinson continued to shine for the Queensland side against the Hurricanes.
The lock teamed up well with Quade Cooper's dazzling technique to put James Hanson in for a 66th-minute score, registering 15 tackles.
5. Victor Matfield, Bulls
Another week and another round where Victor Matfield shows that his retirement was most definitely premature, despite the Bulls' 15-9 loss in Perth.
But that result doesn't indicate that Matfield wasn't testing of his Western Force hosts, who were helpless but to watch the South African lock claim no less than seven balls at the line-out, making 11 tackles, too.
6. Jacques Potgieter, Waratahs
One of the few promising performers during the Waratahs' 21-13 loss to the Blues, Jacques Potgieter scored the only try his travelling outfit could manage against their Auckland hosts.
And though it was insufficient in the end, the South African showed some strong perseverance in carrying the ball into contact on 13 occasions, the fourth-highest number of any Waratahs player, running for 45 metres along the way.
7. Matt Hodgson, Western Force
Potgieter's flank partner Michael Hooper deserves a mention for another enthusiastic performance this week, but Matt Hodgson's 24-tackle tally can't go without recognition this week.
The Western Force captain was again crucial in taking his Perth outfit to that extra level when out of possession and it didn't go without reward as a vital 15-9 victory was the result. While his attacking game may not completely balance out his skill set, he's emerging as a real master of his own trade.
8. Jerome Kaino, Blues
Jerome Kaino shifts into a less familiar No. 8 post this week, giving a very strong running display as he carried for 65 metres against the Waratahs, beating five defenders to boot.
However, an edge while ball was in hand doesn't mean the defensive side of things suffered, and Kaino also managed a spotless defensive outing, making 12 tackles.
9. TJ Perenara, Hurricanes
Steve Hansen will be pleased to see his No. 9 jersey is receiving healthy competition after TJ Perenara's match-turning performance against the Reds this weekend, where it was Will Genia who came off worse in the battle of the scrum-halves.
Perenara was busy in getting himself about the park, eager to secure quick ball at the breakdown and even had the energy to assert a strong running game himself, beating four defenders and pinching a try for his troubles.
10. Matt Toomua, Brumbies
Matt Toomua's role as a leading Brumbies figure went through another phase of development this week as the versatile playmaker pitched in with a man of the Match-worthy display against the Chiefs.
Teaming up well with half-back partner Nic White, the No. 10 made 38 metres from just five carries, among which he weaved his way over the try line on two occasions.
12. Rayno Benjamin, Cheetahs
The Cheetahs' first win in nine weeks will have left its fair share of smiles around Bloemfontein, and inside centre Rayno Benjamin deserves as much appreciation as any for his hand in the defeat of the Stormers.
Although his defensive weaknesses were exploited on occasion, Benjamin made up for lost tackles with ball in hand, making numerous breaks through the visitors' line, scoring in the 15th minute and setting up one more.
13. Tevita Kuridrani, Brumbies
A special mention to the fine work of the Highlanders' Malakai Fekitoa, whose contributions against the Sharks don't go unnoticed this week, but Tevita Kuridrani's more rounded display in Canberra gives him the No. 13 jersey.
In a remake of last year's Super Rugby grand final, the Brumbies centre was superb in managing to break enemy lines and dot down for two tries, but it was Kuridrani's nine tackles made and none missed against one of the Southern Hemisphere's most threatening back lines that also stands out.
11. Willie Le Roux, Cheetahs
Continuing to excel in his role as perhaps the brightest light in an otherwise dim Cheetahs season, Willie Le Roux came to the fore against the Stormers in a way that Naka Drotske has grown used to appreciating.
The Springbok star was superlative as he lent a huge hand in lifting his franchise off the base of the Super Rugby standings, grabbing a first-half try and assisting another, as per usual showing a fine sense of creativity both from the boot and out of hand.
14. Cory Jane, Hurricanes
The most prolific try-scoring figure of Round 11 was none other than Cory Jane, who after going two months without crossing the whitewash decided to end his drought in outstanding fashion against the Reds.
No other player managed to surpass the three clean breaks the New Zealander engineered on his way to picking up a hat-trick of scores, Jane's clinical finishing being the most impressive aspect of his display.
15. Andre Taylor, Hurricanes
The resurgent full-back continues to cement his place as the Hurricanes' most logical choice at No. 15, and this week it was the Reds who felt Andre Taylor's wrath.
Carrying for 116 metres, Taylor came into the line to have a significant hand in constructing two of the Wellington hosts' tries, beating seven defenders and showing some superb hands in the offload.
All statistics come courtesy of ESPN Scrum.