Super Rugby Power Rankings: Week Four

Super Rugby
by Sam Phillips

On the eve of round four, the top four spots in the Power Rankings are held by Kiwi teams.

The major headline of the 2016 season was the strength of the New Zealand Conference and that has continued through the first three rounds of 2017.

The Power Rankings aim to paint a clean picture as to who the true title contenders are amidst a muddied conference system and it is clear the standard of football being played in New Zealand is head and shoulders above the rest.The Lions, Stormers, Sharks and Reds have played patches of high quality rugby but none have been as consistent as the four teams above them.

Here's how the rankings shape up as we head into round four.

1. Chiefs

Tawera Kerr-Barlow has steered the Chiefs with aplomb in 2017. Photo: Getty ImagesWe have a new leader atop the rankings. The Hurricanes have rightfully occupied top spot for the first three rounds but there is no denying the Chiefs after they beat the reigning champs on Friday. Treacherous conditions ruined what should have been an elite spectacle but the Chiefs handled the conditions better and rightfully took the four points.

The telling number: 14 offloads against the Hurricanes. Even in pouring rain, they were super clean in keeping the ball alive.

2. Hurricanes

Can Dane Coles and the Hurricanes bounce back in round four? Photo: Getty ImagesThe first tough test the reigning champs have faced and they were a notch below their best. Their hands were sloppy, though the pouring rain did not allow Beauden Barrett to unleash his backline. After two crushing wins and a deflating loss, we will know whether this team has the same mettle as last year's when they host the Highlanders on Saturday afternoon (AEDT).

The telling number: 21 turnovers against the Chiefs. It was a supremely slippery affair but that's still too much ball to give to a team as sharp as the Chiefs.

3. Crusaders

Mitch Hunt kicked the Crusaders to a win in Brisbane. Photo: Getty ImagesAnother week, another Crusaders comeback win. The Bryn Hall-led comeback was breathtaking to watch. It's almost as if they give opponents a head start for fun. A tantalising derby with the Blues tomorrow afternoon awaits.

The telling number: 15 points in the final 17 minutes against the Reds. Their self belief knows no bounds.

4. Highlanders

Malakai Fekitoa survived an injury scare on Saturday. Photo: Getty ImagesThere was not a lot to like in their win against the Blues but winning form is good form and it was important for the Highlanders to get off the mark. Now they've broken the duck, they will be truly tested against the Hurricanes. There are serious injury concerns, though, as Lima Sopoaga and Waisake Naholo join Liam Squire, James Lentjes, Shane Christie and Jason Emery on the sidelines for the Canes clash.

The telling number: 86.5 percent tackle success. Good for fourth best in Super Rugby and was telling against the Blues.

5. Lions

Took the risk of leaving Elton Jantjies and Rohan Janse van Rensburg at home and the Jaguares made them pay. They slide down a spot for the loss but a win against a hungry Reds outfit may see them take the reigns as the fourth best team in the competition once again.

The telling number: 19 linebreaks conceded against the Jaguares. The Argentinians play an attacking style of footy but 19 is far too many.

6. Stormers

The Stormers are undefeated through three rounds. Photo: Getty ImagesThe Stormers played all the rugby against the Kings and were duly rewarded in the 41-10 win. Robert du Preez is impressing at flyhalf behind a forward pack that does not take a backward step. They remain undefeated but have had a favourable draw ahead of their bye this weekend.

The telling number: 1963 metres gained. They've had the third most carries in Super Rugby as well. Playing some rugby that is easy on the eye.

7. Sharks

Curwin Bosch was unstoppable against the Waratahs. Photo: Getty ImagesThe Sharks were great in Australia to open their season but they were even better at home, smashing the Waratahs in the early hours of Sunday morning. Just how far the the team can go with Pat Lambie out for six to eight weeks is another matter, though rookie Curwin Bosch could not miss off the tee in Lambie's absence.

The telling number: 27 points for Bosch. The Sharks lost a sharpshooter in Lambie but look to have found another one in the 19-year-old Bosch.

8. Reds

Samu Kerevi and the Reds need to hit back against the Lions in Johannesburg. Photo: Getty ImagesWe are three weeks into the season but it's still unclear what the Reds are capable of in 2017. Their first half against the Crusaders was their best 40 minutes in years but for the second straight week, they let four points slip with a poor second half performance. They are gelling, though, and still look to be capable of better rugby than any other Australian side.

The telling number: Zero points in the second half against the Crusaders. There were opportunities aplenty but the failure to convert cost the Reds four points.

9. Blues

Jerome Kaino and the Blues are a touch off the pace being set by the rest of the NZ Conference. Photo: Getty ImagesDespite their best efforts, the Highlanders match highlighted the gap that remains between the Blues and the rest of the New Zealand Conference. They just lack some X factor the other four teams have in spades. When Ihaia West has an off night Rieko Ioane and Rene Ranger don't get enough ball, resulting in a largely predictable attack. A win against the Crusaders would be a serious statement.

The telling number: 65 percent second half possession. The Blues could not find a way through a stoic Highlanders defensive line despite having all the ball.

10. Brumbies

Joe Powell has impressed as Tomas Cubelli's cover. Photo: Getty ImagesSimilar to the position the Highlanders found themselves in ahead of round three, the Brumbies desperately needed to beat the Force. Joe Powell and Wharenui Hawera are gelling like coach Stephen Larkham envisioned and it is paying dividends. With the Australian Conference wide open, there is capacity for this team to make a finals run again in 2017 despite the departure of several key figures, given what they have shown so far. Saturday night's clash with the Waratahs will have a profound effect on the shape of the conference going forward.

The telling number: 6 turnovers conceded against the Force. They starved the Force of turnover ball and controlled the game along with it.

11. Force

Ill-discipline cost Tatafu Polota-Nau and the Force four points. Photo: Getty ImagesJust when it looked like a landmark victory was theirs, the Ross Haylett-Petty yellow card sent the Force spiralling. Coach Dave Wessels knows he has an attacking arsenal at his disposal not previously seen in Perth but they were their own worst enemies last Friday. Couldn't be a worse time for the bye as they will stew on that loss.

The telling number: 79.5 percent tackle success rate. Third worst in Super Rugby - not up to scratch going forward.

12. Waratahs

It was a miserable two weeks for the Waratahs in South Africa. Photo: Getty ImagesThe Tahs went winless in South Africa for the first time since 2012 after the loss to the Sharks. They were comprehensively outplayed. A stunted attack and shoddy defensive line does not usually add up to winning rugby. They need Bernard Foley back and they need to beat the Brumbies at Allianz Stadium on Saturday to get their season back on track.

The telling number: 21 line breaks. Third worst in the competition - better than only the Rebels and Force.

13. Jaguares

What a story this is. The Argentinians were not up to Super Rugby standard in 2016 but they have embraced a running game that punishes tired opposition legs and are reaping the rewards. The Lions were without their stars at the weekend but the road trip to Argentina will be a tough one for all opposition if Nicolas Sanchez and Joaquin Tuculet continue to fire off the back of clean ball.

The telling number: 412. The most in Super Rugby. Says all you need to know about this team's mentality in their first three starts.

14. Cheetahs

Tian Meyer notched three try assists against the Sunwolves. Photo: Getty ImagesA win is a win and some great rugby was played but sneaking home by seven points against the Sunwolves at home is hardly worth writing home about. Halfback Tian Meyer is catching the eye, setting up several line breaks with some nifty work around the edge of the breakdown. Openside flanker Teboho Mohoje is seeking plenty of work as well.

The telling number: 44 line breaks. Second best in Super Rugby behind only the Hurricanes.

15. Bulls

Had the bye but the Jaguares performance was warranting of a two spot jump. It's dog eat dog out there.

16. Rebels

Also had the bye and managed to move up a spot. Their best result yet.

17. Sunwolves

Hayden Cripps controlled the game well for the Sunwolves. Photo: Getty ImagesMoving up a spot purely based on the kind of rugby they are playing compared to fellow cellar dwellers, the Kings. This team have a real crack at the breakdown each and every week despite being consistently outsized. They will win an away game soon and look to have found a handy flyhalf in Hayden Cripps.

The telling number: 100 percent scrum success. Evidence that technique at scrum time always beats size.

18. Kings

No spark in attack means kicking the ball away and being forced to defend until the point of exhaustion. That's been the status quo for the Kings in 2017 and was on show for all to see against the Stormers. They are going to be touched up when they leave South African borders.

The telling number: 71 percent scrum success. Second worst in Super Rugby and a serious headache for the coaching staff.