Super Rugby Power Rankings: Week Nine

Super Rugby
by Sam Phillips

As the halfway point of the Super Rugby season approaches, we have enough of a sample size to safely identify two clear form lines.

The first of which is the break the top three Kiwi teams have put on the rest of the competition.

The Crusaders, Chiefs and Hurricanes are a class above the other 15 teams.

They keep churning out wins, whether that be through a tight, grinding game - see the Canes' win over the Blues and the Chiefs' win over the Cheetahs - or without having to get out of first gear - see the Crusaders' win over the Sunwolves.

No matter the opposition and no matter the style of game, these three teams find avenues to victories that the other Super Rugby teams have not yet discovered.Secondly, the battle for the top of the Australian Conference is going to be one filled with upsets at every turn.

No one thought the Rebels would beat the Brumbies but that result keeps the Waratahs and the Reds well within touching distance.

It is looking increasingly likely that just one Australian team will play finals so the conference derbies ahead shape as crucial battles.

A reminder, these Power Rankings are a subjective take based on form in recent weeks.

If a highly rated team loses to a team down the ladder, they will naturally fall a couple of spots.

1. Crusaders

Manasa Mataele and the Crusaders are flying. Photo: Getty ImagesThe Crusaders make their debut atop the Power Rankings.

With the way they dispatched the Sunwolves (who are admittedly very average) to remain the only undefeated team in Super Rugby, how could they not be?

They play smart, efficient rugby that relies on their clinical set piece to strangle teams before launching irresistible attacks from all parts of the field.

The return of Richie Mo'unga and Kieran Read has them primed for a big finals run.

The telling number: 36 tries - second best in Super Rugby.

2. Hurricanes

Beauden Barrett carved the Blues up. Photo: Getty ImagesOnly sliding down this ladder due to the irresistible form of the Crusaders.

Were perhaps pushed by the Blues more than they should have been but along with the Chiefs and Crusaders, are far better than the chasing pack.

We already knew this but Beauden Barrett's performance at Eden Park solidified his status as a bonafide freak.

The telling number(s): Barrett's RMDC (runs, metres, defenders beaten, clean breaks) line - 16/204/9/4. Chuck in a try assist for your troubles as well.

3. Chiefs

After falling just short of the mark against the Stormers, the Chiefs did what title contending teams do with their backs against the wall in South Africa.

History says that title winning teams bring home at least four points from the two matches in the Republic and while the Cheetahs belted them early, the Chiefs stormed home to ensure they hit that watermark.

The telling number: 93.9 percent lineout success - best in Super Rugby.

4. Lions

Elton Jantjies was pumped after his team's win over the Stormers. Photo: Getty ImagesReclaimed their status as the best team in South Africa with a big away win against the Stormers.

Jaco Kriel's controversial try was a game changer but fortune favours the brave and the Lions threw more caution to the wind than their opponent.

But more importantly, the Lions showed tremendous fight to defend their line several times when the Stormers looked like breaking through.

The telling number: 11 missed tackles from 116 attempts against the Stormers - 90 percent conversion rate.

5. Stormers

Eben Etzebeth and the Stormers struggled against the Lions. Photo: Getty ImagesSlip a spot based on the reasons mentioned above.

The Lions beat them at the scrum, breakdown and defended with better efficiency - that remains the difference between these two teams.

The telling number: 95 clean breaks - third best in Super Rugby.

6. Highlanders

Had the bye at the weekend. Will ease back into their footy against the Sunwolves on Saturday.

7. Sharks

Also had the bye at weekend and will similarly ease back into things when they host the Rebels on Sunday morning (AEST).

8. Brumbies

The Brumbies battled for momentum due to their wayward lineout. Photo: WalmsleyThe loss to the Rebels was their worst performance of the year.

Poor set piece play is an abnormality for this team and that was their achilles heel on Saturday.

They are now only one win clear of the Reds, Waratahs and Force in the Australian Conference.

The telling number: 4 from 14 lineouts went astray against the Rebels - far worse than their usual competition-leading best.

9. Blues

Feel as though the same thing has been written over and over about this team.

They are good - better than the majority of Super Rugby teams - but they are not good enough to beat their New Zealand Conference foes.

The attacking numbers are there but solid set piece play is sorely missing.

Sonny Bill Williams was solid without being spectacular in his return to the starting XV.

The telling number: 82.6 percent lineout success - sixth worst in Super Rugby.

10. Reds

Izaia Perese and the Reds put together some imposing rugby against the Kings. Photo: Getty ImagesThe big movers of the round but that's in part due to the poor Jaguares and both the Force and Tahs enjoying a week off.

The scoreline flattered the Kings as the Reds switched off after opening up a 47-17 lead with 20 to play.

The four try burst in the 20 minutes after half time was indicative of what the Reds can do in the back half of 2017.

They have the bye this week but their clash with the Tahs at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday week will be a season defining contest.

The telling number: 21 clean breaks against the Kings - coinciding with Quade Cooper's return.

11. Jaguares

The early season results were not against crash hot opposition and they are starting to falter now.

The Bulls are not a good rugby team - they lost to the Sunwolves in round seven - and the Jaguares should be beating them if they consider themselves a title threat.

The telling number: 56 percent possession for just seven line breaks against the Bulls.

12. Force

Had the bye and were jumped by the Reds in the process.

13. Waratahs

In the same boat as the Force.

14. Rebels

The Rebels finally had something to smile about on Saturday. Photo: WalmsleyWhat a difference a week makes.

The Brumbies were far from their best but credit to the Rebels for taking advantage of their opportunities to turn pressure into points.

They are a different side at AAMI Park.

Reece Hodge is invaluable and the win was a superb show of spirit with the club currently under the pump.

The telling number: 12 turnovers won against the Brumbies.

15. Bulls

After a 0-3 stint overseas this was an important win for the Bulls.

Handre Pollard remains their chief source of points though, as he kicked 16 of the 26 points.

The telling number: 156 tackles made against the Jaguares - an enormous defensive performance.

16. Kings

They've played a new brand of rugby since arriving on Australian shores but are yet to reap any reward from their efforts.

After falling short against the Force and the Reds, they must improve defensively if they are to trouble the Tahs.

The telling number: 25 missed tackles against the Reds from 115 attempts - far too flimsy.

17. Cheetahs

Blitzed the Chiefs through their set piece and slick offloads to open up a 24-0 lead in the first 20 minutes.

It was all downhill from there, though, as their defence fell to pieces and they were subsequently outscored 41-3 in the final 60 minutes.

The telling number: 81.5 percent tackle success - sixth worst in Super Rugby.

18. Sunwolves

Always going to be outclassed by the Crusaders but they didn't even get the Kiwis out of first gear.

Their usual endeavour was lacking after last week's big win over the Bulls.

The Highlanders and Chiefs await - some dark days may be on the horizon.

The telling number: 25 percent territory against the Crusaders... 25 percent!