- Blues wing dynamo Caleb Clarke tops the pile in this exercise after the latest round, looking a ceaseless livewire.
- Crusaders fullback Will Jordan is back on our “podium” again, after a mature display against the Chiefs.
- Open-side flanker Dalton Papali’i was another standout for the Blues, greatly helping their third win on the trot.
Western Province, during their record-breaking Currie Cup heyday in the 1980s, unearthed an unusual type of gem in one of their wing berths.
At the time - in rugby pretty much worldwide - the fliers out wide tended to be lean and elusive rather than noticeable, physical powerhouses.
So when Stellenbosch’s right wing Niel Burger came on the scene with his tree trunk-like thighs and overall stockiness, there was great novelty value in his brand of play - he scored plenty of tries that would see him escape from multiple attempted tackles and often also bulldoze his way over the try-line though sheer, brute force.
Older South African enthusiasts watching the Super Rugby Aotearoa nail-biter between the Blues and Highlanders at Eden Park on Saturday might well have spotted “Burger qualities” - and more - in the hosts’ Caleb Clarke, even though his role is in on the left side of the field.
The son of Blues earlier-generation, All Black backline legend Eroni, Caleb set Eden Park alight virtually whenever he was on the ball as the home outfit ensured a 3/3 start to the competition with a hard-earned 27-24 victory.
He tops my performance card for round three of the competition … here are the recipients of “gold, silver and bronze medals” I eventually opted for:
GOLD: CALEB CLARKE (Blues)
I have already compared him to SA’s Burger … section of the New Zealand press reckon he is showing shades of Bryan Williams, the All Blacks wing legend of the 1970s.
The 21-year-old bundle of lethal energy had lost his grandfather in the immediate lead-up to Saturday’s match … and honoured his senior relative by putting in a positively storming showing.
Former NZ U20 star Clarke stuck up his hand again for potential All Black inclusion this year by being a nightmare to police all game for the Highlanders.
He announced himself early by muscling over in the sixth minute to open the scoring, and then just before the half-hour mark he was instrument in teeing up colleague Rieko Ioane for a try, making a brilliant run before passing infield.
Ironically, Clarke and the versatile Ioane – currently wearing No 13 for the Blues – are likely rivals for the All Black No 11 jersey, as the latter is the incumbent, from the bronze medal playoff triumph over Wales at RWC 2019.
With power, speed (both in flight and off the mark) and a broad overall appetite, Clarke is undoubtedly a rising star of Super Rugby Aotearoa.
SILVER: WILL JORDAN (Crusaders)
The ambitious young ‘Saders fullback made my “podium” last week … and fully deserves to be visiting it again, by my book.
Sam Cane, the new All Black captain and skipper of Sunday’s losing outfit the Chiefs, made the valid point after the tight match in Christchurch that the Crusaders scored two opportunistic tries … while admitting, though, that they were “really well taken”.
In that respect, Jordan deserves another solid tick to his performance box as he was the finisher on each occasion, simultaneously indicating the levels of composure he pleasingly brings to his important position.
The 22-year-old first got on the scoreboard in the 33rd minute after right wing Sevu Reece had brilliantly won a high-ball contest out wide and streaked away, from well inside his half.
But he had an eagle-eyed Jordan supporting on the inside, and the No 15 put the gleeful finishing touches to the sudden breakout.
Six minutes after the break, he was in business again, helping exploit a moment of collective “snooze” by the Chiefs as he received a quick throw-in at a lineout and sprinted away to cross the chalk.
Jordan put in a polished defensive showing on the always greasy surface and with the impediment of a cake-of-soap ball, into the bargain.
BRONZE: DALTON PAPALI'I (Blues)
The Blues’ tighthead prop, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, put in a strikingly assertive shift both in open play and at the set-piece, but he was narrowly pipped for these purposes by open-side flanker Papali’i.
A three-cap All Black clearly with deeper aspirations than that tally, Papali’i was a constructive element for the log-leading team throughout his shift against the tenacious Highlanders.
I thought he made attacking yardage out wide in much the same way Siya Kolisi skilfully does for the Springboks when on his premier form.
And he was a factor in notching two of the Blues’ tries, dotting one of them in the second half when he managed a lineout drive deftly to crash over.
Earlier in the match, he was right up with play to cash in on loosie colleague Hoskins Sotutu’s charge-down near the enemy try-line and duly apply the key finishing touches.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing