29 Sep

Log of Wood heads to Christchurch
by Tracey Nelson
29 Sep 2000

What a great win by the Red and Blacks! Playing Waikato in Hamilton is always hard – the Mooloo men have a proud rugby history, and always lift an extra notch when playing with the Shield at stake, so it was a great effort to absorb the pressure and noise at Rugby Park last weekend and come away with the win.

Choosing to play into the wind in the first half was perhaps a large part in the Canterbury win, as playing into the infamous “referee’s corner” in the second half has always been a Waikato ploy. This time the tables were turned and Mehrts kept them pinned back in their own half for most of the final 40 minutes.

As per usual, this was always going to be a game won up front, and the Canterbury pack delivered. Our scrum had the slight upperhand, although David Briggs at loosehead for Waikato looks to be a very promising prop, and made life for the Cantab backs a lot easier than the Mooloo backs had it.

But the highlight from the forwards had to be the way we contested the opposition lineout throws, and won ball off them in doing so. Todd Blackadder was outstanding in this area, and he also contributed well both in the tight play and out wider – giving the pass to Justin Marshall for our all important second try to get us the win.

Even Marika “butterfingers” Vunibaka pulled one out of the box this week, scoring a cleverly worked try from a kick and chase up the sideline that bounced horribly away from the covering Rhys Duggan for Vunibaka to fall on over the line.

Ben Blair at fullback took the kicks once again, and it has to be said that this kid has nerves of steel. Against a huge uproar of noise and cowbells (and it’s loud, believe me – I’ve been there before!) he kicked goal after goal, only missing one from close to halfway. Defensively he put in one of the most important tackles of the day, dropping Scott McLeod after he had burst through a gap and looked t be likely to set up a try. On attack, he was fast and his step deceptive.

It was a great team effort from the boys, and a deserved win from a team that really seems to have it’s sights focused on each game, week to week. The commitment and team work we are seeing is commendable, and they certainly deserve to be top of the table in the NPC at the moment.

Congratulations must also go to Waikato, who have been worthy Shield holders for the last three years and have demonstrated time and time again that rugby is all about being a team, not individuals. To have defended the Shield 22 times is an almighty effort, and this team will go down in history as one of the greats.

So the Ranfurly Shield, bastion of all that is good and true in New Zealand provincial rugby, has returned south to Canterbury. Can this team go on to retain the Log and win the NPC, to join the S12 trophy that is now residing for it’s third summer down here?

This weekend we take on Otago – a team that hasn’t held the Shield since 1957. Not only is the Shield on the line this Saturday night, but so are positions in the All Black squad to tour France and Italy at the end of the year. Certainly there are one or two Otago boys who really have to front in this game to prove they should stay as All Blacks. The danger for Canterbury is that if they do manage to finally put it together, they could be a very hard team to beat.

History is on the side of the Cantabs, as Otago haven’t won at Lancaster Park for a while and have failed in every Shield Challenge in the last 40 years. But then this is Ranfurly Shield rugby, the holy grail – anything could happen…

19 Sep

The Red 'n Blacks march onwards
by Tracey Nelson
19 Sep 2000

This game turned out to be a bit of romp in the sun for Canterbury, as we dished out a 71-8 hiding to the boys from the deep south. Southland played valiantly for the first 10 minutes of the game, but then Canterbury hit it’s straps and the try-fest began.

Ben Blair took the field about 15 minutes into the first half after MacDonald left with an ankle injury, and proceeded to set the game alight with his running and also some excellent goal kicking. His incisive running and lethal sidestep were a delight to behold, and he was obviously relishing the dry conditions. With Blair taking over the goal kicking duties, Mehrts was freed up to really cut loose and set the backline in motion, which he did admirably with some very good running from Gibson outside him.

Of course, none of this could have taken place without yet another great effort from the forwards, in particular Reuben Thorne who really stood out around the field both in his linkage play on attack and his strong defence. While it was a quieter game this week from Toddy and Maxwell, they both did their job well and provided good ball from the lineouts and some strong driving play when taking the ball up.

However, it was the front row that really stood out for me this week. The scrums were massive, with Southland being shunted in every direction, even on their own feed. The workrate from the fat boys were outstanding, especially at ruck and maul time. One of the standout plays of the game came after reserve hooker Cuttance scooped the ball off the ground from a Southland error, stepped a player then ran before passing out to loosehead prop Hewett running the tramline. Hewett then looked back infield to the supporting runner who was none other than his fellow prop Somerville, who crashed over the line to score. A magnificent piece of play, made all the more glorious by the slightly embarrassed looks on their faces afterwards.

All in all it was a pretty good dress rehersal for the big game this weekend, which is the Ranfurly Shield challenge up in Mooloo land. Canterbury look focussed and have been very professional in their last two outings. The scrum is looking massive, the lineouts are tidy and the workrate is pleasing from the pack. The backline is looking sharp and is being directed well by a very in-form Mehrtens. Other than MacDonald, there are no injury concerns in the camp, and with the depth we can boast on the bench, things are looking very positive heading towards Saturday. Of course, Waikato defending the Shield in Hamilton is going to be no easy team to beat, but I believe this Canterbury team has peaked just at the right time and I am very hopeful of a good win. Touch wood, of course!!

13 Sep

Canterbury march onward
by Tracey Nelson
13 Sep 2000

After the previous weekend’s win against Auckland, I was slightly concerned that some of our key players (namely the All Blacks) hadn’t performed too well. I’m pleased to say that after our win 43-9 over Naki at the Bullring on Saturday night, I’m feeling a lot happier about their form.

This week our pack really got stuck into the tight stuff, and provided the backline with the perfect platform to play from. It was wonderful to watch, with not a sight of any fatties loitering in the backline and everyone doing the job they were supposed to.

One thing that was evident in this game, played on a rather muddy field (no thanks to a stupid cricket pitch plonked in the middle), was the speed and precision that Canterbury played with. Quick ruck ball was secured, it was moved swiftly through the line and the backs ran hard onto the passes. All simple enough stuff, but done slickly and professionally as one would expect from the S12 champions.

Naki were stung early on by a rampant Canterbury team, and hardly saw the ball for the first quarter of the game as we quickly racked up 24 points. To their credit they came back at us in the last 10 minutes of the first half, but our trademark defence held the line intact and we went to the break feeling pretty pleased with our first half effort.

Obviously the word was said at halftime not to lift the foot from the pedal, and the second half saw more of the same as our forwards continued to dominate, and the backs kept up their brilliant handling in trying conditions. Certainly it was notable that whenever Taranaki did mange to get the ball, strong offensive-defence from Canterbury invariably led to a turnover whether it was in the tackle due to technique and numbers to the breakdown, or just straight out handling errors. In comparison, the Cantabs had a low error rate, which was a credit to their concentration and attention to the basics of the game.

Given that Naki have a pretty formidable forward pack, there was some impressive stuff from the Canterbury boys who had the acid on them in the scrums (Dave Hewett is certainly an unsung hero at loosehead), stole a couple of throws off them in the lineouts and certainly had them on the backfoot at ruck and maul time.

Players to stand out (although it was hard to pick from a forward pack that played as a complete unit for the full 80 minutes) were Maxwell and Blackadder – the latter having a storming game and showing superb touches such as offloading the ball to winger So’oalo to score when he could easily have strolled over himself – Thorne, who worked tirelessly all game, Gibson who scored three tries all thanks to great strength close to the line, the two halfbacks Hurst and Fulton who both contributed brilliantly, and of course Mehrts who had a dream ride behind a rampant forward pack and dictated play all night. Mention must also be made of fullback Ben Blair, who came into the starting line-up at the eleventh hour and did all the goal kicking not to mention made some sharp runs into the backline.

This weekend we play Southland at home, and the worry must be the boys are starting to think ahead to September 23rd when we head to Hamilton to challenge Waikato for the Ranfurly Shield. It is important to continue on from how we played against Naki, and get a good win under our belts before heading north next week – 5 championship points are vital to maintain our lead in the competition, and focussing on the game at hand is all important.

13 Sep

Looking good
by WAJ
13 Sep 2000

The NPC is five rounds old and its looking as good as it always has; better in fact.

Get ready to march on NZRFU headquarters in Wellington should they succumb to market pressures to turn our season upside down for the accomodation of more money-making.

Last week I heard them pouring oil on the waters after SARFU honcho Mr. Oberholzer proclaimed that it was all a done deal.

For those still wishing to know what its all about, the idea seems to be to run the Club and NPC seasons right at the start followed by Super 12 then International rugby. Have a nice orderly ring to it?

The catch is that its mooted that the NPC will then be able to overlap with the Super 12, and hence there will be no professional players in the NPC any more. The advantage (the be-suited organisers of the game will say) is that the pressure on the rugby season is thereby released.

The big disadvantage to New Zealand rugby which they will play down is that the NPC will become a second-rate competition which is simply a feeder for the Super 12. The Ranfurly Shield will also suffer in this case, unless some marketing “genius” decides it should be hi-jacked into the Super 12 somehow.

Here we have the classic dichotomy. The linear right-brain thinkers (accountants, organisers etc.) versus the more holistic left-brain thinkers – those who make assessments which involve a multitude of life-affecting aspects, not just money.

Removing the Super 12 players and All Blacks from the NPC will do far more damage than simply killing the NPC competition, which it will. It will jam a massive divide in between the small elite group of professional rugby players, and the amateur grass roots of the game.

Instead of being able to play alongside these skilled elite, and otherwise learn from and socialise with them, they will be removed from down to earth rugby life and placed in a parallel universe – one which can only be viewed from afar.

If this were to happen it might well look like a fine decision for a few years, however it would kill off that unique strength of New Zealand rugby – its unity throughout all levels of the game from top to bottom.

Let’s stop it from happening!

5 Sep

Loosies: Who's hot and who's not!
by Tracey Nelson
5 Sep 2000

With an end of season All Black tour to France and Italy, there have been a few players putting their hands up for notice in the first four rounds of the NPC, and the most pleasing aspect has been the number of loose forwards in this bunch.

Amongst those running hot at openside flanker are: Matua Parkinson (Harbour), Justin Collins (Northland) and Neil Crowley (Taranaki). Parkinson’s style of game suits the latest law changes; fast to the breakdown, quick to his feet in the tackle to rip the ball away, and very strong defensively. Collins is bigger in frame but has a better appreciation of the field as a whole on attack, very good cover tackler (though not quite as good in the tackle situation as Parkinson), an option at a back of the lineout, puts good pressure on the opposition 1st 5. Crowley is like another Kronfeld, spending a lot of his time snaffling loose ball, niggling away at the opposition inside backs and always following the ball looking for that opportunity to get his hands on it.

At blindside we have Jerry Collins (Wellington), Craig Newby (Harbour) and Reuben Thorne (Canterbury). Collins played for the NZ Colts this year and has continued his fine performances from that tournament. A very strong runner with the ball in hand, he is also gifted with natural ability to distribute the ball and plays a very able support role at the breakdown. Newby has burst on to the XVs scene from Sevens, and in tandem with Parkinson we are seeing a very potent combination for Harbour. Newby plays more like an opensider, and is another very skilled player in the tackle situation with the ability to regain his feet to steal the ball. He is exceedingly fast around the track and his Sevens experience makes him a sizzling attacker with the ball in hand. Thorne continues to impress with his ball winning abilities at the back of the lineout, and his all round workrate both on defence and attack.

No 8 was a position we were worried about in 1999, but this year we have seen the emergence of Ron Cribb (Harbour), Filo Tiatia (Wellington) and Samiu Vahafolou (Northland). Cribb, who performed so well for the Crusaders in the S12, went on to All Black honours this season. However, his first game back for Harbour in Round 4 wasn’t as good as his opposite, Vahafolou, who is another NZ Colt to have impressed in the NPC. Vahafolou is on loan to Northland from Auckland, who must be wondering what the hell is wrong with them that they keep loaning out all their good No 8s while persevering with Xavier Rush, who has all the finesse of a dried out paintbrush.

Cribb will need to show some decent form to keep out the likes of Vahafolou who makes a good 8 metres everytime he runs with the ball and is no slouch defensively either. Tiatia was unfortunate to break his arm and dislocate his wrist in the weekend – however, his form in the S12, for the All Blacks v Tonga and in the first few rounds of the NPC has been great, and I feel he’s already done enough this year to deserve inclusion in the All Black squad to tour France and Italy at the end of the year.

The not-so-hot loosies to date are Scott Robertson (Canterbury), Kupu Vanisi (Wellington), Xavier Rush (Auckland), Deon Muir (Waikato) and Paul Miller (Otago).

4 Sep

We'll take the win! (Auckland v Canterbury: Match Review)
by Tracey Nelson
4 Sep 2000

Whew – I thought it would be a tough game, but not quite that tough! Auckland certainly took it to us, and good for them because it was a very exciting game that went right down to the wire. Thankfully the result was a good one for Canterbury as we came away with a maximum points win, but nonetheless there is a bit of work to be done to get everything ship shape again in the ranks.

The first thing that needs looking at is that buffoon on the right wing, Mr Vunibaka, who obviously couldn’t even catch a cold least of all the ball. He put down every pass that came his way, fumbled every high kick the Auks cleverly peppered him with, and may as well have been in the grandstand for all his attempts on defence. In the final 20 minutes of the game, you could see there was a concerted effort by the rest of his team-mates to keep play as far away from him as possible – not surprising given the number of times he coughed up possession!

While our front row did well, and put a lot of pressure on the Auckland scrum (also handing their captain Paul Thompson at loosehead a fine black eye hafway through the game), the rest of the pack did not perform up to their usual high standard. Norm Maxwell did not play and his place was taken by young up and coming lock Chris Jack, who had a fairly quiet game in comparison with some of his more recent outings. Reuben Thorne was the man to stand out in the forwards, being instrumental in setting up the second try to Leon MacDonald and doing a power load of defensive work all game. However, I feel a lot of time and effort needs to be put into our restarts (what is it with NZ teams that no-one can recover the ball cleanly these days?!) and tightening up our work in the close stuff – heaven forbid that I shall have to chastise my lot for having fatties in the backline!

Thankfully, Justin Marshall was in fine form (albeit with a couple of dodgy passes from the base of rucks and scrums), not only scoring two fine tries – the second a beauty of a move from an attacking 5m scrum – but being the man back on defence to cover kicks through to the line and deny the Auks tries, one right on full-time that would have given them the match. For all those Marshall detractors who think he’s not a game breaker, think again!

In the end, professionalism and a cool-headed backline (minus the efforts of Vunibaka) saw us come through and take the points from this game. Considering it was the first outing this season with all the All Blacks back in the ranks, I think we did reasonably well to take maximum points while playing away at a remarkably vocal Eden Park. Certainly it’s one of the biggest NPC crowds I’ve seen there for a while, and that can only be a positive thing for NZ rugby. Now the work must be put in this week to tighten up the ranks before taking on a very good Naki side in New Plymouth.

4 Sep

Pick 'em on NPC form
by Paul Waite
4 Sep 2000

Wayne Smith has delivered a fairly telling message to the incumbent All Blacks in the wake of the last two Tri-Nations performances.

Smith looked pretty much shaken to the core directly after the debacle in Johannesburg, and so he had a right to be. He’d built his season up right from the start on the platform of getting the pride and guts back into All Blacks rugby, and the final effort at Ellis Park showed him that this current team doesn’t seem to have taken that on board at all.

Somewhat secondary to this, he has also intimated that he want to see All Black rugby regain the intelligence and savvy that it has traditionally had in abundance. The panicky headless-chicken play in the final 10 minutes at Westpac Trust Stadium in Wellington must have been a big disappointment too.

It all comes back to the forwards in this game, new rules and styles or no. Get yourself a tight five who can work together as a unit and eat the pain of doing the hard yards which punish an opposing pack, and you have a solid start. Add in the kind of savvy we had in the Buck Shelford and Fitzpatrick years, and you have a winning combination.

The terse message Smith delivered to the media post 3N was that the tour party for France and Italy later this year will be picked solely on NPC form.

Those words have gone out and been digested. The Otago front row can look forward to a testing couple of months, and lets hope we see the emergence of some new candidates by November.

Its time the All Blacks had a pack that can front up.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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