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THE TIGHT FIVE: What we've learned about NZ Super Rugby teams

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James Mortimer     01 Apr 2014     Getty Images

The Hurricanes one-two punch

Alapati Leiua and Julian Savea fittingly scored the last two tries in their thrilling match against the Crusaders, encapsulating the total threat that exists out wide in the Hurricanes backline, and their second bonus point win of the campaign moved them to equal first on the try scoring attacking charts (along with the Blues).

The Hurricanes win was just the 19th time in Investec Super Rugby history the Crusaders had lost at home, and the Wellington based franchise’s third victory in four visits to Christchurch stretching back to 2009.

With a bye coming in a fortnight, the Hurricanes play their next three matches in front of home support, and while the Bulls, Blues and Reds bring championship winning pedigree, the Wellington based outfit will back their high octane offensive game to keep collecting valuable competition points.

Judgement day for the Highlanders

Two wins and three bonus points in five matches so far ensures that Jamie Joseph’s troops are still in touch, but it will be a week of soul searching after they suffered their heaviest defeat of the campaign to a switched on Blues team.

The 30-12 loss wasn’t a killer blow to the Southerners overall hopes, but before this the Highlanders had lost by just two-points (on both occasions against the Chiefs and Force). Their attacking game was ineffective against a committed and cohesive Blues defence, while the Aucklander’s offensive portfolio was a step up from efforts of the visitors.

The Rebels arrive in Dunedin this week for a tricky match for home team – the hosts lost to the Melbourne based outfit last year, while Tony McGahan’s side got their season back on track with a 32-24 win against the Brumbies last weekend.

Crusaders could be galvanised on tour

Sitting in thirteenth place might not be foreign territory for the red and blacks, they have sat towards the bottom of the table early season and surged towards a title before, but this year there are plenty of heavyweight contenders and the reality is that Todd Blackadder and his charges need to start firing sooner rather than later.

The Crusaders won their first title after a 1-3 season start in 1998, and had just three wins in their first seven matches in 1999, so the sluggish beginning could in theory be an omen for bigger things.

However in those days the Chiefs were not the power they are now, the Hurricane and Blues didn’t wield their current howitzer attacks, while the quality of Australia and South Africa as national collectives has caught the eye already. Read and co will need to make their move quickly.

Chiefs far from formidable

An impressive start from the two-time and defending Investec Super Rugby champions has been put into balance with the Chiefs unable to record a victory in their last couple of matches against the Force (15-18) and Bulls (34-34), and so far their three-from-three start has enabled them to remain top of the New Zealand Conference.

Dave Rennie, Wayne Smith and the rest of the Chiefs won’t be too concerned; their whip-like finish against the Bulls was impressive, few sides could score 19 points in the last ten minutes at Loftus.

Best of all the Force and Bulls have revealed chinks in the champion’s armour, with the efforts of the Western Australians at the breakdown and the Pretorians in the air giving the Chiefs plenty to work on. Usually exposed weaknesses are an issue, but the Waikato based franchise has a habit of putting blips behind them in impressive fashion – the coaches now have plenty of ammo to keep the heat on their troops as they strive for three titles in a row.

The Blues have set the mark

In one of the most impressive breakdown displays all season, the Blues won 89 rucks and lost just two over the weekend, setting the tone for a powerful display which saw the three-time champions hold out a Highlanders team that unleashed their full attack at Eden Park, to little avail.

It counted for little in the end as the Blues put together an imposing performance in the loose, pushing Sir John Kirwan’s men into the top six by virtue of point’s difference, their 184 points scored leads the competition while their 20 tries is only matched by the Hurricanes.

An injury toll extending into double figures might be a concern, but performances of players like Bryn Hall, George Moala and Simon Hickey showed how much change the franchise is getting out of their non-Test contingent – if their All Blacks begin to heat up the Blues might start planning for a longer season.