THE Crusaders remain top of the pops despite losing to the Hurricanes in a brutal New Zealand derby, while the Rebels remain outside the top four despite leading the overall Super Rugby standings.
The Reds’ come from behind win over the Bulls, meanwhile, has seen them soar up the charts in our round four power rankings.
1. Crusaders (no change)
It’s one thing to go into a match without a stack of players, but it’s another entirely to lose your two best players inside the opening 10 minutes.
Already without five key All Blacks, including national skipper Kieran Read, the Crusaders lost their captain Sam Whitelock and Test midfielder Ryan Crotty to concussion before some punters had time to take their seats.
Whitelock’s absence in the set-piece was huge, but perhaps even more significant was Crotty’s early exit.
Without first five Richie Mo’unga — who fractured his jaw a week earlier — the loss of second five Crotty was a killer blow.
Crotty’s their glue and without him guiding the troops inside and outside him the Crusaders fell apart.
But even despite three unanswered tries inside the opening 25 minutes, the Crusaders still managed a fight back and closed to within a try midway through the second half.
The Crusaders are running low on troops and face a testing month ahead, but you’d be a fool to write off Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson’s men.
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2. Hurricanes (up 1)
They started the season slowly, losing to the Bulls in Pretoria before bouncing back against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires, but the Hurricanes have now truly announced themselves by taking down the mighty Crusaders.
Sure, they were helped by the Crusaders’ mounting injury list, but let’s not forget that the men from Wellington had travelled across the world over the previous fortnight.
The travel factor can’t be underestimated — not that you’d have known about those 30,000 kilometres by the way they started against the defending champions.
The Hurricanes belted the Crusaders in the early stages.
Their big men laid the platform, captain Brad Shields is an animal while their Test axis of TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett and little bro Jordie showed their class.
Although they took the foot off the gas to let the Crusaders back into the match, they closed it out in the end and look the goods.
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3. Highlanders (up 1)
They came off the bye and Aaron Mauger’s side played like that, rusty after their week off following a dramatic opening win over the Blues.
Even still, there were moments of brilliance from the Highlanders.
Will Genia might be the signing of the Super Rugby season but Aaron Smith remains the world’s best halfback.
His pass, pace, kicking game and defence are incredible.
Waisake Naholo continues to find the tryline and Ben Smith’s positional awareness and consistency is remarkable.
The Highlanders forward pack can’t be underestimated either and with Aaron Smith screaming encouragement at every scrum they’re not to be taken lightly.
4. Lions (down 2)
At 21-3 up against the Blues with just a couple of minutes left in the first half, it appeared to be business as usual for the Lions — runners up in the last two Super Rugby seasons.
Even at 28-10 midway through the second half, the Lions looked like they were on the path to their fourth straight win for the season.
But four tries in the final 20 minutes, including two in the final five, saw the Lions pipped 38-35 at Ellis Park.
OK, so the Blues are hardly the worst side going around — but they also haven’t beaten one of their domestic rivals in 13 matches.
Were we just given another indication of the strength or lack thereof of the South African conference?
5. Rebels (N/C)
Start rubbing your hands together, folks.
There’s a storm brewing and it’s not the mob in the other code.
The Rebels, with some help from the west, have finally arrived in Super Rugby — well at least in Australia anyway.
With each passing week Dave Wessels’ side is looking better and on Friday they easily accounted for the Brumbies — Australia’s top ranked side of the last two years — to record their third bonus point victory.
The Rebels are a side on the rise, they’re well balanced and well coached, but until they confront a New Zealand side there will remain a question mark about them.
Mark down March 30 against the Hurricanes in your calendars
6. Chiefs (N/C)
Spent the bye week in the office securing the long-term services of livewire Damian McKenzie.
7. Blues (up 1)
Take ya hats off.
We’re not yet a month into the season, but the Blues effectively kept their campaign alive with victory over the Lions.
The Blues will take a heck of a lot of confidence from their win.
And they need it too, for they haven’t beaten a domestic rival since the first round of 2016.
But with Rieko and Akira Ioane in their side, expect the Blues to break that drought this year.
8. Reds (up 2)
They tried to lose, they really did, as they conceded a penalty on the stroke of fulltime to give the Bulls one last crack at scoring.
But in the end their attitude got them over the line, as Alex Mafi put a big shot on Springbok Lood de Jager to force an error.
Brad Thorn’s shine is rubbing off on the Reds.
At long last Queensland fans are seeing the Reds play for one another and their state.
But for the Reds to progress any higher in the power rankings they’re going to need James Tuttle to take a leaf out of Filipo Daugunu’s book and run the ball.
9. Stormers (N/C)
Three straight losses on the road sees the Stormers slumped in the bottom third of the standings.
But the Stormers are a much better side than their one win, three loss record reflects.
Fly half Damian Willemse is just about the most exciting young talent in Super Rugby too.
10. Waratahs (down 2)
Here we go again…
They may have come away with a win and draw from their opening two matches, but the pressure is firmly back on the Waratahs and coach Daryl Gibson, in particular, following their 38-28 loss to the Jaguares on the weekend.
The Jaguares had two fortuitous tries in the first half, including one off the kickoff, but the reality is we’ve seen it all before — they only turn up for half a match.
Rather than slowing the game down, building slowly through the middle before spreading the ball wide, the Waratahs appear hellbent on playing the game at a million miles an hour.
But therein lies the problem, because the Waratahs don’t have the muscle and size in the tight five to get over the advantage line and therefore are far too reliant on their playmakers creating something out of nothing.
11. Jaguares (up 4)
An impressive first 40 minutes, but one hot day doesn’t make a summer.
The Jaguares have been nothing short of dreadful since entering the competition in 2016.
12. Brumbies (down 1)
Brumbies coach Dan McKellar is sticking to his guns and says they won’t shift away from their new style of wanting to play running rugby.
But it’s not working.
It’s one thing trying to run the ball, but if you don’t have the talent in the backline it’s an uphill battle.
There are some handy players in that Brumbies side, but they lack penetration and spark in the 10-12 positions.
13. Bulls (down 1)
John Mitchell’s side raced out of the blocks against the Reds, but then seemed to go into their shells.
Their kicking game struggled in the second half particularly and their set piece crumbled.
14. Sharks (down 1)
A load of points against the Sunwolves, but let’s be honest, had they lost against the Japanese side at home it would have been an embarrassment.
15. Sunwolves (down 1)
It promises to be another long year for the Sunwolves.
Jamie Joseph has just about the most difficult task in Super Rugby in trying to turn them into a genuine force.
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