This is a season for rugby players to grab the bull by the proverbials and make serious moves to come into 2019 World Cup selection consideration.
So whose All Black stocks are surging, and whose are falling, in the Super 15 so far?
Smith must be one of the fittest players in the Super 15. His ability to reach rucks and distribute his lightning passes is phenomenal, and this season he has bounded out of the gates, playing almost full 80-minute games at his usual frenetic pace.
His rivalry with Aussie halfback Will Genia has always been a good one to watch, and it appears this year they have added a new dimension: a competition for the worst man bun.
Naholo had an excellent 2017 northern tour, profiting from injuries to his main competitors and establishing himself as the incumbent All Black right winger. This season he looks to have carried over that form and fitness. His mix of tip-toeing agility and brutal power have been a joy to watch in the Highlanders’ games so far.
It seems inevitable that Jack Goodhue will get his chance in black this year. Steve Hansen will be curious to see if his hugely impressive distribution skills can stand up at international level. Expect Goodhue to be tested in a lower stakes game such as against Argentina in the Rugby Championship.
The ‘minibus’ looks just as lethal as last year and Sonny Bill Williams will have a fight on his hands to keep the blockbusting Hurricanes man out of his No. 12 shirt.
The big mover so far this season. With All Black captain Kieran Read injured and with ongoing back problems, All Black stocks at No. 8 are low. What better time for Akira Ioane to finally start to fulfil his immense promise.
Ioane’s rampaging try against the Lions kickstarted his side’s incredible comeback last weekend, and his stats for the game show his all-round improvement with one try, 75 metres gained, ten carries, six tackles (game high for his forward pack) and one turnover won. He has a competition-leading four tries in three games, and it seems another Ioane will be terrorising international defences this season.
Sam Cane is in the form of his life. He seems to have grown in both pace and power and his first round 40-metre runaway try for the Chiefs was a side of his game we haven’t yet seen. The battle for the famous All Black No. 7 jersey is very much settled at the moment.
Reigning IRB Player of the Year Barrett has been purring along so far for the Hurricanes, without fully unleashing his bag of tricks.
A sluggish first couple of games were offset by a dramatic return to form with two tries at centre in the Blues’ win against the Lions.
Seems to be following a similar form trajectory to Ioane, with two largely anonymous outings followed by an impressive performance against the Crusaders. He obviously has the Barrett big game performance genetic code.
Tickling along nicely with strong tackling and excellent stamina but yet to see the eye-catching, tackle-breaking runs of previous seasons.
Sonny Bill Williams
Another to impress is his latest outing against the Lions. After a few wobbles early in the game, his line breaks were crucial in the Blues’ miraculous comeback win. His midfield combination with Rieko Ioane will be one to watch this year.
The mulleted Highlander has made an impressive start, with his usual pace on the ball and in your face tackling.
Last year’s rookie sensation has been mysteriously absent from the Hurricanes ranks this season. Demoted to the under-20 ranks due to lack of conditioning, he returned to make his debut off the bench against the Lions but has made little impression.
Rugby fans everywhere hope he can get over his sophomore blues and return to the devastating player of 2017.
Can I start a wee campaign to end the idea that McKenzie’s best position is fly-half? The pint-sized genius made huge strides in performance and confidence in 2017 at full-back but now has to start again at fly-half for the Chiefs. At fly-half his space is limited and his weight of responsibility increased, and so he has far less time, space and inspiration to inject his instinctual, seat of the pants plays into the game.
The Chiefs have a hugely-talented young fly-half named Tian Falcon (possibly the coolest name in rugby) who starred in the Underp20 World Cup and made an assured debut last weekend. Let’s let the Falcon fly and let McKenzie loose at fullback.
Another hugely talented player playing out of position for their Super 15 side. The Hurricanes, for whatever reason, have decided not use Fifita’s high-striding destructive runs at flanker and have instead shoved him into lock, where he wins a lot of lineouts but is otherwise sadly underutilised.