24 Jun

Super 15 – Quarterfinals
by WAJ
24 Jun 2011

I love this time of year. Cut throat finals with everything on the line, always complicated by injuries and travel. What an advantage finishing in the top 4 is. And then there is all the speculation about the national teams – train on squads, injuries again. Gotta love it. If the Crusaders win their next 2 games where will the final be held – surely not Nelson or Timaru?

Blues v Waratahs
I think this game comes down to 2 things. Can the Blues continue to play the way they have been over the last fortnight? And have the huge number of injuries suffered by the Waratahs cruelled their chances? Burgess, Hanga’s, Barnes, Horne, Mitchell – not a bad lineup and all injured and out of the play offs! On top of Kepu, Palu, Baxter, Mowenand the Flying Affro that is a lot of fire power unavailable. And 7 of those would be definite WC Wallabies. So can they overcome those losses, and the Eden Park hoodoo? They have been very resiliant of late having won their last 2 games in convincing fashion, and the likes of Beale,Dennis and Timani have really stepped up, but this is looking a step too far now with the The Flying Affro and Burgo both banged up and out. The Blues look to have overcome their late season malaise finally, and showed a good well rounded game to beat the Highlanders convincingly. Still concerns in the backs where the defence will always be in question and the overall pace has dropped. But if they keep using McAllister as they have – where he doesn’t have to think too much about it and just kick and run – and Brett and Payne keep up their attacking thrust then we should be too strong in the end. But oh wouldn’t it be great to see both teams at full strength.
Blues 1 – 12

Crusaders v Sharrrrks
The seemingly toothless Sharks wallow about for a few weeks, looking anything but good, then head up to Boer Central and put it all together in a great performance against all the odds. Unfortunately they have an even higher mountain to climb this week. Not only do they have to contend with the travel, and you have to question why they are leaving it so late, but they get 36 hours less to recover. But they have nothing to lose, and the likes of Lambie, Peterson and Michalak gives plenty of options in attack, Peterson especially is in rare form and will need to be watched. The Crusaders – well they keep winning, not as convincingly as they were in the first half of the season, actually not by as much as they were at the beginning of the season is probably the better way of putting it, because they are awfully hard to beat. A couple of guns in Maitland and SBW returning will make a world of difference, especially the former whose pace has been seriously missed. I expect a dominant performance from the pack, all who should be match fit and ready for a big one, scrum dominance for sure, with the halves banging away at the corners, where they can pressure the Sharks into mistakes, and thus points. Might not be the prettiest game, but will be awfully effective.
Crusaders 13+

Regards Waj

10 Jun

Super 15 — Round 17
by WAJ
10 Jun 2011

Another potentially cracking weekend of rugger. Three games with major top 6 repercussions. Alocal NZ derby with plenty for all players to prove (especially Nonu; I cannot believe you would tell one of the best players in his position in world rugby that he is no longer needed – quite bizarre). And a tricky road trip for the Reds.

It is a brave stand from Hammettbut fraught with risk. Getting rid of the older generation and any attitude that exists with them is one thing, but rebuilding a side in this competition isgoing to be tough. Look at how the Rebels, Force and Cheetahs have fared by starting from scratch, the main issue being depth and assembling a tight 5 that can at least hold its own. Hammett will havea brand new front row next year – good luck I reckon!

Chiefs v Hurricanes
A fascinating game with all that has been going on with both teams off the field – there will be plenty of players with ‘I’ll show you’ attitudes to the fore, could be a few sparks flying. Both put up good performances last week and we should expect another repeat of that – though the Hurricanes morale will need to be taken into account.Lots of interesting match ups throughout as well – notably Mils/Jane, Gear/Sivi, Nonu/Kahui, Duck/Cruden, Weepu/Leonard, Messam/Vito, Hore/Elliot – not all exactly head to head, but still players vying for a WC spot. The Chiefs will want more of the first half performance from last week, with more accuracy from The Duck (in all aspects). The good ball the forwards are now delivering and the counter attacking from the back 3 was superb. A repeat of that effort will win them this game against a similair hot and cold Hurricanes outfit – what was said at halftime last week to get the Hurricanes going? But if Cruden and Nonu can be shut down the Hurricanes are pretty impotent. Foster will know that and I would expect to see them given no room.
Chiefs 13+

Brumbies v Rebels
The fascinating thing about this game will be whether the Brumbies can repeat the intensity and fire they showed against the Reds. Admittedly they are not up against much, the Rebels were simply terrible last week – worse live than on the box, sorry showing my age, on the slim line flat screen. Whilst not showing a whole lotof good play the Brumbies were so direct that you wonder what substance they were on when compared to the poor efforts over the rest of the season, andI loved Giteau taking the last shot at goal to deny the Reds any points at all. It will be the last game for a host of Brumbies (8 – 10 are leaving as Jake White does a Hammett)in Canberra and they will want to go out with a bang, and with the confidence from last week the ball should see plenty of air. Against a struggling Rebels team, where defense is clearly something you find on a farm, because it hasn’t been a part of the Rebels game plan so far, coupled with a backline down on pace and more importantly ideas, well I can’t see anything but a big loss. Oh and Sterling needs to retire – he is slower than a wet week and takes longer to turn than an oil tanker – great captain, but getting found out more and more.
Brumbies 13+

Crusaders v Blues
Hard to believe that 1 of these sides has onlywon once in the last 4 weeks and the other hasn’t won at all! Soit is all on in Timvegas for the biggest game in NZ S15 to date this year. (Are you going Tracey – silly question I suppose!) A few question marks on both teams, one perhaps more than the other, but they both need to hit form NOW or forget winning the thing. The Crusaders are greatly strengthened by the return of Ellis, his option taking has been first class this year, and with Carter looking close to his best the Crusaders pack need to give them the sort of ball to get the likes of SBW and Fruean a bit of room to move, given that they will be too hard to beat.Thus the Blues need to win the battle up front to have a chance here. Big big game for the Blues 8. Their midfield defence is flakey, that isa given, so they need to limit the damage, simple really, again don’t let the Crusaders pack get on top. Unfortunately I don’t see that happening. So what next – counterattack. Yep good idea, plenty of pace and nous out the back for the Blues, not necessarily in the same package unfortunately, but will the best tactical kicker in the game give theopportunities required? Methinks not. How do the Blues win it? It comes back to that battle up front, and against this Crusaders 8 that is a tough ask. Or it becomes a battle of attrition and McA out kicks Carter to ein 6 penalties to 5 – what chance – ha!
Crusaders 1 – 12

Waratahs v Highlanders
Both sides have losttheir last 2 games, but in contrasting circumstances. HAve the wheels fallen off at the Highlanders or what. And it is very hard to get things right again once you lose 2 in a row like the Highlanders have, their 2nd half capitulations have been terrible. Having said that they at least know what to focus on. Nail your chances and pick up your game big time in the last 20 minutes!! The Waratahs could have won both games in Sth Africa, but got done over by incompetence last week and naivety the week before. But, as ever, they have been very good up front and with Beale in outstanding form and Barnes settling things nicely in midfield they have scored plenty of points without being able to win. On the basis that the Waraths are going along slightly better and are at home, I am going with theWaratahs,but….
Waratahs 1 – 12

Force v Reds
Another danger game for the injury hit Reds. They are going to miss the go forward of Diggers, the defensive steel of Faingaa and the reliabilityof Lucas at fullbackthis week,three critical parts of what makes them so good. Whilst they have been very industrious in the forwards to date they will need a big effort this week against an underestimated Force8 with their blue chip loosies. The Brumbies were able to close down the Burglar pretty well last week with their in your face aggressive defenceand thus the need for the Reds forwards to make absolutely sure they are always going forward when in possession to give him more time to weave his magic, he doesn’t need a lot, but more than the Brumbies gave – you know those Force loosies will have one target, so a big night needed from the Reds fatties. The Force are going to provide plenty of problems themselves with the return of Twinkle Toes, to bolster a backline that has been very good of late, just wish he was closer to the action than fullback. Actually the more and more I look at this game the better the Force look. Stannard has been a revelation at 1 5/8 and Smith has really to started to play well on the wing after some pretty tepid performances and to be able to leave McCalman on the bench says a lot about their forwards.
Force 1 – 12

Lions v Sharks
The Sharks were a bit lucky last week, 2 long range tries got them home in a subdued effort where the Cheetahs had by far the better of the game without the ability to finish. Credit to the Sharks defence and their own ability to take any points offered. The Sharks haven’t lost to the Lions since 2001 (the last time the Lions made the semifinals – yikes) and though improved on previous years I can’tsee them having enough of an attacking edge to breach that defence enough to win. For the Sharks – well they keep finding ways to win. Their forwards are going OK,and they will need to dominate against this jetlagged Lions team and get plenty of ball to Peterson and Mvovo. Should be a comfortable win.
Sharks 13+ pan>

Stormers v Bulls
The battle of the 2 South African heavyweights to top the round. Should be a cracker as both teams are in good form. The Bulls were on the end of some sympatheticofficiating last week (and if you haven’t seen the events around O’Connor’s sending off, it was the worst sort of officiating you can imagine by someone who clearly felt he had to be seen at some stage during the game -inaccurate, hesitant, just woeful)and were perhaps a bit lucky, but they probably would have held on anyway. They are playing well without the dominating form of previous years when they would overwhelm teams – aging but still classy. Triple B and de Preez miss this week, 2 extremely influential players who can’t be replaced. The Stormers are back in SA after their most successful Antipodean excursion. A nice tune up last week with the opportunity to get their attacking game in better order has them primed, and with their outstanding defence of this season still in suffocation mode they will win in a close one. Coleman at 1 5/8 the weak point for the Stormers, and he will need to be looked after by the erratic Januarie, but the experience outside him and playing at home should see him through.
Stormers 1 – 12

Regards Waj

5 Jun

Battle for the Back-up Role – All Black 1st 5
by Tracey Nelson
5 Jun 2011

Who is likely to be Dan Carter’s back up in the All Black squad this year? Check out the lead contenders’ stats here.

I have looked at the players most likely to be in contention for the back up role of 1st 5 for the All Blacks. Colin Slade has not been included due to his lack of game time this season. Luke McAlister’s stats are only for the games where he has started at 1st 5 (two up to the end of Round 15) other than his goal kicking, where he has been first choice kicker for the Blues this season. All tables start with the top player for that category. Another point to note is that my definition of a ‘line break’ is a clean break where the gain line is not only breached but the player makes it into clear space behind the defensive line without being held in a tackle. So in other words, the player runs into open space by at least 2 metres and the entire defensive line has to turn to chase.

Number of starts at 1st 5 up to and including Round 15
Stephen Brett 11
Stephen Donald 9
Dan Carter 8
Aaron Cruden 7
Luke McAlister 2

Points scored Average per game Kicking percentage
Dan Carter 15.87 76%
Luke McAlister 12.11 75%
Stephen Donald 10.44 76%
Aaron Cruden 10.23 75%
Stephen Brett 10.75 52%

Linebreaks Total Average per game
Luke McAlister 2 1.0
Stephen Brett 8 0.73
Aaron Cruden 5 0.71
Dan Carter 4 0.50
Stephen Donald 4 0.44

Average number of offloads per game
Aaron Cruden 2.71
Dan Carter 2.13
Luke McAlister 1.50
Stephen Donald 1.33
Stephen Brett 0.73

Percentage of tackles successfully made
Dan Carter 83%
Luke McAlister 79%
Aaron Cruden 78%
Stephen Donald 63%
Stephen Brett 52%

3 Jun

Super 15 — Round 16
by WAJ
3 Jun 2011

And so we say good bye to Carisbrook. A strong showing from the Force last week will mean the need for the Highlanders to switch on this week. A strangely off key performance from the Highlanders, they seemed to forget the tenets that got them their wins so far this year – attack the ball whether through tackle, carry or ruck and maul, they seemed to hang back a bit.

Highlanders v Force
The Highlanders need to get back on the front foot and let Cowan run the show. The Force have won the last three games between these2 sides so a bit of a bogey team for the Highlanders. Thommo back is a big in against the blue chip Force loose trio. I see Donnells is back on the bench for his 15 minute cameo – his state of mind must be interesting as there is no way he can make the AB’s on his current workload. This game is more even than their respective table positions indicate and the Highlanders willneed to front – it will still be a close one.
Highlanders 1 – 12

Rebels v Stormers
I am looking forward to seeing the Stormers live. In need of bonus points they will be very keen to get the 4 try’s they need, and push for a top 2 spot. Apart from Gigantor on the bench, thay are pretty much at full strength – well him and their 4th string 1 5/8. They were awfully stilted last week and a side with the likes of Aplon, de Villiers and Fourie should be scoring a lot more tries, but the Rebels have by far the worst defence in the comp so I would expect a few tonite. Defence is of course the cornerstone of the Stormers and a misfiringRebels will struggle to break the line with the backline they have named. And though they will be willing enough up front that won’t be enough against this tough Stormers 8.
Stormers 13+

Bulls v Waratahs
A critical game for both teams. The loser is going to find it very tough to qualify. The Waratahs should have won last week, but couldn’t close it out, travel factor perhaps.It doesn’t get easier this week against the resurgent Bulls. I think the Bulls will be too hard too beat at home at the moment and the injury toll of the Waratahs on top makes it even harder. The Waratahs will attack early on and try and hold the Bulls out then, risky because when they get on a role the Bulls are irresistible. Two huge forward packs selected – a bit of mine is bigger than yours about it. The Bulls will continue their 5 match winning streak, but again in a close one. Actually games have closed up a lot as the season has gone on – gametime/teamwork, defensive systems, video???
Bulls 1 – 12

Hurricanes v Lions
The only "who cares" game of the round – with nothing riding on the result.Should be a win to the Hurricanes, but probably not by much
Hurricanes 1 – 12

Blues v Chiefs
This is a real danger game for the Blues. They havebeen very unconvincing of late, whilst the forwards have been going OK, the backs have been very ordinary, extremely inconsistent, and while this weeks backline looks to be OK, they really need to start performing in the lead up to the finals. And this is a strong looking Chiefs backline they are up against- in fact All Blacks 9 – 15 – bloody hell this is a very tough assignment. The Blues should be better up front, certainly at scrum time, and will have to use this advantage, as that Chiefs backline is going to be hard to penetrate. McAllister has to kick accurately as the Chiefs will counter attack all night, and we will need to keep our defence aligned, yes that means you Ali Williams, or the likes of Masaga and Sivi will cut us to shreds. So dominate up front, lots of pick and go, accurate set pieces, deep kicks with plenty of hang time. And don’t drop off tacklesagainst their strike runners.
Blues 1 – 12

Reds v Brumbies
It is a bit hard to get any read from previous results of the Reds, they were that shite for so long, so previous seasons are discarded. The Brumbies have looked better the last 2 weeks but are still a very ordinary team and have no chance here. The Reds have that look about themof a very good team that won’t get complacent, they enjoy the way they are playing and have a great team spirit. This could get messy.
Reds 13+

Cheetahs v Sharks
The Cheetahs could do the Highlanders a big favour here by winning – and they aren’t the least of chances. They were brave last week to come back and give the Bulls a bit of a fright and back at home will fancy themselves against a Sharks unit which is beginning to splutter along a bit. Without Peterson, and a bit of naivety from the Waratahs, the Sharks would have lost last weekend. This is the first of 3 away games to end the Sharks home and away season and needless to say they will want to get some momentum, but as I said earlier they are only going in fits and starts, have real problems with their midfield defence, and a few injury problems up front. Against this young and enthusiastic Cheetahs team they will need to be very accurate – the Cheetahs love to counter attack. I fancy the Cheetahs here to win a close one
Cheetahs 1 – 12

Regards Waj

1 Jun

Trampling On Tradition
by Paul Waite
1 Jun 2011

OHjerseyIt’s a funny concept, tradition, when you think about it. It’s just something people like doing, or having, which lasts for a long period of time. The longer it goes, the more significance it accrues, like the proverbial stone gathering moss.

If it goes long enough then everyone associated with it draws from it. It gets woven into the fabric of peoples’ lives and can even take on a kind of life of its own. A great example is the Ranfurly Shield (itself threatened in the past), both the trophy itself and the format of the contest for it.

Of course we’re talking here about the hotly debated decision by the General Manager of the Otago Highlanders, Roger Clark, to dispense with the Highlanders’ colours of blue, maroon and gold, a decision which, judging by his comments, has been driven at least in part by some back-room brainstorming by a bunch of marketing droids.

But let’s step back a bit. Roger Clark seems to have the best interests of The Highlanders at heart. He basically wants them to play well, possibly win some trophies, and be financially secure. When he came along they were playing crap, and fallen halfway down the dunny (apologies to Dunedinites) in the money department.

On the playing front, you have to give him full marks. The Highlanders have been a revelation, so credit where credit’s due. But it’s the rest of the strategy which lets it all down.

Having been put right on the back foot by the storm of outrage over the jersey change, he has made some statements which bear review here. Try to spot the deliberate mistakes in this little lot (excerpts drawn from this Otago Daily Times article):

Mr Clark said to attract fans and continue the impetus of
change, research had shown a new jersey would be an appropriate
move.

“We needed to change everything and that includes the jersey.
We are really conscious we are going into a new stadium
next year and we want to help showcase it to the world”

“We want to signal that we are changing right across the board.

“If we wanted to grow the fan base then we had to engage with
the whole region.”

The phrase “research had shown..” is a bit of a give-away. Instead read that as “the marketing muppets we paid too much money to recommended that..”.

Obviously no research was done. If it had it would have discovered what the ODT poll did in a single fucking day!

The trouble with marketing people is they are linear, short-term thinkers. Their World is one where you make a stimulus to get a reaction and if that doesn’t work make some more. Tradition has no place in that World.

Look back at the excerpts above. The old adage “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” comes to mind. Roger, bless him, affects to want to “grow the fan base” and “engage with the whole region”. Well Roger, the jersey you are chucking out has colours drawn from the rugby teams across the whole region. And you don’t grow your fan base by disrespecting the jersey all the existing fans have been supporting since 1996.

Which brings me to the final point. This quote from Roger:

“The Highlanders’ new playing strip is not an insult to past
teams, as the side does not have a tradition”

When I read that I couldn’t believe the General Manager of the team could come out with such an outrageous statement. That’s the same as telling all of the fans which have supported The Highlanders over the 15 years of Super Rugby history that they’re nothing, they didn’t exist.

So the jersey has no tradition? The colours are blue for Otago RFU, founded 1881, maroon for Southland RFU, founded 1887, and gold for North Otago RFU, founded in 1904. This region-engaging colour scheme has been proudly worn by successive Highlanders teams for 15 years. If that isn’t tradition, and engaging the region, then I don’t know wtf is.

And what did Roger Clark imagine would happen when he announced that the team would be chucking that jersey away and running out in some hideous green creation inspired by some random marketing pratt’s wet dream? A brief thought as to what the Black Jersey the All Blacks wear means to us should have been enough to remind him that, yes, fans DO relate to a jersey, and they DO care about it and invest emotional ties in it.

And yes, 15 years of a jersey created with 120-plus years of rugby tradition in the region behind it does matter.

Now it’s down to Roger Clark. Will he accept what the fans are telling him, or will he ignore them?

I hope that this green abomination gets thrown in the dumpster. You can’t buy tradition, or manufacture it, but you can trample it into oblivion.

Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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