Star Men
Super Rugby round 18 team of the week
Brett McKay
July 1, 2013

Following Super Rugby has been hard work this week, for your Australian-based correspondent. Trying to concentrate on games in South Africa was almost impossible after the euphoria of the Wallabies win in the Second Test, and I have to admit, I had to rely on a major catch-up session on Sunday after giving up before the Bulls-Kings game.

Anyway, the Team is in, and as always, you can have your say on my selections in the comments below, or using the #ScrumFive and #TotW hashtags on Twitter.

15. Ben Smith (Highlanders) If the mark of a quality player is that they come back from International duty a better player again, then there's another box ticked for Ben Smith. If Hosea Gear playing in his 100th Super Rugby game provided the motivation for the Highlanders comeback in the second half, then it was Smith's broken field running game that provided the spark. Kick straight to him at your peril.

14. Frank Halai (Blues) Just another lazy two-try game from Frank the Tank. Played a major part in the Blues' revival against the Sharks by striking back in the best possible way. Halai's positioning continues to impress, especially for his second try, while for his first, he carried Sharks fly-half Patrick Lambie over the line like he was hand luggage.

13. Conrad Smith (Hurricanes) He essentially gets into TotW by his presence alone; such is his impact for the Hurricanes now. I don't think it's that much of a stretch to suggest the 'Canes would have been beaten by a lot more if Smith's wasn't there, and at times it felt like Smith's defence and his defensive leadership, along with Beauden Barrett's ability to play bigger than he actually is, kept the Hurricanes in the game. Smith's sabbatical later this year and through the 2014 Super Rugby season will be well-earned: he's carried the Hurricanes at times in 2013.

12. Bundee Aki (Chiefs) It's probably a bit harsh to describe Bundee Aki as "unheralded" because I'm sure he gets plenty of fanfare and publicity in and around Waikato Stadium. He doesn't really play your normal New Zealand "second five", but rather just gets the job done by running straight and hitting holes.

11. Telusa Veainu (Crusaders) I don't care that he only played 12 minutes, anyone that can peel off a 95-metre debut Super Rugby as high a quality as Veainu's was deserves a TotW spot. Watch the replay and tell me I'm wrong...

10. Dan Carter (Crusaders) The master. Carter is a dangerous prospect when you don't really notice him going about his business, but when he properly stands out, then you're really in trouble. That's how it was for the Highlanders on Saturday. The Crusaders added 20 points in the final 23 minutes, of which Carter accounted for 15 himself through a superb try, two penalties, and two conversions.

9. Francois Hougaard (Bulls) A super-strong game from the Springbok No.9 and perhaps the June Tests have fired him back to somewhere resembling his best form. The Bulls are at their most dangerous when Hougaard starts sniping from the base of rucks and scrums, and as they showed on several occasions, they have plenty of strike power out wide to run in tries.

8. Matt Vant Leven (Chiefs) Now this guy is unheralded. I have to admit that I can't recall seeing much of him this season, at least not enough for him to register in my memory, but he peeled off a classic No.8's game that we'd expect from someone who's been playing for ten years. Vant Leven, it turns out, first played three games for the Chiefs in 2011 and was called into the wider training squad about two months ago, playing another eight games since then. Against the Hurricanes, he's jagged the double of Chiefs' fans Player of the Day and ESPNscrum Team of the Week.

7. Luke Braid (Blues) Frank Halai was the one scoring the tries, but it was Luke Braid's work at the breakdown that laid the platform for the Blues' second-half revival in Durban. We've seen Braid playing in all three backrow positions, but openside seems to be where he has the most impact, and that was certainly the case against the Sharks.

6. Jacques Potgieter (Bulls) Such a workhorse. Incredibly strong at the breakdown, but a really strong ball-carrying forward too. His 13 runs for 87 metres against the Kings means he's getting over the gain line consistently, and factoring the two clean breaks and four defenders beaten as a gauge for just how dangerous he is. Quality player.

5. Brodie Retallick (Chiefs) There were a few worthy candidates for the tight-head lock spot, but in the end, I don't think any of them topped the effort of All Blacks lock Retallick on Friday night. Such a physical player in every aspect, and at just 23 now, and with 14 Tests to his name already, it's scary to think how good he might become.

4. Craig Clarke (Chiefs) Is there a more underrated player in New Zealand, let alone a more underrated forward? Week in, week out, Clarke performs with superb consistency, and provides a wonderful calming influence on a pack short of experience in some areas. A great captain, and he once again led from the front against the Hurricanes.

3. Ben Tameifuna (Chiefs) He only played 35 minutes, but in that time he single-handedly dismantled the Hurricanes scrums, and barged over the line from close range on his second crack at a pick-and-drive for this week's edition of Props Scoring Tries.

2. Ash Dixon (Hurricanes) A really solid game from Dixon, who got a late promotion to the starting side after All Black Dane Coles didn't back up after the Internationals. Showed a turn of pace, too, with two clean breaks made, and beating two defenders along the way. A confidence-boosting game.

1. Steven Kitshoff (Stormers) The Stormers' impressive display against the supposedly finals-bound Cheetahs would almost certainly earn them more TotW selections in any other week, and Kitshoff certainly deserves the recognition. A solid performer within a well-performed pack, which in turn led to a defensive effort that kept the Cheetahs tryless for the game.

Notable mentions: Robbie Robinson (Chiefs fullback), Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes fly-half), Charl McLeod (Sharks scrum-half), Jean Deysel (Sharks flanker), Chiliboy Ralepelle (Bulls hooker), Ben Franks (Hurricanes (prop).

Highlanders 12 - 40 Crusaders (Australia only)
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