A team steadfast on top, with some murmurs down the other end. Round 4 is done and dusted, so let’s roll out the power rankings for another week.
Last week: 1st
I’ll go ahead and say it. I do not see the Crusaders being knocked off this spot for the remainder of the season.
What a truly sensational, professional and totally impressive rugby union organisation.
Despite still playing without a handful of their All Blacks, they obliterated the struggling Chiefs on the weekend – posting their highest score against their Waikato counterparts in the competition’s history (57-28).
They controlled the tempo of the contest from the first minute to the last, and it doesn’t matter where you look, they have players all over the paddock who can make legitimate cases for higher honours.
Jack Goodhue is the form centre of the entire competition, and Braydon Ennor was strong again.
Their forward pack, playing behind Matt Todd and Dane Coles, are so efficient and organised in everything that they do, that they suffocate opposing units out of games within the first few exchanges.
Will Jordan also scored two impressive tries from the back – a young gun with a seemingly big career ahead of him.
Last week: 2nd
The Rebels knocked the Brumbies off for the second time in a month, grinding out a hard-fought 29-26 win on Friday night.
It wasn’t a complete performance by any means, but the ability to win tough games can’t be overlooked in this competition.
Jack Maddocks had another double, while Will Genia was wonderful for the hosts. His gamesmanship seems to grow as he gets older, and his spray of the Rebels forward pack late in the first half following an average effort at the breakdown, was the stuff of proper leadership.
It would be remiss of this piece not to touch on the mid-week Quade Cooper developments. I think his call up to the Wallabies camp seems a no-brainer now.
His ability to spark attacking raids is unrivalled by any other fly-half in the country.
Yes, his defensive habits are still occasionally an issue, and yes, he does sometimes push passes that don’t need to be thrown.
However, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that what we have in place in the national setup right now, simply is not cutting it.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. Let’s freshen things up a little bit, shall we?
Last week: 4th
I was tempted to slide the Bulls up to second, but a Rebels undefeated record needs to be rewarded with a hold on that spot.
The Bulls have been really impressive through the first month of Super Rugby. I said last week that Rosko Specman was potentially the find of the tournament. I’ll double down on that following his second double in four weeks. He is electric.
Handre Pollard was talismanic for his side, contributing 22 points off his metronomic boot, while controlling the flow of the game nicely. Jesse Kriel is playing well, too, in good news for Springboks fans.
A solid unit, who will go deep into this competition.
Last week: 3rd
The Hurricanes are 3-and-1 after four rounds, and look all the better for having Ngani Laumape and Beauden Barrett back pulling the strings.
The former had a double, to go with his hat-trick from the previous round, while the latter slotted a last gasp penalty to pinch a 25-22 win from traditional rivals the Highlanders.
Impressive also was their set piece. The Highlanders made their plan to play with the ball close to the ruck abundantly clear in the first exchanges – meaning the Hurricanes had to put down a solid platform at set-piece to allow their outside backs to get opportunities when they did arise – which they duly did.
An adaptable, and professional unit that will win a lot of games this year.
Last week: 7th
The Sharks were soundly beaten by the Bulls, 37-14, in Round 4.
However, I don’t think they played all that badly – and for that reason they nudge out a Lions outfit that has looked pretty average until a good win this morning.
Robert Du Preez controls things well, but does look a little sluggish when his forwards don’t secure front foot ball.
He would benefit from some quicker outside backs in that regard, but it is a unit that is still meshing.
Winger Jeremy Ward’s try was nice, while Daniel Du Preez also scored in a better second half showing.
Last week: 13th
They were 13th last week with the bye, however shift up around the middle of these rankings courtesy of a 2-and-1 record following a sloppy 28-17 win over the Reds.
In all honesty, it was a really poor game of rugby union, from a viewership perspective.
Admittedly, it was greasy underfoot owing to some Sydney rain – but the amount of drop ball and basic error was unforgivable.
I liked Israel Folau playing on the wing, with Kurtley Beale showing some nice touches from fullback. His run and pass to set up a flying Curtis Rona was promising.
However, the Waratahs will need to improve both their intensity, and execution, if they’re to challenge the Rebels for a spot at the top of their conference.
Last week: 8th
The Highlanders were beaten late by the Hurricanes, and sit 2-and-2 through four games.
I think around the middle is a perfect spot for this team. They’re not going to win this competition, but they are definitely one of the better sides running around.
The Hurricanes left it late to beat them on Saturday, but I felt they were the better team and the right side won on the night.
Flyhalf Josh Ioane had a poor game in the rain and wind, but should bounce back – and will learn from the experience. Marty Banks was better off the bench.
Jackson Hemopo, Sio Tomkinson and Pari Pari Parkinson were all solid, and defended with vigour.
Last week: 10th
The Lions won a try-fest at Ellis Park this morning – with flyhalf Elton Jantjies posting his 1000th Super Rugby point in the victory.
Kwagga Smith and Marnus Schoeman were immense for the hosts, while centre Wandisile Simelane and winger Courtnall Skosan had their best games of the season – running in one and two tries respectively.
A nice bounce back win for last year’s finalists, and a building block for next week’s clash with the Melbourne Rebels.
Last week: 6th
The Jags are going to sit between 6th and 10th on this list all year. I can almost guarantee it.
They’ll win one week, lose the next, never really dominate, and never really get dominated.
They are a consistent, smart and reliable rugby team who play a refreshingly old school style of kick-first, attack later.
They finished fast to lose by eight to the Lions this week, and will look to bounce back against a beatable Stormers side next week.
Last week: 5th
The South African conference has been impressive in the first few weeks, and even though the Stormers sit at the bottom of it, they have only lost one game, and had a bye this round.
Slip slightly as a result.
Last week: 12th
I keep the Brumbies just above the Blues, owing to their superior points differential, and their slightly better defensive efforts on the weekend.
A 29-26 loss is never “a positive” but they could be somewhat pleased with their bounce back from a Round 3 pummelling over the ditch.
Tom Wright at inside centre is a very good footballer. His defence is starchy, and he seems to have a happy knack of breaking the first tackle most times he touches the ball.
The Brumbies have struggled to find a permanent inside centre since the days of Pat McCabe, so this is good news for Canberra rugby fans.
Henry Speight had one of his better games in recent times, whilst their back row was solid as usual.
They have the building blocks, but still seem to lack the required ‘x-factor’ with ball in hand to knock better teams off their perch.
Last week: 14th
The Blues notched their first win of the season, against an ever-improving Sunwolves side on Friday night.
Rieko Ioane was brilliant, his four-try effort the shot in the arm his side desperately needed.
Sonny Bill Williams carried well, and capped his captaincy debut with a win.
Tanielu Tele’a and Melani Nanai were also solid.
Last week: 9th
It is tough to put the Sunwolves this low, but the reality is that they have only won one game so far, and have one of the worst point differentials in the competition.
However, they have had a tough early schedule, and look like they will win some games this year.
If their victory over the Chiefs last week was a clinic, their nine-point loss to the Blues was an example of their improved ability to not let games slip out of control when they are on the back foot.
An improving outfit, who will cause problems for some better sides as the season progresses.
Last week: 11th
What a disappointing and insipid performance we saw from the Reds on Saturday night.
Yes, the pitch was slippery. Yes, there could be a case made that the poor surface nullified their scrum.
What cannot be argued, is the ill-discipline, and woeful defensive effort from a Brad Thorn-led Queensland outfit that, despite showing promise through their first two games, is winless in the competition, and rooted to the bottom of the Australian conference.
Last week: 15th
Three weeks on the bottom, and zero wins from four starts.
It doesn’t matter through which lens you look at the Chiefs, this season has been nothing but ugly so far.
Their points difference is the worst in the competition by a whopping 54 points, and they sit dead last in their conference, and the overall table – their worst start to a season in more than a decade.
It seems strange, too – given the names they have lacing up for them. They have All Black calibre power in Anton Lienert-Brown, Nepo Laulala, Nathan Harris, Brodie Retallick and Damian Mckenzie, to name just a few.
I think it comes down to two key factors.
Firstly – McKenzie is not a flyhalf. His aimless chip-kicks, speculative passes, and inability to slow the pace of the game down are alarming issues.
At his best, he is electric on the counter, and in open play. So why is he being played in a position that not only exposes his weaknesses, but also limits the very opportunities that make him so good?
One of the main problems Australian Rugby has is their tendency to play players out of position. Bernard Foley is not a 12. David Pocock is not a number 8, or a blindside flanker.
Just because someone is elite in one position, doesn’t mean that will automatically carry across to another. McKenzie is a wonderful example of this.
Secondly – intensity. New Zealand sides have always prided themselves on bringing a level of brutality and intensity to their fixtures.
The Chiefs simply have not done that so far. Inconsistent effort and patches of good play followed by longer patches of basic errors has been the story of their first month.
If they can arrest these two points, quickly, I could feasibly see a slow move up this ladder in weeks to come.
Check back in every week – for a look at how the Super Rugby sides continue to shape up.