There were a host of standout performances as Super Rugby Aotearoa produced another round of gripping matches.
The Blues made it three wins from three with a nail-biting victory over the Highlanders at Eden Park while the Crusaders maintained their 100 per cent start by beating the winless Chiefs in Christchurch.
- Blues 27-24 Highlanders
- Crusaders 18-13 Chiefs
Here’s out best XV from round three…
15. Damian McKenzie (Chiefs)
McKenzie was the outstanding Chief on show in Christchurch, displaying excellent handling and footwork in slick conditions.
The miscalculation in the air which led to the Crusaders’ first try was the one negative from a dazzling display where he asked serious questions of the home defence.
McKenzie was superb under the high ball and a constant threat with ball in hand, beating four defenders and making 61 metres, while he was successful with three of his four shots at goal.
14. Sevu Reece (Crusaders)
Two moments of opportunism from the All Black resulted in two tries for his full-back. Reece beat McKenzie in the air in the lead-up to the opening try, tearing downfield and drawing the last two defenders before putting Will Jordan over.
The Fiji-born wing was busy throughout and looked to capitalise on Chiefs’ handling errors, while his quickly-taken lineout sent Jordan over for the Crusaders’ crucial second try.
13. Jack Goodhue (Crusaders)
Goodhue was given little opportunity to show his quality in attack but made up for that with a supreme defensive performance.
The centre made 13 tackles, the most of any Crusaders back, and his line speed forced the Chiefs down cul-de-sacs.
12. Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs)
Lienert-Brown shipped a huge tackle from Cullen Grace during the first half but never shirked his defensive duties, which allowed Aaron Cruden and McKenzie to prosper.
He made seven tackles, missing none, while also showing some deft touches in attack.
11. Caleb Clarke (Blues)
Clarke lost his Grandfather an hour before kick-off and put in a wonderful performance to honour him.
The 21-year-old played with plenty of emotion, scoring a try and creating another for Rieko Ioane.
Fully deserved his man-of-the-match award on a sad day for the Clarke family.
10. Otere Black (Blues)
Aaron Cruden was excellent for the Chiefs on Sunday but the No 10 shirt goes to Blues fly-half Black, whose influence continues to grow.
Black’s name didn’t crop up too often after the signings of legendary fly-halves Beauden Barrett and Dan Carter but he has risen to the challenge.
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The 25-year-old pinned the Highlanders back with an array of fine kicks and his confidence with ball in hand is growing by the game.
With Carter expected to be fit for the Blues’ next game against the Crusaders on July 11, Black has given his head coach Leon MacDonald some serious food for thought.
9. Aaron Smith (Highlanders)
Two try assists for the All Blacks scrum-half, whose crisp and precise passing was up to his usual high standards.
Smith kept the tempo high and was outstanding during the second half as the Highlanders came from 12 points down to threaten an unlikely victory.
1. Joe Moody (Crusaders)
Moody had the edge on All Blacks team-mate Nepo Laulala at scrum time and forced an early penalty that led to the opening points of the game.
The Crusaders scrum was on top throughout and Moody was central to their dominance, with Laulala’s head popping up during the second half after coming under pressure from the loosehead.
2. Codie Taylor (Crusaders)
The set piece was always going to be crucial once the heavens opened in Christchurch and Crusaders captain Taylor was faultless in this area.
He formed part of a strong scrummaging unit but it was at the lineout where he really excelled, finding a team-mate with all but one of his 13 throws.
Taylor was also effective in the loose, making 13 tackles and racking up 27 metres from five carries as he deservedly picked up the man-of-the-match award.
3. Ofa Tu’ungafasi (Blues)
The Blues were 100 per cent on their own scrum on Friday night, with Tu’ungafasi rock-solid at tighthead.
The 28-year-old also produced an eye-watering tackle on Sam Gilbert, which served a warning to any other Highlanders who had notions of running down his channel.
4. Sam Whitelock (Crusaders)
A man for all conditions, Whitelock thrived in the Christchurch rain and produced a masterclass at the lineout.
The two-time World Cup winner often called to himself, claiming five of Codie Taylor’s throws, while he also made an excellent steal on the hour mark as the Chiefs threatened a comeback.
His work in the tight was also notable, making nine tackles and winning a defensive turnover, and negated the Chiefs’ maul.
5. Josh Dickson (Highlanders)
Another outstanding lineout performer, Dickson won five throws and stole two more as the Highlanders fell agonisingly short at Eden Park.
The 25-year-old also worked his socks off in defence in an eye-catching display.
6. Cullen Grace (Crusaders)
New Zealand has unearthed another world-class back rower in the 20-year-old Crusader.
Grace was simply brilliant against the Chiefs, getting through 19 tackles which included bone-crunching hits on Anton Lienert-Brown and Sean Wainui.
He appears to thrive on the battle up front and could soon become a permanent fixture in the Crusaders pack.
7. Dalton Papali’i (Blues)
Papali’I bagged a try in each half against the Highlanders as they made it three wins on the trot.
He was in the right place to profit from Hoskins Sotutu’s charge down during the first half and grabbed a second try on 57 minutes from a driving lineout.
Nine tackles, nine carries, two line breaks and two meat pies. A good day at the office for the New Zealand international.
8. Hoskins Sotutu (Blues)
There was a great battle between Sotutu and opposite number Marino Mikaele Tu’u and it was hard to separate them.
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