25 Mar

Almost Blue
by Rob Wallace
25 Mar 2002

An electrifying performance from Carlos Spencer at fullback was the highlight as the Blues took an almost satisfactory 37-30 win over the Chiefs. But it wasn’t a commanding performance by any means and they’ll need to play a lot better to beat the Warratahs on Friday.

There were some positives – the front row was solid, the lineout impressive and the pack looked cohesive and organised with Maimuri in the tight and Flavell having more room to roam as a blindside. Flavell can really dominate a game from blindside, and with a couple of hard working locks covering the tight stuff the pack looks impressive. However after Maimuri left with injury there was a lack of control up front and the pattern fell apart a bit. Justin Collins had a good return to S12 rugby, and had a great battle with Marty Holah.

Arlidge was tidy and organised at 1st5, and his use of the skip pass gave the threequarters more room to work with, while Spencer was brilliant from fullback and played a role in all 4 tries, entering the line at pace and breaking the defence. Howlett, as usual, was very involved in play, and popped up everywhere.

There were some negatives: Cribb needs to learn to pass early when he has a top class finisher like Howlett or Muliaina outside him, rather than try to beat the man himself. And the forwards seemed to forget their coaching later in the game, becoming too loose and disorganised.

Overall, the Blues get a pass mark but are yet to show the commanding form that they will need to beat teams in the top 4, and they will need to do this to make the semis. The promise is there, the experiment of Spencer at fullback looks very interesting and there are signs that with a fully fit squad the pack may yet deliver the goods.

19 Mar

Don't look back in anger / Move on up
by Rob Wallace
19 Mar 2002

There’s something fishy about the whole NZRFU saga over the last 3 months, but the bit that concerns me is the S12 expansion, which seems to be at the core of this very messy fallout.

I still don’t understand the logic of vetoing the procedure at the last minute, especially after agreeing to go ahead with a thorough independent report about expanding the S12. If the NZRFU were so opposed to expanding the S12 the report should never have happened. To commission the report, and then ignore strikes me as foolish.

It’s this sort of arrogance of the NZRFU that gets us into the deep water we’re in now.

The reason the S12 was a success was the fact that it was an expanded, televised, hyped version of an existing concept – the S10 or previously SPC. News Corp liked the idea and funded it to the tune of $500 million over 10 years. Now what do Sanzar have to offer at the next negotiation – more of the same [something we're getting bored with] or something new?

The S12, while not moribund, is looking unhealthy, and in need of a revamp. This is due for 2005 when the contracts are renegotiated but we may well be served better by embarking on this earlier. I understand, and agree with, the fact that the rugby season is too long and that lengthening the S12 would worsen this further but that’s no reason not to look at alternatives.

There are so many options. Let’s give the Aussies another team. Hell, let’s give them 2 or 3. Expand the S12 to 16 or 18, but play it in pools, with an expanded playoff system like they use in the NRL [NRL playoffs have huge viewing figures]. Now let’s see, what does that do to our season? 7-8 weeks round robin, maybe 4-5 of playoffs – oh, look it’s shorter that the S12! More teams for Aus gives them the opportunity to start up a NPC type competition as well while the Currie Cup and NPC run. Other options include dropping a NZ team or running more overlap with the TN and the NPC, which does take the AB’s out of the NPC.

NZ could even have another S12 team. They could then expand the NPC 1st Division to 12 teams, without promo-relegation [yeah, I know we all prefer it but financially it's more stable to remove it] and put two 1st Division teams into each S12 franchise. Much better balance, avoiding some of the problems we have now.

All of these are options and I believe the NZRFU erred in not trading an expanded S14/16 for some other compromises that suited NZ rugby.

Back to the RWC. I am sure that Australia can host the WC on their own, and that they will do a bloody good job with it. It’ll be a great spectacle. But I really don’t think that shafting NZ rugby in this way is in Australia’s best interests either. If this is payback for S14, so be it. But I would think that NZ rugby officials won’t forget this either, and the loss of goodwill between Australia and NZ is something neither country needs. Aussie needs us as much as we need them – both counties are so much stronger together. Vernon Pugh and the NH IRB reps must be rubbing their hands in glee as they see the traditional SH forces splinter, which seems to give the NH nations the power to do as they like at IRB level while NZ and Aus play tit for tat.

I think it’s a real pity that O’Neill and the ARU are so arrogant, and don’t have the vision to see that the short term gain of excluding NZ from the RWC may be very detrimental for Australian [and NZ] rugby long term.

12 Mar

You can't always get what you want
by Rob Wallace
12 Mar 2002

Particularly when the Crusaders turn up with their A game. The Blues may have the talent, the players and the will but the one thing this game showed was the benefit of teamwork and organisation as the Crusaders controlled the game and came away with a deserved 30-11 win.

There was little to complain about in the Crusaders performance. The pack controlled the ball without ever really dominating the Blues, Mehrtens maintained their field position with accurate kicking and they clinically took the few chances they had. The Crusaders defence did a mighty job and left the Blues frustrated as they failed to get any momentum going.

It began up front – while the front rows were relatively even, apart from some instability created by Feek, at no time did the Crusaders appear troubled by the Blues. Thorne and McCaw had the better of the loose ball, while Mehrtens made sure the Blues were always on the back foot. Aaron Mauger had another good game, while the remaining Crusaders backs had few opportunities. But the Crusaders defence was back to its Brumbie-blocking best. The Blues were unable to create any play, receiving the ball on the back foot, Spencer continually under pressure, and the midfield tied down. The pack was unable to recycle the ball and create continuity and all this pressure produced the errors and turnovers the Crusaders needed.

The Blues still don’t have their team balanced properly. Flavell is wasted at lock and Rush is out of his depth competing with test players like McCaw, Thorne and Robertson, as is Parkinson, though to be fair most opensiders look poor in a when their pack isn’t performing. Despite Taylor’s leadership and drive, he is not a dominant lineout figure and the Blues need to review this area of their game.

The biggest problem is the enigma of Spencer. When the Crusaders shut him down on Saturday, they appeared to snuff the entire pattern and inventiveness out of the Blues and no one had any idea what to do next. The introduction of Arlidge changed that a bit and perhaps while Rupeni is unfit the Blues may consider moving Muliaina to wing and Spencer to fullback. There is also the possibility of Spencer and Arlidge swapping positions during the game where appropriate.

In other games the Highlanders continue to look like SF prospects with a good 40-8 win over the Cats, the Chiefs lacked the firepower to overcome a tough Reds team losing 13-27 while the Horrorcanes copped a backlash from the Stormers.

The messiest area of the game remains the referee. There is no consistency in the way yellow cards are handed out. Hammett received a penalty for a left hook, while players were carded for more minor offenses in other games. In view of the dramatic effect that removing a player can have, I would like the refs to be much more reticent with both yellow and red cards, but to be backed up with a toughened, independent judiciary with real teeth.The tackled ball situation is also too variable.

From John Mitchell’s point of view it is good to see improving performances from most of the NZ teams. Areas of weakness still appear to be No8 and centre while players like Cullen really need to be injury free to try to win their places back. And I wonder how Alatini is feeling about his move to Wellington?

9 Mar

No World Cup, No All Blacks
by Paul Waite
9 Mar 2002

The dinosaurs are stirring. Jurassic Park is alive and well, and situated in the IRB offices. Chief attraction in the Park is a very old saurian with a tiny brain, affectionately known as Vermin Phew.

“He’s a bit thick, but he’s been around so long we call him The Boss”, said Algy Bigglesthing-Smythe, the head keeper.

“Actually we get him to make all our key decisions by throwing a rugby ball into his enclosure and seeing what he does. Last week he crapped on it, so we’re acting accordingly.”

Bigglesthing-Smythe refused to be drawn on exactly what that meant.

Which is exactly the kind of communication channel that the IRB seem to think is par for the course, judging by what NZRFU head honcho David Rutherford told us last night. Let’s take a look at what the IRB have been saying and doing lately. Last night a fax was sent from ARU headquarters at the instigation of IRB errand-boy Chris Rea to the NZRFU, informing them unilaterally that they had reluctantly withdrawn their offer to New Zealand to co-host the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

Here’s the spin itself:
“(RWC) has reluctantly been forced into this action by the New Zealand Rugby Union’s failure to conform or to accept its obligations, and having regard to the proximity of the tournament has had no alternative but to take the necessary steps to move forward as quickly as possible,” the IRB said in a statement on Friday.

The very picture of a switched-on, go-get-’em bunch of guys dedicated to doing everything possible to organise the next World Cup, and deftly stepping around some unreasonable dumbness being exhibited by those thicko oiks from New Zealand. Call me cynical, but as the saying goes: “what’s wrong with this picture?”.

The “obligations” include, amongst other things, a requirement to provide corporate box facilities cleaned of advertising, and associated hospitality areas at every World Cup venue for the duration of the event. This is not news. The NZRFU was aware of this from the outset, and at the one and only meeting which has been held by the full IRB Council for the Rugby World Cup, the IRB were informed that New Zealand could not deliver on this because corporate boxes and hospitality areas did not belong to it. For goodness’ sake, these things are the same in every country. People spend big bucks for the facilities and they own them via leases. The same applies with deals done for advertising, signed up in many cases, years before the World Cup was even mooted. To expect that these can be somehow made to disappear as if by magic is bloody ridiculous.

So, true to saurian form, our friendly leviathon stuck it’s head in the sand and ignored the problem. Meetings to discuss the issue were called for by the NZRFU but the response was “just sign the agreement, then we’ll talk”. Brilliant. With behaviour like that it’s a wonder the Old Boys In Charge were able to be dragged kicking and screaming to agree to hold the inaugural World Cup in 1987 by New Zealand in the first place.

As it stands the NZRFU are saying that the co-host status of New Zealand was set up by the IRB full council and can only be taken away by that full council, and not by Rugby World Cup Ltd. Presumably that will be clarified in the next few days.

In the meantime, as a New Zealander, I’m not particularly keen on being pushed around by a bunch of micro-encephalopods from the Northern Hemisphere. It’s the apparent contempt in which we’re being held that grates. From what David Rutherford has said, and I for one believe him, it’s been a case of the IRB refusing to meet face to face to discuss the problems and solve them – an attitude which effectively tells us we’re not important enough to bother with, and the IRB know best.

Fine. If that’s how they want to play it then let’s boycott the bloody event. Who the hell needs it anyway? One thing is for sure, if we did boycott it the winner of Rugby World Cup 2003 would have a hollow victory.

As for the IRB, that bunch of antiquated buffoons are just adding to their legend. Comparing them with dinosaurs is an insult to a form of life which ruled the Earth for millions of years. God help us if the IRB headed up the Rugby World for a fraction of that time. Another five minutes would be too long, but in reality we’re stuck with the useless gits for a while yet. The only way to get the attention of somebody afflicted with gross stupidity is to do something BIG, so they’re forced to take notice.

Let ‘em have it right between the eyes! : Should we withdraw the the All Blacks from the 2003 Rugby World Cup if the IRB strip co-host status from us?
Click Here –> Have Your Say Now!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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6 Mar

Your Starter For 12
by Paul Waite
6 Mar 2002

I’m getting a bit tired of seeing Australian Super 12 teams starting the competition looking like they’ve trained harder, played more warm-up matches, and generally been more professional about the whole thing than we have.

Last year was a diabolical example of how New Zealand teams have tended to play the first two rounds as if all the players had just been exhumed from a meat chiller the day before kickoff. This year isn’t so bad, but it’s still not good enough. Take the Hurricanes for an example. No, on second thoughts they are a special case, let’s go for the Chiefs. First round up at home they were a mixture of the awful and the awesome. Players were quite obviously at about 80% of the level of fitness of their Australian opponents, the Waratahs, and the whole performance lacked any kind of consistency.

Same with the Blues. First round they played the Hurricanes, who might as well not have turned up. If they hadn’t it would probably have been a better scoreline because the cheerleaders would have had to stand in for them. Have you ever grappled at close quarters with a fired-up cheerleader flailing around with those pompoms? I haven’t, but I’d like to. Err, I digress, sorry about that.

Quite clearly we can’t count that game as an indication of any kind of Blues form whatsoever, apart from the fact that they looked capable of turning up on time for games, which is a positive but fairly inconclusive pointer to whether they’ll win the competition. We had to wait until this week to see their real mettle, and it was more a kind of soggy cardboard in the end. The performance against the Reds was basically the usual Early Round Blues as we saw a flaky performance with dropped ball, poor defence, and ill-conceived attack ranged against a committed and purposeful Australian team.

It isn’t all bleak. For a start we have seen that New Zealand teams do tend to tune in to the program after about the third round, and make up ground on everybody. We also look across at the Crusaders and Highlanders and see a higher order of performance coming from the Mainland, as befits the origin of most of our current All Blacks, but it does beg the question. If the game is meant to be professional, why do some New Zealand Super 12 franchises seem to be incapable of preparing professionally for the season?

I’ve no idea why. It’s obviously more complex than someone just having a bit of a lazy approach and needing a kick in the naughty parts to wake them up; mind you it would be a reasonable place to start. In the first instance I’d like a bit more of a recognition from the NZRFU that this kind of thing is going on, and some evidence that it’s a problem that’s being addressed at least.

The bottom line is – it doesn’t have to be this way. The Hurricanes, Blues and Chiefs squads are perfectly able to be trained and prepared to the same level for the starting game of the Super 12 as the likes of the Waratahs, Reds and Brumbies. I’m not suggesting they should always win or anything like that, but the kind of flaky stuff we see in the first three rounds doesn’t have to be the norm.

In the meantime, let’s hope that Round 3 of the comp sees a big improvement, and if we feel we need some cheering up – we just have to look at how the South African teams have begun the season!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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5 Mar

Where is my mind?
by Rob Wallace
5 Mar 2002

The Blues must be wondering how they managed to stuff up, as they came right down to earth with a 34-24 loss to the Reds on Saturday. After the glorious, team oriented, organised performance of a week ago versus the Hurricanes we caught a glimpse of the bad old Blues this week.

They got off to a great start, 14-0 up after 10 minutes but then failed to provide the cohesive play needed to maintain the lead. The main problems were with the pack, which never gelled and played individual roles only. With the delivery of poor, backfoot ball to the backs we saw a familiar scenario of Spencer being unable to control the game and the pattern turning to custard.

There were further glaring errors – control at the kickoffs was again appalling. Flavell appears to be the target man, but seems unable to do the job, despite presumably practising after the problems in Wellington. The lineouts were not much better with both Flavell and Taylor being pressured at times. Probably the worst facet was the tackling, with Parkinson being the main culprit, but many of the players missing tackles they should have made.

There is a lot to work on here. Consideration should be given to starting Califano, and moving Flavell to blindside and introducing Ali Williams as both a lineout target and a receiver at kickoffs. Taylor’s strengths are immense, particularly in the tight, but he needs help in the lineouts and aerial play. Flavell revels in that tight/loose play and needs to be freed up. Robinson’s running and sniping game, appears not to suit the backline – Devine’s silky smooth service gets the ball out to those dangerous threequarters quicker.

Spencer is clearly the most brilliant 1st 5 in NZ, but he continually demonstrates that he is crap when his pack can’t dominate. In those circumstances, introducing Arlidge, who is safer and more organised, often settles down both the team and the pattern – the Blues need to consider when to do this.

On the plus side: Cribb appears to be returning to his best form, and as such offers more than any other No8 in NZ, the front row has the quality needed, and when the pack play cohesively they look awesome. The backline has some of the most exciting players in NZ but need decent ball to function.

And now they have the biggest challenge available in NZ – beating the Crusaders at home. It can be done – the Blues have the individual talent to compete – but it will require a better team effort than we have seen for years for them to triumph.

Other games:

The Crusaders, surprisingly after their imperious NPC form, struggled a bit against the Chiefs, but as always with such a classy team, came away with the win. Nevertheless they look a bit off their top form. The Chiefs were a huge improvement on last week, but lack the front 5 to really trouble the top teams.

The Highlanders had top win over the Sharks. After struggling hard to subdue them, they finally got on top after 60 minutes to finally waltz away with a 45-5 victory. They look a well-organised team under Mains and should be close to the playoffs.

And the Hurricanes – after the most dismal performance by a Kiwi team ever, they travel to SA and, of course, play great rugby to win against the Bulls. Jeez I’m glad I’m not a Canes supporter – how tough would that be?