Super Rugby: Team of Round 8
The Sharks continue to lead the Super Rugby standings after enjoying a bye week in Round 8 of the campaign, although the Brumbies and the Chiefs remain within touching distance of their South African counterparts.
Having lost their first two matches of the 2014 term, Western Force also continued their surge on the southern hemisphere hierarchy by extending their winning streak to four matches on Saturday.
This weekend, four of the seven matches ended with the scoreline being decided by a margin of five points or less, and those tight parameters came across in the quality of those individuals on the pitch.
Irrespective of how their team fared, the most impressive XV have been assembled into Round 8's Super Rugby team of the week.
1. Tony Woodcock, Blues
Tony Woodcock makes our line-up for the second week in a row after leading the Blues' scrum with an impressive, albeit futile performance against the Brumbies, losing 26-9 in Canberra.
The New Zealand visitors won all eight of their own feeds at the set piece, managing to nick a few from their Australian hosts, too, but it was Woodcock's energetic total of 12 tackles in defence that stands out most.
2. Callie Visagie, Bulls
As was the case for a few Bulls forwards this week, Callie Visagie's discipline could have done with some curtailing, but the hooker managed to make up for his blips of judgement somewhat.
Twelve tackles is good going for any No. 2, and the 25-year-old's line-out throwing was good, if not spectacular, throwing with an accuracy of just over 85 percent.
3. Charlie Faumuina, Blues
Another fine component in that well-oiled Blues' scrum was Charlie Faumuina, who gave Jean-Pierre Smith a difficult day's work when it came down to scrum time.
Faumuina also held a good account of himself for the most part in defence, although he did miss two of his 11 tackles.
4. Brodie Retallick, Chiefs
While the Chiefs are showing some signs of wavering so far this term, one player whose lofty standards have been held up is Brodie Retallick, doing his credentials as a New Zealand starter this summer no harm with another fine display against the Cheetahs.
As part of the visitors' dramatic second-half comeback in Bloemfontein, Retallick managed to lend a helping his side score, but eight takes at the line-out and a respectable seven tackles were perhaps his most impressive contributions.
5. Flip van der Merwe, Bulls
The in-form Hurricanes had a mass of attacking pressure to pile on their visitors this week, but one of the Bulls' most promising defensive assets was Flip van der Merwe.
The lock lasted the full 80 minutes, crashing in with 22 tackles for an average of more than one tackle every four minutes, as well as standing tall to take six balls at the line-out.
6. Boom Prinsloo, Cheetahs
Drawing 43-43 in what was a remarkable drama of end-to-end proportions, the Cheetahs and the Chiefs saw out what was very arguably the game of the weekend, with each team faring better in the forwards and backs, respectively.
And Boom Prinsloo was among his side's most rounded weapon, giving a typically dogged outing in a defensive sense and contributing 13 tackles in total, but his try just minutes before halftime helped give the Cheetahs a 34-10 lead at the break.
7. Beau Robinson, Reds
Were it not for a late Jayden Hayward try, Beau Robinson's immense defensive display this weekend would have been enough to see the Reds move past Australian rivals Western Force.
And though Hayward's score means the Queensland outfit were handed their fourth defeat of the season, Robinson's 18 tackles didn't go unnoticed, and a solid ground game helped the hosts secure possession as much as any other individual.
8. Scott Higginbotham, Rebels
Another Australian back-rower who found himself on the sore side of a three-point defeat was the Rebels' Scott Higginbotham, who, like Robinson, had to put up with just a losing bonus point despite laying on a masterful show in his own regard against the Highlanders.
Carrying for 87 metres, the No. 8 was hugely mobile over the course of 80 minutes, intercepting to set up a 43rd-minute try for Angus Roberts, but also pitching in with some heavy influence at the line-out and showing some player-of-the-week material.
9. Sarel Pretorius, Cheetahs
Saturday's clash between the Cheetahs and Chiefs was a fairly rare event in that two opposing scrum-halves each managed to score two tries apiece, but it was the hosts' Sarel Pretorius who impressed most.
The Cheetahs No. 9 finished as the match's joint leader in terms of defenders beaten, making his way past five Chiefs players across his 63-minute outing, not to mention carrying for 110 metres and making four offloads.
10. Beauden Barrett, Hurricanes
Quade Cooper again impressed this weekend as he assisted a couple of tries in the Reds' loss to Western Force, but it was Beauden Barrett who again steered the Hurricanes' ship to glory.
Slotting all seven of his attempted kicks—one conversion and six penalties—the young All Black and potential successor to the New Zealand No. 10 throne gave a calm and pragmatic approach in what was ultimately was ultimately a close win over the Bulls.
12. Pat McCabe, Brumbies
A very impressive defensive shift from Western Force's Kyle Godwin is unfortunate not to see him elected for this week's team, but Pat McCabe's two tries were essential in helping the Brumbies overcome the challenge of New Zealand's Blues.
McCabe's three clean breaks were a match high for this fixture, and from that penetration the centre managed to beat four defenders and carry for 59 metres, choosing to take the initiative as Canberra's titans bounced back to their winning ways.
A special mention for the Hurricanes' Alapati Leiua, who dealt well with his newfound duties at inside centre.
13. Ben Smith, Highlanders
The full-back shifts to the No. 13 jersey this week in order to accommodate others in the back three, such was the impact made by Ben Smith as his Highlanders moved up to 10th in the standings thanks to a 33-30 win over the Rebels.
Smith's running from deep was largely what allowed him to carry for 78 metres and cross over the whitewash on one occasion, but there were still signs of his outside centre habits on hand, with his work in defence helping to force two turnovers and beating three defenders along the way.
11. Julian Savea, Hurricanes
Yet again Julian Savea features in the Super Rugby team of the week, and although New Zealand's boy wonder didn't get on the score sheet this time around, his piercing runs on the left wing set a solid base upon which the Hurricanes could thrive.
The starlet made two clean breaks, beating seven defenders from 18 runs in total, resulting in a finished tally of 118 carrying metres and no less than five offloads.
14. Tim Nanai-Williams, Chiefs
The Chiefs backs kept up their fine attacking pace against the Cheetahs this weekend, and Tim Nanai-Williams was one of those who bore most fruit from his trip to Bloemfontein.
And not only did the winger's second-half brace keep the reigning Super Rugby champions within sight of a result, but his 80th-minute try, converted by Aaron Cruden, ensured there was more than just a losing bonus point to return home with.
15. Andre Taylor, Hurricanes
The Hurricanes back line is showing signs of being able to overcome just about any opponent at times, and Andre Taylor was another component in the onslaught this weekend.
Capitalising upon a brilliant Cory Jane tip-down at the touch line to slide over for his first score, the full-back scored his side's only try of the day, but constant probing of the Bulls defence produced a match-high 123 carrying metres.
A rare feat for a No. 15, Taylor also managed to make four turnovers, despite not having to record a single tackle.
All statistics and figures come courtesy of ESPNScrum.