29 Apr

What in the world
by Rob Wallace
29 Apr 2002

Quite simply, the first half of the Blues-Stormers game was the worst rugby played in this years S12. The conditions were difficult, with Auckland being deluged by rain, but that was not really an excuse for the pitifully poor play by both teams.

The Blues were abysmal, while the Stormers merely bumbling and incompetent as they stumbled to a 6-3 halftime lead. The half was marred by poor options, terrible kicking, a plethora of simple errors and it was a relief when the halftime whistle went.

Thankfully things improved in the second half. Stern words from Sloane, and the introduction of Xavier Rush, for the injured Flavell, led to a tightening of the forward play, and more control and cohesiveness and the Blues finally came through with a 25-6 win.

Apart from Rush, whose leadership and experience helped turn things around, the only player to have a good game was Meeuws, who must be a near certainty for the AB tighthead position. Woodcock had a quiet game, and the scrum appeared more stable once he was replaced by Mike Storey. Maimuri was solid, but let himself and the team down with disciplinary lapses, while Urlich and Parkinson toiled hard in trying conditions.

Mayerhofler defended solidly, Gear played well but is more effective when playing at centre, and the conditions stopped any real sparkling backplay.

It was a good result for the Blues – the Stormers are a better team than their record this year suggests -and it keeps the Blues in contention for a semifinal place. Sadly, they were not able to gain a bonus point that would have sneaked them up to fourth. They must be looking back with some annoyance at the appallingly poor decision by the video referee in the Reds game that deprived them of a bonus point, and gave the Reds an extra point, which now sees the Reds nudge ahead of the Highlanders into third place.

There were 2 other engrossing results over the weekend. The Hurricanes played both brilliant and brain-dead rugby to throw away a win against the Warratahs. They played exciting attacking rugby, and dominated the tackled ball through their loose forward play, but blew it with ill-discipline and a comedy of basic errors.

The Highlanders handed the Brumbies their 4th straight loss. While injuries and retirements have played a big part, opposing teams have also developed defensive patterns to negate the Brumbies, and their fearsome patterned rugby has fallen apart. They miss Roff’s invention, the power of Williams, and the dominance of Giffin, but the biggest loss may well turn out to be Kafer. Kafer provided a 3rd axis, along with Gregan and Larkham, from which to base the pattern of their play, and without him the Brumbies attack has looked toothless at times.

26 Apr

Battle of the Idiots
by Rick Boyd
26 Apr 2002

Forget the world cup, that can only be a hippy love festival compared to the War of Morons that preceded it. Never in the field of human conflict have cretins with so few operating brain cells ruined so much rugby for so many people.

First idiots – the NZRFU. So no change there. The NZFRU have been icons of stupidity virtually since the game was founded. The game may have gone professional but New Zealand’s rugby administrators are still somewhere back in the 1950s. And what a triumph the World Cup debacle was for them. Hopelessly naive, implausibly complacent – what were they thinking? If they were thinking at all, which hardly seems possible. It’s obvious that they didn’t make a real effort to meet the rules about clean stadiums. It’s equally obvious they assumed that New Zealand rugby was just so darned important that this failure would be treated with affectionate tolerance. What did they think the Australians were doing? And more importantly, why didn’t they KNOW what the Australians were doing. And even more importantly, why weren’t they doing it together? No, there are no excuses, the NZRFU are shrewd 21st century businessmen in exactly the same way that Bill Gates is a penniless Bhuddist monk. And don’t bother making McCaw and Rutherford into scapegoats, there’s no pretending the rest of the NZRFU were vehemently opposed to these nilhistic mavericks – the whole board are as thick as stack of wet phone books and that’s all there is to it. And if they were merely taken out and shot they should be damned grateful.

Second idiots – the IRB. Although to be honest that is an insult to honest idiots everywhere. The IRB are the only body capable of achieving the wildly impossible and making the NZRFU look like shrewd 21st century businessmen. Obsessively amateur for years, obsessively amateurish still. They have been hopelessly inept for so long it’s kind of comfortable and reassuring. Run by a bunch of laughable middle class school teachers and book keepers, conveniently gerrymandered by having four national unions in the British Isles, these pompous old windbags have been a dead weight wired to the feet of international rugby for far, far too long. Dragged kicking and screaming by the southern hemisphere unions into abhorrent aberrations such as running rugby and professionalism, the IRB have about as much chance of making a sensible decision as Martin Johnson has of winning the next Nobel physics award. What a complete shambles they made of the world cup. Whose idea were the half-witted rules they approved, and why weren’t they made clearer long, long ago? And just how much money do they think they can screw out of rugby anyway? Aren’t they supposed to be benefiting world rugby? Why should they fillet New Zealand advertisers and New Zealand box holders for some fat, pompous pommy gits with a gutful of pink gin and public school sexual relationships with half the British rugby boards? I wouldn’t be sticking a Heineken up Pugh’s well-frequented arse, I can tell you. Nothing short of a bloody New Zealand mini-tanker would do the job for me.

Third and last and biggest idiots – the ARU. No doubt they think they’re as cunning as a dingo in a nursery, and they may not be naïve and complacent like the NZRFU, not in obvious ways anyway, but they are short-sighted, treacherous, mercenary and wholly motivated by cheap revenge. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, because they’d be lying like an Internet porno site advertising free nude photos of Anna Kournikova. Not that Australians usually need much of a push in this direction. Like some ghastly nouveau riche blue-rinse matron, they think that being the big fish in a very small pond demands a certain overblown snobbery, and they never miss a chance to be demeaning and patronising to their neighbours, blissfully unaware just what charmless, graceless fools it makes them appear. And just where do Australia think they’re going with this cheap World Cup betrayal? How quickly they have forgotten who it was that helped them out in the 70s when they were an international rugby joke. Remember when the Wallabies were beaten by Tonga? What a world force they were then. Who agreed to play them in annual tests to try and improve their pathetic standard? Who agreed to the Super 12 to help them chink away at the impregnable fortress of league and make up for their total and absolute lack of a domestic representative competition? Who agreed to play them twice every year in a now terminally boring series of Tri Nations matches? You want to know? The same country that really, REALLY pissed them off by denying them a fourth Super 12 team. ARU pimp O’Neill promptly promised to cut New Zealand out of any future negotiations between Australia and South Africa – which was not exactly putting it all behind him and moving on as he is now urging the Kiwis to do. When the chance comes we’ll screw you bastards like there’s no tomorrow, was what he meant. And now he has his chance. Had he not been an idiot, he would have gone back to the drawing board with the thickos from the NZRFU and worked out a solution. Worked together for the good of trans-Tasman, and world, rugby. But no, the ARU saw their chance for as sweet a revenge as any short-sighted, treacherous, mercenary idiot could ask for, so they spun old Rangi Caesar around and plunged that much cutlery into his back it’s a wonder the earth’s magnetic pole didn’t shift. And when the dust has settled, they still won’t have a domestic representative competition, and unless they’re prepared to be unusually self-deluding, they will still desperately need New Zealand’s help to keep their standards up. Quiet frankly, I think the NZRFU (if they were not idiots, so we can rule this out straight away) should tell Australia to bugger off when the Super 12 and Tri-Nations contracts come around for re-signing. Let Australia go back to their annual NSW-Queensland games. And the Wallabies can play South Africa and England if they like – that should really get them into some cutting edge rugby. And if O’Neill’s ethos is what goes around comes around, then it bloody well should come around full circle. Then let’s see how O’Neill feels with half a ton of stainless steel in the area of his spine (if they can find it).

But that’s not going to happen. One set of idiots will continue happily trying their level best to slaughter the golden goose provided by the other set of idiots, who will be fumbling and farting along trying to find excuses for being done like an eighteen course banquet but basically be too stupid to take the goose home and keep it under lock and key, while a third set of idiots looks on in completely gutless, gormless confusion without the vaguest clue as to what day of the week it is, let alone what the other idiots are up to. And as usual, grass roots rugby (you know, the people whom the whole system is supposed to be serving) gets comprehensively reamed out more thoroughly than a Kings Cross whore when the US fleet is in Sydney harbour.

And first in line on the quayside will probably be O’Neill in his fishnets.

22 Apr

Race for the prize
by Rob Wallace
22 Apr 2002

The best thing that can be said about the Bulls game is that at least it provided the Blues with a bit of a hit-out, to stretch those muscles and have a run around, after the trip home from Africa.

The Blues looked good when their forwards took control and kept the game structured, but when things got loose the game became very scrappy and the Bulls seemed able to break the defence far too easily.

Meeuws was again the standout forward, and surely will gain a return to the AB squad, while the loose forward combination of Flavell, Collins and Urlich again performed well. The midfield combination of Stensness and Shoemark didn’t shine – Stensness’s defence is mediocre, and his attacking talents are not really needed in a backline that has Spencer at 5/8 and threequarter talent to burn – the Mayerhofler/Gear combination seems a better option. Muliaina was deservedly named man-of-the-match, and he revels in the extra space and movement he has at fullback, while Spencer again showed that with his pack going forward there is no better 1st5 in NZ.

But the Blues have a lot of work to do before they could be considered title contenders. They have enough talent, but lack the ability to fully control a game, and grind the opposition into the dirt. Nevertheless, they have a good shot at the semis, with arguably the easiest run in of all 4 teams (Reds, Highlanders, Blues, Hurricanes) competing for that last place.

As for the RWC fiasco, well, two things stand out:
1] If the NZRFU now can provide all the parts of the subhost agreement, why the hell didn’t they sign it in March?
2] If the NZRFU now can provide all the parts of the subhost agreement, why the hell didn’t the IRB return it to NZ?

It’s obviously a financial and political decision rather than rugby based, and when you look at the wording of the IRB statement then clearly this is a big “slap” directed straight at the NZRFU from RWCL and the IRB. This seems to be the beginning of a change in attitude by the IRB, where they are going to make the rules and enforce them their way, and rule rugby the way FIFA rules soccer, and sadly NZ has been the test case.

As for Australia, well they don’t seem to like RWCL all that much either, and clearly they’re pissed off about S14, but they have shown they do have the ability to play with the big boys. They’ve been smarter than NZ over this, have looked after their assets and chances better, chosen to follow the commercial oriented course of RWCL, and when they’ve seen NZ being stamped into the mud by RWCL/IRB, rather than lending NZ a hand, they’ve chosen to keep their distance and look after themselves, and who can blame them after the S14 debacle.

Don’t blame those smug, winning Australian pricks for this, it looks more like a colossal blunder by the NZRFU, that dates back to commissioning an independent report on expanding the S12, and then vetoing it. What is apparent is that the NZ Rugby administrators are arrogant and stupid, the Australians are a nasty greedy bunch, and the IRB well, is the IRB, and what do you really expect from them. The other group who come out of this as badly as the NZRFU are RWCL, who have clearly put financial gain above the spirit of the game. But that was their mandate, whereas the NZRFU have failed in theirs.

21 Apr

"Inappropriate Behaviour"
by Don Christie
21 Apr 2002

That this sorry debacle comes down to a statement like this is indicative of the pettiness and self serving nature of those running the IRB and the RWC. What we are being told is that NZ has lost the world cup because they were naughty boys, not because we can’t deliver clean stadiums (we can) or because other issues haven’t been negotiated through (they have). So it comes down to “we don’t want you because you don’t know which fork to use for the soup course” statement. How can this situation arise? Two words – bad governance.

No-one seems to have taken much notice of the huge conflict of interest in the structure of the IRB and the RWC Limited. Namely that the chairman of the IRB (the sport’s governing body) is also the CEO of RWC Limited the World Cup operating body (in case you have missed the fact, that man is Vernon Pugh). In other words the overseer is also the overseen.

This is bollocks. It means there is no final arbiter for disputes and where a relationship has broken down no party to resolve the surrounding issues. It means that Pugh can conspire with whomsoever he pleases to reach whatever outcome secure in the knowledge that he runs both shows. Just ask the Enron board what the final outcome of this kind of set up is. Fat cats lining big pockets at the expense of the majority of stakeholders.

And so it is with no sign of embarrassment at their bare faced cheek that the IRB are able to produce the following timeline as part of their “inappropriate” press release:

“December 18th 2001 – New Zealand sign a draft of a SHUA (The December document was considered unacceptable by RWCL for reasons other than clean venues).

March 1st 2002 – Sub Host Union Agreement provided to NZRU for signature by the final deadline of 8th March

March 8th 2002 – NZRU declines to sign and reserves its position in respect of clean venues.

March 8th 2002 – Invitation to New Zealand to act as Sub Hosts withdrawn by the ARU.

Damning, isn’t it. I mean to say, the RWCL took between December 18th and March 1st to get a contract back to the NZRFU. They then gave them 8 days to review it and sign the thing. On the 8th they immediately withdrew the sub-hosting offer. Well, what could be more fair and equitable?

This is just one example of many anomalies that seem to have popped up during the whole process (I notice there is no denial in the IRB statement of the fact that the NZRFU were lead to believe clean stadiums would not be a big issue). When the relationship between Pugh, O’Neill and the NZRFU finally broke down there was no-one to bang heads together and get things sorted out. That would have been the job of the chairman of the IRB, but he is the problem!

Finally New Zealanders should ignore the “heads should roll” camp. The last thing NZ rugby needs in the run-up to the World Cup is a loss of leadership and direction. I’m sure our World Cup opponents are rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of that.

The only person I would consider sacking was the instigator of the letter apologising to Vernon Pugh. Please, can we now officially withdraw that apology?

19 Apr

They'll Keep, But We'll Remember This
by Paul Waite
19 Apr 2002

The only thing the NZRFU is guilty of in this disgusting Rugby World Cup affair, is taking somebody as being as good as their word.

The trouble is, if you take the word of a weasly lawyer you’re asking for it. Well they got it yesterday, when the IRB announced that New Zealand was arse-holed out of the 2003 Rugby World Cup Hosting Agreement.

In the process, the IRB and a gleeful ARU in the ugly shape of that spiteful but dangerous child John O’Neil delighted in shitting on the NZRFU from a great height:

“Generous accommodations made by RWCL to meet the needs and problems of the NZRFU were repaid with consistent failures and wholly inappropriate behaviour,”

Have you ever heard so much bollocks in your life? Yes, of course you have. It happens every day when large bully-boy corporations slap down a smaller one, and trample all over it because they can, all the time proclaiming, with a troubled frown, how magnanimous and kind they are.

But we digress.

The fiasco can be quite simply summed up in this historical perspective:

Both Unions won the right to host RWC2003 in 1997.

Both unions knew they had to deliver 100% clean stadiums from the outset however the NZRFU claims that the meaning of the phrase “100% clean” changed regularly and only on March 1st of this year did RWCL insist on venues with empty corporate boxes. Ye olde moving goalposts syndrome.

The NZRFU claim that they first found out about this definition of clean stadia in October last year and informed Vernon Pugh that it would be impossible to comply.

The NZRFU’s Murray McCaw met Vernon Pugh in London in November and maintains that he received a verbal agreement from him that New Zealand would not be required to provide 100% compliant. This is backed up by NZ Sports Minister Trevor Mallard who says he heard the same assurance. Knowing the people involved this is extremely unlikely to be a bald-faced lie, and the statement has remained consistent throughout.

McCaw then wrote to Pugh (quite properly) to confirm the understanding, BUT (and this is the crucial turning point) nothing was received by return.

This is where the naivety of the NZRFU began to undo them. Basically these guys are straight-shooters, and come from a school where they believe someone if they promise something verbally. The added factor of the Rugby World working successfully this way at the top levels for the last 100 years no doubt gave them every confidence that the statements Pugh made would be carried through in good faith despite nothing confirmed in writing. Wake-up call.

On the 21st December 2001, the NZRFU signed the draft sub host agreement with the ARU knowing it couldn’t comply with clean stadia, but believing that they had Pugh’s verbal aquiescence that it would not be a problem.

RWCL then rejected the agreement on 30th January 2002 and turned arund and delivered a revised version on 1st March insisting on 100% clean venues, including all corporate facilities. The NZRFU couldn’t comply, as they had previously stated, and therefore lost its position as a sub host.

So we have the weasly, dishonourable behavior of the IRB at the centre of all this nastiness, but where does Australia fit in. They’re our mates in War, Peace and Rugby, so why didn’t they come to our aid over this. One reason: John O’Neil.

John O’Neill appears to suffer from a disturbing problem. Despite, to all appearances, being an adult, he seems to behave rather like a selfish child that wants it’s own way all the time, and when it can’t get it, it throws a bloody great tantrum, chucks it’s toys out of the cot and everyone in the vicinity better look out.

Last year O’Neill wanted to expand his empire with a fourth Super 12 team for Australia, despite the fact their paltry domestic competition can hardly support three judging by the gates they get. New Zealand ummed and ahhed and made some positive noises, but the absurdity of the suggestion to expand the Super 12 by two more teams making it a wooly mammoth of a competition with 94 games in a season just wouldn’t wash. The NZRFU dumped the loony idea in the trash can, where it belonged.

That rankled O’Neill, who appeared to almost burst a blood vessel or three in apoplexy, accusing the NZRFU of “treachery” and vowing dire consequences.

Well opportunities to stab an enemy in the back don’t come along more propitiously do they? Here he was, with a wonderful chance to royally rodger the focus of his bile, the NZRFU, who were struggling to cope with what was either a case of rank organisational incompetence, or shear black-hearted duplicity from the IRB over the requirements for hosting RWC 2003.

In like a robbers dog.

So what now?

Well reprisal must be high on any New Zealander’s agenda and so it should be. Soon it will be our turn to do be the trampler, rather than the tramplee, of that all Australians and in particular Mr. O’Neill can be assured.

We had to laugh. At the announcement after the IRB decision to kick silly ol’ New Zealand out of the 2003 Rugby World Cup Hosting, the ARU spokesman and O’Neill himself were putting forth the line that the relationship between the ARU and the NZRFU was fine and we were just looking at “moving forward”.

That’s bollocks-speak for “we’ve rodgered you in an underhand way, and we’d now like you to carry on as if nothing had happened, so we can enjoy the fruits of our rodgering with no nasty reprisals thanks very much”.

Let me think about that one. No, sorry it won’t work. Will never, ever work. The ARU have decided to crap on their relationship with the NZRFU and thereby all New Zealanders apparently motivated by either greed or the pursuit of petty revenge or some mixture of both, and there’s no going back.

What can New Zealand and the NZRFU do to hit Australia where it hurts? Well prior to this we had been suggesting that the All Blacks boycott the Rugby World Cup, and it’s interesting to see that All Black Great Zinzan Brooke is currently recommending the same.

Whereas it’s still a tempting idea, since it would hurt Australia and the IRB (RWC Ltd.) hard in the pocket, as the All Blacks are the biggest drawcard of any team in the World, it’s not the best option in our opinion. No, the best thing would be to send the All Blacks over the Australia and rain on their fine parade by beating seven shades of shit out of their Wallabies at Stadium Australia in the final, if the Wallabies manage to get that far.

In Addition, hit them in the pocket by cancelling all games against the Wallabies which are on their side of the Tasman, excepting those contracted for such as the Tri-Series, and make this an indefinite ban. No games in their stadiums will mean less gate money going into the ARU coffers on the back of the drawing power of the Black Jersey. Ok, there aren’t many games against Australia apart from the 3N, but I’m sure some would have been planned.

Later on when negotiations for the Super 12 and Tri-Nations comes up in 2006, it will be time to play hardball. There is plenty of room for doing deals with other nations, and/or having a good look at the structure of our rugby and in particular the importance of the NPC. If New Zealand was to pull out of the Super 12, this would sound the death knell for Australian rugby as they know it. South Africa has its own Currie Cup, and would probably pull out also. This strong bargaining card MUST be used to beat Australia into it’s proper place at the appropriate time.

New Zealand can survive without Super 12, but Australia can’t – they need to be reminded of that.

In the meantime, just file this latest sorry example of the levels to which Australians will stoop in the sporting arena in the same folder as “The Underarm Bowl”. They’ve unwittingly provide the All Blacks with a nice extra bit of motivation come the time in 2003.

They’ll keep, but we’ll remember this, don’t have any worries on that score Australia.

Have Your Say: Who is to blame for the RWC Hosting Fiasco

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:

15 Apr

by Rob Wallace
15 Apr 2002

Two things stand out from the S12 refereeing this year – one is the usual mess of the tackled ball and the other is the continuing poor use of the yellow card.

The 10 minutes that Kelleher spent in the bin against the Warratahs could well have decided the game under different circumstances, and it’s irritating to have the outcome decided by the referee.

At the time Kelleher was binned, the Highlanders were beginning to stamp some authority on the game, and ended up conceding a try instead. The stamping Kelleher did was clearly unnecessary and late, but most refs let this go with a warning and a penalty. It would be much better to refer the action to a judiciary for punishment at a later to time. And to cap it off, the jab that Tuiavii gave Kelleher after the whistle was completely ignored.

The binning of Tuiavii was even more of a joke. On a warning for tackled ball infringements, he flops so far onto the Highlanders side he doesn’t even impede the ball. Ten minutes for that! Penalise him, put him on report, but why send him off?

Tappe Henning’s sending off of Holwell was yet another example. Here was a whole team infringing to prevent a Brumbies’ try, yet Holwell is binned for 10 minutes for what in reality was fairly innocuous play. Henning didn’t clearly warn the team that this would happen either. Here, the correct action should have a penalty try and in retrospect maybe the Brumbies should have taken those penalty kick options.

And Lowen. The way the ball was bouncing this weekend who knows whether Terblanche would have got near it. But he was held back, and a penalty try justifiable. But 10 minutes in the bin as well – that’s double punishment.

All of these actions have the ability to make far to much impact on the game. The fact the Warratahs scored with Tuiavii off the field is a credit to them, and they deserved the win, but using the yellow card like this ruins the spectacle.

The tackled ball remains a mess. The rulings seem nearly 180 degrees different to 1999/2000 – teams are now allowed to blow players off the ball, attackers flop over the tackled player and seal the ball off, or go to ground with impunity and the defending team frequently is favoured in a tussle for the ball. There really needs to be more consistency between the referees and from season to season.

As for the Blues, well they won but it wasn’t much to write home about. The Cats were pretty horrid, and the Blues stuttered to a win that keeps them hovering around that last semi-final position. Whitcome was adequate, when MacFarland came on the lineout got worse but the scrum better, Taylor seems jaded or injured and Arlidge down on confidence. The introduction of Stensness was presumably for his flair, but all he did was crash the ball up – may as well have Mayerhofler there – better defensively.

On the plus side, Flavell looks better without Cribb there. Urlich plays a solid Muir-like No8′s role, and gets the basics done well, leaving Flavell to inject some flair and get involved in the loose. As a combination, Urlich, Flavell and Collins probably provided the most coherent display by Blues loosies this season so far. The reintroduction of Spencer to first-five was the spark the Blues needed to turn the tide. He is still the second best first 5/8 in NZ and I hope Mitchell utilises his talents.

In other games the Highlanders deservedly lost to the Warratahs. Everyone but Mains and the OH pack know the way to beat the Warratahs is to smash up and outmuscle their pack. Duh! The Chiefs form ran out as they bumbled to a loss in Durban in an error ridden performance, while the Crusaders stayed top with a win over the Stormers.

But the game of the weekend, unexpectedly, was the Hurricanes win over the Brumbies in Canberra. The Canes pack took it to the Brumbies, Vanisi, So’oialo and Collins tied up the loose ball and the Canes defence was awesome. They have this habit of producing games like this (just tell Canterbury) but never consistently. Jeez I’m glad I’m not a Hurricanes supporter.

3 Apr

by Paul Waite
3 Apr 2002

Well, to use a wonderfully appropriate phrase coined by that prodigiously analytical mind in the game, Phil Kearns, it was “3-Zip to New Zealand” this weekend. In case he hadn’t noticed.

The Super 12 finally opened, after a series of rather meaningless dress rehearsals this weekend.

We have had five previous weeks of watching Australian teams play the weakest New Zealand teams in the very first rounds, and then the South African bunnies in the rounds following, and listening to Australian commentators smugly telling everyone who would listen (mainly just other Australians) that the results confirmed they were World Beaters.

So the Leading Lights Of The Game all played in New Zealand this weekend. The result? In case you didn’t hear, all three Australian teams were sent back home with a beating.

It wasn’t so much the fact it happened either, but how it happened. Two of the victorious New Zealand teams are thought, over here, to be fairly disorganised and without much hope of getting to the playoffs of the Super 12: the Blues and the Hurricanes.

The Blues were the expected rabble in the first half of their game against the Waratahs. Ah, the Waratahs. They remind me of British Boxer Joe Bugner in the 1970′s and 80′s. Bugner was a magnificent specimen, well over six foot, with muscles on his muscles. When you saw him sparring in a ring, or boxing a guy put in the ring as cannon fodder, he looked like all the World’s best heavyweight champions rolled into one. Trouble is once he got in the ring with a real boxer it was obvious to everyone that he punched like a powder puff, and fought like a girl.

That was the Waratahs to a tee. All impressive busy-buzzy razzle-dazzle in the first half when they got plenty of ball care of the Blues not being able to control it for more than 3 seconds at a time, but look at the halftime scoreline: they went in leading by 6-3.

In the second half, the Blues played some old-fashioned rugby, something New Zealand teams have been getting back to this year. The forwards rammed it up the guts, and Troy Flavell rampaged to the extent that the Waratahs looked scared of him by the end. The momentum allowed backs like Dougie Howlett, Carlos Spencer and Mils Muliaina to hit the line at speed and they caused havoc out wide. Well supported by opensider Parkinson, and all the other forwards, they slashed holes in The Pretenders flanks, then forced through the tatters to score some excellent tries, none moreso than Kees Meeuws who dragged 4 Waratahs over the line.

Good in-your-face up-the-guts rugby, capped off by some sparkling stuff out wide saw the little boys from Sydney, Australia sent home packing.

The only blemish on the night was the refereeing of Andre Watson. Some inconsistent rulings at the ruck were compounded by an awful mistake at the end when he and his touch judges missed a blatant foward pass which handed the Woeful Waratahs an undeserved bonus point.

The Hurricanes were expected to lose to the Reds, and lose badly. After all these Reds were the ones the Aussie commentators had been eulogising about for the past five weeks weren’t they?

Well somehow it didn’t seem like the same team, coz a bumbling set of patsies from Wellington and Taranaki beat them. Of course I do the Canes a disservice. They played well, as everyone could see. But it was unexpected. They played with intelligence, using the wind in the second half wisely, and keeping the Reds pinned for long passages of play in their own half and 22m when ahead. This hasn’t been seen from them for several seasons, so forgive us if we’re surprised.

The Super 12 Marketing Unit, stupid bunch of oh-so-predictable morons that they are, tried to tell us that the meeting of Jonah and Wendell Sailor was The Event Of The Year. Hello? They play on opposite wings for goodness’ sake. The “match-up” was between Jonah and ex-Wallaby winger Ben Tune. Can’t these people read a team-sheet?

As it happened even this match-up was predictable. Jonah was attended by at least three defenders every time he got the pill, and when Tune got it he ran around the Big Man’s defence (surely an oxymoron) with disdain. Ho hum, yawn.

The real interest was elsewhere. The Canes front row fronted. The loosies did their job, though once again Collins was as slow as a wet week, and missed too many crucial tackles in defence, and the backs found some form.

All in all a good day (night) at the office for the Hurricanes, and a well-deserved victory.

The final New Zealand versus Australia game was The Biggie. The Crusaders v The Brumbies at Jade Stadium.

Well I don’t know whether it was because it was played in daylight and it was so unusual that the Crusaders were all dazzled by “that thing up in the sky” but they played the crappiest rugby I’ve seen from them in many a day.

Of course this was still good enough to win against an Australian team, but that isn’t the point. An on-form Crusaders unit would have put this bunch of predictable wankers from Canberra to the sword. As it happened the match was a close one, and was all but lost when Chris Jack missed yet another crucial tackle to let in a soft try and give the Brumbies the lead after the conversion with only 3 minutes to go. A Mauger droppie saved the day, but it was so close.

The two mainstay elements of Crusaders rugby were missing in this game: staunch defence, and reliable support for the ball carrier on attack.

Why this was is anyone’s guess. The end result was that, from the outset, the Brumbies were allowed to make easy ground through players who dropped off their tackles. In particular Andrew Mehrtens, Greg Sommerville and Chris Jack should all be made to hit the tackle bags for two hours every evening for the next week. Not that they were alone, just that they featured in some of the high-profile misses.

On attack they looked hesitant and lacked the confidence for long periods to really attack. Whether this was because of the poor support or the poor support came from the hesitancy we have no idea. The end result was that just about every time a Crusader made a break and went to ground they had to wait an agonising 1-2 seconds for the first support player to come in to for the ruck. Ample time for Brumbies ace openside George Smith to run his fingers through the dreads, wet his eyebrows and look good for the camera as he went in for another steal.

Just to bring their shortcomings into high relief the Crusaders showed the other side of the coin for 15 minutes after half-time. They hit the ball and the opposition hard, and probed on attack creating holes and scoring tries. Watching it on TV, it all looked to have been worked out in the dressing shed at half-time by an apoplectic Robbie Deans. But for some reason it didn’t last, and the original Crusaders team re-asserted itself. They went back into their shells, and ended up defending a 6-point lead.

With three minutes to go an awful missed tackle by Chris Jack put the Brumbies in for a try which Andrew Walker calmly converted to put his team one point up. But the Crusaders of old surfaced one last time. The moved the ball patiently upfield and put pressure on near to the Brumbies 22m, forcing the penalty for hands in the ruck. Mauger didn’t wait for the stoppage and used advantage to slot a neat droppie to win the game.

A nailbiter alright, but the best team won in the end, despite playing at about 50% of it’s true potential. The Brumbies remain the Brumbies: a committed rugby machine which does everything it does very well, but without much in the way of a truly creative spark. They will always be near the top of the round-robin, but hopefully this year a team which plays Real Rugby will win the title.

The 3-Zip New Zealand vs Aussie weekend, fittingly enough, had as it’s best game, a fixture between two New Zealand teams: The Highlanders versus The Chiefs.

The Chiefs, underdogs to the tune of at least a Great Dane, came out on Rugby Park, Invercargill and savaged the home team in front of its own supporters. The inspiration was the return of their captain and No.8 Deon Muir, who had a superlative game. He was joined by Marty Holah, surely the best opensider in the country at the present time, and No.6 Jonno Gibbes in totally cleaning out the Highlander loose-forward trio, and making every 50-50 ball theirs. They were backed by a great effort from their tight five, who matched the more illustrious Highlander tighties in the set piece, and outplayed them around the park.

In the back division, Bruce Reihana shone. His speed and elusivity on attack brought him a brilliant solo chip and chase try which must have had even Jeff Wilson nodding in grudging admiration. In the centres Mark Ranby ran straight and hard and never failed to recycle the ball, whereas Keith Lowen probed and pressured in the No.13 jersey. Jackson and Lee in the halves showed why they must be the starting pair from now on, Lee especially as he tied All Black halfback Byron Kelleher up in pink wrapping paper and ribbons, and mailed him home to his mum and dad for an Easter present.

Even as The Highlanders found their feet a little, it did no good. At no time in the game did it look like they could win even when inching closer to the scoreline required. The Chiefs were just too good, too quick and too hungry to be denied.

Wonderful stuff from a game which garners the accolade Game Of The Round, despite the other matches all featuring victories over Australian teams.

That says it all. Australian rugby just isn’t what Australians crack it up to be. Never has been, never will be.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

More Posts - Website

Follow Me: