Super Rugby Power Rankings: Week Seven

Super Rugby
by Sam Phillips

Round six was an acid test for the Australian Conference and unfortunately, the four teams in action failed to break the duck against Kiwi opposition for 2017.

The results, while predictable, were further evidence that New Zealand has opened up a considerable class difference from top to bottom.

The Rebels were abysmal against the Highlanders but the Force, Reds and Waratahs all had their chances.

All three were unable to finish off against the Blues, Hurricanes and Crusaders respectively.Whether fitness played a part is an intriguing element to this debate but as cliche as it sounds, all three Kiwi sides took their opportunities in the final quarter of the match.

Their Australian counterparts seemed lost in the tight moments and failed to execute core skills - an area where New Zealand outfits continue to excel.

As a result, the race for the Australian Conference remains tight but not in the way Australian rugby fans would have hoped.

A reminder, these rankings are based on form over the last few weeks, a subjective ranking as to who would beat who if they played at a neutral venue this weekend.

1. Chiefs

Aaron Cruden and Damian McKenzie continue to star for the Chiefs. Photo: Getty ImagesThere were plenty of handling errors against the Bulls and a lesser team may have dropped that match.

Damian McKenzie showed his immense talent and alongside Shaun Stevenson, dragged his team over the line, proving influential with every touch of the ball.

Stevenson's try will be one of the best we will see all season and he continues to push for All Blacks honours.

Their defence has held up every time it has been tested this season, just long enough for their forwards to turn the tide and unleash what is the best backline in Super Rugby right now.

The telling number: 95.2 percent lineout success - the best mark in Super Rugby.

2. Crusaders

Can the Crusaders continue their undefeated streak? Photo: Getty ImagesIt's been written so many times before but this team just knows how to win.

The Waratahs had all the momentum after Taqele Naiyaravoro turned into a human steam train en route to his devastating try but the Crusaders regrouped and proved the better team over the final 25 minutes.

Bryn Hall's match-winning try was the epitome of the Crusaders' play through the first six rounds.

A pair of perfect pop passes to supporting players after a linebreak down the right hand sideline was simply unstoppable.

The ability to keep the ball alive is pivotal to their success.

The telling number: 88 offloads - third most in Super Rugby.

3. Hurricanes

Beauden Barrett and the Canes face the Tahs tomorrow night. Photo: Getty ImagesChris Boyd and TJ Perenara were the first to admit after the win against the Reds that they weren't at their best on Saturday.

The Reds are a different beast at home but they are still just a one-win team - a team the Hurricanes would have expected to account for in easier fashion than they did.

Based on that performance, the Crusaders are in a touch better knick.

Dane Coles is still out for tomorrow's clash with the Tahs and they miss his presence but as long as the Barrett boys are playing and TJ Perenara is doing TJ Perenara things at halfback, they will remain a title contender.

The telling number: 152 tackle busts - the most in Super Rugby.

4. Lions

What a game of footy the Lions played against the Sharks.

Jaco Kriel scored the sealer with five to play but it's clear there are three very good teams in the two African Conferences.

The Lions held on and in turn keep a one game gap on the Durban side but the Curwin Bosch-led outfit have shown that they are the real deal in their time on this side of the world as well as their time over there.

The telling number: 80 line breaks - third best in Super Rugby.

5. Highlanders

Fekitoa was enormous for the Highlanders against the Rebels. Photo: Getty ImagesThis looked a devastating win to the eye but in truth, the Rebels were woeful.

The Highlanders were never going to be challenged by Melbourne and they need to prove themselves against Kiwi opposition if they are to slide up these rankings.

There is enough there to suggest they are better than the Blues but we will find out who's who in the zoo when they clash on Saturday evening.

The telling number: 7-68-7-3-1. The runs-metres-tackle busts-line breaks-offloads line for Malakai Fekitoa.

6. Stormers

This Stormers is coming into its own away from the spotlight of Australia and New Zealand.

They absolutely thumped the Cheetahs, though several teams have this season.

Robert Du Preez has starred for the Stormers this season. Photo: Getty ImagesRobert du Preez has emerged as a fantastic playmaker at flyhalf, their back three is one of the best in the business and their forward pack is physically imposing both in general play at scrum time - where they are yet to lose on their own feed.

They face the Chiefs at Newlands this week in what shapes as the match of the round.

The telling number: 4-99-4-2-0. The aforementioned line for Dillyn Leyds.

7. Sharks

They're close to the two South African teams above them on this ladder but just not quite there yet.

They went with the Lions in Johannesburg, which is no small feat, but they are also yet to record a win against high quality opposition.

The telling number: 87 percent tackle success - third best in Super Rugby.

8. Blues

Piers Francis has warmed into his role at flyhalf in place of Ihaia West. Photo: Getty ImagesThe Force stuck with the Blues and even dominated the opening quarter but the Auckland side stuck fat in their defensive work and broke clear late.

The Ioane brothers are genuine stars and there is only improvement in this team, given that Sonny Bill Williams is back against the Highlanders.

The telling number: 732 carries - third most in Super Rugby.

9. Brumbies

Out of action at the weekend and the teams behind them hardly set the world on fire.

Resume against the Reds on Saturday night.

10. Jaguares

Also out of action.

Resume in a testing trip to Durban to take on the Sharks on Saturday night (AEST).

11. Waratahs

Bernard Foley is back for the Waratahs. Photo: Getty ImagesIt wasn't a case of no Bernard Foley, no Waratahs on Sunday but his return this week is so important to their season.

A trip to Wellington is one of the toughest in Super Rugby but with Foley on board, this is an entirely different team.

Win against the Hurricanes ahead of the bye and season 2017 looks completely different for the Tahs.

The telling number: 47 (!) missed tackles against the Crusaders.

12. Reds

Eto Nabuli was impressive once again against the Canes. Photo: Getty ImagesThe Reds hung with the misfiring Hurricanes on Saturday, which is all Nick Stiles could ask given the difference between the two teams.

He has made the promised changes after a poor bench performance and there is a sense that should they beat the Brumbies in Canberra, their season will be back on track.

Quade Cooper's return next week can't come quick enough.

The telling number: 78 percent tackle success - second worst in Super Rugby.

13. Force

Marcel Brache and the Force are struggling to put together a potent attack. Photo: Getty ImagesThe Force controlled the opening quarter of their clash with the Blues but the facts lay the situation bare.

They have not turned pressure into points all season and against Kiwi opposition, that simply isn't going to get the job done.

A big chance to notch their second win of 2017 when the woeful Kings come to Perth on Sunday.

The telling number: 83 tackle busts - second worst in Super Rugby.

14. Bulls

Burger Odendaal was impressive against the Chiefs. Photo: Getty ImagesTwo matches in New Zealand, two games where the Bulls have fallen away late.

They gave the Chiefs an almighty scare on Saturday but didn't have the firepower to go with them late.

Handre Pollard is really warming up at flyhalf.

An intriguing clash with the Sunwolves on Saturday afternoon awaits.

The telling number: 509 carries - third least in Super Rugby.

15. Rebels

Just as it looked as though they were turning their form around, they dished up a tripe performance against the Highlanders.

There are usually some positives to take out of every performance but this was a disastrous outing for Melbourne.

The telling number: 77 tackle busts - worst in Super Rugby.

16. Cheetahs

The Cheetahs' performance was just as bad as the Rebels'.

Yet to show any of the form they displayed in round one in a tough loss to the Lions.

The telling number: 101 offloads - best in Super Rugby - which is bizarre.

17. Kings

Had the bye.

Arrived in Australia this week for a three-week road trip against the Force, Reds and Waratahs.

18. Sunwolves

Also had the bye.

Will fancy themselves at home against the Bulls on Saturday afternoon and rightfully so.