Craig Dowd:
Explosive Fekitoa cut from Lomu cloth
Craig Dowd
March 18, 2015
Malakai Fekitoa is proving to be a powerhouse again in 2015 © Getty Images

With the ante having been raised last weekend in the fifth round of Super Rugby, there will be a thrilling spectacle in Dunedin on Friday when the Highlanders host the Hurricanes.

The gun players are starting to step up in all sides around this stage of the competition. There were some nice touches at the weekend and you have got to say that Round 5 was the best week of the competition so far, and we've got to be reasonably happy with that. They've got through the early rounds and are starting to find their feet while the fitness levels have all plateaued out.

No-one would have predicted when the season started that these two teams would be where they are by this stage. And both teams have been playing some fine rugby, based on good forward play allowing their backs some room to cut their magic.

Watching Malakai Fekitoa for the Highlanders against the Waratahs, I couldn't help but think about a young Tongan boy who in 1995 burst onto the World Cup scene and his career never looked back.

A marauding Jonah Lomu breaks a Tongan tackle to score, New Zealand v Tonga, World Cup, Ashton Gate, October 3 1999
A comparison to Jonah Lomu is the ultimate accolade © Getty Images

Fekitoa may not have Jonah Lomu's physical stature but he does have the power and the explosiveness. He's just incredible. He's so strong defensively, brilliant with ball-in-hand and he's a great stepper who is also good over the ball. He's got the full complement of tricks. It was like he took candy from a baby when he plucked the ball from Israel Folau's hands and shot up the field; it was pretty special.

The Highlanders have become a solid unit, a good team, and they've got X-Factor splattered from No.9, 13 and 15, and they are really dangerous players. They're able to put a solid platform down and they are able to keep everything steady so that they can unleash their attacking arsenal. When it is time to fire a shot they can just throw Ben Smith or Malakai Fekitoa out there and it isn't a bad form of attack.

They have built on what they achieved last year and showed when up against the defending champions, the Waratahs, who looked good in patches and scored some nice tries, that part of the Highlanders' make up is their resilience and never-say-die attitude and that is showing more than ever this year.

At times there were in a real battle against the Waratahs but they dug deep and took their chances very well. One of their unsung performers has been blindside flanker Elliot Dixon; he had some big moments for them and has stepped up from what he has shown at ITM Cup level and is thriving in that Highlanders environment.

The Hurricanes came off the bye, and their South African trip, to meet the Blues in a Palmerston North contest that was played in a positive manner. The Hurricanes were able to show they are a class unit. But in saying that I thought the Blues contained their backline. However, Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu showed why there are on a level above the others.

The handling in the game, from both teams, was a pleasure to watch. I like James Broadhurst at lock. He brings a hardness there that has not been in Hurricanes packs for quite some time. With Dane Coles, Broadhurst and Victor Vito there is a spine for a good solid forward pack.

Coles has stepped up another level and he has really settled in as the incumbent All Blacks hooker and looks the best at No.2 in New Zealand by a long shot. Vito put his case forward and played really well. TJ Perenara is not playing too badly and while Aaron Smith is clearly No.1 halfback in the country, Perenara is stepping away from the chasing pack to claim No.2 for himself.

Dane Coles (C) is clearly the best hooker in New Zealand, Craig Dowd says © Getty Images

Lolagi Visinia at fullback had his best game for the Blues, who, in spite of everyone writing them off, are still a dangerous side. They may not be heading for the finals at the end of the year but going into the bye this weekend, they can at least take some heart from the fact all is not lost. Now for a lot of those players, if they are going to push for higher honours, they are going to have to perform regularly. At least there is evidence of a bit of spark there still.

If you go through all the New Zealand franchises, and I think the Blues had their best game of the year, there are some pretty special backs in each team. If you go through the talented players from team to team from Fekitoa, Patrick Osborne and Ben Smith in the Highlanders to Sonny Bill Williams, James Lowe and Bryce Heem with the Chiefs. There are some outstanding wings on show at the moment - some really great finishers.

The Crusaders welcomed back some of their older crew in Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock and Dan Carter. They are the older heads, the professionals, of Super Rugby. The Crusaders are only going to get better. They were always going to bounce back from two early losses to the Rebels and the Chiefs.

It was good to see Dan Carter get through 80 minutes of rugby and that is all he has got to do. So it will be nice if everyone can leave him alone and stop picking on him so he can get his body going and sometimes that is all it takes - just time to get the niggles out of the way and a run of games, and then you're away. More than ever that is probably what Dan Carter needs and I think he'll be feeling good about last weekend.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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