23 May

Proud Losers
by Paul Waite
23 May 2004

I’m sure we’ll hear lots of the “proud of the boys” comments from the Cantabrian supporters this coming week.

There’s a solace to be had in it I suppose, and a certain element of truth as long as you don’t take it too far.

The Crusaders lost the final in an opening 20 minutes of utter stupidity, and incompetence that was an embarrassment to every New Zealand rugby fan, not just Canterbury supporters, and that isn’t something to be proud about, or something which can be offset by the expected fight-back and rallying effort – something any team would do. Nor does a claw-back of points against a polished team which is 33-0 up and then takes its foot off the neck, as usual, offset it. The bald fact is, the Brumbies never looked like losing throughout the game since the points difference was always too great.

So what went wrong? Well you’d have to question players like Blair, who had a horror night to end all horror nights right from the first 30 seconds. He wasn’t alone. Basic errors of getting isolated, not catching high balls etc. affected all the team and couldn’t be attributed to pressure exerted by their opposites. Defensive lapses leaked tries like a sieve with no mesh in it. In fact it was a microcosm of all the inconsistent rubbish we’ve seen from the New Zealand Super-12 teams this season, and it is a big worry.

And while we’re busy asking people things, why don’t we quiz Deans regarding the astonishing substitution of Mehrtens for McIntyre? That can’t be simply dismissed as “touch of the old tactical subbing”. Tactics certainly had something to do with it, that’s a given, however it also has strong undercurrents to it, and ones which seriously bring into question Deans’ judgement this season. If Mehrtens was seen as the man to get the Crusaders out of trouble, why wasn’t he on there in the first place to make sure they didn’t get into any? If Mehrtens’ defence is so bad, and McIntyre’s much preferred, then were the Crusaders going into the final just to defend? At the very least that ill-considered desperation act will have damaged McIntyre’s confidence and belief very badly indeed – you only had to look at the lad’s face as he came off the field.

But it has to be said, from the time Merhts came on the backline started humming at a noticeably higher pitch. It was just a case of well-timed, well-executed passes, mixed with some Tony Brown-like running, but it made a big difference, and showed us what we’ve known all along – that Mehrtens should never have been demoted to the bench after that debacle in South Africa, and should have been persevered with.

So, turning to the positive in this lost cause of a game, there were indeed a few.

Once again there has to be caution with this, and the praise must be muted because the losing situation these players were in has its own unique kind of dynamic. That said, all the players settled in to graft for pride, and to a limited extent succeeded in expunging some 90% of the guilt for their inept performance.

A few deserve a special mention: Brad Thorn, Richie McCaw and Daniel Carter head this pack. The first two were Titans. The third was all class.

Just behind them come Merhtens, Mauger, the whole front row and Jack. I didn’t mention Rueben Thorne simply because he didn’t do anything outstanding. Leadership in that situation is a no-brainer, and with ball in hand, or on defence he was just an anonymous face doing the usual kind of work required. Thorne is like the glue holding a nice piece of wooden furniture together – you know it’s there, and doing a good useful job, but theres no need to admire it.

What does this mean for NZ rugby? Well, as we’ve seen from the way the season has unfolded, New Zealand rugby is on a downward trend in terms of overall strength and abilities. There are no surprises. We see a lot of players, like Merhtens, with class to burn but who are on their way out. Below them most of the youngsters pushing through don’t seem to have basic skills or intelligence or savvy about the game, and this continuous process has eroded any kind of advantage New Zealand used to enjoy.

Solace may yet come, for a while, at All Black level. There are only 22 players to pick, so there’s still room to get a competitive side together, but if things continue to erode, that won’t last either.

So all-in-all a very depressing evening of rugby-watching was had by all.

However the news this morning had another unpleasant twist to it. Apparently Police in the South Island are reporting an ever-increasing trend toward violence and disorder callouts, as disgruntled so-called “fans” take the loss out on their spouse, or whomever.

They say this is a growing trend. This is a sad indictment of the direction that sport, wrapped in its over-hyped, media-frenzied plastic packaging, is going. These people need to get a life, and a perspective other than the warped one promoted by the idiot-box in their living rooms.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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17 May

Season summary
by Zand Moloney
17 May 2004

Okay, that’s the end. The Hurricanes decide to show what they could have done all season in demolishing the defending champion Crusaders but to be honest I’m going to ignore that result and look at the overall season.
I said at the start that I would be disappointed with a finish outside the semi finals, so I am pretty gutted with eleventh.
I am trying to be upbeat so I will start with the positives to come out of this season. The first has been new recruits Joe McDonnell and Tane Tuipulotu, with the latter being one of the stars. Former Aucklander Tuipulotu showed his class in every game with great speed, vision, and ability to off-load the pass and stay on his feet. In fact one would have to say that he was the creative force in the backline .It was an amazing effort from a Super 12 rookie and one that should have earned him a All Black trial.
McDonnell took longer to get used his new environment but towards the latter rounds showed great strength in the scrum and with the ball in hand.
The other players that were consistantly good for the ‘Canes were the former Wellington Rugby Academy players Ross Kennedy, Neemia Tialata, Tim Fairbrother and Piri Weepu.
All showed their undoubted skill, but also a willingness to get stuck into all facets of the game. Weepu particuarly showed his more experienced team-mate Jason Spice what was expected.
Of the established ‘Canes stars the stand-outs were Andrew Hore who along with Tuipulotu was the player of the season, Jerry Collins, David Holwell, Brent Ward and once he had properly recovered from injury Tana Umaga.
With that many players showing great ability what was the problem with the ‘Canes? As far as I could see it was a lack of application from some players, but for the most part dumb football.
The two players who I think let the side down the most were All Black squad members from last year’s Rugby World Cup Rodney So’oailo and Ma’a Nonu. Both seemed to be cruising throughout most of the season, as if they had already proved themselves, and deserved to be there on merit.
This was not helped by Colin Cooper who despite their mediocrity, and the good form of Tuipulotu and Kristian Ormsby at blindside seemed intent of keeping both in the team.
Nonu’s hands regularly let him down, and he seemed out of his depth often, especially without Umaga beside him.
So’oailo seemed intent on proving his was the next Zinzan Brooke, his kicking away of possesion against the Waratah’s and Brumbies particularly galling. Both need to show hunger and commitment in the NPC to keep their spots for next year, let alone to be considered for All Black selection again.
The most frustrating aspect of the Hurricanes though was their propensity to do stupid things during games. The low point for me were the games against NSW, ACT and the Highlanders. There was a lack of understanding of what was required especially against the two Australian sides with possesion regularly kicked away and an inability to secure the ball from kick offs exploited by the professional Aussies. The Highlanders game was punctuated by poor play with both sides where it seemed a greater hunger in the southern side secured them the result.
Should coaches Colin Cooper and Murray Roulston cop the blame here or is it the players? To be honest I think it is a bit of both. The forwards this year did their job well, especially in scrums, and ruck and maul time and in defence, yet the much vaunted backline failed to fire. The on the field errors can only be attributed to the players so one cannot blame coaches for dropped passes and poor option taking.
My doubts tend to crop up with the squad and player selection, the injury to Herring showed a lack of depth at openside flank which could have been fixed with the addition of Scott Waldrom (who was picked up by the Crusaders), also the lack of a proper back up to Holwell was a problem as good as Riki Flutey is he is not a first five, rather a good squad player.Also to see Lome Fa’atau go out on the draft to the Chiefs and be outstanding for them was pretty hard to stomach. The non selection of Wellington players Conrad Smith and Thomas Waldrom despite poor play by incumbants seemed short sighted, especially with a view to the future.
I still have great faith in Cooper, but I’m not so sure about Roulston as the backline seems to have stagnated somewhat. What the Hurricanes need is continuity so this young side can develop into a great team so I support their retention, especially if lessons from this season have been learnt well.The Crusaders game could be a indication of next years form if they are smart, if not it may just be a blip.

Team of the year:
15 Ward,
14 Roy Kinikinilau
13 Umaga (c)
12 Tuipulotu
11 Hosea Gear
10 Holwell
9 Weepu
8 Collins
7 Herring
6 Ormsby
5 Tito
4 Kennedy
3 Fairbrother
2 Hore (vc)
1 McDonnell

Reserves; Flutey, Spice, Sireli Bobo, Chris Masoe, Luke Andrews, Tialata, Joe Ward

Picks for All Black Trials, Tana Umaga, Jerry Collins, Tane Tuipulotu and Andrew Hore.