Having been promoted to captain, Sonny Bill Williams lifted his game to help inspire the Blues’ first Super Rugby victory of the season with a 28-20 triumph against the tenacious Sunwolves at Albany over the weekend.
It was a big improvement from the big second-five who craves game time after missing much of the last few seasons because of frustrating injuries.
It needed to be with fellow All Black contenders Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes), Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs) and Ryan Crotty (Crusaders) having shown consistent form to stake their test claims.
Williams admitted there were a few glitches when his offloads went astray but he quickly settled down, ran straight and hard and defended strongly.
It was slick passing from the backs that provided overlaps for left wing Rieko Ioane to score four tries following in the wake of Blues predecessors Doug Howlett, Mills Muliana and Joeli Vidiri.
The classy Ioane also tackled well and was eager to go looking for work on a day his No 8 brother Akira toiled manfully in an industrious forward pack.
Meanwhile the unbeaten Crusaders started strong to thrash the hugely disappointing Chiefs 57-28 though their normally strong scrum buckled a few times after losing loosehead prop Joe Moody to an ankle injury.
While the Chiefs did stage a late comeback to total four tries, the nine they conceded spoke volumes about their leaky defence.
However there were some good individual performances from Lienert-Brown, rugged No 8 Taleni Seu and speedy young left wing Etene Nanai-Seturo who doesn’t need much space to weave his magic.
Unfortunately Damian McKenzie is not sparking the backline as he once did although the failure of the forwards to compete hasn’t helped,
Meanwhile the champion Crusaders remain the most cohesive team in the championship with the Richie Mo’unga, Crotty and Jack Goodhue combination offering plenty of chances for brilliant young fullback Will Jordan and wings Braydon Ennor and Sevu Reece.
Lively All Black hooker Codie Taylor showed he’s still eager to challenge Dane Coles for test duty by coming off the bench to score two smart tries.
Sadly, with the exception of Coles, Ardie Savea and Vaea Fifita, the Hurricanes pack lacks the punch and set piece foundation to do justice to their brilliant backs.
No backline can match the individual attacking talent of PJ Perenara, Beauden and Jordan Barrett, the storming Laumape, Ben Lam and Chance Tiatia but their chances are limited because of the tight five’s deficiencies.
Despite being beaten up front by the gutsy Highlanders, they still managed to sneak a 25-22 win with a late penalty to register their third win in four games to sit equal second with the impressive Bulls.
Having played one game less are the unbeaten Rebels for whom Will Genia and Quade Cooper are back to their best form.
Meanwhile congratulations to Black Caps cricketer Ross Taylor for getting off his back that 17 test century bogey he shared with his mentor, the late Martin Crowe. And he did it in style with his 200 in the second test against Bangladesh at the Basin Reserve including four sixes and 19 fours.
Captain Kane Williamson, with 20 test tons, is the only New Zealander to top him.
- Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author