23 Apr

That's The Way ( I Like It )
by Rob Wallace
23 Apr 2001

This week we saw a glimpse of what might have been with the Blues season with a 26-12 away victory over the Stormers. The pack played solid, safe, organised rugby and controlled the game, helped along by the tidy play of James Arlidge at five-eighth. This would have been an ideal performance to build on early in the year, and use as a platform for better things later in the season, but it’s too late for the Blues now.

The front row of White, MacFarland and Taumoepeau is clearly the Blues best and they had little problem offering a solid platform for the rest of the forwards to work from. Taylor has made a huge improvement to the pack – he’s the epitome of a tight forward – doing the hard work in close, and keeping it all together, particularly in the mauls, and also providing much needed leadership. Flavell and Cribb have both knuckled down to getting their jobs done first, before trying any fancy stuff and all of this has lead to a good team effort in terms of ball retention and structure in the Blues play.

This forward improvement has been coupled with the injury to Spencer, and has led a more conservative playmaker at five-eighth, which seems to suit the team. Spencer is a vastly talented player, but in a team as the Blues were, with no cohesion or organisation, this simply led to more chaos. Spencer creates and scores tries that few other players could, but in retrospect the Blues may have been better served initially with a more steady influence, until the forwards had enough confidence and control to let Spencer loose. There’s also the issue of poor input and planning from the coaches to consider as well.

At the weekend the backline looked a bit messy, with the new combination of Innes and Tipoki not quite used to each other. Tipoki looks better wider out, as he has a tendency to cut back in, and he’s further away from the ruck and forwards at centre, giving him more room to move. But their defence, like that of the forwards was exemplary, and pressured the Stormers into mistakes. Vidiri, whose hands are variable, picked the perfect time to demonstrate that on a good day he’s one of the best wingers around, scooping up a chip ahead to score the try that gave the Blues the lead. Howlett scored the last try after a great break by Hayden Taylor.

Wins by the Highlanders 16-9 over the Brumbies, and the Chiefs in SA over the Bulls [49-37] have left the mid-table even more crowded. There are some key matchups over the next few weeks – particularly for the Hurricanes who play the Warratahs and the Chiefs in what are likely to be knockout matches for semifinal places.

There’s still some good rugby coming up.

22 Apr

Welcome To The Sharp End
by Paul Waite
22 Apr 2001

A few teams in the mid to lower regions of the Super 12 table went into this weekend with hopes that they might keep the outside chance of making the semi-finals alive.

Welcome to the sharp end of Super 12 2001.

First up this week was the Highlanders vs The Brumbies in the fastness of Carisbrook.

Having seen the Hurricanes deal to the style of rugby The Robo Masters play, the general feeling was that the Brumbies would come prepared this time around. Happily for New Zealand rugby (but not my competition picks), this game proved to be an excellent showcase for Highlanders Rugby.

The home side won this one hands-down with a huge team effort lead by halfback Byron Kelleher who burned so brightly in this match that George Gregan seemed to be absent for long periods, eclipsed by the glare. The highpoint of this occurred when Gregan grabbed the ball from a ruck just outside his own 22m and was totally creamed by a horizontally flying Kami-Kaze Kelleher. Although he was caught in possession it didn’t bring any points, but it did bring tears of joy to the eyes.

Others were gigantic in this game for the Highlanders. Stepping forward with Kelleher to receive the Medal of Brumby Humbling First Class are Simon Maling, Kelvin Middleton, Tom Willis, Vula Maimuri, and Carl Hoeft.

The last name on the list is a surprise, given his previous form, and we will keep an eye on the erstwhile slacker to make sure this isn’t a flash in the pan before believing it completely.

Back to the game and the Brumbies never looked like winning this, despite being in contention on the scoreboard. Their Plan A (their only plan) was shut down even more completely than the Canes managed, although a wet evening must have levelled things much more.

It was surprising how completely the Robo Masters capitulated though, even allowing for excellent teamwork in the Highlanders’ defence. It was all capped off by the last incident in the game. With a chance of drawing the game on offer with a seven-pointer, the Brumbies had possession when the full-time hooter went, and he proceded to punt the ball into touch and end it all as if saying “thank God for that! Let me get a hot shower..”. I wonder how much he’s getting paid for that?

The next game was played in the thin air of Loftus Versfeld, where the Chiefs met the Keepers Of The Super 12 Wooden Spoon. Ever vigilant of their hold on this prestigious trophy, the Bulls were on their mettle, and didn’t disappoint.

With the tinny echoes of the pre-game musak dying in the Loftus 1950′s Vintage PA system the Chiefs started well and showed they meant business. Exchanges in the tight were close, as expected, but out wide the Bulls were made to rue the power of Roger Randell and the incisiveness of Bruce Reihana on more than one occasion. Early tries saw them first at 25-10, and then out to 32-10 at half-time care of a Randle spurt down the right, followed up by Deon Muir for a dot-down under the sticks.

A fight-back in the second half saw the Bulls frighten their supporters by getting to within a couple of points before Jackson slotted a nice droppie 7 minutes from time. The first-five then made doubly sure with an intercept try and conversion. The crowd breathed a collective sigh of relief – The Spoon was safe.

Down at sea-level in Durban The Blues were visiting The Stormers. Judged by their recent exploits the Blues were no-hopers in this contest but then, as old-timers would put it, it’s a funny old game.

Having seen the same light as the rest of us finally, in Whangarei, Blues coach Oliver picked Glenn Taylor again. You have to make allowances; Oliver is only an ex-All Black lock himself, so he couldn’t be expected to get this right first time around. Taylor toiled mightily alongside Robin Brooke and only re-emphasised how silly it was to leave him out all these weeks. Ho-hum.

The game was a story of frustration – for the Stormers that is. The Blues defence was 100% better than it had been, and the Stormers were pressured into making mistakes. Another aspect was the fact that Matua Parkinson seems to have finally understood how to behave at the breakdown, and didn’t get penalised 500 times. The lad is obviously a quick learner; it’s only taken him 8 rounds.

However the main difference was the platform that youngster and No.10 James Arlidge has given them. Unlike Carlos “Fruit-Loop” Spencer, who reacts to broken confused phases of play by trying to make it even more confused, Arlidge has the ability to settle things down when needed. He provides the team with a solid base of territory, and points-gathering from penalties and conversions; something missing from Carlos’ game, for all his erratic brilliance.

For the most part this match-up was a fairly boring arm-wrestling contest, with little gained by either side. The difference was that Arlidge nailed his penalty attempts, and Blues pressure brought enough of them.

Later on a couple of nice tries, one from a lovely Vidiri chip and chase down the left and another from a Hayden Taylor burst down the right earned the Blues some Super 12 respectability at last, even it it came much too late.

Back home the most gut-wrenching game of the lot took place at Trafalgar Park in Nelson between the Crusaders and the Cats, with the Crusaders having to win to keep their hopes alive.

The short summing up of this one is pretty simple. Basic defensive lapses early on left the Crusaders with far too much to do, and they were forced to play catch-up rugby. This they did with gay abandon (apologies to Mainlanders for that one, but of course I use the term in it’s original sense – “abandon”, as in free-spirited) in the second half, and ended up torturing the crowd and the TV audience alike by scoring a last second try in the left corner and having the conversion to win by one point, which they missed .

Talk about feeling like sombody’s been pulling your chain – I’m thinking of suing them for taking a couple of good years off my life.

But the Crusaders didn’t deserve to win. Using the kindest language possible, in the first half they allowed the Cats to score what I would have to describe as two “soft” tries. You know those sporting movies where the hero runs through the deliberately feeble defence of a few paid extras? Well this was kind of like that.

Even so Mehrtens was having a good ‘un and kept his side in the hunt. Then just before halftime Canterbury threw the kitchen sink and all at the Cats, but failed to score. Instead they turned over possession and everyone was so knackered that the Cats scored at the other end to make it 9-27. Great.

The second half saw them all come out with vicious looking red marks around their ears where Robbie Deans had lashed them with his tongue. The defence was better, and Rueben Thorne went over in the left corner for a try which Mehrts converted. A penalty was also taken getting the home team to 19-32, but then Norm Maxwell put paid to all of that.

In his early days Maxwell was known as a bit of an over-aggressive idiot, but this seemed to have been channeled properly as he got into the All Blacks. Well the news is he’s suffered a relapse. It was all so stupid. As the Cats ran the ball off a ruck he decided to take one of them out with a blatant shoulder-charge. As if this wasn’t enough, the guy wasn’t even carrying the ball at the time, so this little piece of brilliant thinking earned him a trip to the bin for 10 minutes. During this time the Cats scored a try, and so Maxwell effectively lost the game for his team, and knocked them out of the Super 12 all in that one brain-dead moment.

He might like to reflect on that during the coming week, and whilst he’s waiting for the All Black squad to be named later on.

The Crusaders kept on trying and Managed a late try to Brad Thorne, converted by Mauger to bring them to 26-32, and then Vunibaka’s try in the corner in injury time.

Agony wasn’t in it!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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17 Apr

In Limbo
by Rob Wallace
17 Apr 2001

The Blues lurched out of S12 semifinal contention with this weeks 23-26 loss to the Cats , but there were some promising signs there as to the way forward.

Taylor brought a much needed solidity to the pack, and improved the mauling skills shown by the forwards. He also added another voice toward leadership of the team and it was a shame that he was subbed for the ineffective Reichelmann early in the second half.

Flavell also flourished on the blindside, working hard in the tight and making his tackles. Thw work ethic of the pack was good, marred only by the error rate.

James Arlidge had a great debut at 1st five-eights – he looked calm and organised, kicked accurately and took a lovely intercept to run in the first try. The backline didn’t run quite as smoothly, but the poor weather contributed to this as well.

For the first time this season, the Blues looked organised on the field and seemed to have a plan as to how to play the game.

But they managed to blow a 23-9 lead and none of the substitutes improved things. Several players in the Blues are now past their use-by date – Dowd – who has had a poor season in all respects, Brooke – whose enthusiasm has gone, and Reichelmann who no longer has the skillset to play blindside nor is dominating enough at lock.

Oliver’s time is up too. He has failed too often, and while not absolving the players from this year’s mess, his selection policy has been odd and there has been little evidence of any clear tactical approach.

In other games, the Chiefs lost 24-8 to the Sharks, but Dion Muir had an outstanding game, while Ranby continued to show the class that should earn him higher honours this season.

The Crusaders were thumped 49-28 by the Stormers, while the Hurricanes kept their hopes alive with a 35-33 win over the Highlanders.

15 Apr

A Simple Game
by Paul Waite
15 Apr 2001

First up this weekend was the Blues vs The Cats. With the unpleasant experiences of recent weeks watching the Blues, I took my seat with trepidation, and have to confess that I only lasted out for 40 minutes worth.

The Blues were slightly better, without really addressing their basic problem – they aren’t a team. A pox on their coaching staff for leaving Glenn Taylor out for so long. In this game he showed what an utterly stupid policy that has been. As for the Cats, they’re probably one of the most boring sides I’ve ever seen, and that includes the Brumbies. The term “wooden” comes to mind. Someone in Super-12 officaldom ought to commission a special trophy – a piece of ordinary 4×2 – to be presented to them at the end. It should have “Zzzzzz 2001″ carved in it.

Having installed a Linux operating system, during the spare time induced by the Blues – Cats game, I got back on station in a state of high anticipation for the next. Whatever happened in this one, I was going to see an Australian team lose – perfect!

With a row of cold ones and a good supply of assorted munchables, I reclined in the Lazy-Boy and punched the appropriate buttons. Marvellous; no worries about New Zealand teams vs The Rest etc. etc, just a good game of footy.

The Waratahs versus the Brumbies was indeed rewarding, not least because the Australian commentators, in particular a Mr. P. Kearns, were so obviously supporting New South Wales…er, sorry… The Waratahs, and they had to watch their team get a good shagging for the whole 80 minutes. The best part was they sort of kept in contention through the first half and most of the second, before being forced to drop their shorts and bend over for a jolly good reaming in the final 15. Wonderful stuff! Ominously for New Zealand and South Africa though, that lithe genius Stephen Larkham looks to be hitting form in tandem with human dynamo George Gregan.

Another entertaining aspect of this game was the continued antics of the Waratah loose-head prop Dunning. He got yet another intercept and then unleashed a monumental clearing punt that the legendary Don Clarke would have been pleased with. What with his Billy Bunter appearance, a preference for bizarre paisley patterned head-gear and these amazing performances, Dunning is rapidly turning into one of The Characters of The Super 12 2001. More power to him.

Back to this side of the ditch and another day at The Office watching the Hurricanes. Joy of joys – a rare game in the daylight! Shame Napier couldn’t turn on nice weather, but the whole North Island has been swiped by the tail-end of a cyclone so we won’t hold that against them.

Fresh from Brumby-bashing last week the Canes came out predictably a little flat and the Highlanders really took it to them with some great effort in the tight. Teamwork was the key as the Otago boys drove it up the guts and found the Hurricanes’ defence wanting. The only trouble was, Aussie ref Peter Marshal seemed to have got out of bed the wrong side and put in, for him especially, a rather petulant and irritating display of whistle-blowing. If he’d had an angry wasp up his back passage for the whole game, I might’ve understood it, but although I followed him closely, I never saw him reach around for a scratch, so that can’t have been it.

The final straw was when he binned Tony Brown at the end for a ‘head-high’. The poor bugger simply went to tackle Thompson, who stumbled just in front of him and ended up hitting Brown’s arms with his head. Piss-poor refereeing, and no mistake about that; I doubt Pete will be stashing the video of this one away in his collection.

The game itself was a ‘game of two halves’, to coin a classic cliche. In the first the Canes basically didn’t look hungry enough to win. By contrast the Highlanders did, and hit rucks and mauls with well-organised enthusiasm. Marshal’s own enthusiasm gave Holwell the chance to keep the home side in touch with penalties, and just before half time they scored a nice try to go in ahead. In the second half the Canes got a strangle-hold on proceedings with a better defensive effort and some brilliance from Cullen to score a try. More penalties helped too. A late rally by the Southern Men got them two deserved bonus points. I wish they’d invent a system by which the referee could be subbed off when he’s having a crap game. Marshal would have been enjoying a hot shower after about 20 minutes.

With only 30-40 minutes between this game and the Chiefs vs Sharks, I went into action. First a quick trip to lighten the load and then a visit to the beer fridge burbling away in the murky depths of the garage to drag in another crate of liquid supplies for the duration. A lightening raid on the kitchen for a further eight bags of nibbles, and finally The Settling In.

Never under-estimate the importance of Settling In; it’s crucial – a moment’s distraction grubbing about for that elusive next beer could mean you miss something. Start off with a check that enough booze has been acquired – a rough guide of one stubby per person per 5 minutes of game time will never get you into trouble. Next the same with the nibbles, and finally a logistics check: is everything within arm’s reach! checklist: (1) Beer (all units), (2) nibbles and dip, (3) remote control.

I was ready with the clock showing T-minus two minutes, beads of sweat popping on my brow as I struggled to find the optimum Lazy-Boy recline angle. Kickoff!

The Chiefs were a disappointment. The game reminded me of watching a couple of small terriers trying to tackle a pitbull. After about two minutes of watching it, I knew it just wasn’t going to happen. That Sharks outfit is bloody impressive, in the same way a steamroller about 15 feet high would be. Not only are their forwards, tight and loose, all immense buggers, they know how to play as a tight team with each other as well. This was a day that the Chiefs were taught a bit of a lesson and no mistake.

The Chiefs scrum was briefly on a par, but when No.8 Tukino had to leave the field it went downhill. It wasn’t really just because he’d gone, but the Sharks slowly got ascendancy and the Chiefs front row just got knackered to be honest. By the end it was being monstered.

Standouts for the Chiefs were Deon Muir and Marty Holah. These guys were massive. Both were everwhere, and Muir led his men with as much heart and intelligence as anyone could want. If he doesn’t get a shot at the All Blacks this year, then something is mightily wrong somewhere. With this one, the old chestnut “the game is won up front” comes to mind. The Sharks – just too big, too organised, too good.

One disappointment to me was the performance of Royce Willis. I got the impression that he simply doesn’t punch his weight when he takes the ball up. If he had the same approach as Muir has, in the body he has, then there would have been a trail of Sharks lying mangled in his wake. A pity, but maybe there’s a reason for it; who knows.

Finally, over in South Africa the Crusaders crashed to the Stormers, predictably. Sorry lads, this season isn’t going to be yours. Up in lofty Loftus the Bulls got both burly hands on the Wooden Spoon with a loss to the Reds, which says it all.

That’s it for another fun-packed Super 12 week!

Oh, before I forget, what’s the big deal with these bloody silly two-foot high kicking tees they’ve started using in the last few weeks? Christ! What next? Maybe we’ll soon be seeing a little launching ramp with protractor on it to fix the angle. I know! How about a small rocket-propelled cup with a rubber band to hold the ball on.

What a ridiculous sight eh? A ball sitting on top of a puke-green plastic tee 10 inches off the ground, and a ball-boy who has to stand by to retrieve it after the kick. What was wrong with a bit of sand or mud?

For fuck’s sake, get a grip! Rugby is meant to be a simple game – stop over complicating it!

Amen.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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10 Apr

Rugby 34 Robots 19
by Paul Waite
10 Apr 2001

If the various Super 12 finals that the Brumbies have lost wasn’t conclusive enough proof that robo-rugby is a bad way to go, then you just have to look at the Canes’ 34-19 demolition of it on Friday evening to be convinced.

The bottom line is that instinctive, ad-hoc creative rugby, played within a structured framework is superior to structured rugby played within a creative framework.

If that’s too much of a mouthful to get your head around, I guess what it’s basically saying is that the Brumbies have taken the business of worked moves too far for their own good. It gives them a great consistent platform, but like any ‘system’, once it’s been sussed it becomes a liability.

Such proved the case on Friday night as the Hurricanes took the field on a mission. Every man jack of them was as tightly wound and pumped up as an SAS hero parachuting into enemy territory to save his country. The Brumbies had no answer to that fire, and no answer to the creative genius that is the Hurricanes backline. All they could do was put the same old cracked record on the gramophone, and play the same old tunes.

The Canes won’t take the field again in this Super 12 with the same passion; it was a special night that’s for sure. Nobody is saying they’ll get into the semi-finals either, but hell, they played with the heart, guts and verve that’s been missing from this competition for ages. It was one in a million – thanks to all of the team for putting on that performance for New Zealand fans.

After this memorable game, early on Saturday morning down in a disused carpark in Auckland City a strange breeze gently ruffled some leaves and detritus in a dimly lit corner. A half-awake vagrant started as weird blue arcs of electric discharge danced briefly in the wire fence just across from him. A subliminal base vibrated the lids of some dustcans and then, with a sudden burst of blue flame which lit the area for a short second, 22 men appeared from nowhere. The Blues team had arrived from their parallel universe.

Haka is the first to bring this news to you and, believe me, it more than explains what went on at Eden Park. The team put on yet another inept display which basically gifted the game to a very large but pretty bloody ordinary Sharks team. More than once in the week prior I’d heard Blues fans muttering that their team seemed to be playing a slightly different game to everyone else, and to slightly different rules. Now you know why.

Suffice to say that in their normal universe, you win by NOT supporting the ball carrier at all, and by deliberately failing to notice how the referee is ruling in the game. You also score extra points for niggle, and getting yellow cards. After the game they returned home and received a tickertape parade in Auckland, Alpha-Centauri.

Back to some sense with a bang and let’s look at the Highlanders. Wow, what a performance from these boys this week. After looking like they might all be retiring from the game early last time out, they really put some grunt on the track against a tricksy opponent.

The Waratahs came along with their patented Quik-Rugby ™, as invented by Barbed Wire, their coach. This is quite difficult to watch, since it makes it as hard to follow the ball as with a table-tennis match between two Chinese olympians playing with white bats, on a white table in a white room. No sooner does one player get it than it’s passed on like a hot potato to someone else.

Unfortunately a lot of this involves passing the ball backwards five metres and then running it up five metres. We think that Barbed ought to fine tune this to be only three metres backwards, then they could make some ground with it.

Initially though, this business had Tony Brown and Co. rushing about, and trying to find the person with the ball, and so gaps came along to make it look like a bloody good technique. Then the penny dropped, and the Highlanders forwards and midfielders had great fun smashing the Tahs to the ground no matter what they did.

That was basically the game right then. After that, the Otago boys smacked them around good and proper, spread the ball, caused havoc and scored five great tries. Essentially, this was yet another victory of real rugby, over ‘recipe rugby’. Dwyer has drilled his men to a turn, and come up with a clever old recipe to be sure, but this stuff will never beat the good old-fashioned stuff, when push comes to shove.

One more thing on this game; if the Waratahs were camping in the outback, and the Monster from the Black Lagoon came into their midst, they wouldn’t have as many nightmares as No.8 Vahafalou gave them. He well and truly ran rampant, and Waugh will have cause to remember him both physically and mentally after this weekend.

Finally the Chiefs. Ok, ok, I now have to admit it. The Chiefs climb up to the heights of Super 12 rugby respectability is well underway and is REAL. They proved it conclusively with their utterly gutsy display against the huge Cats side at Tauranga today. The whole team has a tangible team ethic going, and they play for each other in the time-honoured way – something which has been completely absent from previous incarnations. This is quite evidently the doing of John Mitchell – an All Black coach in waiting if ever I saw one.

The Cats were literally camped in the Chiefs half sometimes, and scored two tries to a penalty-try, but the defence from the Chiefs built on Glen Jackson penalty-taking was enough for them to grind out a deserved victory. Well done to Mitchell and well done to Deon Muir and his boys.

The final act of this weekend’s rugby was played out in the early hours (New Zealand time) of this morning in South Africa. Reports have it that the Crusaders turned a 21-12 halftime deficit into a 42-29 victory. This has probably cemented the Bulls’ customary position anchoring the foot of the Super 12 table, and gives the Crusaders hope of a last-ditch tilt at the semis. Well done to them!

So apart from the desperately bad Blues performance, we have had a great weekend over here in New Zealand for a change. Let’s hope that next week builds on this – New Zealand rugby needs it.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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10 Apr

Let's Play Catch the Penalty and Hide-the-Ball
by Paul Waite
10 Apr 2001

There are two things which have been eating me during this Super 12, though one of them started a while before.

When John Eales first jumped up and palmed the ball to prevent a penalty from scoring, he started a trend. Presumably it isn’t against the Laws, since nobody has done anything about it, but is it within the Spirit of the Game?

I think not.

Consider it. A team has fouled and been penalised. The referee has awarded a penalty kick, which is a chance to score from a place-kick in recompense for their opponents’ foul. Players from the team which has committed the said foul are constrained by the rules from moving for the duration of the kick (although this point mustn’t be spelled out in the Lawbook in black and white terms).

The whole idea, it seems to me, is that the team which has been fouled against is being given the chance to score three points, limited ONLY by whether the kicker can kick the goal. It’s up to the offenders to watch it, and take the consequences of their actions.

The very idea that the offending team can actively impede the course of rugby justice in this way is an afront to the intent of the Laws in my view, and the act of smacking a penalty kick away like that is nothing less than blatant cheating.

I mean what next? Maybe we’ll see the team shaking the posts so they bend inside the path of the ball. Or how about lobbing a handy bottle at it in mid-flight to knock it off track? I know! Get the lads to form a human pyramid, then the top man jumps at it as it goes past.

Bloody ridiculous, cheating gits.



Has anyone else noticed the trend for tackled players to pop the ball back under their bodies and between their legs to recycle it more securely this season?

It used to happen every so often, more by happenstance than anything else, but it’s become such a common sight that it has to be a deliberate coaching ploy.

Good idea, but it’s also cheating, and referees ought to wake up to the fact.

Imagine I had the ball and got tackled. I go to ground on my side, and hands reach in from the opposing side to snaffle it. Being anxious to protect posession I shove both hands out and hold them over the ball and block the would-be snafflers. This is blatant obstruction, and such cheating would be quickly rewarded with a penalty against me.

This inelegant business that we see right now of players going down and deliberately lying all over the ball, then shoving it eventually back through their legs is exactly the same trick, using the torso as the obstruction.

Wakey wakey referees; easy possession kills the game in the long run.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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9 Apr

Poor Poor Pitiful Me
by Rob Wallace
9 Apr 2001

After last weeks inept play the Blues declined further with an extraordinarily poor display on Saturday, losing 41-27 to the Sharks.

The week started with Frank Oliver’s unusual team selection, dropping Robinson, Parkinson and Flavell, presumably for disciplinary reasons. Facing a bulky and powerful Sharks pack, Oliver selected Reichelmann and Newby and stated that the Blues would beat them with agility and skill.

Well, I don’t know what tactics Frank offered his team but either he’s very stupid or the team didn’t execute them. Repeatedly smashing the ball up against a bigger pack is basically rugby suicide, and rather than agility and skill we saw errors and foul play. For the second week in a row the Blues were penalised out of the game. Devine’s strength is releasing the ball quickly to the backline which the Blues seldom did, negating his effect – they would have been better with Robinson there. When the ball was released wide the backline looked good, and they scored some lovely tries but spoiled other opportunities with poor handling and kicking.

This backline is very much like Kirwan in his playing days – can’t kick, can’t catch, mediocre tackling but brilliant running. The punting from everyone but Innes was appalling, and Howlett was really the only player to come out of the game with credit.

The forwards didn’t do the basic work needed, and their tackling was poor. Newby was in the right place all the game, but really isn’t bulky enough to be effective at this level. Reichelmann was anonymous, and Brooke’s standards have slipped badly. Rush was busy, and took the ball up well but isn’t a natural blindside, while Cribb struggled at the back of this pack. Flavell came on for the last 20 minutes but spent 10 of them in the sinbin.

In contrast the Sharks played smart tactical rugby. They rumbled up with their big pack, kicked to Vidiri, or behind Howlett and minimised their errors. They looked well coached and well organised, and should now make the top four playoffs, whereas the Blues will be fighting off the Bulls for the wooden spoon.

The only good thing about the game was the 5:30 kickoff. The game started in warm sunshine and with a dry ground, and finished under lights before the dew set in. This time means you can enjoy your afternoon, see the rugby, and still go out for the evening afterward – they should start more Saturday games at this time.

Next week offers the Cats in Whangarei. Oliver may as well select as many Northlanders as possible – they can’t play any worse and at least the crowd will turn up to see them – I have grave doubts about punters paying money to see more of this rubbish.

2 Apr

Dazed and Confused
by Rob Wallace
2 Apr 2001

The Blues blew their semi-final chances with an ill-disciplined and error-ridden inept perfrormance in Sydney losing 35-19 to the Warratahs. The frustrating part was they created more opportunities, scored more tries and looked the more talented team but threw the game away with a petulant self-centred display of non-thinking rugby.

Take Andre Watson, the referee for the game. I’m not a fan of Watson – he errs on the pedantic side, is quite authoritarian with lots of whistle blowing and stoppages for minor incidents – but he is a good referee, and seldom makes mistakes. I know this, surely the Blues know this. But, no, they decide to continually infringe, get all niggly and are penalised out of the game. Burke has 8 kickable penalties and kicks 7 of them – those 21 points made all the difference.

The Blues front row went well, but that was about it. Brooke is again looking like the jaded disinterested player he was at the beginning of 2000, Flavell keep forgetting to play rugby in order to get involved in off the ball incidents, Newby was out of his depth, Parkinson showed no adaptive skills and was penalised so often he almost lost the game single-handedly, while Cribb was anonymous.

The backs weren’t much better. Robinson had a good game but was sinbinned for “lazy running”. OK, so it may be an offence, but 10 in the bin for that? Spencer was his erratic self, and produced too much aimless kicking, while Innes had a good game, solid in defence, distributed well and set up two tries before blowing a third with a poor pass that was intercepted when the Blues had a 5 on 1 overlap. Stanley was rock in midfield – solid on defence but stolid on attack – his distribution is terrible and unless Innes throws a miss pass the wingers don’t receive the ball. Howlett looked sharp and scored a good try as well as making another, Vidiri played as he does, from good to poor in the same game. Ai’i remains a defensive liability, and that would be ok if they actually gave him some ball to make up for his lapses – we see little of his brillint running.

Worse is the whole work ethic of the team. After last weeks poor display against the Chiefs where the Blues seemed to think they only had to turn up to win, this week the team seemed bemused and irritated that the referee would penalise them and got all petulant from then on and forgot about playing decent tight rugby. When they did, they looked great.

It may now be too late to sort this team out. I would drop Brooke, play Taylor and Reichelmann at lock, Flavell on the side and hope Justin Collins is fit soon. Since Ai’i isn’t being used as a runner, Hayden Taylor would be a better defensive option at fullback and I’d love to see Valence or Wilson have a run at centre.

The other NZ games thie weekend were crackers. The Hurricanes found their 2000 form with the forwards outplaying the Crusaders and finally we saw the wonderful Hurricanes backline working properly in their 41-29 win. Standout players for me were Tito, Waller, So’oialo [at openside] and Steinmetz, while Cullen and Umaga showed us what know they can do. Technically it was interesting too, as the Hurricanes used backs to run one off the rucks and mauls rather than forwards. The Crusaders defensive line has always been founded on having large forwards in the backline to stop big runners bursting through making their defensive line hard to penetrate close in. But while those props can pull down a charging forward they aren’t mobile enough to catch a quickstepping back and Wellington took advantage of this.

The best game was the Chiefs 50-19 victory over the Highlanders. I have been impressed with Otago over the last few weeks as they looked to be coming into some form, and they still played quite well but were thrashed by a very impressive Chiefs side. The Chiefs made few errors, their defence was outstanding and they were clinical in their finishing – this was the best display of rugby from a NZ team this year – the whole team was superb.

1 Apr

The Three C's
by Paul Waite
1 Apr 2001

This week it was all about the Three C’s: The Chiefs, The Canes, and The Cretins.

No prizes for guessing the latter refers to The Blues, after their brain-dead performance in Sydney where they deservedly crashed out 35-19 to the Waratahs on the wrong end of a 16-4 penalty count.

You have to wonder what the Blues coaches are doing. Aside from the decision to pick Orene Ai’i as fullback (pinning your hopes of last-ditch defence on him is like packing a fishing net for a reserve parachute) what did they tell the players prior to this game. Was something like: “Ok boys, we want you to go out there and constantly infringe at the ruck, lineout and maul and whatever you do keep on doing that – don’t learn from the referee’s whistle or anything like that. Oh, yes and while we’re at it, make sure you kick all our posession away in the first half because they’re really really good at running it back at us.”

There was more to it than this, but that will do. The sad thing is, the Blues showed us in patches that they could have won this one. When they kept the ball in hand and built the attack they looked good, and with firepower like Vidiri and Howlett out wide they can score tries.

Spencer had a night he’d rather forget. He was more unpredictable and dizzy than even he usually is, and his kicking from hand continues to be execrable. It shouldn’t be shown on TV before midnight, it’s that horrific.

Added to that was an incident which, for me, encapsulated the team’s misguided attitude. In a scramble near touch Spencer went to ground over the line but just let go of the ball to keep it alive. The TJ said it was out and Spencer obviously yelled something at him concerning his parentage and a goat. Denying the abuse when called to account by the referee, Spencer was seen on TV blowing a kiss to the TJ.

Now this little episode obviously rankled the TJ immensely and festered away in his mind. Some minutes later Ron Cribb waved the palm of his hand vaguely in the direction of a Tah’s head, and the TJ immediately deafened Andre Watson with a shriek of foul play and goose-stepped onto the field. Dabbing at the little trickle of blood coming from his left ear Watson listened with his good one, and the end result was a penalty and three points to the Tahs. The lesson? Never bad-mouth the officials – it will come back on you three-fold. The later sin-binning of Troy Flavell for a similarly retarded offence just kept the nasty little pot of offal bubbling.

Drawing a deep breath and letting all that nonsense go, we turn to the beginning of the weekend. The Chiefs are busy convincing us that the long-awaited turn in their fortunes is not our imagination. After only all of the Super 12 since it’s inception, they’ve been completely useless ninnies but this season, under John Mitchell, they are beginning to give a solid impression of a team which believes in itself.

Unfortunately it’s still hard to be totally sure of this, since their opponents at Rotorua on Friday were The Highlanders, who put in a pretty ordinary 80 minutes.

The game established itself into a pattern which it held more or less throughout. The Highlanders would run it and ruck energetically 3-4 times making ground and gaining the Chiefs half, but would make a mistake and cough posession. The Chiefs would then quickly burst through some paper-thin defensive efforts, spread the ball and score a try. Repeat several times until done.

Ocassionally this would be varied and something unusual would happen, like Wilson going all the way to the Chiefs line to score, but generally you have the picture.

For the Chiefs Danny Lee has to take the Man of the Match award, not only for his hat-trick of tries, but also for his general play which was top-class. He was everywhere marshalling his forwards and feeding his backs. Praise too for Deon Muir, a most under-rated No.8, a great skipper, and one of the king-pins of this Chiefs side.

Yet another brick-bat has to be handed to that laziest of New Zealand rugby players Carl Hoeft. The Highlander obviously takes the word “prop” to heart. He’s a master of scrumming, which involves a lot of standing and preparing and then a bit of leaning and pushing. He’s also brilliant at jogging briskly to each ruck, taking up station on the left side, and leaning on it with his right hand, all the while barking encouragement to various team-mates getting stuck in around him. His work rate is as near to zero as it can possibly be without sitting on the bench. In fact I take that back; the reserves have to get up and keep warm once in a while. Hoeft should never be allowed near an All Black jersey ever again, unless it’s to ask for an after-match autograph.

Finally we come to the Hurricanes, that most unpredictable of New Zealand teams. Having just about flushed their 2001 Super 12 campaign down the toilet, they did what they always do: put in a good one just to keep us guessing.

For their part the Crusaders were terrible. These days their attack has about as much bite as an 18 year-old doberman with dentures. Yes the Canes defence was committed, but that wasn’t the whole story. Too often the ball carrier wasn’t supported and the ideas weren’t flowing – it was too predictable.

For the Canes it was good to see Christian Cullen looking about 90% fit and running much more freely as a result. He bagged two nice tries. Outside Holwell, wearing O’Halloran’s No.12 jersey, Paul Steinmetz impressed too. Although he’s a slightly built man, Steinmetz has a good turn of speed and marvellous vision. He can spot gaps and opportunities by reading the game and that marks him out as something special. Great to see him grabbing this Super 12 by the scruff of the neck.

As well as being lacklustre on attack, the Crusaders were pretty bloody ordinary on defence as well. I lost count of the number of tackles they dropped off, but after last week’s performance when they seemed to have recovered their famous offensive-defence, this week was a complete turn-around again. Their supporters must be as confused as I am.

Looking at the Super 12 leader board it’s pretty certain to be slim pickings for New Zealand teams this season. The only real hope is that the Chiefs will manage to develop further and do enough to make the semis. On points alone the Highlanders have a chance too, but having seen them this weekend they simply aren’t made of the right stuff. Canterbury were in with an outside chance before this weekend, but the Canes put paid to that.

All in all it looks bleak for NZ, the country which has owned the Super 12 trophy since the thing began in 1996. Stepping back a little, maybe this is just a natural progression. Our rugby has been in decline since just after that time. Initially the rot affected only the top tier – the All Blacks – but now it is spreading down through the Super 12 too.

Thank God the NPC isn’t international. At least a New Zealand team will win that.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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