26 Mar

Round Five
by Paul Waite
26 Mar 2001

This week was a bit of a ho-hum for a change. There’s been a marked raising of standard from the New Zealand sides, so no reason to bitch about that, and there weren’t any upsets either.

Well, I retract that. The Hurricanes came within 3 points of the Cats, losing 18-15 so that was probably an upset of sorts. In fact the boys in yellow put in a solid-ish effort by their previous standard this season, so let’s hope they keep improving; the semi-final spots are still wide open. Oh, and we’re picking Dion Waller as a tip for a new All Black cap this season.

The Brumbies made heavy weather of their game, for three-quarters of it anyway, before putting the Stormers well and truly away 42-17. The poor old Stormers were doing well up to halfway through the second 40, and even led by a couple at one stage, but lost their grip on the ball and the match. There was the unmistakable sound of a flushing toilet as the tries rolled in.

Back home the Crusaders looked like the Crusaders for the first time this season. The Reds felt some of the trademark ‘offensive defence’ and although the scores weren’t that far apart by the end (32-26) the Red and Blacks had this one under control for most of the game. The home crowd also gave Andrew Mehrtens a big welcome on his first game this season.

Down in Otago the Highlanders danced a fling around the Bulls and kicked them in the naughty parts to the tune of 32-10. Brendan ‘Chainsaw’ Laney bagged 22 points, which included two tries, and basically ran the show. God knows it wasn’t their useless No.10, whatever he’s called. His kick to touch had more slices in it than a sandwich loaf. On the right wing the grass was seared black by that hot Fijian speedster Aisea Tuilevu. By God this guy is fast and strong. Not only that, he’s got a good nose for being in the right place at the right time doing the right thing (well, apart from his little tantrum at the end of the game!). The NZRFU ought to make enquiries. They’ve got a slightly used Joeli ‘Careless Hands’ Vidiri for a part-ex.

Finally lets talk about those useless bloody Waratahs. Goodness me I’d forgotten that they travelled about as well as a truckload of eggs going across the Mojave desert. They really ought to get out more. Super 12 rugby isn’t just about playing well in Sydney. Dammit, do those buggers realise they cost me a whole three points in my tipping competition??

More seriously, New Zealand’s rugby-watchers will have been encouraged by the step-up in form which was shown this weekend. A lot more ball was retained, and the patterns were more cohesive. There are still far too many occasions that forwards are choosing to fart around in the backline slowing the ball and generally muddying the play, but it’s improving. The only question we need to ask is why it’s taken so long this year; usually we’re at this standard by week three.

Roll on next weekend.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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21 Mar

Dumb Rugby
by Tracey Nelson
21 Mar 2001

Dumb rugby. That’s what I call it. And it’s pretty obvious to even the most clueless person that the New Zealand S12 teams, on the whole, have been playing it. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise a team that can manage the basics of passing and catching are going to beat a team that treats the ball like it’s a hot potato to be got rid of as fast as possible, without remotely thinking about where or to whom you’re passing it.

But it goes deeper than that. Not only do we seem to be lacking in the fundamental basics of how to pass or catch a ball, but also some of the key elements such as how to put a player into space by drawing the tackler, how to make a proper tackle, how to take a high ball, when you should kick for touch instead of trying to run it out from your own in-goal area a mere 10 minutes into the game… the list goes on, and on.

Why do we have so many professional players that appear to have no knowledge or at least the ability to perform of the basics of rugby? Have we assumed over the last 10 years that everyone has them and instead of maintaining these basic skills we’ve been too focussed on the running, open game instead? What’s happened to our ability to maul? When was the last time you saw a forward rucking correctly, instead of stomping and jumping like a toddler having a tantrum? In our eagerness to embrace continuity have we forgotten about the fundamental objective – Possession?

For too long in New Zealand the push has been to have the ultimate hybrid player – mobile, flashy sorts that can run and range regardless of what position they are playing in. As a result we now have a nation of props who think they are first fives, hookers sloping about out on the wing, and short locks converted from blindside flanker with no ability to compete successfully in the lineout. Then there are midfield backs built like forwards with about as much ability to put a player into the gap as man has a chance of landing safely on the surface of the sun, and wingers who spend their entire life looking cross and grumpy because the only time they ever get the ball they’re left with about 2 centimetres of space in which to do anything with it before the opposition bundle them out over the sideline.

While I would not point the finger at the S12 coaches as far as general skills (eg. passing, catching etc) go, I do have to level some criticism at them for the appalling game plans we’ve seen in recent weeks. With the shenanigans during lineouts, where players are hurtling in and out of the line like yo-yos, is it any wonder hookers are having trouble finding their mark. And surely coaches must also take the blame for some of the games where the only plan appears to be to chuck the ball about as if you were playing sevens, with no apparent structure or effort to make the advantage line first. I’m not sure why we are playing catch-up rugby before there are even any points on the board!

The glaringly obvious answer to all of this is the back to basics theory – otherwise known as keep it simple, stupid, for those of you who are still struggling with the concept of staying on your feet at the breakdown. The Chiefs demonstrated this beautifully when they beat the Blues in Round 4. The sheer simplicity of a tight five that played as a tight five and won clean ball to provide go-forward ball for their backs; a loose trio that combined and had speed to the breakdown, ability to stay on their feet and could step the defence instead of charging into them; a midfield that showed it is still possible to run into a gap and set up the man outside you; all these basic facets of the game gave them the edge to break over the advantage line and even score from set phase.

Is it really all that hard to do? I think not, but perhaps it involves more teamwork, practising of basic skills and plain old thinking than some NZ players are capable of at the moment.

19 Mar

Edge of the seat
by Paul Waite
19 Mar 2001

For those of us busy picking results for a Haka competition this week was a bit traumatic. Who would’ve picked that Chiefs result, eh? Well surprisingly two people in the group I’m in did, and one of them is a Blues supporter!

Aside from that one, the Brumbies made the bookies lose their appetite for a good while, struggling to overpower the Bulls at home in Canberra. The cliche “it’s a funny old game” was to be heard in may a household that’s for sure.

Down in the fastness of Carisbrook, there was that ding-dong final minutes which had the fans alternately in despair and then euphoria. Rumour has it that three of the St. John’s Ambulance CPR kits were burned out from overuse, and another one went missing and turned up at a scarfies post-match party. Who can wonder as the last five minutes saw the Kilt-wearers’ lead reversed by a Gerber try, and then grabbed back as the referee was reaching for his whistle by a Tuilevu try. So much for Sunday being a day of rest.

In other news, the Hurricanes went down comfortably to the much-improved Sharks outfit over in Durban; at least that one wasn’t hard to pick. I didn’t see this game but reports are that Norm Hewitt had a good ‘un, and Jonah had a shocker. There were also stories that the team had caught a ‘bug’ in the week prior. Heaped on top of the Forwards In The Backline Syndrome (FITBLS), and Acute Infringitis which leads inevitably, each game, to Yellow Fever, this was a terrible blow, and no doubt had its effect. At least they didn’t have problems with wind (reportedly), just the usual problem of scoring less points than the opposition. On a higher note, Rodney So’oialo continues to take to Super 12 level football like a duck to water, and looks set for great things.

Finally let’s end with the first game of the weekend, the Chiefs vs The Blues. The thing which struck me with this one was that the Blues looked to have been reading too many papers. In particular articles talking about how good they were. There was an air of “turn up and we’ll win” wafting about them as they took the field and proceeded to put in a performance which lacked cohesion and concentration. The Chiefs encapsulated the opposite approach. Keen and hungry, and playing in front of an impressively partisan crowd at Rotorua, they dominated up front, and took their chances. Chance-Taker In Chief was Keith Lowen (formerly nick-named “sumo” but now sporting a new slimline look), who helped himself to a hat-trick of tries, the last of which earned his team a bonus point. Excellent stuff.

There was also some sort of game between the Cats and the Waratahs I believe, but since it didn’t involve a New Zealand team I paid no attention. Not that we’re parochial here or anything. Oh, the Cats won.

Let’s hope next weekend gives us some more excellent rugby, but with less of the thrombosis-inducing effects!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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19 Mar

Five Gears In Reverse
by Rob Wallace
19 Mar 2001

A fine performance from the unheralded Chiefs saw them comprehensively beat the Blues 34-16 on Friday night in Rotorua. The Blues started well, but fluffed a host of scoring chances through poor passing and teamwork, and several basic errors. As the game progressed and the Blues fell behind they lost any semblance of structure and gave the impression of 15 individuals trying hard, but without any coherent plan to work too.

Few players stood out for the Blues – Parkinson had an excellent game, but lacked support from his other loosies, while Flavell had another good game. None of the forwards were that bad individually but the error rate was too high, and the pack lacked unity. The backs were worse – there seemed to be no organisation or understanding of what they were trying to do.

The Blues need to make some changes. The front row seems ok, but starting Taylor, with Flavell at blindside would add more grunt to the pack. Spencer doesn’t seem to making a good job of reading the game and planning the plays – the role Eroni Clarke used to fulfil – and perhaps Innes or Robinson should take over this function. When Spencer goes by instinct the results are often great but he lacks the cool calculating play of someone like Mehrtens. Stanley seems to be getting worse each week, perhaps giving Wilson a run at centre would provide some different options – it seems a shame that players like Howlett, Ai’i and Muliaina are seeing so little quality ball.

The Chiefs were impressive – the pack worked together, their defence was excellent and they took their chances well. The cobbled-together front row competed well, Cookesley and Willis were a powerful combination and the loose forward trio of Holah, Tukino and Muir outplayed the Blues. Crichton was again classy and dangerous at fullback and the midfield combination of Ranby and Lowen is currently the best in NZ.

Despite this lousy performance by the Blues they can’t hold a candle to the horrible Hurricanes, who pulled out every poor play in the book and managed to play even worse than last week in losing to the Sharks 21-39. When the mighty Jonah has an off-day, it’s a mighty off-day, and several of his team mates decided to join him. O’Halloran and Umaga are out of form, Cullen still looks injured, they miss Vanisi greatly and the forwards seem to have forgottten their NPC victory was based on solid hard work rather than fancy skills.

In other games the Highlanders picked up their tired bodies and snatched a last minute 24-23 win over a Stormers team who seemed a bit off their best too, the Cats ended the Warratahs unbeaten run 28-21 while the Brumbies beat a defiant Bulls team 39-30.

12 Mar

Food For Thought
by Paul Waite
12 Mar 2001

Diners at the Super 12 table this weekend found a slightly higher class of cuisine on offer than was the case 7 days ago, but it was still a bit variable to say the least.

Plate in hand we nervously approached the rickety trestle supporting the Hurricanes’ fare, memories of last week’s horror a-stir. By the end our fears were well-founded, having consumed a fairly unpalatable stew of Hail Mary passing, dropped ball, and turnovers spiced with a couple of dashes of brilliance care of Lomu and Cullen. The way the Canes threw this one away to lose 15-27 in the last minutes would have left most of their fans with chronic dyspepsia.

By way of a remedy, good, solid fare was provided at the Crusaders’ table. After two hiccups in the earlier rounds, they obviously blew the dust off Ye Olde Canterbury Cookbook and served up a traditional roast, with The Chiefs done to a turn in a 4-tries-to-1 40-11 drubbing. For the sake of both Canterbury and New Zealand rugby, let’s hope it wasn’t rare.

Meanwhile, overseas the Super 12 sauce thickened. Favourites the Brumbies, those robo-masters of running rugby, won their game away at the Cats with a last-ditch droppie, snatching the game from their hosts by 2 points in the process. Rumour has it the Cats coach Laurie Mains almost choked on his strip of biltong. Thank God for the Heimlich Manoeuvre. A few seats down, professional whiner Eddie Jones was purring like a Cat that had got the cream, the ironic nature of the victory lost on him, and with nary a murmur on the refereeing.

At more or less the same time The Highlanders were busy surprising everyone with a strong performance against the Sharks at Kings Park. Tony Brown had a belter of a game, at least during normal time that is. Unfortunately, in injury time, he missed a kick from out in front that would have given his side the victory. Oh dear, how sad, never mind; I expect the after-match beer had a bit of a sour taste.

Some of your basic Aussie fast food was dished out to the Bulls by the Tahs over in Sydney. Fresh from a fairly gentle outing with the Hurricanes last week, the Bulls found this fodder altogether pretty raw and disagreeable. It was a case of “here ya go mate” as they got served up a 53-7, 7-tries-to-1 Eat-Til-U-Puke MegaCombo To Go. I guess it was a case (or maybe two cases) of Alka-Seltzer all round after that one.

After this tiresome procession of evening meals, the final game of this round turned out to be a bloody splendid slap-up lunch out at Eden Park. It just goes to prove that by far the best rugby is to be had in the daylight. Chefs de Cuisine Frank Oliver and John Kirwan, aided and abetted by Maitre d’ Sean Fitzpatrick put on a marvellous feast which, by turns, gave us excitement, frustration, disappointment, and elation. The Blues performance was, as always, based on a solid platform up front. New boy prop Tevita Taumoepeau looks the business, Robin Brooke has re-discovered some of his old fire to match that of Troy Flavell, and loosies Rush, Cribb and Parkinson work well together. Whatever the reason, the Blues look to be gelling into a good unit at last and no-one is going to blame them for a few chewy bits in the main course if they can serve up a desert as good as that final game-breaking try from Muliaina. Having looked to have blown it by conceding a penalty two minutes from time, the Blues ran that one in to give all New Zealand hope that better things might be on our Super 12 menu in the near future.

Until next week’s offering, bon appetit!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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12 Mar

Down to the Wire
by Rob Wallace
12 Mar 2001

In a match that finally ended up being a thriller, the Blues scored a last minute try to beat the Reds 39-35, scoring 6 tries in the process.

The game started slowly, with both teams making errors and the Blues kicking poorly. The forwards generally had a good first half, dominating possession, but the Blues failed to make the most of it.

Things improved in the second half, as Spencer began to run more, perhaps reassured by the presence of Innes now outside him. Nevertheless basic errors and poor tackling saw the Reds move out to a 25-15 lead. The Blues fought back well, with the forwards dominating, and finally began to play some attractive attacking rugby with good continuity and scored 4 further tries to win the game.

The front row was again impressive – Taumoepeau has made a huge difference, and Dowd looked much more comfortable at loosehead. Brooke played well, but without the energy levels shown by Flavell and the loose forwards combined well, with Cribb starting to get into form, while Parkinson and Rush continued on from their good performances last week.

Spencers kicking game was off, but he is running with confidence, and the backline again seemed to function better once Innes replaced Tipoki. Stanley still seems a bit rusty, Ai’i was his mercurial self – both brilliant and exasperating while Muliaina had a fine game, both in defence and under the high ball, while also running in 2 tries.

Overall the Blues will be pleased with this effort. It was an improvement from the previous week – the forwards look to be combining well and the backline finally showed a bit of spark. There were still too many basic errors however and the backline needs more cohesiveness as well as a better pattern to play to.

In other matches the Hurricanes played poorly losing to the Stormers 27-15. The forward effort was average, the backs worse aside from some moments of brillance from Cullen and Lomu.

The Crusaders returned to form with a vengence beating the Chiefs 40-11, and looking nmuch more like the side we used to know, while the Waratahs thrashed the Bulls 53-7. In Durban, the Highlanders choked on a 29-16 lead to to go down to the Sharks 30-29, missing an easy penalty goal in the final minute while the Brumbies sneaked a last minuite 19-17 win over the Cats with a drop goal.

5 Mar

Crap rugby, Not crap refs!
by Paul Waite
5 Mar 2001

I’ve just about had enough of listening to the pathetic bleating noises emanating from coaches, players, commentators and fans alike over the new refereeing interpretations in effect this season.

The reason we’re seeing crap rugby being played by New Zealand teams at the moment is (you might want to sit down, this could be too radical for the old ticker) … they’re crap.

I watched most of the rugby on offer over the weekend. Without exception all of the New Zealand teams exhibited poor skill-levels in the basics: passing, putting men into space, running onto the ball, mauling, cohesive forward effort, lineout play, scrummaging, and on-field tactics. These aspects vastly overshadowed the effects of the new rulings on how to referee the breakdown.

I honestly don’t know how the so-called pundits on TV and radio and in the media can trot out so much shit. Have they got shares in waste management? It’s a scatological nightmare; a brown comedy. If you didn’t watch the games and/or couldn’t appreciate what was going on, you’d probably be labouring under the misconception that a bunch of Northern Hemisphere dinosaurs at the IRB had unilaterally enacted a set of new laws solely for the purpose of destroying “our wonderful vision of how rugby should be played”.

The coaches and players should look to themselves for the reason the first two rounds of the Super 12 have shown New Zealand rugby to be unworthy of the many fans paying money to go to the grounds or watch it on Sky TV.

Of course it’s only the second round. We might expect players to be rusty. Except the difference between, say Australian teams and our own is like comparing chalk with cheese (and take a wild guess which one is the cheese here). Whilst the Okkers hit the ground running, the Kiwi franchises hit the ground and bounced once.

As to why it is, I’d say it was all part and parcel of the general decline we’ve seen in New Zealand rugby over the past few seasons. Lack of ability in players and coaches to address the basics of the game, and sinking skill levels have been a part of that.

But I digress. Getting back to the new reffing approach, I’d just like to add one more point, and a warning.

The new approach is an attempt to stop Rugby Union becoming like Rugby League. Contrary to what some (many of whom should know better) believe, laws (or interpretations of the laws) which are designed to ensure continuity promote boring ruckathon rugby. In that World, Union would evolve to look like RL, but without the 6-tackle limit. Who the hell wants that? Only cretins, that’s who. Simple folk drooling half their beer down their chins and with nary a braincell to rub together – League fans. Last time I looked we already had a game called Rugby League; why re-invent it?

The idea behind the new approach to refereeing the tackled ball is simply to stop the kind of lazy, non-creative, non-competetive rugby that we’ve seen develop from 1996-1999.

Currently the teams are going through a bit of a re-think and are trying to learn how to play to the new regime. New Zealand sides seem to be slower than most in adapting, and there is a vocal reaction against it.

The warning I have is this. If opposition to these changes becomes widespread and “in vogue”, then the cry of “these changes are bad for rugby” might well become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In the atmosphere of negativity which would be engendered, the rugby would suffer and the new approach would never be given the chance it deserves.

I’ll finish by saying this to people who are still convinced that the new approach is bullshit. What would you prefer, a game where all the players, fatties and backs alike, array themselves out in a washing-line formation like league, as they face ruck after yawn-inducing ruck, or a game where the ball is contested by fiery forward packs working in unision to provide the platform to feed their backs good ball to run in space?

Think about it.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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5 Mar

No Fun
by Rob Wallace
5 Mar 2001

In a pretty dire match on Friday The Blues managed to do enough to beat a sluggish Crusaders team 17-12. From a spectators view it was an ugly game, and not enjoyable to watch. It was a match strewn with basic errors, and both sides seemed to lack the confidence to take the ball up into the tackle which led to a lot of aimless kicking. The Blues have not adapted well to the new law interpretations, and despite coaching during the week from the match referee, Paul Honiss, they continued to concede penalties at the tackle situation, and until the final 15 minutes seemed to rely on Spencer kicking the ball to the Crusaders, so they could make the inevitable error.

There were some bright spots however. The new front row of Taumoepeau, MacFarland and White stood up well and provided some much needed solidity while Rush continues to improve at blindside. But the two forwards who really stood out were Flavell and Parkinson. Flavell injected more urgency and athleticism into the pack, and did well at linout time, while Parkinson was a livewire, tackling well, hunting for the ball and deservedly scored the first try from a Stanley bobble/pass.

Spencer had another good game, running well toward the end and the matchwinning try came from a good turnover by the forwards, with an incisive break down the blindside by Spencer before offloading to Muliaina to beat the fullback and score. Tipoki had a great defensive game – he was quite outstanding – but his running doesn’t suit Spencer. Spencer flits all over the place, and Tipoki tends to do this too, often cutting in on an angle, and between the two of them they get lost. Spencer functions better with Innes there – he knows where Innes will be – straight up the middle. And sad to say, in these days of Rugby Union-League, a player who can hold the ball up, and look for runners inside or out as the Brumbies do so effectively is a better option than a talented runner looking for gaps.

The Crusaders lacked that customary sharpness and accuracy I associate with them. They dominated the possession stats, yet failed to make any advantage of it, regularly blowing tries that in previous years they would have snapped up. For a team that has forged a reputation on clinical error free rugby this was a big disappointment.

In other games The Chiefs played gritty and entertaining rugby to beat the Reds 32-29, the Hurricanes looked sloppy but still managed a 26-20 win against the Bulls, while the Highlanders were demolished 56-21 by an imposing Cats side in Johannesberg. The Cats forward power and continuity were impressive, and their game with the Brumbies this weekend should be a cracker and may well be vital in determining home advantage in the finals series.

Finally, the NZ players seem to be adapting much more slowly to the new law interpretations than the other nations – is it the players fault, or are they poorly coached?