22 Jun

Last $ky To The Breakdown
by Paul Waite
22 Jun 2005

Tracey and I had to laugh when $ky wheeled out an extra statistic in their breakdown stats earlier this season – “First Two To The Breakdown”.

As you can see from this original article, Tracey Nelson started doing this years ago as a measure of how hard our respective players were working at protecting posession, and contesting it on defence. In fact at that time, it enlightened us all on what a certain Rueben Thorne was doing when most wrongly thought he was Mr. Invisible!

As with a lot of things which get appropriated as someone else’s idea, small changes get made to convince everyone that this is so. In $ky’s case, they’ve changed Tracey’s original “First Three to the Breakdown” into “First Two to the Breakdown”. However, as has been pointed out, you really do require the first three, not the first two, since the player arriving first usually forms the ruck or grapples an opposing player, and so the next two who get there are the important ones for gaining or retaining posession – one player on their own is normally not going to do anything useful.

So $ky ought to get in contact with the originator of this statistic to discuss in detail with her how these numbers should be derived, and what they mean. After three years of doing them, there’s a lot of knowledge there waiting to be used, and let’s face it a bit of recognition for starting it would be nice as well.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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22 Jun

Episode 6: Stags Night
by Paul Waite
22 Jun 2005

This time the pattern was broken – the local team didn’t run out of steam in the final quarter for once, and kept the Lions under the pressure of a possible draw or perhaps even defeat until the final minutes. The end result was a 10-point margin to the tourists, and a deserved one at that, but it was only a 7-point gap right up until the final minute, when they paid Southland the ultimate compliment of opting for the penalty kick – admitting in doing so, that they regarded the home side as capable of snatching a draw even with a mere 60 seconds left. They were right, and that was a good decision.

Now, visitors to Southland’s Rugby Park in Invercargill journey into one of the regions of New Zealand where the traditional rugby ethos is still thriving – give your guts on the paddock and try to knock the living shit out of your opposites, then welcome them as mates and have a good yarn over a few beers afterwards. I’ve no idea about the after-match arrangements, being as the Lions seem to be rather “over organised” by Sir Clive, but they certainly didn’t seem to have much shit left in them by the end of the 80, and the way the Southland boys got a three-cheers from the Lions Guard Of Honour at the end was a testament to that.

Once again the game featured a Lions “selection” which ran like a racing engine with all it’s leads connected in a random order. It popped, banged, stalled, revved up and back-fired all game by turns, and you were never sure what it was going to do next. At some points it played the game tight, and at others tried to run it like a Sevens team (which it did very badly).

Second-five Gavin Henson, the shock omission from the test line-up was out to prove a point and he did – that he’s a World Class attacking No.12. Of course the fact that Clive has absolutely no use whatsoever for attacking backs was one black mark too many against him, and the Lions test team has effectively been picked by the defensive coach, Phil Larder:

Clive: “I want a big ‘D’, Phil.”

Larder: [on trombone] **ta-daaaa!**

Clive: “No-no-no!! Rugby! – remember? it’s what we’re here in New Zealand for. I want a monster defensive effort, so give me a list of 15 players who can stop the All Blacks in their tracks for 80 minutes – utterly single-minded morons with no ability or will to attack, who can snuff them out, smother them like babies in their cots, [shouting, banging fist into palm] Smash Them! Chew Them Up and Spit Them Out LIKE THE BAD-TASTING BLANCMANGE WITH HORRID LITTLE BITS IN IT THAT MY MUM USED TO MAKE ME EAT!!” [suffers small apoplexy and sits down mopping brow].

Larder: “Right. So, only the English players then boss.”

Ok, it’s a big disappointment for the lad, after all the hype and hope of being picked for a Lions tour, but from our point of view he shouldn’t be too down. It’s a compliment. His style of rugby doesn’t suit Sir Clive’s “vision” for the Lions. Once we see that vision unmask its unlovely self on Saturday, Henson might end up being glad he wasn’t part of it. I have a suspicion that it’s going to be rugby of a peculiarly ugly kind – a throwback to the days of yore, where Men Were Men, and English rugby players spent all their waking hours plotting how to negate the opposition and make them limp.

In this game against The Stags, Henson showed his class with two tries against a committed defence. He would have been a good compliment to the Lions captain Brian O’Driscoll, and if the Lions lose the first test horribly, then I’d expect him to be considered again as Clive sweats over a drawing board full of crossings out and swear words, musing on whether he’d been too cruel in sending Phil Larder home in an economy seat by way of Calcutta.

Ok folks, the tour is counting down to the First Test. This is what it’s all been about. As I write this the All Blacks have been named, and it is a group of players with hardness up front and some of the best attacking ability in the world of rugby. We await Clive’s selection with interest, and the test tactics on Saturday even moreso.

See you at Jade Palace!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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22 Jun

Another One Bites The Dust
by Colin Johnston
22 Jun 2005

Well 5 out of 6 wins and another stuttering performance. The continuity wasn’t there, the passing was okay but the Lions appear to struggle to get a pattern and maintain it. Scrummaging wasn’t at its best, the handling in the backs looked ropey and I go back to what I said previously, every one the NZ teams the Lions have played look more intent and more able to run the ball than the Lions are.

Some will point to the fact that the Lions had another win. Some will say Henson laid down markers for the next Test because he won’t feature in the first one. But for me I am struggling to see how the pre Test games are leading to test match.

I won’t dwell on the match today. Again a fired up local team were beaten by seasoned internationalists. Again the Lions, when spreading the ball, looked clueless. On Saturday Murphy couldn’t catch the ball today Ollie Smith blew a classic 4 on 2 overlap by dropping a perfect pass from O’Gara. Out of curiosity, if these guys are professional and their basic skills are as ropey as this, what would they have been like in the amateur era? Anyway, enough of this.

Tomorrow Woodward will reveal the grand strategy that he has been planning for a year. He and his massive management team will lay before the rugby world the best the British Isles can produce. What will this rugby revelation be? A new era of total rugby? An inspiration for school boys around the World to latch on to and plan their days and weekends by? Or a dreadful reversion to old fashioned grind and bump rugby using the pack as a sledge hammer with the backs, whenever they get the ball kicking into touch so the forwards can go again? Unfortunately, I know where my money lies.

Woodward has studied this All Black outfit. He has come down here and beaten largely the same set of players with 13 men before and knows he can do it again. He sees a group of talented players that can be divided and conquered. He will sees Super 12 as the weakening link in the All Black’s build up and will target it. If he has got it wrong the Lions will be hammered. If he has got it right the Lions will prevail. I can see the All Blacks scoring at least 3 tries possibly 4. It is just a question as to how the AB front 5 hang together and for how long and then how many scores are given away.

Anyway, Saturday is coming, the All Blacks have named their team and Marshall is in. Henry still has time to work his appaulling man management skills in the home ranks and total chaos, he did it on the last Lion’s tour why not this one?

19 Jun

Episode 5: Lions Win Battle of the Brook
by Paul Waite
19 Jun 2005

The tour games are resolving themselves into a familiar pattern, or are they?

Once again we saw a good first 60 minutes from the locals, followed by a slow fade in the final quarter of the game, as the Lions slowly asserted themselves up front. It was evident that this was due to the locals having their first serious game of the season on previous occasions, but this time the same excuse didn’t apply – most of the Otago team have had three months of Super 12 rugby.

Whatever the case, that’s the way it panned out, and the Lions deserved their victory here at Carisbrook. Still referred to as ‘The House of Pain’, I think it might be worth a short digression at this point, to explain how that name came about. It was coined, to my knowledge at least, around 1990 when Otago were the principal exponents in NZ rugby of the “ruck ‘n run” game. At that time they fielded a lightweight pack, led by David “Crazy” Latta, and serviced by Stu “The Bear” Forster at halfback and, although they struggled in the tight exchanges, their whole gameplan was to simply run the ball wide and fast from ruck to ruck, in an era when such a style of play was quite unusual. The Carisbrook nickname arose from the “pain” that visiting teams felt from burning lungs after 80 minutes flat out. Obviously the whole thing is a bit of a misnomer these days, and indeed Otago felt some of their own pain last night as they themselves ran out of lungs, and were given a bit of a stuffing up front in the final quarter of the match.

It’s difficult to see where this game fits into the overall picture. The dominance that the Lions got was for the most part achieved when they brought their subsitututes on from the bench, and quite a few of those would be in test team contention such as Dawson and Sheridan. That the victory and the manner in which it came will give the tourists a boost is quite certain. They weathered the Otago ‘storm’ early on, and came back very strongly to sieze the match by the neck and choke it to death – an expression of power rugby of the type that we expect in the tests. However it’s also certain that no test tactics were on show, and most of the team are not going to feature in a week’s time.

At the very least there would have been a solidifying of test selection choices. Dawson was at his probing best and is probably now neck and neck with the talented welsh lad Peel for the starting test slot. Dawson will probably shade it on experience, perhaps. Sheridan remains a towering presence at loose-head and must start. Hodgson’s defensive frailties were exposed, and he surely can’t challenge Stephen Jones for a place alongside Jonny Wilkinson vying for the No.10 jersey.

The overall feeling, at least from my own perspective, is one of relief and slowly building excitement. This performance from the Lions was strong, and showed more combination across the team than we have seen hitherto on the tour. It indicates that the test selection will also be very strong, particularly up front, and promises us an all-out war for the first test in Christchurch. Any remaining lack of combination in the Lions will be countered by the very same problems in the All Blacks, with their solitary ‘training run’ preparation against Fiji.

Looking up at the bigger picture it’s vitally important for the game that this series is a success. That will only occur if the Lions and All Blacks go at it toe-to-toe on a similar footing, with neither having a significant dominance. A 3-0 white-wash by the All Blacks, for instance, over a stuttering, ill-combined Lions outfit could ring the death-knell for these wonderful tours, and that would be a great catastrophe.

With that in mind this game against Otago came just at the right time – a loss for the Lions would have been a stumble too many. Now we only await the pre-test entertainment run in Invercargill before the nerve-wracking final few days of test build-up.

Fasten your seat-belts folks, we’re on the final approach, but it’s going to be very a bumpy ride coming in to land at Christchurch!

See you at Southland!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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15 Jun

Episode 4: A Bad Case Of The YACS
by Paul Waite
15 Jun 2005

The Lions got their tour back on track with a dreary win on an equally dreary wet night here in the Capital, scoring a two-tries-to-nil, 23-6 victory over the Wellington Lions.

But the real losers were the crowd who witnessed an awful mistake-ridden match which will be best forgotten as soon as possible. It wasn’t just the wet weather. I’ve seen games in worse conditions than this which pulsated from end-to-end with nary a slipped foot or dropped ball. No, it was the teams.

For the capital side, most of the players were obviously short of a gallop, having only been playing Club rugby, and minds and bodies were just not up to speed. On the Lions side, I suppose it was YACS (Yet Another Combination Syndrome) but with only 10 days to get some kind of fluidity into a test selection, Woodward has to think seriously about asking them to pull on the boots for Otago, or risk going into a test match with the All Blacks on a hiding – this performence was that bad.

Hang on, you say, “it wasn’t that bad – they dominated posession, and didn’t concede any tries”. The trouble with that logic is, it’s too high-level. The Devil is in the details, and a cold look at the disjointed nature of a lot of the Lions’ play reveals a lot of serious flaws that a test team will pounce on and exploit. Teams made up mainly from players coming together for their first warm-up for the provincial season, after jogging about in Club Rugby aren’t capable of doing that, so it all looks fine and dandy, to the un-enlightened.

I’m slowly developing a theory (which is mine), that a Lions Tour these days has to be handled differently than of old (and Woodward is persevering with). In the Olden Days, it was Ok to tour with a massive Four Nation Army, give everyone a game and gradually refine to a test team, like whittling away at a stick sitting on your rocking chair. These days there are two crucial issues which make this an unwise approach – the tours are much shorter, and the test teams to be faced are well-honed professionals.

There simply isn’t time to do what Woodward has done – sift through seemingly myriads of combinations. You end up with absolutely no momentum or chance for combinations to gel, before the first test is upon you. Instead Woodward should have held a series of trials pre-tour, and determined a nominal test team, and a mid-week team. With that set, the tour could then proceed with the test side able to grow its combinations week-by-week, and the selectors only making the odd tweak to a position here and there.

Anway, to the positives of tonight’s game, putting aside matters of selections, combinations and team-work, there were some good individual efforts from the tourists. It was great to see Jonny Wilkinson playing at last, and although he was understandably taking it very carefully in the first half, you could see the confidence growing and in the second spell he was taking the line on and making some strong tackles. The combination outside Stephen Jones that they tried was also an interesting one, although the jury is out on whether it’s a good idea.

Neil Back also had a strong game, and added some much-needed link play for the Lions. The much talked-about contest at the breakdown was more solid for the tourists, not particularly because of Back himself, but through the whole team’s committment to clearing out at the ruck. Backy just added an extra bit of zest to the recycling of their phase play.

The scrum was mainly dominant (although this isn’t a particularly flattering comment when one talks about a Wellington scrum these days) however they never really settled it or turned it into a solid enough platform from which to score points. The same went for the mauling – at times brutal, but it never really created anything worthwhile.

Other players of note were the clever little halfback Dwayne Peele, who created the Lions’ first try, and the best of the game at that, and Gavin Henson who looks to be a shoe-in as second five-eighth. Gareth Thomas also made a strong bid for a test winger spot.

In summary, it was a game that the Lions will privately be eager to forget about, despite the after-match upbeat talk from O’Driscoll. Too many mistakes and disjointed play all over the place bode ill for their test chances, and a lot of work needs to e put in over the next short 10-day spell.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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12 Jun

Episode 3: A Fine Farwell for Matt Te Pou
by Paul Waite
12 Jun 2005

After a decade or so of coaching the New Zealand Maori, through the hard times when the fixture list was barren, through to the present day, Matt Te Pou has built his legend as Maori coach.

His relaxed style has created what is obviously a very special and very unique Maori rugby world within a world, and you only have to listen to the players to understand what it means to them.

Last night was fittingly the biggest game of Matt Te Pou’s career, and to watch his boys go out and earn a gutsy win against a powerful touring Lions team was an absolutely perfect climax to it.

Looking at the game, the player who stood out was Jonno Gibbes. It was probably his best ever performance. He was a titan both in the air, and in general play, and when it was needed he provided the kind of leadership that shored up the defence, and kept his team on track for an historic victory.

Right from the start it was obvious that the game was going to be a special one from the Maori players. They were saying farewell to both Te Pou, and to Carlos Spencer and they were playing the Lions, so there was motivation in spades. Aside from that, this Maori team, for once, had been given precedence in selection over the All Blacks, so it was at full-strength.

There were some intriguing battles too. All Black tight-head prop Carl Hayman was up against the probable Lions test prop Sheridan, a monster of a man. He was only on the field for the first half, but Sheridan appeared to be getting the better of his opponent before he was subbed, setting up a mouth-watering prospect for the first test at Jade stadium.

In midfield, Mr. Twinkle-toes himself, Rua Tipoki, was up against The World’s Best Centre and Lions skipper Brian O’Driscoll. Tipoki had a wonderful game, and at one point side-stepped O’Driscoll to make a clean break and leave the Great One flopping on the ground like a beached snapper. On the other hand O’Driscoll showed his class later in the game with a superlative line break to score a try under the posts and give his team the sniff of a win which remained a threat right until the last minute of time.

One area which should be worrying the Lions Brains Trust is the breakdown. With no opensider worthy of the name in their squad, save perhaps Lewis Moody, who looked fairly ordinary against Taranaki, they are beginning to realise that they will struggle for continuity and fast ruck ball when up against the likes of McCaw in the tests. Or are they?

This aspect of the Lions squad has been puzzling me since I heard it announced. Either Clive is a complete schmuck who knows nothing about the modern game, or he’s got a plan – there isn’t a third option.

Looking at the post-match interviews, we see an open, fair-minded and relaxed Sir Clive. Even the angst of this defeat against the Maori didn’t faze him. Now over the years Clive has never struck me as the kind of bloke who can smile openly and chat fulsomely and enthusiastically about the game when everything around him is unravelling and turning to brown stuff. Nope, Sir Clive has the air of A Man Who Knows Something.

The only conclusion to come to is that he has always been quite relaxed about the tour games, because none of them is going to be remotely like what he’s planning for the tests, neither in terms of the personel, nor gameplan.

Let’s look again at this issue of the lack of speed to the breakdown. You wouldn’t worry about that if your game was going to be structured in such a way that quick ruck ball and recycling was unimportant, and this is what I’m assuming is the case.

From the squad selection, and what I’ve seen on the tour so far, I’m picking that Sir Clive’s Lions will be rolling back the years to a degree, and playing set-piece, forward-oriented, “old-fashioned” rugby. They’re going to take it right up the guts, and play a smothering game, in close to the ruck, and pinging the lines backing a tall well-drilled lineout, and a solid scrum to win them possession and to keep it. The backs will all be his loose-forwards, smothering the opposition on defence, and keeping possession without being too creative, until they milk the penalty on attack.

Then there’s The WIlko Factor. WIlkinson is, of course, his piece de résistance. Rumour has it that The Perfect Rugby Machine will not appear until the Lions run out and drop the mascot in the first test match. For all I know the guy we’ve been seeing getting on and off coaches is a stunt double, and Wilko is in a special shock-proof perspex tubular container full of light-green luminescent liquid with all sorts of beeping equipment attached to it, in suspended animation. After all, you can’t be too careful.

I can see them playing this retro-game, in tight, nullifying the All Blacks speed by suffocation, rendering McCaw’s speed to the breakdown useless, and relying on the boot of young Jonny to knock over the drop-kicks and penalties, which will flow from All Black frustration. In Clives mind, if the first two tests are Nil-all draws, and Jonny wins the decider with a 35m droppie 1 second from the hooter, that will be the way he scripted it.

Either that, or Clive has got it all very wrong indeed!

See you in Wellington campers!

STOP PRESS: The hot news is Wilko is being thawed out and the re-animation electrodes applied for the midweek game against Wellington this coming Wednesday. That’s risky. They play the game a bit rough in The Capital, so I hope he’s got medical insurance.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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12 Jun

Wounded Pride ? Stuffed Lions More Like
by Colin Johnston
12 Jun 2005

Wounded, pride, Lions Mauled call it what you will. The peons in the press box will have a field day with this beating.

Congratualtions to the Maori for their commitment to the cause. They never gave up and if the ref, the wonderful Mr Walsh helped them by forgetting that two teams can come in from the side and that a liberal interpretion of a forward pass isn’t actually okay, then so what?

I would like to start out by apologising to Weepu for Matt Dawson’s gracelessness at the end of the match. Rather than offering a hand and congratulations Dawson elected to barge him with his shoulder. What a cock. This is not the first time that Dawson has behaved so poorly in defeat. When Scotland denied England the Grand Slam in 2000 he refused to bring his team back out onto the park to pick up the 6 Nations trophy from the sponsors and Princess Anne. Clealry just a bad loser and a spoilt bratt.

Onto the match. Out muscled, out tackled and out sprinted. Holah and Gibbes beat the Lions back row hands down and won the game for the Maori. Every 50/50 went there way because Hill and Co were miles off the pace. Martin Williams, openside loose forward, was the player of the tournament at the 6 Nations. When you are out played as much as he was today, perhaps that says something about the quality of current Northern Hemisphere backrows? One thing is for sure, Neil Back would have been even further off the pace and thus his inclusion in Sir Clive’s squad, still under a ban for foul play, looks like even greater folly than I predicted in April.

The Maori were more physical in attack and defence and clearly wanted it more. The scrum was a shambles with both packs being penalised, the line outs weren’t a whole lot better and maybe, just maybe the Lions shaded it there. If they did it was the only thing they won all day.

Good defence kept the score down and if you were a born optimist, or a downright liar (read politician) you would claim the game a draw as there was only one try scored each! Sir Clive tinkered while Rome burned. He made no good changes through the match. Leaving Sheridan on the bench, he was I thought harshly sin binned (the punch never even connected) and bringing on Jenkins (always good for 6 points to the opposition) appears to have been a blunder. As usual with Sir Clive’s teams, when things are going wrong he appears unable to change things round, come up with new tactics or target the problem. He prefers to rely on the “leaders on the pitch” to do this. Hang on, what are we paying him for? Surely half time or throughout the course of the game is when these coaches and managers earn their corn! The Maori coach, haven’t a clue what he is called, played his cards well. David Hill playing a controlling game for the first hour and then Carlos on to find some holes for the midfield to assault. Full marks.

Anyway, Lions lost fair and square. I did get two positive things from the match : firstly, there were 2 Macdonalds, 1 Macallister and 1 Braid on the field. All Scots names, therefore all clearly eligible for Scotland (hey – if it works with the All Blacks and the Islanders why not for us?) and secondly – I can’t think what two is, can you?

9 Jun

Naki Knackered
by Colin Johnston
9 Jun 2005

Out on their feet by the end of the game another set of plucky, provincial pugilists fought their way to a hard earned defeat against this 2005 Lions prior to heading off to doing their nighshift as bounces at New Plymouth’s only night club.

Yes, the Naki were helped by some pretty shoddy refereeing, apparently the offside line has moved to the back foot of the oppostions ruck or maul not your own. Frankly, when you are knackered, well beaten and 30 points down even those 3 yards ain’t going to help you. Sorry lads the ref did his bit and should get his fee for it.

On to the game! What a top contender Tito is. He can trade sly punches and outright slugs with the best of them. From the video replay I don’t think either he or Grewcock managed to dislodge the other ones’ lonely braincell but they had a good try. Players like Tito manage to go through the game reminding everyone why the Tourists play these types of sides. It is to allow the also rans to try and injure as many players as possible and thus ensure a home test series win. Neck high tacles, late shoulder charges and anything else you think you can get away with is all perfectly acceptable if you are the local Captain.

Onto the game. Poor tackling from the Lions in the middle of the park during the first minutes confirmed that the “best prepared Lions squd ever” was barely acquainted with each other. That said Horgan and Murphy linked well as did Cusiter and Hodgson. Corry had a steady game and Michael Owen looked okay. The front row however was utterly crap. What was going on there? They started off okay and went down hill dramatically. Fortunately the hammer throwers the Naki had put in the centre hadn’t a clue or this could have been difficult.

The long and the short of it is that after an hour of softening each other up the Lions scored three tries and said thanks for the game. Like Saturday past, another training run out under pressure. Nothing more.

This Saturday will ramp up the pressure a bit more. Ostensibly there are 9 All Blacks coming out to play for the Maori. They will be charged up and playing with passion. If ever the Lions need to remember the thin red line, no backward steps and the fearlessness and ruthlessness that it took to build the World’s biggest Empire and staunch any mindless enthusiasm from locals then Saturday is as good a place to start as any.

I want from from three! Give me three from three!

9 Jun

Episode 2: The Mountain Men
by Paul Waite
9 Jun 2005

You have to admire the Brits in this Lions outfit. There they are, honed professionals, the cream of the crop, and they have to go out and smash their bodies against The ‘Naki Mountain Men.

One look into the faces of that Taranaki front row, with their toothy, back-woods grins and a disturbing glint of madness spread across six glassy eyes, and you’d have forgiven them for asking for a ticket on the first plane home.

There’s no glory to be had for the ‘elite’ tourist playing a provincial team, but then again there never has been in the history of the game. The glory is all for the locals’ taking, and that’s what makes it such a magical encounter.

The Lion’s technique of weathering the provincial storm and waiting for the errors and tiredness to creep in worked well with BoP, and it worked well enough again tonight in New Plymouth.

After being on the receiving end of a battering in the scrum from the fired up ‘Naki pack, and being frustrated by New Zealand refereeing style at the ruck for the whole first half (mostly for the lack of a decent loosie – Moody was bloody useless), they came out in the second and after 20 minutes got the break they needed – Taranaki hooker Andrew Hore being sin-binned.

Not that the tourists would have lost if he hadn’t been, but it eased the way and although the points didn’t flow the extra wear on a stretched home-town defence told in the end, and inaccuracies and mistakes led to space and tries.

One try deserves a special mention for its shear elegance. It started with a Lions scrum and Cussiter fed the reliable Hodgson who put in a pin-point kick to the winger straight into his hands who then off-loaded beautifully inside to the try-scorer. Buggered if I can remember their names, but they were wearing red.

Overall it was a pretty scrappy performance from the Lions dirt-trackers. Their scrum got an absolute bath from the locals, and they made some awful mistakes with try-scoring opportunities begging. Stand-outs were captain Martin Corry, Hodgson for his kicking (but little else), and that was about it. They definitely looked like they’d rather be somewhere else in the first half, when you would have imagined they were trying to impress to further test chances. In the second they tightened things up more, and toiled a bit harder which, together with a few silly mistakes from certain Taranaki backs, allowed them to ease away on the score-board.

For Taranaki’s part they did well where it was expected they’d do well – up front. Ever a team which has had all the attacking guile and penetration of a house-brick, they made much too little of their time in posession recycling the ball, and failed to really challenge the Lions’ defensive line, apart from at the very last minute of time, when they grabbed a consolation try from a team which was already looking forward to a hot shower.

But let’s grab another healthy slice of perspective once again. The Lions are a touring team unlike the usual single country-based teams. Their momentum is only beginning to build, and combinations, most largely untried, only just starting to come together.

As the next couple of weeks unfold, the intensity on them will be stepped up, beginning this Saturday with the Maori.

Let’s see if the steady increase in heat will anneal and form them, or cause a terminal melt-down. Only time will tell.

See you in Hamilton !

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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8 Jun

It's 14
by WAJ
8 Jun 2005

There must be some kind of obsessive mathematician at the NZRFU. He or she obviously thinks that because we are going to have a Super 14 competition next season, the NPC must have the same number of teams in it’s re-badged Division 1.

At the outset it was always going to be 12 maximum, and quite possibly less. The idea was to concentrate the talent and hence raise the quality level of ‘the product’.

Thank the Gods, that some sanity and lateral thinking (or whatever) has prevailed. New Zealand rugby has always drawn its strength from the broadness of its base. That means, not just numbers, but a large geographical spread of Unions throughout the country.

Not only does the decision to stick with 14 Unions allow players to work and live in their preferred cities and towns, it allows the game to keep drawing on another of its great strengths – its history and traditions.

Imagine what a body-blow it would have been, for example, to effectively kill off a Union like Manawatu, or Hawkes Bay, or Northland. All that wonderful history more or less swept away in a stroke.

No, the NZRFU have taken a bold step, and in my humble opinion, the right one in not buckling under to the ‘logic’ of shrinkage to bump up the quality. That option is always a last, do-or-die option. In my view it would have been a cop-out and only a temporary fix, because once you start that shrinkage process, then you will probably have to do it again further down the track.

So roll on the National Provicincial Championship in its new form, and good luck to all of our proud Unions who will make up our Premier Division.