‘The Hurricanes look fat, slow and unfit.’
These scathing words of ex-Wallaby turned commentator Phil Kearns a year ago certainly could not be applied to the 2017 Hurricanes, who stormed to the top of the Super 18 leaderboard after racking up consecutive 70+ point thrashings.
The four other New Zealand teams were involved in high-impact, high skill local derbies.
So which players stood out in round two?
Nehe Milner-Scudder (Hurricanes)
A hat-trick of tries in his first full game in a year. Although many fans probably wince and hold their breath every time he is tackled, they are probably balanced by gasps at his exhilarating footwork, speed and skill. Expect him to be fast-tracked back into black for the Lions series if he can avoid the injury ward.
Ardie Savea (Hurricanes)
Speed, power, leg drives, steals and stamina – Ardie was a huge force against the hapless Rebels. Looks fresher and faster than last year. 83 metres, 10 tackles, 6 defenders beaten, 5 clean breaks, 3 turnovers, 1 try. Yep -not a bad day at the office.
Julian Savea (Hurricanes)
This year there ain’t no flat (or fat) tyres on the Bus. Savea senior looks big, lean and fast. His first run through the Rebels defense showed the kind of zip we haven’t witnessed for two or three seasons and when he ran down and tackled the flying Rebels winger Koroibete, a frightening picture emerges – Julian Savea with mind and body all fully conditioned and engaged. Be afraid Lions, be very afraid.
Waisake Naholo (Highlanders)
His brace of tries couldn’t stop the Crusaders’ mighty comeback but Naholo looked all power and class, combining beautifully with scrum-half Aaron Smith. A right royal battle looms for the back three positions for the All Blacks.
Vince Aso ( Hurricanes)
His second consecutive top five placing and is really catching the eye out on the right wing. Four tries in two games, showcasing some startling power and speed and against the Rebels, also contributed a superb back of the hand try assist to show that his confidence is peaking. Could be a real contender as back line utility cover for the All Blacks this season.
Honorable mentions: Ngani Laumape, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie, Gareth Evans, Ryan Crotty, Anton Lienert-Brown, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Michael Fatialofa.