Try Whistling This
by Rob Wallace
27 Feb 2001
The first games of the S12 didn’t really explode into action for NZ teams this year, it was more like a whimper as rusty Kiwi teams were taken apart by slick Australian squads.
The Highlander-Blues game produced the only NZ victory, and that was probably only because there were 2 Kiwi teams involved, with the Highlanders winning 23-8. It wasn’t much of a game really, as were many of the first round games, being dominated by the referee’s whistle as players struggled with new interpretations of the laws.
The first half was fairly even with the Blues pack having a slight edge, but never being able to achieve much due to a poorly functioning backline and the staccato nature of play. Colin Hawke reduced his whistling in the second half and the Highlander forwards took the game to the Blues without really ever completely dominating as the Blues continued to struggle with the new interpretations. They suffered with discipline too, Ai’i was sinbinned for a knock down, and Riechelmann also received 10 minutes for diving over the top of a ruck. This was a ridiculous ruling – penalisable sure – but 10 in the bin for diving over the top? Even worse is Hawke not picking up on Otago players doing the same thing a few minutes earlier. It’s that lack of consistency that irritates me.
Even so, and not helped by only having 14 men for half the second 40, the Blues never really looked like scoring. The forwards toiled hard, the scrum held up pretty well although Hoeft, Oliver and Meeuws clearly had the upper hand, Taylor added some solidity and Parkinson was quick to the loose ball although freqently penalised. Cribb and Rush had fairly quiet games, and the combination of loose forwards didn’t seem quite right. The return of Flavell and Collins from injury should help this. Overall I thought it was an adequate first up effort from the forwards, with more work needed on those new tackled ball interpretations.
For the backs, Robinson was outstanding, and Spencer created the first try with a brilliant nudge off his knee near the line, capitalised on by Howlett’s pace, but later in the game seemed to lose confidence in his backline. The main reason for this seemed to be Tipoki’s natural instinct to cut back in to his forwards, so we saw virtually no ball spread wide to the wings and no running from Ai’i. There is no point having Vidiri in the team if you’re not going to feed him a lot of ball, and Ai’i is similar – his strengths lie in attack and skill, rather than defence, and were underutilised. Hopefully Wilson or Innes will start next week to try to improve the lines and distribution, but Kirwan’s skills as a backline coach also remain unclear.
In other games a flat Crusaders team, who looked nothing like the defending champions, copped a walloping from the Brumbies 51-16 while the Hurricanes promised much but couldn’t manage to do the basics well enough losing 27-18 to the Reds. The Chiefs looked short of forward cohesion in losing to a young and impressive Warratahs team 42-23 while in SA the Sharks beat the Bulls and more significantly the Cats managed an away win against the Stormers in Cape Town.