We are now three weeks into the 2010 Super 14 season, and the competition still looks like it is going to be closely contested.
It was a good weekend for New Zealand, as all five of their teams won. We also saw the Bulls come from behind to beat the Waratahs in a thrilling finish, while the Brumbies sneaked home against the Stormers.
The most obvious thing we can see so far is that there will be no easy games in this competition. Any team is seemingly capable of beating any other team, or at least capable of pushing them right to the limit.
We have only three unbeaten teams left in the competition, and all have been pushed by opponents this year and have never looked comfortable in their wins.
So, when reading these rankings, just remember how fast things can change in this competition and how small the gap between each team is right now.
1.) The Bulls (1): Last Week—Won vs. Waratahs, 48-38. Record: 3-0
The Bulls retain the top spot for the third week in a row as they beat the Waratahs 48-38. The Waratahs provided them with an early scare as they jumped out to a 17-0 lead after just 10 minutes.
The Bulls fought back, but trailed 26-17 at the break. In the end, another strong second half performance got the Bulls home. But for the second week in a row they have let their opposition get the better of them early on, showing that a team that can finish just as strongly as they can start will have a good shot at beating them.
Positives: Another strong second half performance saw the Bulls home in the end, proving that they are capable of playing right up until the final whistle.
Negatives: They started slowly and had to play catch-up footy for most of the match. They will need to address this, as they won't get away with giving better teams that sort of lead and won't have the same advantage of playing on the high-veld when they go on their road trip.
2.) The Hurricanes (2): Last Week—Won vs. Lions, 33-18. Record: 3-0
The Hurricanes were made to work hard as they defeated the Lions 33-18 on Saturday night. They led 21-7 at the break before the Lions stormed back, bringing the deficit to just six.
This was as good as it got for the Lions, however, as the Hurricanes found another gear and went on to take a 15-point win, establishing themselves as one of the top teams in the competition.
Positives: Try-scoring seems to be built into the Hurricanes' system, as they scored another four this week. The selectors will face a problem over whom to select when Hosea Gear comes back with fellow wingers David Smith and Tamati Ellison, both currently on outstanding form.
Negatives: For the second week in a row the Hurricanes established themselves a good lead before letting the other team back into the game.
3.) The Chiefs (4): Last Week—Won vs. Force, 37-19. Record: 3-0
Three for three on the road is as good as it gets, and that is exactly what the Chiefs have managed. They blew past the Force with apparent ease as they romped home with an outstanding second half. With their road trip over, the Chiefs are well-positioned to continue to climb the ranks in the coming weeks.
Positives: They are unbeaten, and their road trip is over.
Negatives: After their success, it will be easy to get complacent. They can't let this happen, and must push on and be as good at home as they were on the road.
4.) The Crusaders (6): Last Week—Won vs. Sharks, 35-6. Record: 2-1
The Crusaders bounced back after a loss in Week Two when they beat the Sharks by 29 points at Christchurch on Friday night. The win was far from convincing, as they battled with the Sharks for the first three quarters of the game before coming back and finishing in typical Crusaders fashion.
Positives: A strong finish saw the Crusaders home, but they looked very shaky for the first 60 minutes.
Negatives: They didn't look all that threatening during the first half, and will want to get back to their best form in the coming weeks.
5.) The Brumbies (7): Last Week—Won vs. Stormers, 19-17. Record: 2-1
In what was a fairly average game, the Brumbies provided a thrilling finish. George Smith read a bad pass and touched down with only minutes left. While giving the Stormers a chance to tie things up after the 80 minutes were up was cutting things a bit fine, a win is a win.
And a win in South Africa is always important, no matter how it comes.
Positives: They became the first team to beat the Stormers. They will be happy with a win on the road, and will look to carry on momentum next week as they take on the Lions in Canberra.
Negatives: Despite winning, they never looked comfortable, and seemed to let their guard down in the closing stages as the Stormers crashed over in the last play of the game.
6.) The Stormers (3): Last Week—Lost vs. Brumbies, 19-17. Record: 2-1
The Stormers would have remained unbeaten had it not been for a bad pass from Brok Harris which gifted the Brumbies a try in the dying minutes of the match. The interception put the win beyond reach, despite the Stormers scoring on the last play. Next week, the Stormers host the Highlanders in a game that they will target.
Positives: They were competitive with the Brumbies for the whole game, hence the close score line. Their defensive record stays intact after another superb effort without the ball.
Negatives: The intercepted pass was a real damper on what could have been a third win.
7.) The Blues (9): Last Week—Won vs. Reds, 27-18. Record: 2-1
The Blues climb two spots in the rankings for the second week in a row after winning an exciting match over a strong looking Reds side. The Blues looked to move the ball to give their dangerous backs room as they ran in four tries to claim their first bonus point of the season.
The Blues head back to New Zealand next week, where they will take on the Crusaders at Christchurch. The match will really test their abilities as they take on one of the top sides in the competition.
Positives: The Blues have to be happy with scoring four tries.
Negatives: It was a game in which they never looked safe and only clinched in the closing stages, just like their win over the Highlanders the week before. Their main focus now will be to try to put teams away by a larger deficit and more convincingly.
8.) The Reds (5): Last Week—Lost vs. Blues, 27-18. Record: 1-2
The Reds had a dream start on Saturday, as Will Genia grabbed an interception and then scampered over to put the Reds up 7-0 after just 58 seconds. They were always in touch, but in the end the Blues were too good. For the third week now the Reds have given away a try in the last three minutes which denied them a bonus point.
Positives: They have looked good all season and will give all teams a good run.
Negatives: Every game this year they have let in a try in the final minutes. That cost them a competition point this week, to go along with the game it cost them against the Waratahs.
9.) The Highlanders (12): Last Week—Won vs. Cheetahs, 31-24. Record: 1-2
The Highlanders got off the mark with a good win over the Cheetahs this week. They looked threatening, as first-five Michael Hobbs directed play well and worked well with Jason Shoemark and Kendrick Lynn. After two losses, a win in South Africa is encouraging, and they will look to push on and upset the Stormers next week.
Positives: A win in South Africa is important. Good to see the Highlanders finally managing to finish a game off.
Negatives: They gave the Cheetahs a sniff at the end, letting in a try. The key from here on out is to back this win up with another win. If they can go two for three in South Africa they will be pleased.
10.) The Waratahs (8): Last Week—Lost vs. Bulls 48-38. Record: 1-2
The Waratahs seemed to push the Bulls for a good period of their match this week, but again they couldn't beat the competition's leading team. With their only win coming in the last minute, the Waratahs will have to step up their efforts if they want to challenge for a top-four spot this year. They are home next week against the Sharks, which will be as good a time as any for a fresh start.
Positives: They showed that they are capable of playing some good rugby after starting off with their guns blazing against the Bulls.
Negatives: If they are going to push on this year, they really need to start playing for the whole 80 minutes.
11.) The Cheetahs (10): Last Week—Lost vs. Highlanders 31-24. Record: 1-2
Although they really didn't look like it against the Highlanders this week, the Cheetahs definitely look as though they have improved since last year. Juan Smith and Heinrich Brussouw have both been outstanding, leading the way for their team. They look to be an exciting team who are willing to have a go and play a positive style of rugby.
Positives: Look to have improved on last year with their last few performances. Look capable of challenging most teams.
Negatives: A home loss to the Highlanders doesn't go down too well, but they looked good in patches.
12.) The Sharks (11): Last Week—Lost vs. Crusaders, 35-6. Record: 0-3
The Sharks have had a season to forget so far, with losses to the Chiefs, Cheetahs, and most recently the Crusaders. They stayed in touch for most of the game against the Crusaders before slipping away in the last 15 minutes. Next week, they are in Sydney, where they will try to topple the Waratahs in what seems like a winnable match.
Positives: They did a good job to keep the match close for as long as they did against the Crusaders.
Negatives: An 0-3 record isn't a good start for one of the competition's leading teams from last year.
13.) The Lions (13): Last Week—Lost vs Hurricanes, 33-18. Record: 0-3
The Lions made the Hurricanes work hard for their win, but a poor start coupled with a poor finish saw them slump to their third loss of the season. American loose-forward Todd Clever has been in impressive form and may be giving glimpses of things to come from USA rugby. Still, the Lions have a mountain to climb if they are to get up and win next week against the Brumbies.
Positives: Not too many at the moment. The fact that they scored 65 points against the Chiefs shows that they have the attacking power to score points; doing it consistently will be the key.
Negatives: The Lions really need a win under their belts. They looked to be reasonably strong at home as always, but playing away from home looks to be their main weakness once again.
14.) The Force (14): Last Week—Lost vs Chiefs 37-19. Record: 0-3
Not much to add on last week's comment really. Mistakes are still costing them. They continue to struggle with so many injuries.
Positives: Another week has passed, meaning that they are another week closer to getting some of their players back from injury.
Negatives: Where to begin? Injuries, silly mistakes, and three home losses have all got to be on John Mitchell's mind.
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