18 May

Moving and shaking
by Rob Wallace
18 May 2003

I really enjoyed this game, and predominantly from a forward perspective. I really rate this Brumbies pack – it’s basically close to an Australian test T5, and Smith and Finnegan ain’t bad either. I had some concerns about how the Blues would handle it but smart thinking/preparation, great continuity and pretty good set pieces saw them through. IMO the Brumbies have the best pack after the CCs and the Bulls, and the Blues were more than competitive. I was delighted with the forward effort, and they set the platform for the win.

Whether they can step it up a notch further to cope with the Crusaders is another question, but I think even the CCs would have difficulty coping with some of the rapid driving and offloading we saw in parts on Saturday.

Mealamu was great – he outplayed Paul by miles and must be very close to that AB jersey – and the Manu/Meeuws combination looks very solid. MacDonald had a great game – he reminds me a bit of Thorne when he started his S12 career as a lock – high work rate rather than the traditional skills. Williams was a good as usual.

Gus Collins was my MOTM and would still be my bolter for the ABs – *no* No6 has outplayed him this season [think about it] and he works tirelessly for the team. He took beautiful lineout ball and no-one went past him. I will be interested to see the Thorne/Collins battle next week. And Rush looks back to his NPC form finally, after a few ordinary weeks.

Backs: One of the key points is the way Tuitupou keeps the attack straight or runs straight inside Spencer. Because he doesn’t drift, the defence has to hold up and this makes space out wide. Presuming Spencer starts in the initial tests he will need a second5 to do this – I suspect both Umaga and Mauger can.

Overall this was a good win, a definite step up from last week. But they need a notch more, and after losses in the last 2 times they faced each other [S12 and NPC] Canterbury will know just what is coming.

4 May

Shake the dope out
by Rob Wallace
4 May 2003

The Blues have looked anything but final contenders as they have struggled over the last 2 weeks to beat two of the worst teams in the competition. The win over the Sharks the previous weekend was probably the worst game they’ve played this season – with the first half being as poor as some of the rubbish they dished out during the Jed Rowland’s era. Sure, Peter Marshall gave the Sharks far too much slack at ruck and maul time, and didn’t police the offside line at all, but a good team should adapt to that. Add in the high error rate and it was a shocking first half, which thankfully did improve as the game progressed and the forwards began to get into their work. But really, they tried to do too much, too quickly, forgetting that every thing works better from good field position and a solid forward platform.

This weekend’s game against the Cats continued on from there. We began to see a bit more of the forward cohesion and drive that marked the Blues stellar start to the season but the error rate was still too high. Rush had the poorest game he’s had for a couple of seasons and Mika looked asleep for most of the time. Happily Spencer had his kicking game sorted out, and carved off huge chunks of territory to put the Blues down the right end of the field, which is a much better place to be when you begin to throw wild passes.

The forwards played well for much of the game but without the intensity, aggression and accuracy we saw earlier in the season. While very good, they are not the best pack around, and to beat the Crusaders or Brumbies they are going to have to improve a great deal on this performance.

The backline functioned a bit more smoothly, but still made too many errors. It’ll be a hard week at training this week, and hopefully things will improve for the game against the Hurricanes.

In other games, the Highlanders played the wrong style of football and lost. After grinding out a series of wins by shutting down and throttling the opposition, they decided to play wild and loose, but picked the wrong opponent. The NSW Warratahs don’t usually cope against a structured, organised team that dominates set phases, but are quite happy with broken, loose unstructured games, and showed that as they capitalised on the Highlanders bizarre plays to run in 4 tries for a deserved victory. What on earth were the Highlanders thinking? They have a solid pack but an ordinary backline, and playing this strange brand of rugby negates all their strengths and played right into the Warratahs hands.

Meanwhile the Crusaders ease toward finals football with a good performance against the Stormers. We’re still waiting to see them get it all together but finally, with Mehrtens back at the helm, they seem to be almost there. Nevertheless they still haven’t put all the components of their game together – the lineouts were woeful this time, but with Carter at 2nd5 (not 1st) the backline finally started to move.

Their back play made a neat contrast to the Blues, who quickly move the ball wide from set play, through a standard backline, and look to get their threequarters into space early. The Crusaders, however, seemed to be continually passing the ball one off to a forward to keep taking the ball up, and scored through opportunism, error, or by finally breaking down the defence. It’s not pretty but it does work. Their game next week against the Brumbies will be hugely interesting as we get to see the (presumed) majority of the Australian pack against the most structured NZ pack in what may be a foretaste of the Bledisloe games.

The Brumbies were very impressive in taming the Hurricanes pack and denying their backs any decent ball to grab a very important win. They appear to be finally delivering the quality they are capable of and will be tough to beat. The ‘Canes Achille’s heel was shown, as their tight 5 were dominated and their game collapsed. I’m sure they will learn from the experience, as they head into the semifinals.

2 May

International Rugby Profiteers Association
by Paul Waite
2 May 2003

They call it the IRPA – International Rugby Players Association. The title of this article says it better.

The like of Rob Nichol in this country showed their true colours last year when they held NZ Cricket more or less to ransom in order to rake in maximum moulah for their members. This time they have learned the age-old lesson: “softly, softly, catchee monkey” after the bad publicity they got last time. But the aim is the same.

What we have is essentially a small group of people who have popped up out of bloody nowhere and, under the guise of “looking after players rights” have started to flex their muscles against the rugby administrators. Players have signed up for it of course, but one wonders at what they think of it all. Probably the average bloke does it because “it sounds like a good idea” without much thought on the wider ramifications. The end result is that the non-thinking mass puts a shitload of power into the hands of a small group with an agenda.

But is this a bad thing? Well, as with all power, it depends on how it is used, or abused. Proponents of the group and its actions would say they are looking after the players’ interests, and this can only be a good thing. I’d agree, to a point. Player welfare etc. are all good causes which need lobbying for. Sadly this isn’t the issue being focussed on.

Denigrate or laugh at the IRB and RWC Ltd. all you like, but it is an organisation which is dedicated to taking rugby to as many countries in the World as possible, and generally promoting the playing of it for all. Looking closer in, the individual country’s Unions do the same. Here in New Zealand there is a difficult balancing act going on from season to season, where they try to balance renumerating enough elite players with enough money to keep them playing here, against keeping the game alive at the grass roots – the NPC and the Clubs.

What does this IRPA want? Well basically, they want as much of the pie as possible for their members, without regard to any of the aims mentioned above. In short, their aim is to suck as much money away from “The Game” itself as possible, and to create an elite bunch of superstars. Does this sound like the NBA in America, where the very top echelon earn obscene amounts in the $millions? Well, that’s the track we’re on alright.

Arguments for the idea might make mention of the “fact” that the players are the agents effectively earning all this money, so they should have a share of it; that without the players, there wouldn’t be any money. This is double-think. Without World Rugby as it has been built up by the various administrative bodies and the interest at the grass roots, there would be no vehicle for players to make any money at all. They just want to cash in now that it’s all sitting there ready-made for them.

With the latest greedy attempt to grab money out of the Rugby World Cup pot, the IRPA are starting the campaign at the top. One of their oft-repeated refrains in this whining parade has been “They are out of step with modern global trends”.

Ignoring the basic error of suggesting something should be done just because it’s a “trend” (suicide bombings are a global trend, but are they a good idea? – I think not) this highlights what I totally reject from my own perspective as a rugby fan.

I do NOT wish to see the game become just like all the others. I find the idea of obscenely-renumerated superstars a disgusting prospect in all forms of endeavour, and don’t want to see it happen in rugby. Top players are already overpaid in my humble opinion, and it takes much that is admirable from the game in the process. More will result in less, in terms of the spirit and ethos of rugby, that’s a certainty.

So, although I vote labour and support the working man 100%, I also vehemently support the tenet of a fair days pay for a fair days work. People who manage to wangle $millions for running about on a paddock with a rubber ball tucked under the arm aren’t worth a damn of respect – look at soccer players.

Maybe we ought to start an equivalent organisation for supporters. IRSA could then threaten the IRB and IRPA alike that we’d all boycott the TV unless both organisations each donate $1,000 per player to charity.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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