Round one in Super Rugby is traditionally a time when teams shake off any pre-season rust and give onlookers a good chance to assess fitness and form.
With the British and Irish Lions tour looming, we look at which players bounded out of the blocks to catch the selectors’ eyes.
1. Rieko Ioane (Blues)
Watching Ioane, selectors might’ve needed sunglasses, such was the dazzling star power on display. A hat-trick of tries, 144 metres gained and five clean breaks – Blues supporters must be licking their lips at the prospect of Ioane running off the shoulder of Sonny Bill Williams when the latter returns from injury.
The make-up of the All Blacks midfield is a traffic jam of talent, but Ioane will be irresistible if he continues this form.
2. Israel Dagg (Crusaders)
Pure class. In his 100th Super Rugby game, Dagg showed off his sublime all round skills, setting up two tries, inserting himself into the backline with pace and timing, and covering and cleaning up a lot of defensive threats from the Brumbies with his positional play and booming punt.
Finally free from contract speculation, a care-free Dagg is a treat to watch.
3. Vince Aso (Hurricanes)
Some UK rugby fans might remember Aso for breaking England hearts when his spectacular solo try was the difference between the two teams in the Under-20 2015 World Cup final.
Aso, who is only 22, made a round-high 163 metres and scored two tries against the hapless Sunwolves. With the abundant star power available to coach Chris Boyd at the Hurricanes, Aso’s biggest obstacle ahead may be gaining game time. But performances like this will help.
4. Augustine Pulu (Blues)
Pulu scored a scorching solo try against the Rebels and could be a big mover in 2017 at international level. He has had two caps for the All Blacks, but injuries and limited game time have curtailed his momentum in previous seasons.
With no other real competition for his No. 9 jersey at the Blues, his snappy, aggressive play will be crucial to set the exciting Blues backline alight.
5. Steven Luatua (Blues)
The inclusion of Luatua’s name on this list might put Steve Hansen’s crockery under threat, given that the big blindside flanker has signed for Bristol for next season. Hansen said that he and the All Blacks were disappointed not to be part of the contract negotiating process but, given the dearth of options available for the All Blacks at blindside/No. 8, don’t bet against Luatua being involved in the All Blacks squad should injuries occur.
Against the Rebels, Luatua was industrious and powerful, making ten carries, eleven tackles, 60 running metres, beating five defenders and making two clean breaks.
Honorable mentions: James Lowe, Julian Savea, Ardie Savea, Ryan Crotty, Jordan Taufua.
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena
Read More About: 2017 British and Irish Lions, All Blacks, ardie savea, Auckland Blues, Augustine Pulu, bristol rugby, Crusaders Rugby, Hurricanes Rugby, israel dagg, James Lowe, Jordan Taufua, julian savea, new zealand rugby, Rieko Ioane, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, steve hansen, Steven Luatua, super 18, Vince Aso