Israel Dagg knows a champion fullback when he sees one.
His claim Jordie Barrett should permanently move to second five-eighth for the Hurricanes to make way for Josh Moorby before he scored three scintillating tries against the Fijian Drua in Wellington on Sunday was spot on.
Te Awamutu-born former Southland rep Moorby, 23, is a dazzler with some of the same rugby charisma of fullback Will Jordan who also scored a triple in the Crusaders 53-15 triumph over the Western Force.
Like Jordan, Moorby has the skills and pace to also play wing although the temptation will be to leave him at fullback after the Hurricanes’ 11 tries to one 67-5 trouncing of the Drua.
However, if Barrett moves to second five permanently, that will be tough on Billy Proctor who has formed a sharp midfield combination with impressive Bailyn Sullivan and who, with right wing Wes Goosen, scored two tries apiece against the hapless Fijians who finished just three points behind the Highlanders the previous week in Suva.
Add halfback TJ Perenara and elusive wing Salesi Rayasi and the Hurricanes have as dangerous a backline as any in the championship but remain a lowly seventh amongst 12 contestants
With their 33-32 victory then, they are the only team to have beaten the Blues who head the table with the impressive Brumbies on 10 wins but one less bonus point.
Having crushed the Rebels 71-28 after conceding 14 points in the first seven minutes and another 14 in the dying stages, the Blues are gelling beautifully.
Like the Hurricanes, they also scored 11 tries with brothers Rieko (3) and Akira (2) Ioane leading the way.
However, the best went to dynamic right wing Mark Telea with his somersault finish after a 60m attack featuring Finlay Christie twice, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, James Tucker and Rieko Ioane.
Another to demonstrate brilliance and a smart head far beyond his 20 years was first five-eighth Aidan Morgan who looks destined to eventually follow in the footsteps of Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga.
A Kings College product and 2020 NZ Under 20s player, he is a smart tactician who sets alight a pacy Hurricanes backline with a variety of sharp passes.
Meanwhile the third-placed Crusaders’ next clash against the second-placed Brumbies should be a cracker in which the defending champions will need to find their best to triumph against strong opponents who thrive on the smarts of halfback Nick White, have a strong rolling maul, hit the line hard and have a relentless defence.
Having narrowly beaten Moana Pasifika 26-20 after their courageous upset of the Crusaders, the fifth-placed Waratahs have cause to be wary of the seventh-placed Hurricanes who have been strengthened by the return of Dane Coles and veteran new recruit Owen Franks.
With the Ioane brothers, Telea, and loosies Dalton Papali’i and Hoskins Sotutu firing powerfully, the championship-leading Blues should have too many guns for the Reds
The acquisition of lock Tucker has also done much to strengthen the Blues pack with his high leaping lineout prowess and mobility. Good, too, to see big prop Tu’ungafasi realising his true potential and Kurt Eklund adding to the long list of the country’s outstanding hookers.
Having been beaten 38-28 by the Brumbies, the fourth-placed Chiefs should attain redemption against the ninth-placed Rebels.
Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer