New Zealand Team of the Week

Super Rugby returned over the weekend in what kick starts a massive year for rugby in New Zealand with the British & Irish Lions touring for the first time since 2005.

The Lions series puts an extra spotlight on the five New Zealand teams not only at home but abroad as followers of the game in the North get a glimpse of what to expect in June.

While we cast an eye at the form players from the Home Nations in the British & Irish Lions Team of the Week, there were several stand out performers from New Zealand who should be in line to face the Lions whether it be for club or country.

BACKS

15. Israel Dagg (Crusaders)

An assured outing for Dagg in his 100th Super Rugby appearance. The All Blacks outside back — who rediscovered his best form in 2016 — looked lively with the ball and delivered the crucial pass in the build-up in two of the Crusaders tries in their win over the Brumbies.

14. Tevita Li (Highlanders)

This could be the breakout season we’ve all been waiting for from Tevita Li. The 21-year-old — who broke onto the scene while he was still at high school — provided a spark from the flank on his Highlanders debut, with his 10 carries amounting for 131 metres. A notable mention to Vince Aso, who slotted onto the right wing seamlessly for the Hurricanes after the late withdrawal of Cory Jane.

13. Rieko Ioane (Blues)

The standout performance of the weekend. At just 19 years old the potential Rieko Ioane has is frightening, especially under the guidance of Blues coach and former All Blacks centre Tana Umaga. Ioane dazzled in Melbourne, with the second try in his hat-trick bamboozling as many as five Rebels defenders. His big hit on Reece Hodge showed his game isn’t all about attack either.

12. Rob Thompson (Highlanders)

It’s always difficult standing out for a losing side but Rob Thompson managed to do that with some strong carries at inside centre for the Highlanders against the Chiefs. Thompson made an equal match high three clean breaks, and beat seven defenders from his 13 runs.

11. James Lowe (Chiefs)

You could argue the Chiefs wing was lucky to score two tries as the beneficiary of some wayward Highlanders passing but there is a fine art in reading an intercept and Lowe has the knack to pounce. Still had plenty to do on the first occasion where he showed great pace and composure to palm Aaron Smith out of the way en route to the whitewash.

10. Otere Black (Hurricanes)

The Maori All Blacks fly-half took a rare chance count in the Hurricanes No. 10 jersey as Beauden Barrett warmed the bench in Japan. It’s hard to read too much into individual performances against a woeful Sunwolves outfit, but Black is an old head on a young pair of shoulders who steered last year’s champions around the park admirably, while nine conversions is a Hurricanes franchise record.

9. Augustine Pulu (Blues)

Just the performance the Blues halfback needed to start the season. His delivery from the base was crisp, he ushered the forward pack well, while his 40 metre solo score off the back of the line-out showed the pace and confidence he’s picked up from his experience in the New Zealand Sevens team.

Ardie Savea scored two tries as the Hurricanes thrashed the Sunwolves. TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images

FORWARDS

1. Pauliasi Manu (Blues)

It’s never easy in any position making a comeback from a serious leg injury let alone at prop where such strength is required at the set piece. Manu – who was on the All Blacks radar before an Achilles issue curtailed his 2016 campaign – kept the Blues scrum steady against the Rebels, while he powered over for a rare try.

2. Hika Elliot (Chiefs)

The first round of a campaign is always a great time to bring out your party tricks and Hika Elliot did just that for the Chiefs to score an important try against the Highlanders. The line-out move between Elliot and Tawera Kerr-Barlow was pinpoint, and Elliot showed there’s still some pace in those legs to scoot over in the corner.

3. Owen Franks (Crusaders)

New Zealand’s premier tighthead prop delivered a typical ‘Owen Franks’ performance for the Crusaders. Plenty of bruising tackles, clean outs at the ruck, solid at scrum time while there was one sumptuous one-handed offload that will have made Sonny Bill Williams proud.

4. Michael Fatialofa (Hurricanes)

The Hurricanes second-row had a standout season last year, and could come close to an All Blacks call up if he builds on that form in 2017. Made some big runs against a flimsy Sunwolves defence that led to two of the Hurricanes 13 tries. Let himself down though with a no arms tackle that led to a yellow card.

5. Brodie Retallick (Chiefs)

While a number of frontline All Blacks played little part in the opening round, Retallick picked up where he left off in 2016 with a tireless performance for the Chiefs. The 2014 World Rugby Player of the Year made 13 tackles – including three in one sequence — to help hold out the Highlanders rock star backline from scoring a try.

6. Steven Luatua (Blues)

A promising start for the Bristol-bound blindside flanker in what may be a rare start for the Blues this season with Jerome Kaino to return. Heavily involved with a couple of big runs in broken play and while there wasn’t much defence to be done against the Rebels, he still led his side with 11 tackles.

7. Ardie Savea (Hurricanes)

The modern day openside was involved in so much of the Hurricanes good work in Tokyo. The younger Savea brother is always near in support which saw him finish off a lovely move for the Hurricanes first try, while his leg drive and will to break out of the tackle was rewarded with a second moments later.

8. Liam Messam (Chiefs)

After missing all of last season to focus on the Sevens at the Olympics, Messam looked right at home at the back of the Chiefs scrum with some lovely offloads and last gasp defensive work to keep the Highlanders at bay. Consistent performances this season could see him recalled to the All Blacks.

Source Article from http://www.espn.co.uk/rugby/story/_/id/18777107/new-zealand-team-week-super-rugby-round-one
New Zealand Team of the Week
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