13 Apr

Miss you
by Rob Wallace
13 Apr 2003

I’ll start with the Crusaders. Finally! is what springs to mind. Well, for half a game at least. New Zealand needs these forwards to perform and at long last we saw hints of the quality they can deliver. Great first half, 2nd was a bit close to deja vu really. Having seen the Blues pack struggle in set pieces against the Bulls it’s clear we need a top-notch forward pack and without the Crusaders performing we won’t find the best mix. These guys really need to step it up from here for the rest of the season, for the good of Kiwi rugby.

It was good the see Jack playing at TH lock and he looked solid in that more conservative role, while Maxwell looked wonderful for 30-50 min. Thorn wasn’t missed at all, and the Crusaders looked much better for reverting to the more traditional roles. Broomhall looked scratchy, and when Robertson replaced Thorne not much changed. In fact Thorne had one of his most nondescript games ever, and he really needs to pull finger.

Highlight for me was Hurst. Sure he received good ball, but he really got that backline going for the first time this year with his swift delivery and I thought he was a big improvement on Marshall. Hell, even Ralph looked good.

Worst part of the game: Skinstad’s hair.

The Hurricanes looked pretty solid in their 42-26 win over the Warratahs. Another good effort again by the pack, and Tana seems to love it at 2nd5. I keep waiting for the bubble to burst but they keep producing the goods. The OH clash will be a cracker.

The Chiefs were awful, losing 25-31 to the Sharks. At least Holah is running into some form. As for the others- forget it. How can Waikato be so good and the Chiefs so poor?

As for the Blues. This is a backline. It’s good they have some forwards to deliver the ball, but I wouldn’t rely upon them. They play a fast, light style of football that suits them, and while the Blues will thrash useless teams they will struggle against good ones until they get a better forward platform. Manu seemed to struggle, and the front row went backwards, and it was only the continuity and skill that kept them out of trouble. Mika looks injured to me and is a shadow of last years NPC form, while Williams is struggling as teams double-team him – he needs more support to take the pressure off [where are you, Bryce?]. Collins had a fantastic game, but the highlight was Muliaina – currently the best centre in the S12 while Umaga plays 2nd5. Overall, 5 points for the Blues, but more work needed.

On other matters: I’ve been to two of the Warriors home games, for a win and a loss. There’s no doubt in my mind that the smaller stadium facilitates a better crowd atmosphere. At Erickson you’re close to the sideline and always near someone who is cheering. It’s a better atmosphere than Eden Park [except when full] and you can move all around the stadium, which is great for the kids who go and play silly beggars on the steep hill behind the ingoal and then attack the fast food vendors. I’ll think about going to some more games, especially if they’re on a fine Sunday afternoon – stuff this night rugby.

At the movies with the kids last weekend we ran into Jonah Lomu. The kids said hello, and Jonah gave them a smile and a reply. Jonah himself is awesome in the flesh – lean, mean and really cut. It’s with a lot of sadness that I read in the paper that he’s had an operation on a vein to help his kidneys. I guess this is the creation of an AV fistula, connecting a high-pressure artery in the forearm up to a vein, giving a huge flow vein, which is a prerequisite for hemodialysis. It’s basically only done when the kidneys have failed to such a state that dialysis is inevitable. Sometimes, after a spell of dialysis, things improve, but deep down I’m worried we won’t see Jonah on a rugby field again. It’s also been salutary to see the article from John Mayhew, intimating that Jonah’s poor performances are illness related. If this is the case, I’m going to miss the big guy.

7 Apr

Southern Man
by Rob Wallace
7 Apr 2003

The Highlanders burst the Blues bubble with a 22-11 win in Dunedin to retain the Gordon Hunter memorial trophy. They thoroughly deserved their win, defended well, held their composure and minimised mistakes while the Blues never really got their impetus going.

There wasn’t that much between the two teams. The biggest difference came at the tackle where OH were more effective, and also at driving through the ruck/maul and spoiling the Blues ball. It was a team thing and the Blues didn’t adapt. This pressured Devine and Rush, neither of whom had good games, and delivered poor ball to Spencer, at about the same time as he received Blackie and Harding. Spencer has often looked uncomfortable in similar situations and this was another one, and he didn’t kick well either.

The other differences were that the Blues made too many errors and had no luck go their way. The Blues have had a few fortunate decisions this year, and the better of the 50:50 calls in most of their games, but not this time – most of the 50:50 calls went to OH. Swings and roundabouts.

The Blues tactics looked wrong and there was no clear effort to change them as the game progressed. The Highlanders played very flat defence but the Blues never stood deep and ran at them, nor spread the ball wide quickly. It was a rather one-dimensional attacking strategy.

Whereas the Highlanders had their tactics perfectly sorted out. Two tearway flankers flew at Spencer, Randell ran the show, while the front five set a solid platform. Oliver continues to work back toward his best form, and had a mighty game, while Maling completed his demolition of Jack last week by outplaying Williams, helped by Hayman’s superb lifting. Despite this, the Blues pack were not dominated, but were pressured into too many errors. The loss will get them to rethink and look at a few things, which will be good. Historically, the top team at the end of the round robin has won the S12 only 3/7 – it’s being sharp for those last 3-4 run in games and the semis that count. At least they’re still well placed to make the semis.

In other games the Hurricanes continued their splendid form with a 26-23 win over the Reds at Ballymore, with Umaga playing outstandingly well, both in offence and defence. The great achievement here is the way Colin Cooper has turned an average lot of tight forwards into a well performing pack.

Which is not the Crusaders at the moment. Their backs have been poor this year and now the forwards are have caught the same disease, with a slack performance in losing 31-34 to the Warratahs. The Crusaders pack showed no impetus or drive and were outplayed by a NSW team the scored 96 points against last year. Unless they pick it up, some of these guys will struggle to make the All Blacks. Even Chris Jack, one of the outstanding players of 2002 is looking more like a donkey currently. I’m sure the sleeping giant will wake.

As for the Chiefs – their season is virtually over after losing 55-31 to the Brumbies – their aim should be to keep make sure the Reds finish last. The Chiefs have looked ordinary this season – some of their selections haven’t worked, they miss the players who have moved overseas and they seem to have none of that fighting spirit that makes Waikato teams so powerful.