A Big Fat Zero
by Paul Waite
14 May 2001
Well, it happened. We’ve gone from the sublime to the ridiculous in a single season; winning the Super 12 for five straight seasons, then not even getting a team into the semis in 2001.
What’s wrong I hear you ask. Well the answer to that was perfectly encapsulated by the performances this weekend. Sorry if you’re of a sensitive nature but New Zealand rugby isn’t as good as either Australia’s or South Africa’s at present. In fact looking across the five franchises, we’re pretty much at an all-time low. In short we’re crap.
Look at the Blues vs Hurricanes on Friday. I’ve rarely seen an effort so devoid of basic rugby intelligence from a New Zealand side as the shite the Canes dished up in the swimming pool which was Eden Park. Wet weather rugby demands pretty well-understood modes of play and it turns out Hurricanes coach Graham Mourie spelled this out to the twenty-two mentally impaired cretins wearing yellow and black both before the game and at halftime. Instead we were treated to an embarassing balls-up where the team was running the ball from its own 22m in the first quarter and handing out tries on a plate to the Blues. The astonishing thing is, they kept on doing it!. It’s as if, when they gathered under the posts to watch yet another conversion, they said to each other “Shit, that was good, let’s keep on playing like this since it’s working so well”. Gordon Slater, a captain? Not in this lifetime mate.
For their part, the Blues were beaten by the Bulls. They are not a good side by any stretch of the imagination, but by dint of the stupidity of their opponents, pulled out a nice win. It doesn’t bode well for the future of New Zealand rugby; there are a lot of All Blacks and so-called All Black hopefuls in that Canes outfit.
So that’s two teams down. Let’s look at the other three.
In Canberra the Chiefs choked big-time. After the marvellous game in Wellington last week, they were caught cold by a couple of nifty seven-pointers by the Robo Masters, and from that point on seemingly lost all belief in themselves. No support, no cohesion and a singlular lack of collective heart. They battled alright, but didn’t battle as a unit, just as fifteen individuals who seemed to have accepted they were over-matched. Until this happened, I hadn’t realised how much I was looking to the Chiefs to at least share in providing us all with a basis for continuing our rebuilding at All Black level. Mind you it’s a maybe bit too soon. The Chiefs will learn a big lesson from that hiding, I hope, and come back the stronger next year. For now it has to be enough that they have completely turned themselves around from the historical series of gold medals in non-achievement. Well done on that score anyway.
Back home we had another rain-soaked game down in Dunedin. The Crusaders have definitely shown they are on the way down this season, and showed nothing to disprove that theory in this game. For their part the Highlanders were fairly workman-like without convincing anyone they were potential Super 12 champs. They ground out a healthy win, but deservedly failed to grab a semi-final spot. Pretty ordinary stuff.
By contrast over the Tasman we saw rugby of an entirely different kind and not only explained by the difference in the weather. The ideas and execution of the Waratahs’ and Reds’ rugby was of a much higher order, and has been all Super 12.
It’s not as if the Aussie style is anything new. In my memory they’ve always pursued the intricate jinking backline moves, the interpassing just behind the line of advantage etc. but we’ve always had teams which could read it, and come back with the kind of rugby to overmaster it.
Looking around at our five Super 12 franchises and the players within I have the distinct impression that the cupboard is much barer of players with the capacity to rise to All Black level and do this than say, six seasons ago. The change in style bringing with it a neglect of basic rugby techniques, players seeking fortune overseas, and the recently publicised problem with too much rugby being played have all had their part in this.
But there’s no use complaining about the fact of there being no New Zealand teams in the Super 12 semi-finals this season.
We deserve the big fat zero; we just weren’t good enough.by