(Verging on Excellent)
Not perfect, but have all the tools in place for a home semi-final.
Pride of the south, the Highlanders have been a model of consistency over the first four rounds, scoring exactly 20 points in each of their games. With Aaron Smith providing quick ball behind a no-nonsense forward pack, the class of All Blacks Ben Smith and Fekitoa in the backline and sharp-shooting goal kickers in Sopoaga and the hero from Hamilton, Marty Banks. Jamie Joseph has instilled the patience and mentality for them to win close games. A solid, defence-first approach with quick counter-attacks seems to be the plan so far. Unlucky to draw a bye in the first round, which hopefully wonít catch up with the Highlanders, who have a tendency to run out of gas near the end of the season. A nice run of home games coming up now so the Highlanders can consolidate a position near the top of the table. Keep it up.
Pros: 1st in lineout success (96%) Least tries conceded (3 - bullshit penalty tries donít count!) Cons: 14th in tries scored (4) MVP: Marty Banks (clutch penalties win games) Suggested improvements: Clean up the ball handling in open play, which will lead to more tries.
Great start, which will be difficult to maintain through the season
A 100 per cent winning start from a road trip to South Africa and Australia is a fine start, as the Hurricanes had to vacate Westpac Stadium for the Cricket World Cup. Maía Nonu has returned to the Hurricanes, but hasnít contributed much so far. If it wasnít clear that he is a disloyal mercenary, Nonu is heading for France to play for Toulon at the end of the year in what will be his fourth team in as many years. Club captain Conrad Smith will also head to France at the end of the season. Fellow All Blacks, Beauden Barrett and Julian Savea, have been providing the majority of the points, but poor running and line-out stats while having a decent scrum shows an unbalanced team for new coach Chris Boyd to work on. Will probably just miss out on the playoffs.
Pros: 1st in tackle success (91%) Lowest points against (34) Cons: 13th in running metres (1124) MVP: Julian Savea (crucial try to beat the Bulls) Suggested improvements: Bench Nonu and develop a midfield partnership with the future in mind.
Solid start from an exciting squad. A third title in four years is a realistic target.
The Chiefs are looking as dangerous as ever, with a decent scrum and exciting young winger James Lowe, who is quick, strong and has a powerful left-foot kick. No surprises to see Sonny Bill throwing the most offloads in the competition, with four other Chiefs in the top ten aiding their expansive, attractive style. Their big win over the Crusaders was spoiled by a poor home defeat against the Highlanders, having to rely on a hawkish referee to gift them points. Best team to watch so far though.
Pros: 11st in offloads (73) Line breaks (33) Running metres (1887) Cons: Most yellow cards (4) MVP: James Lowe (leads several key attacking stats) Suggested improvements: Get Cruden some new kicking boots and cut out the silly penalties.
Poor start, with the World Cup being a distraction for their top players.
Going from being seconds away from winning the trophy last year to losing to the Rebels at home this year and then getting thrashed by the Chiefs ó it has been a poor start for the seven-time champions. The Crusaders were also lucky to benefit from another dodgy TMO decision and some wobbly goal kicking by Colin Slade to avoid losing to the Highlanders. With All Blacks legends Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Kieran Read being coddled towards the World Cup, I wouldnít be betting on the Crusaders to make an impact on the playoffs ó not even with your StudyLink money.
Pros: 1st in scrum success (96%) Cons: 14th in defenders beaten (48) 13th in line breaks (15) MVP: Matt Todd (top tackling NZ player) Suggested improvements: Fuck the NZRU and play your strongest team.
Complete shambles but some credit for picking up a few bonus points.
With two tenth-place finishes and an overall losing record since taking over in 2013, John Kirwan now finds his team at the bottom. With a no-point bye and tough away trips to the Hurricanes, Waratahs and the Chiefs over the next few rounds, things are looking grim. However, the statistics show that the Blues are doing some things well in the backline, but inconsistency lets them down. Things could click into gear quickly, but if their current form continues, their season could be over by the time they come to Dunedin next month.
Pros: 1st in defenders beaten (82) 2nd in running metres (1751) Cons: 14th in scrum success (80%) MVP: Ihaia West (surprisingly is the top-scoring NZ player) Suggested improvements: Stats suggest that itís the forwards who are not pulling their weight.