● There were the New Zealand sides and there was everybody else. That was how big the gulf was between New Zealand and the rest. It made sense when the Crusaders won the tournament away from home against an exceptional but errorprone Lions side. They were the best of a very good bunch of teams from the Land of the Long White Cloud but like scaling a mountain, getting to the top is easier than staying there. The New Zealand franchises have cannibalised each other over the past two seasons and that could be the case this season. The Hurricanes inflicted the Crusaders’ only loss while the New Zealand teams didn’t lose to Australian and South African opposition at home. Of the New Zealand sides, it’s the Blues who are most vulnerable. They’re the only New Zealand side who haven’t made the play-offs in the past 11 years but have shown signs of improvement under Tana Umaga. The Hurricanes, Highlanders and the Chiefs have all won the tournament in the past six years and will be serious play-off candidates.