Explosive Hurricanes centres Ngani Laumape and Vince Aso are setting the 2017 Super Rugby championship alight with their try-scoring feats and making a bold bid for places in the All Blacks squad to play the British and Irish Lions.
The dynamic midfield pairing are far surpassing the combined seasonal try-scoring feats of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith, the two stars they have replaced in the capital’s franchise. In fact, no midfield pairing is within cooee of them.
In scoring a hat-trick in the Hurricanes’ latest 61-7 blitz of the Cheetahs, former Aucklander Aso beat Tana Umaga’s old season try-scoring record by stretching it to 13.
Not far behind on 11 is powerful second five-eighth Laumape. Third equal are Reiko Ioane (Blues) and Eti Nabuli (Reds) on eight, one ahead of James Lowe (Chiefs) and the Crusaders George Bridge and David Havili.
Before the season started most pundits favoured the All Blacks maintaining the status quo midfield pairing of Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienert-Brown with Sonny Bill Williams and Malakai Fekitoa their closest contenders. But the Hurricane pair’s form, especially on attack, demands the selectors’ attention.
Both have a nice balance of power and speed and are developing a sweet combination despite relatively little time together.
Lienert Brown was the find of 2016, coupling great offloads with strong defence. Unfortunately he has failed to penetrate this season.
Great Blues hope Williams had a long break since suffering a bad Achilles injury at the Rio Olympics sevens and still looks rusty. However Highlander Fekitoa is returning to his best with six Super tries, the same as All Black wings Waisake Naholo and Julian Savea, but he still hasn’t been as sharp as the Hurricanes pair.
If selectors Steve Hansen, Ian Foster and Grant Fox are going to go with form, Laumape and Aso deserve to be rated with the heady Crotty in the top three.
Williams, who has a strong advocate in Graham Henry, still has a few more games to stake his claim but will need to strike hot form to justify confidence.
It will be a tough choice for three wise men who have a history of staying true to old faithfuls who have delivered for them, even when their Super Rugby form has failed to produce the goods.
It has been a case of playing like Clarke Kent for their franchise and Superman for their country.
Meanwhile match fitness could be a problem for three world-beaters in No 8 skipper Kieran Read, hooker Dane Coles and fullback Ben Smith who have had long injury spells.
The same applies to wings Israel Dagg and 2015 World Cup star Nehe Milner-Skudder although the country is well served with Waisake Naholo, Julian Savea, Reiko Ioane, George Bridge, James Lowe, Cory Jane and Matt Duffie providing plenty of depth in that department.
Meanwhile, let me assure readers that contrary to popular opinion, the camera does lie. How else could I mistakenly claim orthodox heavyweight boxers Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko fought as southpaws in their recent world title bout in London?
Maybe the YouTube screening was done with mirrors. That was what it looked like when viewing the knockdown fifth, sixth and 11th knockdown rounds before Joshua’s right lowered the boom.
Or was it his left?
- Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author