There is no change at the top of the charts after the third round of the Australasian group, but the Hurricanes and Sharks are the big movers. The Brumbies and Bulls are in freefall.
Hurricanes' Jordie Barrett in action against the Crusaders.
1 Crusaders (Second in NZC)
We’ll give the Crusaders the benefit of the doubt because they are so injury-hit, but they will need to make a statement in Dunedin to maintain top billing. They copped a belting, physically, at the hands of the Hurricanes, but did not splinter. Head knocks to Sam Whitelock and Ryan Crotty are a concern.
2 Lions (First in SAC)
Another with a tenuous hold on their power ranking, the Lions lost a game they should have won. Even their coach Swys de Bruin was not happy at the half, even though they led 21-10 and then 28-10. They did bar up in the scrums and scored opportunist tries, but losing Warren Whiteley to injury and then soaking up too much defence took a heavy toll against the fast-finishing Blues.
3 Hurricanes (First in NZC)
Jetlag, schmetlag. The Hurricanes are moving on up in all aspects of their performance, but their rush defence and breakdown pressure, led by Ardie Savea, were as impressive as anything they did on the scoreboard against the Crusaders. Shame they now have the bye, so I will have to wait to see Jordie Barrett again carve up like a hot knife through butter.
4 Rebels (First in AC)
At some point Melbourne will lose. We just cannot be sure when that will be. They are now seven points clear at the top of the Australian conference and head to Sydney. Do not bet against them there.
5 Highlanders (Third in NZC)
Someone is going to have to stop Aaron Smith at source to prevent the Highlanders easing into their game and controlling the tempo. Then they will need to shut down Waisake Naholo… and Tei Walden… and Rob Thompson. Have we mentioned Ben Smith yet?
6 Chiefs (Fifth in NZC)
The Chiefs did nothing of note last week except rest, train and re-sign Damian McKenzie. But they should have a clutch of cavalry returning for the running of the Bulls this Friday.
7 Sharks (Second in SAC)
The Sharks are finally in the W column, but they showed enough in the 50-22 pumping of the Sunwolves to suggest they might be able to challenge the Lions. In hooker Akker van der Merwe, do they have the next Bismarck du Plessis?
8 Stormers (Fourth in SAC)
Missing several men through illness and minus their two top locks, the Stormers did fairly well to hold the Highlanders to 33-15 at home. They did lack patience and execution at times, but now they are back home to take on the buoyant Blues.
9 Blues (Fourth in NZC)
The Blues’ season can be summarised thus: they have lost two games they should have won and won against the Lions when they had no right to do so. In short, they are not far off the pace, have the Ioanes in prime form and a bond and resilience that will serve them well as they contemplate bigger challenges.
10 Reds (Second in AC)
The Reds are growing on us and now lie second in the Australian conference. They have character, in coming back from a 14-3 halftime deficit against the Bulls, and a solid scrum, anchored by Taniela ‘The Tongan Thor’ Tupou, once touted as a weak scrummager. Tupou showed his soft touches in setting up Caleb Timu. Bring on the Jaguares.
11 Waratahs (Third in AC)
Oh no. The Waratahs seek greatness, but the 2014 champs came up well short in the 38-28 loss to the Jaguares in BA. Six tries conceded and too many errors will not win friends and influence people.
12 Jaguares (Fifth in SAC)
Sometimes you need a kick up the proverbial from a living legend. The 1995 All Blacks, after a soul-less loss in Toulouse, got that from Colin Meads. The Jaguares felt the hurricane-force spray from Hugo Porta, who said they had no soul. The riposte was six tries and plenty of heart, if not soul.
13 Bulls (Third in SAC)
John Mitchell is back home to face his Chiefs franchise, but maybe he should start calls to do away with the garish yellow that makes up the Bulls’ away jersey. In truth, it was a flaky second half rather than the colour of the guernsey that did for his Bulls in Brisbane.
14 Brumbies (Fourth in AC)
What is going on at the Brumbies? They need David Pocock back, and fast.
15 Sunwolves (Fifth in AC)
So competitive at home, so listless and porous defensively away from home. The Sunwolves need an injection of fong, starting this Saturday when they travel to Joburg.