8 Dec

Is Club Rugby in New Zealand Doomed?
by Paul Waite
8 Dec 2000

For some years now there has been a disquieting feeling in the back of my mind as to the state of New Zealand rugby at the grass roots level.

Recently the NZRFU undertook to send people to visit with and talk with club rugby all around the country, and was making all the right noises regarding its committment to th fundamentals of the game here.

However, the following opinion from someone involved at this level has once again raised the spectre of the possible degeneration of the game in New Zealand as a direct result of professionalism. Of course the following article, from NZPA, is also given more credence by the form of the All Blacks over the past two years…



The Otago University Rugby Club believes policies implemented by the New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRFU) are a threat to the continuation of rugby as the national game. President Ross Brown slammed the high performance policy of the NZRFU in his annual report and said it posed a threat, possibly mortal, to club rugby. Otago University, one of New Zealand’s most famous clubs, is no longer able to field sides sprinkled with Otago representatives and All Blacks. “If club rugby is mortally wounded, the days of rugby being our national game are numbered,” Brown warned. “The All Blacks in 10 or 20 years may be struggling to qualify for the quarterfinals of the World Cup.

“The resources currently being put into high performance rugby should be redirected into club rugby. What is wrong with clubs having professional coaches and administrators while the players are still amateur?”

Brown said club rugby was in trouble throughout New Zealand, including Dunedin and Otago. “The policy of the NZRFU in identifying talented players while still at school has led to a plethora of Colts and Academy sides, who are set a training and playing schedule which eats heavily into the club season. “Many of these players gravitate naturally to University clubs and that is the reason we fielded more than 40 players last season. “The high performance policy is saying in essence the traditional method of developing representative players via club rugby is no longer good enough. “Because of the current neglect of club rugby that may well be the case but, in my view, the consequence of the current policy will be the continued diminution of club standards and numbers.”

Brown on Thursday said he stood by his criticism of NZRFU policies. “Club rugby’s going to be squeezed out the way things are going. You’re going to have an All Blacks side in the future which won’t even know what the club culture is all about.” Brown said he hoped his comments, and the situation of his club, would cause the issues to be debated around New Zealand. Otago University club captain Bill Thompson added his own criticism of the NZRFU in the club’s annual report. “I am yet to be convinced the NZRFU is even listening to clubs even though they give lip service to how they see club rugby being so important to the future of the game. “I get the distinct impression the game has been taken over by people who have never served the game at grass roots level, and they appear to be on the NZRFU staff.”



When people like this start to make noises then ears should prick up, and we should take notice. It might seem like common sense to fast-track a chosen elite through an academy system to All Blackdom, but unfortunately this kind of linear programming doesn’t often work as advertised.

The strength of All Black rugby in the past and, I believe, in the future, lies with the traditional broad-based club and provincial system.

If we destroy the base of the pyramid, then the tip will inevitably fall.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebook

6 Dec

NPC Player Transfer List
by Paul Kendall
6 Dec 2000

Here are the player transfers for the NPC 2001 season:

Aaron Good (Taranaki to Auckland)
Craig De Goldi, Justin Wilson (Bay of Plenty to Auckland)
Jeremy Stanley (Otago to Auckland)
Justin Collins (Northland to Auckland)
Daniel Godbold (King Country to BOP)
David Dillon, Glen Jackson, Nick Collins (Waikato to BOP)
Donovan Nepia (Wanganui to BOP)
Jared Tanira (Auckland to Buller)
Billy Fulton (North Harbour to Canterbury)
Luke Mealamu, Patrick Petelo (Auckland to Counties-Manukau)
Mano Flutey, Orcades Crawford (Hawke’s Bay to East Coast)
Samuel Leung-Wai (Manawatu to Hawke’s Bay)
Timoti Manawatu (Buller to Hawke’s Bay)
Paul Mitchell (Auckland to King Country)
Mark Knofflock (Wanganui to Manawatu)
Kepi Faivaai (Wellington to Marlborough)
Blair Mirfin, Cory Holdaway (Marlborough to Nelson Bays)
Joe Ward, Scott Adams (Otago to North Harbour)
Ray MacDonald (Southland to North Harbour)
Rico Gear (Auckland to North Harbour)
Tevita Taumoepeau (BOP to North Harbour)
Simon Porter, Toetu Palamo (Otago to North
Otago)
George Leaupepe (Counties-Manukau to Otago)
Gerard Fasavalu (Wellington to Otago)
Neil Brew (Taranaki to Otago)
Ashley Barron, Brendon Timmins, Keith Cameron (Otago to Southland)
Hayden Martine, Kuka Asolupe (King Country to Southland)
Andrew Hore (Otago to Taranaki)
Chris Masoe, Daniel Smith (Wanganui to Taranaki)
Keith Robinson (Thames Valley to Taranaki)
David Hill (Southland to Waikato)
Tony Coughlan (North Harbour to Wellington)

4 Dec

England Show The Way
by Paul Waite
4 Dec 2000

Followers of New Zealand rugby had already learned the unpleasant truth that the current All Black forwards are incapable of footing it with the likes of the Australian and French packs.

Even Italy showed they could shunt them backwards to score a brace of push-over tries. Only three seasons ago this would have been unthinkable.

But to those with eyes to see, this cancer has been growing from as far back as 1997; more of that later.

The lesson was rammed home 25-17 by an English team which very much respects the basics of tight forward play and gleefully demonstrated as much to a Springbok team which has, in recent times, adopted the fast and loose approach pioneered by New Zealand – to a similar detriment.

The old adage “the game is won up front” has never gone away; it has just been forgotten. Looking at the current All Blacks I’m constantly struck by the lack of cohesion and unity of purpose in the way the tight five operates.

Instead of a group of forwards working as a unit, we usually see five players separately going about their play. As energetic and fit as they are, five separate players are no match for a cohesive forward unit – another old adage comes to mind: “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”.

How did this come about? My own theory is that a certain irony has worked its charm on New Zealand rugby. For so long in the amateur era the All Blacks were held up to be the ideal professionals in approach and attitude, if not in remuneration.

Professionalism came surfing into New Zealand on the wave of World acclaim for the kind of rugby they played at the 1995 World Cup. With the advent of the Super 12 in 1996 and special refereeing interpretations to ensure continuity in play we saw a riot of running rugby where tight-forward play was regarded as the poor cousin to the expansive crowd-pleasing stuff.

Nothing wrong with the motives there, but I believe the effects were subtle and a seed was sown that has only now come to fruit. Players coming into the game in this period were encouraged to run with the ball, at the inevitable expense of tight-forward play. Young tight forwards were initiated into a World of aerobic fitness, pick and go, and running out with the backline, instead of the hard yakka and pain of rolling mauls and physical confrontation with their opponents as a pack.

Up at the more rarified levels of the All Blacks there was some insulation, but the effects were there to be seen nonetheless. In 1996 the nucleus up front was Olo Brown, Sean Fitzpatrick, and Craig Dowd locked by Ian Jones and Robin Brooke. These forwards spanned the transition to professionalism, and knew how to eat pain and grunt out the hard yards when required. This brought us the first ever win on South African Soil in a test series. All seemed well.

In 1997 we began to see the effects mentioned as the All Blacks put in some marvellous half-performances where they scored wonderfully gifted tries one minute and then let the opposition run past them the next. The team eschewed total control of the game up front, and developed a style where they put in the hard work for part of a match and relinquished the rest of it to the opposition.

In 1998 the wheels came off well and truly as we saw a number of players who were either already absent from, or just about to leave the hallowed halls of All Blackdom: Zinzan Brooke, Sean Fitzpatrick, Olo Brown, Ian Jones, Robin Brooke, Michael Jones, Frank Bunce, Walter Little.

A unprecedented run of five test losses was easily put down to simply having lost these remarkable players, but with hindsight it was also something more. The replacement forwards had no real appetite for tight work, and it took an embarassing loss in the 1999 World Cup in the semi-final against France to prove it.

In that game the All Blacks were out-gunned up front by a pack which knew what hardness meant.

Moving on to the present day New Zealand rugby has a task ahead: to regain the techniques and ethos of true tight forward play. Without it the All Blacks will continue their flaky test record, and will usually lose if they play the likes of England.

I have one other message for the apologists who have, in various articles, stated that our All Blacks “have to expect to lose more” in this professional era.

This is complete and utter rubbish.

I know it to be nonsense, but for those who doubt that fact, I refer you to the alternative code, where the Kangaroos remain supreme and have done for many years fuelled by the same indomitable pride and belief in their famous jersey as the All Blacks have in theirs.

The Kangaroos respect the fundamentals of their sport, instilling the basics into their up and coming players year by year; the pride in their jersey then makes the difference.

With the All Blacks, we have a team picked from a pool of players which, for reasons outlined above, are lacking in the basics of tight forward play. Rectify this and the pride in the jersey will do the rest.

This game of ours is still won up front. Just get that message out to the coaches and players at all levels in New Zealand, and then watch what happens!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebook

20 Nov

They came, they saw, they fell flat on their faces….
by Rick Boyd
20 Nov 2000

Here we go again.

Another end-of-season tour to Europe. Another close loss at the hands of the much-maligned “second division” nations. Another round of “new dawn” claims by the northern hemisphere rugby touts, another raft of excuses from the south.

And what does it all mean? Bugger all. Sorry, but there you go.

We can fully expect the predictable proclamations of greatness from the NH. European rugby finally come of age. The SH giants exposed as vulnerable. New dawn.

We can equally expect the tired old litany of excuses from the south. End-of-season tour. Not really taken seriously. Jaded players at the end of a long hard season. Many injuries. Best players left at home. Hearts not really in it. Focusing on next year.

Well, they can both get stuffed. A win is a win is a win is a win. The SH can take their lumps and sod off back home as beaten sides, never mind the whining. And those NH punters who expect to be on even footing next year — not forgetting an eye on a “real chance this time” for the next world cup — check out the last few seasons when NH sides won over SH teams in November. Remember what happened in the following SH winter when you came down to our little neck of the woods? So don’t get cocky.

The luck finally ran out for the Lucky Country in Australia’s last-minute, controversial loss to England at Twickers. England played a total rugby game in this match, hogging possession and territory, and but for a continuing lack of finish would have been all over the “world champions”, particularly in the first half. Australia made do with what ball they could get and relied on the talents of class performers like Roff and Burke to stay in touch, and then go ahead.

With Australia leading 19-15 six minutes into injury time and with the English still not getting a handle on backline penetration, and with Aussie fullback Latham sin-binned for an innocuous high tackle, a chip ahead by pommy new boy Balshaw was seized by wing Dan Luger for a try just inside the touch-in-goal line. Ref Andre Watson of South Africa called for the video ref. The slow motion revealed that Luger dropped the ball before grounding it but the ref was clearly heard to say into his mike he was concerned only whether or not that constituted a knock forward or a knock down. The latter was obviously the decision as Watson then awarded the try.

Jonny Wilkinson added the conversion from the side line. Australian captain Eales commented, with that graciousness essential to being Australian, that England “got away with it at the end”.

Over the channel in France, the All Blacks failed in their bid to restore some tatters of pride to the battered black jersey. Coach Wayne Smith said he expected the All Blacks’ season to be judged by this final game, and if that is the case then the season was a failure (although the record books will show the All Blacks winning 3-2 over France for the season).

In losing 42-33 the All Blacks scored three tries, as did the French, the difference being the boot of Froggy flyhalf Lamaison. The All Blacks led at one time in the second half but the French scored a try to halfback Galthie and the All Blacks were left trying to score the winning try in injury time. Then Lamaison settled the issue with a last-gasp drop goal, sending the All Blancmanges off to play Italy next week with their tail between their legs.

It was a great game, apparently. I say apparently because of course I write to you from the lost wastes of Western Australia where rugby is as important as nude underwater skateboarding. But full marks though to the pro-active group of towering intellects in the Australian Rugby Union who fulfilled their obligation to promote rugby nationwide by selling the TV rights for rugby to Channel Seven Australia. Even fuller marks to the chimps in three piece suits who run Channel Seven who have come to the very reasonable conclusion that promoting rugby in Western Australia means showing only Australian games, when they absolutely cannot avoid it, squeezed in between much more important programs like Aussie Rules club games or late night movies. And did I follow the game on www.rugbylive.com? Damn right bucko. Bless you Paul Waite, you saint among men.

All that aside, as far as I can see from my one working eye nothing much has changed. England and France remain worthy members of the big five but I for one won’t be elevating them into the top three until they can chalk up a win or two down under. Good luck to them, well played and all that but let’s not get carried away.

And by the way, for all the mathematically challenged, next weekend’s game against Italy is the REAL last test of the millennium for the All Blacks. You know the millennium, don’t you? The one with a thousand years, not the one with 999 years?

Let’s hope it ushers in one of those New Dawn thingies. We could all use one.

19 Nov

Bzzzt.. Failed.
by Paul Waite
19 Nov 2000

Wayne Smith was quoted as saying that the All Blacks’ season would be judged on this last test against the French in Marseilles. He’s right, it will.

Within that framework then, this season has been a failure.

Let’s recap. After some rather meaningless warm-up victories against Tonga and Scotland (with all due respect to those esteemed eaters of haggis), we were greatly encouraged by a last-gasp victory 39-35 across the ditch against the Wallabies in the Tri-Nations opener.

We ground out an ugly win by 25-12 over the Boks at Christchurch after that, but the test was littered with mistakes and misunderstandings between the players.

Then came the disappointing performance in Wellington where soft defence and crucial errors of judgement under pressure lost us the test to Australia by 24-23 despite making most of the running.

With the bitter taste of losing the Bledisloe in their mouths the All Blacks then travelled to South Africa where they put in a defensive effort which was, to rugby, as a collander is to holding water. The performance was awful.

Having lost the Bledisloe and the chance of regaining the Tri-Nations trophy we then regrouped a few months later and took on the French in their own territory. Once again it was an up-and-down story with a win last week 39-26 (actually 39-19 since the last try wasn’t) with a much improved performance, and then a deserved loss this week by 42-33.

Looking at the big picture we can nevertheless see definite improvement from last year at the 1999 Rugby World Cup.

Also, if we take into account the blooding of new players to the squad such as the likes of Somerville, Feek, Slater, Reihana, Flavell, Blackadder, Cribb, and Howlett as well as important changes in role such as the move of Tana Umaga from Wing to Centre, we can also see that a lot of work has been put in.

So although Smith won’t really be expecting many pats on the back for the results his side have achieved this season, the reality of the situation is that he is wrestling with a mammoth job; that of shaping a brand new All Black squad into a team which can don the winning mantle expected of it.

We’re no apologists here at Rugbylive. If the All Blacks play badly we’ll call it as we see it, and so should everyone.

This season they’ve played badly, there’s no doubt about that. But although we’re officially (by the results) a pretty bloody poor team by All Black standards, the job Smith has to do can’t be done in a season.

Let’s give both he and his team the space to develop. At the very least they’ve shown, in patches, that they have the raw material to become a very good side.

The season may be deemed a failure, but next season is what we make it.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebook

12 Nov

All Blacks Earn Reprieve
by Paul Waite
12 Nov 2000

Rumours of All Black rugby’s demise have been greatly exagerated.

The victory today of New Zealand over France has given coach Wayne Smith and his team a reprieve. The sound of knife-blade on wetstone has gone away – for the present at least.

The All Blacks put together a committed and well-disciplined performance, out-cooling the French side in the face of some pretty frustrating refereeing by Wayne Erickson of Australia who handed out around 30 penalties.

They also showed they had improved in the area of most concern this season, the lineout and augmented this with a good display of snaffling restart ball.

A nervy start saw them hesitant on the ball, but that’s to be expected given the pressure they were under. The new front row are a vast improvement over the lazy and under-performing all-Otago unit featuring props Meeuws and Hoeft. Feek and Somerville bring a balanced combination of set-piece hardness and general play mobility as well as committedness on defence.

The moving of Tana Umaga to centre also looks set to be a good one, as expected from his displays in the NPC. Teams facing him know the danger he represents on attack, and his 100Kg+ frame is a daunting proposition on defence.

The result is a good one, and it gives the team a breathing space to build. The main commodity New Zealand is short of at present is simply experience. The team is a very young one and this showed at times, but it looks to have the nucleus of a good test side, given time.

Congratulations to Wayne Smith and the All Blacks on winning the Dave Gallagher Trophy today. Enjoy the victory, but remember that the French will be out for your blood in Marseilles next week!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebook

12 Nov

Lip-service to Heroism
by Paul Waite
12 Nov 2000

My basking in the reflected glory of the All Black victory this morning (our time here in New Zealand) over France has been tempered somewhat by the cynical treatment given by the NZ media of The Dave Gallagher Trophy.

They’ve been making great press mileage out of pictures of Jonah Lomu paying homage at World War I graves, and waxing respectfully on about how Dave Gallagher had died at Paschendale and the All Blacks were (rightly) inspired by this, so how come nobody at Sky Television thought it might be nice for us to see the trophy being presented?

Maybe I’m wrong, and the trophy was not presented at the stadium. Obviously I’m not sure, all I know is that it wasn’t screened. It would seem a little strange though, if the game was ostensibly being played for this new trophy and at its end it wasn’t given to the captain of the winning team. If anyone can e-mail me and confirm whether or not local TV showed the presentation, I would be grateful.

In the meantime, I’ll just be plain cynical and go on believing that basically, apart from the opportunity to get a bit of “hype-mileage” in the promotion of its coverage, the people concerned couldn’t really care less about Dave Gallagher, or the trophy bearing his name.

Correct me if I’m wrong why don’t you..

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebook

12 Nov

These tests are crucial
by Paul Waite
12 Nov 2000

Just a couple of end-of-year tests? A short tour with the added spice of avenging a Rugby World Cup defeat?

These two tests are much more important than that.

Consider the recent record. The much-vaunted All Black tradition of excellence has taken a definite beating as of 1998 with that unprecedented 4-test losing streak under John Hart.

All excuses aside, that disastrous run of defeats was effectively carried over into 1999 with a Rugby World Cup loss to France when the real heat came on in the semi-finals. On into the new Millenium and ealier this season we saw much the same story with a poor Tri-Nations and, once again, multiple defeats.

Even as far back as 1998 there was talk of the All Blacks having lost their aura of invincibility, however it was mainly whispered, and only by a few. Post 1999 Rugby World Cup, and those whisperings had become much louder and more widespread.

Should the All Blacks perform poorly in this test series against France it will, I believe, mark a watershed in All Black rugby history. From thenceforth, the All Blacks will be measured as just another international Rugby team. The legendary All Blacks of yesterday will be effectively consigned to a separate history from those currently wearing the black jersey.

So Wayne Smith has a lot more pressure than it might appear at first sight, and only a wam-bam-thankyou-mam two-test tour in which to do it.

The best of luck to both him and the All Blacks in Paris today; they’ll need it!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebook

24 Oct

A Long Time Between Drinks
by WAJ
24 Oct 2000

They did it.

Speaking to you from Wellington, and now fully recovered from the after-effects of The Lions’ superb win on Saturday night, I have to be totally honest and say that I didn’t expect them to pull The Big One off, going into this match.

Canterbury, that still awesome side, would rise above the strange lethargy of previous weeks and do the business, I reasoned. My heart backed Wellington, but my head told me no.

How many other Wellington supporters felt the same? A good many I’d hazard. I can tell you that the total reversal of going in expecting a loss and coming out having witnessed a well-taken win is a dizzying experience!

And what a win it was. The game was graced with some classic tries. There was the break-away initiated by that newly promoted All Black, Jason O’Halloran, carried on by the scintillating Cullen/Umaga combination to be finally, and fittingly finished off under the posts by O’Halloran again. There was the lovely grubber by O’Halloran for Lomu to score from, and the sizzling cross-field break by Cullen to put Afeaki in. And to cap it all there was a Classic Lomu try. The big man thundering down the left wing in full cry, fending massive Fijian Vunibaka like he was a halfback and then carrying him several metres on his back to slam the ball down so hard over the line it was astonishing it didn’t burst.

But most of all this match vindicated utterly the style of game played by Wellington over the past few weeks, and surely must be the nail in the coffin for the tendency to opt for the Rugby League style which has been growing, like a cancer, within the sport this season.

An article in yesterday’s paper was very revealing. After the debacle against North Harbour the players apparently had a meeting since they were convinced the RL style was not working. The ploy succeeded and coaches and players then worked together to return to rugby basics: tight forwards doing the hard yakka in the tight, loose-forwards concentrating on garnering ball from the breakdown and support play, backs free to create their magic in space.

The result was evident for all with eyes to see. Classic tries scored by brilliant backs free to run without ponderous forwards cluttering the backline was the payoff, and it has to be hoped that this was not lost on All Black coach Wayne Smith.

All this aside, congratulations to Wellington for winning the NPC title for the first time since 1986. Commiserations to Canterbury, still the greatest side in New Zealand at present and still packed full of some of the gutsiest players there are anywhere.

Special congrats also to Jason O’Halloran for being selected for the All Blacks at last. This must cap off the best season so far in his career, and is well deserved. All the best Jason for the upcoming tour of France and Italy.

As for the rest of the Lions, keep playing this way next season and we will see more of you wearing Black during the International Season!

6 Oct

Those blasted lineouts – The Video Analysis
by Tracey Nelson
6 Oct 2000

Talk about a heart-stopper! It’s long been known that the lure of the Ranfurly Shield can lift challenging teams to new levels, and that’s certainly what happened on Saturday night when Otago came north to take on Canterbury.

Otago were desperate for a win – not only to finally get their hands on the Log, which they haven’t held since the late 1950′s, but for NPC points to claw their way into semi-final contention. Along with these incentives were the All Black careers of several Otago players; notably the front row and the halfback/first-five pairing of Brown and Kelleher.

Canterbury had a hard ask, after a huge struggle the previous week to remove the Shield from Waikato, we now had to turn around and defend it against a focussed Otago side. Going into the game as favourites was no help either. In honour of the Shield’s return, the embankment was re-opened at Jade Stadium, and the faithful flooded onto it along with many Otago supporters, all hopeful for a great game of rugby. They weren’t disappointed in that respect.

In windy, nor’west conditions which kept the air temperature balmy throughout the evening and prevented any chance of dew, the game kicked off and from that moment on the pace was frenetic. A Tony Brown drop goal early in the opening minutes signalled Otago’s intent, and the game became fast and furious as both sides went in with all guns blazing.

Canterbury struck back with a counter-attack move from their own 22 to put Vunibaka into space, and his speed burnt off the cover defence to score in the corner. Then Otago replied with two tries from seemingly nothing – both came from high kicks put up into the swirling wind by South African import Justin Swart, cleverly pinpointing a Canterbury weakness behind the right wing to put Otago ahead 18-14 at the break.

No doubt Canterbury were feeling a bit rueful with the amount of possession they had turned over in the first half, not to mention a couple of botched scoring opportunites and the bounce of the ball for Otago to score their tries – but four points in arrears didn’t seem insurmountable. One imagined that the word from the coach would be to hold on to possession a bit longer before spinning it wide, as this over-enthusiasm to play attacking rugby appeared to be the problem.

The second half began with a strong surge from Canterbury, only to see the ball turned over again and Otago move the ball back to within striking distance. A fast break by Kelleher saw him score in the corner, followed not much later by a penalty goal from Brown and suddenly things were starting to look grim for Canterbury down 14-26 on the scoreboard.

The next 10 minutes saw the ball turned over several times by both teams, a continuation from the first half and proof of the strong offensive defence from both sides. Canterbury launched a strong attack after a massive break by Reuben Thorne, only to see the ball knocked-on metres from the line. Otago got the scrum feed, but a missed kick for the line saw the Canterbury backline swing the ball left then cleverly switch play back to put Vunibaka into a gap. The try was scored and the deficit became 19-26. Moments later a penalty was awarded to Canterbury and the gap closed to 22-26.

However, by now the clock was beginning to tick by, and only 10 minutes remained. Knuckles on both sets of fans were starting to get white, and it was obvious that whoever scored next would probably go on to win the game. Play see-sawed back and forth as both teams put in some incredible defence, until Canterbury received a penalty to relieve the pressure in their own half with seven minutes to go.

Mehrts kicked the ball out just inside the Otago 22 and we had the throw to the lineout. Something went horribly wrong with communication, and the ball was thrown to no-mans-land at the back. Randall pounced at the ball on the ground and it seemed our chance was lost, but somehow the ball was turned over and Canterbury surged up the left wing side of the field. Then followed a series of rucks going back and forth, with seemingly no way through until a half break by Mehrts fed Caleb Ralph who had come over from the left wing. Ralph took the pass and surged through the only two poor tackles of the night from Otago to score under the posts.

The crowd went wild – strangers were hugging strangers, tonsils were raw from hollering and the relief in the Red n Black supporters was palpable. The conversion went over and Canterbury took the lead 29-26 with three minutes left on the clock. Everyone was on the edge of their seats for the restart, but Canterbury took the ball in and then another break was made as we stormed down into the Otago half. Another mistake was made by Otago, and from the ensuing scrum Marshall hoofed the ball into touch and the final whistle sounded.

What a game! What an adrenalin rush! One has to feel slightly sorry for Otago, who seem destined to come close in Shield challenges, but never win. Otago played their best rugby so far this season, and had the win in their sights, but it was not to be. Standout players for them were Kronfeld, Randell, Kelleher and Swart. Unfortunately, Meeuws left the field early on in the game whilst Carl Hoeft was his usual lazy self around the field after his intial 10 minute effort. Surely he must be under the microscope as far as re-selection to the All Blacks goes.

Praise must be given to this Canterbury side, who showed tremendous composure and confidence to get up and win the game. Player of the day was Reuben Thorne, who was everywhere both on defence and attack, and put in a gutsy 80 minute effort. Vunibaka was lethal on attack, Ben Blair once again goal kicked admirably getting 5/7 in very windy conditions, Mehrts showed his class in setting up Ralph’s try, the front row and replacements gave the Otago set a good run for their money, and the rest of the team were just plain bloody marvellous.

The Ranfurly Shield lives on for another week in Christchurch, and we now look forward to a challenge from Northland. Well done boys, and we’ll see you again this Friday.