27 Apr

This is the end…
by Zand Moloney
27 Apr 2004

Well, that’s it then, the season effectively at an end with two weeks to go. This has been the most frustrating season I have endured watching the ‘Canes because everything looked set for continuation or perhaps improvement on last years form but it seems the team has gone backwards.
The problem seems to be that the Hurricanes tended to rely on one or two game-breakers (Cullen, Lomu and Umaga mostly) to open the game up when nothing else was on, but out of those three players one left to go off-shore, one left through illness, while Umaga spent most of the season trying to shrug off injuries.
The games against the Waratahs and Highlanders summed up the season, not too far off but also not quite there. The inability to regather kick-off’s meant that although the ‘Canes managed to score good tries against an effective NSW unit they were constantly on the back foot. Without much possesion they needed to secure all the ball that came their way, but that didn’t happen.
The Highlanders game was similar, the only reason the ‘Canes stayed close for so long was that the southerners were equally dire. In the end it was the brilliance of Nick Evans, and perhaps the bounce of the ball that went against the boys but really they can’t feel too hard done by.
Colin Cooper has singled out the poor attitude of the players as the main factor in the mediocre efforts, that is no doubt a problem however it seems certain players haven’t been given a fair go.
Kristain Ormsby has always proved himself as a line-out option and with the ball in hand and could count himself unlucky not to get more chances.
Similarly Tane Tuipulotu has been the star back for the ‘Canes and one of the best in the country but had to give up his place to Ma’a Nonu who has been ineffective this season.
Pride is all that is left for the ‘Canes to play for so it would seem that the best thing to do is to give some of the ‘fringe’ players a chance. Thomas Waldrom was a star for the Wellington Lions and should be given a chance at Number 8, and Piri Weepu showed enough skill last week to demand selection for the remaining games against the Brumbies and Crusaders. Also Tony Penn is another that has showed his worth in previous seasons and could by relied upon to deliver the goods again.
It’s time for Cooper to take some chances on youth, perhaps it could pay divdends next season and with this season over that is what he needs to think about.

13 Apr

The Nightmare Continues
by Tracey Nelson
13 Apr 2004

Just when you think there is light at the end of the tunnel, you suddenly discover that it was only the reflection of your headlights on a glass mirror as the glass lands around you. Such has been the shattering of the illusion that New Zealand rugby is maybe OK and perhaps things are going to get better.

We were lulled into that false sense of security the other week when the Crusaders put together an imposing forward display to beat the Brumbies in round seven of S12 2004. But oh how that dream was rudely awakened in the subsequent round when the Crusaders, who had been almost clinical in their previous two outings, suddenly decided that it might be a good idea to chuck the ball around like the Blues and play high risk rugby in the heat of Durban.

Gone was the control and composure that had so impressed, and instead their play had all the structure of five year olds at a lolly scramble. I struggle with the idea that it was part of a game-plan to hurl the ball about with apparent abandon and for the ball runners to isolate themselves at the breakdown. Admittedly some of Australian referee Matt Goddard’s interpretations at the breakdown were hard to fathom, but that should surely have prompted more care not to get isolated instead of creating even further mayhem amongst the backs.

It was almost as if panic had set in from the opening whistle, with ridiculously long, floated passes being thrown right in the face of the opposition defence, numerous unforced handling errors, lateral running and at times almost an unwillingness to hold onto the ball as a movement broke down. The forwards weren’t much better, and in the second half actually put the nail in the coffin by totally self-destructing on their own lineout throws (what is it with New Zealand hookers that once they throw a dud they go on to completely lose the plot thereafter?).

The Crusaders have never been a team that tosses the ball around relying on individual brilliance to win their games, so it beggars belief that they strayed so far from their strengths this week to play high risk rugby against a team that could have been easily beaten just by continuing on where they’d left off against the Brumbies.

But then isn’t this what we are starting to see consistently from all our New Zealand sides? A propensity for this high-risk running game at the expense of control, and an inability to change the gameplan when it all turns to custard? Each week almost across the board we have the ignominy of watching props flykicking at loose ball instead of securing it on the deck, perilous passing behind our own goal lines, locks who seem loathe to play in the tight, and – in what is now starting to become an all too familiar problem – the failure of our lineouts. It’s probably only a matter of time before our scrums disintegrate too.

Once upon a time New Zealand rugby was all about control – a tight five you could throw a blanket over, good set pieces, the ability to play combative rugby up front using rolling mauls to good effect, clean and quick ruck ball, and backs functioning on the front foot without having to step around tight fowards loitering in the backline. Strangely enough it was a style that used to win games in the past and believe it or not, it can and WILL win games today. So could we please see some more of it?

7 Apr

A Head Of His Time
by Paul Waite
7 Apr 2004

As a brace of “personal assistants” dressed in filmy dance-of-the seven-veils type gears gently buffed his shiny cranium, former All Black coach John Mitchell expounded on his failed tenure during a recent visit to the Northern Climes.

The interview is reproduced here, with suitable editorial comment artfully sprinkled about the place, to inform the reader and generally bring light and understanding where the shadow of doubt might otherwise lie. The reader is reminded that this is otherwise known as “semi-humorous bollocks” and shouldn’t to be taken seriously unless you’ve just inhaled a copious amount of a certain controlled substance, in which case everything might appear to be serious, even the record of the All Blacks over the past six years.

John Mitchell believes he was ahead of his time as All Black coach and says the New Zealand rugby public are still ignorant of what it takes to be successful in the international game.

Ed: Right Mitch, we’re dead bloody ignorant. So ignorant we didn’t realise what a clueless fucking gameplan you were going to go to the World Cup with last year, because if we had, we would’ve been watching the beach volleyball instead.

Mitchell, in England for a two-week “working holiday”, told The Daily Telegraph that the New Zealand Rugby Union and supporters in New Zealand were wrong to constantly expect immediate results.

Ed: Ah yes, that would be the “immediate” as in “since 1997″ wouldn’t it. I suppose one discredited ex-coach’s definition of “immediate” is another fan’s definition of FUCKING LONG ENOUGH FOR HELL TO FREEZE OVER!!

That, he said, led to him losing his job late last year after the All Blacks’ World Cup campaign was halted by Australia in the semifinals. He had previously built up an impressive winning record with the team.

“I don’t think that New Zealanders, the union and the public understand what it takes to be a professional international side,” Mitchell said.

Ed: Yes they do John. It takes good players, which we’ve got, and it takes a good coach. Without both those, alas, they do things like losing World Cup semi-finals.

“They are all still in a hurry, looking for an immediate outcome.

Ed: Ah yes, that would be the “immediate” as in ….

“They also tend to look backwards too much. And even though I played all my rugby in New Zealand, the vast bulk of my coaching methodology comes from up here. “Perhaps I was a bit ahead of my time for them in some areas. I always knew that if we missed out on the Webb Ellis Cup then my future was in doubt.”

Ed: That’s Nostrodamus-like John, who would’ve predicted that? Perhaps this astonishingly paranormal ability to foresee the future is tied in with that weird business about being “ahead of your time” eh?

Mitchell said he found it strange his successor, Graham Henry, had only been offered a two-year contract.

Ed: Well, contracts can be renewed. So the way it works is if you stuff up, like, say, LOSING THE ONLY THING YOU WERE EMPLOYED TO WIN, then it isn’t renewed. If you win it, then it is.

“New Zealanders need to understand that progression doesn’t come in large lumps, that professionalism has seen an equalisation at the top end and that it takes time to improve.”

Ed: Ah, this is where the ignorant New Zealand rugby fan might baulk, and be guilty of doing too much of that “looking backwards” as you call it, and remember that it isn’t “improvement” we need, it’s a regaining of the strengths that we had pre-1997, and an attention to the basic skills and tenets of the game. That was your job, John, but you didn’t do it, did you?

England were mentally tougher than any other team at the World Cup, Mitchell said, and the closeness of the score in the final against Australia did them an injustice.

Ed: There he is, holding forth to an English daily newspaper, a striking figure with a Sun-browned bonce, and a nose to match.

New Zealand’s leading forwards still suffered from the expansive nature of the Super 12, which had “undone a lot of our fabric” but he said there would still be massive expectations on the All Blacks to beat England in the two home tests in June.

Ed: Er, steady on! That stuff about the Super 12 is the ONLY piece of sense and truth we’ve read in this whole bloody article, and frankly we find it a bit unnerving at this late stage.

“There’s probably still the New Zealand arrogance and ignorance of the way football’s developed round the world and so they’ll be looking for victory.”

Ed: Yes we’ll probably be “looking for victory”. Strange that, isn’t it? We should have beaten the eventual World Cup winners last season in June (if it wasn’t for some dickhead coach picking Spencer to kick), we’re at home again, with a coaching team that *does* know it’s arse from it’s kicking tee, and we stupidly “look for victory”. Ridiculous.

Mitchell has signed a three-year contract with Waikato, with the option of another two.

Ed: Two what? Women? “Personal Assistants”? Blowjobs as in the Clinton “I did not have sex with THAT woman?”…. and if so – why ONLY two??

He put a new slant on the reason for his dismissal, believing he paid for refusing to get drawn into the pre-World Cup row over bonus payments for his players.

Ed: Fuck! Where did that one come from, Mars?

A former assistant coach to Clive Woodward with England, Mitchell said he hadn’t ruled out returning to the All Blacks post, while coaching England was also not out of the question.

Ed: That’s right, keep your options open, keep fielding the phonecalls and polishing that head.

“I admire England enormously and you could never rule out that eventuality if it were ever to be offered,” he said.

Ed: Well you just ruled that one out, I guess.

“And that applies to the All Blacks as well. But it would take a big decision to return to that.

Ed: Yes, as a rough comparison, it would take something like a decision by Yasser Arafat to offer complete unilateral peace to Israel and to suck Ariel Sharon’s woody live on TV whilst signing the documents.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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