Super 14 Power Rankings: Round Seven
As hard as it may be to believe, we are already halfway through the competition.
Teams have now settled into the competition and are starting to look to carrying on momentum through to the top four and onwards.
The competition is still reasonably open with over half the teams within a shot of making the semi-finals.
If I was going to pick my semi-finalists at this stage, I would say The Bulls and The Crusaders will both have home semi-finals. The Stormers look as though they'll fill one of the places with their superb defence.
The last place is a bit harder to predict with The Waratahs, Brumbies, Reds, Hurricanes, Chiefs and Blues all looking capable of making it.
If I was going to pick one at this stage I'd go with the Reds simply because they have looked good in every game, even in the ones they have lost.
The Waratahs and Brumbies have both shown themselves to be inconsistent, while the Hurricanes and Chiefs have gone into form slumps over the last four weeks. The Blues have an outside shot but I don't see them making it.
This week's rankings largely reflect current form, while still taking into account the whole season. Little change up the top shows that there is a definite gap opening up between the contenders and the rest.
1. The Bulls (1): Last Week: Won vs. Force 28-15 Win/Loss: 6-0
The Bulls retain their No. 1 spot for the seventh week in a row after winning their first game on the road against the Force.
Although, all didn't run smoothly for the Bulls as the Force led 12-10 at the break after some tenacious defence held the Bulls to only one try in the first 40.
They seemed to find another gear in the second half, as they have done so often this year, and came back to win 28-15 thanks to two second-half tries.
Positives: Still unbeaten. Have the best maul in the competition and their kicking genius Morne Steyn is he can run and pass just as well.
Negatives: Another slow start. The Force seemed to be on top for a large part of the first half. This needs addressing for when they have to play some of the competition's tougher teams.
2. The Crusaders (2): Last Week: Bye Win/Loss: 5-1
Couldn't drop the Crusaders after a bye. They'll be refreshed and off to play the struggling Hurricanes in Wellington next week where they should pick up another win.
Positives: The Crusaders are just playing typical Crusaders rugby, which is always a recipe for success.
Negatives: Teams can tend to struggle coming off a bye; they need to make sure they take off just as they finished before the bye.
3. The Stormers (3): Last Week: Bye Win/Loss: 5-1
Another team that I couldn't drop after a bye. Start their road trip in Perth next week which will show us if they are the real deal.
Positives: Not a lot to add seeing as they didn't play in the weekend. Have I mentioned their defensive record at all this year?
Negatives: We'll know after this weekend how they are going to cope on the road, which could be a real negative for them. The Stormers generally travel the best of the South African teams, so that works in their favour.
4. The Reds (4): Last Week: Won vs. Cheetahs 31-10 Win/Loss: 4-2
The Reds are having the best season they've had in years.
And it's not just at home, it seems, as they put 20 points on an injury-weakened Cheetahs side. Still, a win's a win, particularly when it was their first win in the Republic since 2006.
Will Genia had another outstanding game and looks to be the form half back of the competition. I look forward to seeing him do battle with Fourie Du Preez.
Positives: There are loads, but we'll just stay with the fact that they have won their first game in South Africa in four years.
Negatives: Only one week into a three-week trip, let's not get too ahead of ourselves.
5. The Waratahs (5): Last Week: Won vs. Blues 39-32 Win/Loss: 5-2
The Waratahs started like a house on fire, racing out to 21 points.
The Blues had other ideas, as they clawed their way back into the game with a few tries of their own.
In what was the most exciting game of the round, the Waratahs dug deep and came up with an intercept try through Lachie Turner to see them home by seven points.
Positives: Showed that they can score tries and have now strung together four wins.
Negatives: Consistency seems to be a problem. They were poor against the Force; still, a win's a win.
6. The Brumbies (6): Last Week: Won vs Chiefs 30-23 Win/Loss: 5-2
The Brumbies won a nail-biter in Canberra last week over the struggling Chiefs, who looked hungry for a win coming off the bye.
Matt Giteau looks to be finding his form, while Rocky Elsom has also stood out the last few weeks. This game also marked Julian Huxley's fairytale return to the top level after undergoing treatment on a brain tumour for the past two years.
Positives: Five wins with a road trip completed isn't a bad thing, now is it?
Negatives: Their wins haven't been convincing; they seem to be just sneaking home every week.
7. The Blues (8): Last Week: Lost vs. Waratahs 39-32 Win/Loss: 3-3
It was hard to know what to do with the Blues, Hurricanes, and Chiefs given that they all lost in the weekend.
The Blues win the battle among these three; however, seeing as they won the week before against the Brumbies and have looked better these past few weeks than the other two teams.
Positives: They lost but they looked good.
Negatives: They let the Waratahs get too much of a lead, this cost them.
8. The Chiefs (7): Last Week: Lost vs Brumbies 30-23 Win/Loss: 3-3
The Chiefs come in ahead of the Hurricanes based on the fact that they lost an away game to the team ranked sixth in these rankings as opposed to the Hurricanes winning a home game to a team who only got their first win the week before.
But to be honest, the Chiefs have been poor since returning home from their dream start in South Africa.
It seems I was right in thinking that they would fade.
If they are going to make the top four now, they need to lift their game and start showing some of the form they showed in the first three rounds.
Positives: They went very close against the Brumbies, but close isn't good enough.
Negatives: 0 from 3 after returning home, that's the horror return to the dream start.
9. The Hurricanes (7): Last Week: Lost vs. Sharks 26-23 Win/Loss: 3-4
Of all the games that came down to the final minutes this week, this was possibly the most nail-biting finish.
Unfortunately, for the Hurricanes they came out on the wrong side. Four losses in a row now, what's happening, Hurricanes?
Positives: Can you call coming close to one of the bottom five teams a positive?
Negatives: Where to start? How about we just stick with four losses in the last four weeks.
10. The Sharks (11): Last Week: Won vs. Hurricanes 26-23 Win/Loss: 2-5
The Sharks have made it two in a row, as Ruan Pienaar kicked a last-minute penalty to see the Sharks to a three-point win over the Hurricanes on Saturday night.
The side that seemed to be struggling have now managed to win two games in New Zealand and now return home, where they will be tested against the Reds next week.
Positives: They are finally finding some form; Ruan Pienaar has been brilliant these last few weeks.
Negatives: Five losses to start with means that the Sharks will struggle from here on in to claim a top four spot as even winning all their games won't guarantee them a spot.
11. The Highlanders (12): Last Week: Won vs. Lions 39-29 Win/Loss: 2-5
The Highlanders jump ahead of the Cheetahs this week based on the theory that they have both won the same number of games and the Highlanders beat the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
It seems amazing that the Highlanders could score 39 points without scoring four tries, although to be fair to them, the Lions were infringing a lot which made it hard for them to score.
Israel Dagg again stood out and has been one of the competitions top players over the last few weeks.
Positives: A win is a win.
Negatives: The Highlanders should really be winning a home game against the Lions by more than 10 points. Also, the Lions dominated the Highlanders in the mauls and close to the ruck, an area where the Highlanders are traditionally very strong.
12. The Cheetahs (10): Last Week: Lost vs. Reds 31-10 Win/Loss: 2-4
The Cheetahs were comprehensively beaten by the Reds.
Although, it must be remembered that they are struggling with injuries at the moment. With a road trip still to come prospects look bleak.
Positives: A definite improvement from last years team so far.
Negatives: Injuries don't help but it doesn't look as though things are going to get any easier for the Cheetahs as they travel to Australia.
13. The Force (13): Last Week: Lost vs. Bulls 28-15 Win/Loss: 0-6
The Force showed some great fight, keeping the Bulls to just one try in the first half.
They were remarkable in defence and looked dangerous with ball in hand. James O'Connor had a good game as he looked threatening and scored all 15 points for the Force.
The Bulls eventually got the better of them running away with the game, 28-15.
Positives: Some obvious improvements as The Force looked a different team in the first half against the Bulls.
Negatives: They remain winless.
14. The Lions (14): Last Week: Lost vs. Highlanders 39-29 Win/Loss: 0-7
The Lions looked good in patches, but were woeful in others at Carisbrook last Friday night.
They ran in five tries but their discipline cost them, giving away too many penalties to have a chance of winning.
To be fair, they were hampered by the sin-binning of Walter Venter, who was very hard-done by.
Positives: Five tries in one game is an improvement.
Negatives: Discipline is an issue; defence still wasn't great.
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