Round Eight of the Super 14 delivered some of the most exciting games of the season. It also showed the effects of touring on some of the competitions top teams.
But before we look at how the teams stack up this week I thought we would have a look at who's been playing well so far this year by selecting a competition Form XV:
15. Cory Jane: It was a toss up between Jane and Dagg, but Jane has looked the goods from the back for the whole season whereas Dagg started slow.
14. Bryan Habana: The world's best try-scorer can't be denied a spot after the Stormers strong start to the season.
13. Conrad Smith: Smith is head and shoulders above everyone else. He has the best tackling technique in the competition, which shows in his tackling ability. Jacque Fourie, Richard Kahui and Robbie Fruean have all looked good but not to the same extent.
12. Berrick Barnes: There hasn't really been a stand out second five but Berrick Barnes has been good for the Waratahs of late and has been more consistent than the other top second fives. Second place goes to the Bulls Wynard Olivier.
11. Zac Guilford: Guilford burst onto the scene in 2009 with a stellar Air New Zealand Cup and has now transferred that form into the Super 14 for the Crusaders. He has hardly put a foot wrong in fact. The next best wingers have been Drew Mitchell and Digby Ioane.
10. Morne Steyn: The point-scoring machine Morne Steyn can't be denied the first-five jersey. His kicking has been radar accurate once again and he has also shown us a second dimension to his game by running well and throwing some good passes. Other first-fives include Quade Copper who has stood up and is playinig well this year while Dan Carter has been his consistent self.
9. Will Genia: Genia has been simply superb and has been a large reason for the Reds success this year. Fourie Du Preez and Ruan Pienaar have both been good but neither knocks off Genia.
8. Ryan Kankowski: Kankowski narrowly gets the nod over Spies at 8. While Spies has been devastating for the Bulls, I see Kankowski as being a large reason for the success the Sharks have had and he has been quite brilliant.
7. Daniel Braid: Braid has stood out for the Reds this year and has come through as the form openside flanker. He edges out Tanerau Latimer who has been the next best.
6. Richie McCaw: Richie has been Richie and deserves the blindside flanker jersey even if it isn't his preferred position. He has been equally effective there. Look for him to be back in the No. 7 jersey for the All Blacks. Adam Thompson has been the next best who at times seems to be a one-man band for the Highlanders.
5. Victor Matfield: Matfield has been easily the best lock once again. His lineout jumping has been second to none and has led well from the front for the Bulls.
4. Brad Thorn: There were a couple of possible options here but I went with Thorn because he is such a hard man and has a very high work rate. Andries Bekker has been the next best.
3. Owen Franks: Owen Franks claims the No. 3 jersey after some good solid performances. He has a very good work rate for a prop and his scrummaging has been strong.
2. Keven Mealamu: Possibly a controversial pick but Mealamu has been good for the Blues this year and there haven't really been any other stand out hookers.
1. Sona Taumalolo: If the last pick was controversial I can't imagine what this one will be. He's been playing well, he won't be an All Black but his Super 14 so far has been outstanding.
It is without surprise that the top teams are all represented well in this team. So lets move on and look at how the teams stack up this week.
1. The Bulls (1): Last Week: Lost vs. Blues 32-17 Win/Loss: 6-1
The Bulls stay on top based on the theory that anyone can have a bad day. It also helped their cause that the Crusaders drew. They will need to win next week if they are to regain the top spot.
Positives: They really didn't look good against the Blues. So there weren't too many positives there, good thing they've already got six wins in the bank.
Negatives: Where to start? In a massive change of events we saw the Bulls struggle against the Blues. Discipline must be an issue; they were lucky to only have one man in the bin. It seems winning away may prove to be the biggest challenge for the Bulls once again this year.
2. The Crusaders (2): Last Week: Drew vs. Hurricanes 26-26 Win/Loss: 5-1-1
The Crusaders didn't look great either as they scraped a draw against the struggling Hurricanes. A strong start had the Hurricanes on the back foot but they switched off the let them back into the game and it took a try after the siren to claim the draw.
Positives: Didn't panic at the end. Kept the ball in and kept applying pressure. Many other teams would have tried something stupid.
Negatives: They were poor through the middle stages of the game, which cost them a win.
3. The Waratahs (5): Last Week: Won vs. Cheetahs 40-17 Win/Loss: 6-2
The Waratahs are flying high as they toppled the Cheetahs. The win propelled them to the top of the table and are really stamping their authority on the competition after a slow start.
Positives: No need to look further than a five game winning streak here.
Negatives: They haven't had the bye yet. Also history shows that the Waratahs can tend to fade as the season goes on.
4. The Stormers (3): Last Week: Lost vs. Force 16-15 Win/Loss: 5-2
The Stormers have lost the first game of their road trip which I have said this season would be the South African teams main hurdle. The fact that it was against the previously winless Force makes matters worse. The Stormers now need to pick themselves up as they travel to Auckland next week to take on the Blues.
Positives: Despite the loss they only let in one try, which shows their defence is still intact. Remember anyone can have an off day.
Negatives: A loss to one of the competitions two bottom teams doesn't go down too well. Best thing to do is to put it behind them and look ahead.
5. The Reds (4): Last Week: Lost vs. Sharks 30-28 Win/Loss: 4-3
The Reds couldn't quite get past the Sharks as they went down by two points. They started strongly and were up 21-9 before letting the Sharks back into the game and couldn't get there in the end. They travel to Johannesburg next week to take on the Lions, which is a game they will be targeting.
Positives: Despite the loss, they did score four tries. Also remember the effect that the trip to the Republic has on teams. To win one and lose the second by two is a pretty good effort.
Negatives: A poor second half was the reason for the loss.
6. The Blues (7): Last Week: Won vs. Bulls 32-17 Win/Loss: 4-3
The Blues were too good for the previously unbeaten Bulls. They kept a fast pace the whole game and looked threatening as they scored 32 points. The whole backline was outstanding. They were brutal on defence with Jerome Kaino putting in some bone-shaking tackles which had the Bulls rattled. If they can play like this more consistently there is no reason why they shouldn't progress further in the competition.
Positives: Every about there game looked good against the Bulls, no real stand out.
7. The Brumbies (6): Last Week: Bye Win/Loss: 5-2
It seems harsh dropping the Brumbies after having a bye but I had to put the Blues up after their performance.
Positives: Well poised to take their season further and challenge for a top four spot.
Negatives: Finding it hard to find anything new after they didn't play.
8. The Chiefs (8): Last Week: Won vs. Highlanders 27-21 Win/Loss: 4-3
The Chiefs scraped home against the Highlanders in a game that they really shouldn't have won. The Mike Delany-Stephen Donald combination looked good as they cut the Highlanders to pieces. Despite this the Chiefs were lucky, a dropped ball being the only thing between a win and a loss for them.
Positives: They seem to have sorted out their five-eight dilemma as Donald and Delany played magnificently together.
Negatives: They were lucky to get home over a struggling Highlanders side.
9. The Hurricanes (9): Last Week: Drew vs. Crusaders 26-26 Win/Loss: 3-4-1
A draw against the Crusaders sees that the Hurricanes don't fall but the fact that they couldn't muster a win means they don't climb. They were good in patches, a slow start was followed by a good middle patch but the Crusaders got through in the end as they have done so many times before. But it was a good result against one of the competitions leading teams after they have struggled for the past few weeks.
Positives: Put out the second best performance against the Crusaders this year.
Negatives: It will be tough making the top four now with a bye still to come.
10. The Sharks (10): Last Week: Won vs. Reds 30-28 Win/Loss: 3-5
The Sharks continued their winning streak as they held off the Reds in a thriller in Durban. A slow start to the season has seen that the Sharks will now struggle to make the top four although they may still have a chance if they keep winning and they get a few other results go their way.
Positives: Three wins in a row.
Negatives: Their five game losing streak to start has cost them this year.
11. The Highlanders (11): Last Week: Lost vs Chiefs 27-21 Win/Loss: 2-6
The Highlanders seem to keep finding new ways to lose games. Tim Boys literally dropped the game as he dropped a pass from Matthew Berquist ten metres out from the line with no one in front of him four minutes from the end of the game. The Highlanders had an average second half after leading 15-10 at the break. Robbie Robinson looks to be too inexperienced at first-five while Jason Shoemark seems to offer nothing at second-five. Israel Dagg continues to stand out and will push for an All Blacks jersey this year.
Positives: A good first half, they showed that they are capable of winning games. Unfortunately being capable of winning and winning are two different things as the Highlanders have learnt these past few years.
Negatives: Some aimless kicking and poor midfield defence has seen them struggle.
12. The Cheetahs (12): Last Week: Lost vs Waratahs 40-17 Win/Loss: 2-5
The Cheetahs have lost the first of four tour games. It's going to be a long four weeks for the Cheetahs.
Positives: I'm struggling to find many at the moment as the Cheetahs have shown that they will struggle on the road once again.
Negatives: There's a lot to write here. Lets just stick with the fact that they lost 40-17 in the weekend.
13. The Force (13): Last Week: Won vs Stormers 16-15 Win/Loss: 1-6
The Force got off the mark this week with a win over one of the competitions heavyweights. David Hill saw them home with a clutch drop goal. Another win will see them rise in the rankings.
Positives: Finally a win!
Negatives: They won't make the top four, but they need to try to back up this win to prove it wasn't a fluke.
14. The Lions (14): Last Week: Bye Win/Loss: 0-7
The Lions best result of the season came this weekend. That pretty much sums up their season so far. They are back home this week where they are twice the team they are away from home.
Positives: Back home this week where they should get at least one win under their belts.
Negatives: 0 wins, 7 losses.
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