- Versatile outside back Will Jordan just keeps on delivering stellar showings for the unbeaten Crusaders.
- Tighthead props (unjustly!) seldom hit the headlines, but the Reds’ Taniela Tupou was a key powerhouse on Friday.
- The Hurricanes’ returning Jordie Barrett had a fine all-round outing in their away triumph over the Chiefs.
He’s already stuck up his hand for the All Black fullback berth this year; now add right wing to the list of Test selection possibilities for young Crusaders dasher Will Jordan.
Arch-rivals the Springboks’ occupancy of the No 14 jersey is currently in the skilful hands of Cheslin Kolbe, of course – the man who delivered the flash-of-genius, cherry-on-top try in the RWC 2019 final when he bamboozled Owen Farrell with his swerve on the way to the chalk late on in the 32-12 triumph.
But New Zealand may just be coaxed, whenever their international roster gets underway, to find an equivalent home for Jordan in that spot.
After beginning Super Rugby Aotearoa with enough of a bang in the last line of defence, the ‘Saders confidently fielded him in the wider channel against the never-say-die Highlanders on Saturday … with further, profound success.
Jordan tops my performance card for the latest round of the competition; here are the recipients of “gold, silver and bronze medals” I eventually opted for, now including Super Rugby AU action across the ditch:
GOLD: WILL JORDAN (Crusaders)
He’s been on my podium twice already, and this week the 22-year-old earns top honour for his game-breaking showing as the Crusaders stretched their record to three from three with a 40-20 victory over the Highlanders in Dunedin.
The result of a high-quality contest was rather more in the balance than the final score suggests, with three or four minutes to go, (26-20) before a late brace of tries to the long-time, broad dominators of Super Rugby eventually doused the home team’s fire to a deceptively cruel extent.
Typically, though, the last of them went to the consistently prolific-scoring Jordan, as he cashed in clinically on a broken-down Highlanders attack: Fed the ball behind the halfway line with the opposition wrong-footed, he put in an astute chip, then collected it himself to streak away for the score.
It was his second of the fast-paced clash, as he had also opened the try list much earlier, in the 15th minute.
In between, Jordan was dynamic, cool and hardworking in virtually all facets of play, seamlessly switching back to No 15 in the closing stages when Sevu Reece came off the bench as significant impact infusion. (Flyhalf Richie Mo’unga also had a stellar game.)
His squad-mate will be one of the obstacles, ironically, if he does challenge for the All Black No 14 shirt: Reece was in that berth for the ill-fated World Cup semi-final in Japan against the fired-up English.
“Jordan’s nominally returned to fullback, but he’s got licence … he’s popping up wherever he feels,” commentator Tony Johnson said approvingly just before the final whistle.
A bit like Kolbe does at his bewitching best …
SILVER: TANIELA TUPOU (Reds)
Yes, it was very tempting to strip Tupou of his status here, on the basis of his ill-timed yellow-card offence in the 66th minute of a ding-dong Brisbane tussle with old enemies, the Waratahs.
The muscular tighthead prop was pinged for a stupid late barge on one of the Waratahs’ relieving kickers (his second incident of that kind), and those 10 minutes’ absence could so easily have been costly.
But the Reds survived the inconvenience to prevail 32-26 in an engrossing match (streets better than Brumbies v Rebels) … with Tupou an important paver of the way, I felt.
That much was also acknowledged by Wallabies front-row legend Phil Kearns on commentary: “It started at the set-piece in the first half; Tupou demolished the Waratahs’ scrum.”
The bustling young Tongan-born customer, with 19 caps for Australia, gave raw – but eternally gutsy – Waratahs No 1 Angus Bell, 20, a serious working-over at scrum time and was busy in general play too.
He thought he had a try in the 25th minute when he burst away from a ruck, but it was disallowed after an earlier knock-on was spotted by the TMO.
Tupou is only 24 and may yet get bigger in every respect …
BRONZE: JORDIE BARRETT (Hurricanes)
Barrett should have shown some cobwebs after his delayed start to Super Rugby Aotearoa due to injury (he would also get a painful, accidental mid-game eye poke from rival fullback Damian McKenzie here).
But the cobwebs were commendably absent, really, as the Hurricanes’ No 15 made shrewd, sometimes devastating, use of the blustery conditions to star in the visitors’ maiden win in the competition at the third attempt.
He was very quickly in the game as his long, floated pass to SA-born right wing Kobus van Wyk gave the No 14 the simplest of dot-downs.
But Barrett’s kicking, both out of hand and off the tee, generally worked a charm as well.
He kept sending the Chiefs backwards at a rate of knots with raking kicks when the ‘Canes had the wind behind them in the first period.
The highlight of his kicking day, and an all-round polished performance, was just before the break when he landed an almost 60-metre monster penalty goal: Not the sort of thing you see from NZ placekickers every day.
Barrett was last passer for another Van Wyk try later on, courtesy of a brilliant back-of-the-arm flick.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing