2 Sep

NPC Roundup
by Euan Kilgour
2 Sep 2003

Once again, we have embarked on, as John Mitchell coined it, a ‘journey’ of our own. After an indifferent S12 performance with the Chiefs, the core players of the Waikato side had to regather themselves as they looked to repeat their efforts of last year.

Hampered by the loss of their inspirational captain Deon Muir, All Black fringe lock Royce Willis and star wingers Bruce Reihana (playing in France) and Roger Randle (serious career threatening ankle injury); Waikato looked to rebuild the team around the dynamic and charismatic Jonno Gibbes.

After some indifferent preseason performances where they were comprehensively outplayed by Bay of Plenty and North Harbour, Waikato’s forward pack began to arise from their slumber and started to play a very structured yet simplistic game which yielded oodles of possession which the backs then went and squandered.

An equally powerful Taranaki pack simply soaked up the pressure and fed their backline with quality ball and they made the most of their skant possession and Waikato’s fundmental yet unforced errors to comfortably win the season opener at Waikato Stadium. Not a good way to start the season when you only have 4 home matches.

Next up saw the Mooloo men host a Wellington side who had looked shakey against Southland the week before but looked dangerous and showed enough raw talent to win that match. The Mooloo pack started where it left off, taking the Gilbert and shoving it firmly up the jumper for the better part of the first half, refusing to let the Wellington pack or the Waikato backs get their hands on it. What little possession Wellington had they squandered, but it was only through some inept kicking that they showed their dangerous ability to counter attack and scored two wonderful tries. Waikato replied up front by grinding their opposites down and replied with tries of their own, but in the end it was the boot of winger Loki Crighton who saw them home. A nail biting match, but the signs were there that the forwards were begining to get their act together.
The less said about the backs the better. in two outings they had shown that they could not handle damp conditions and their option taking was nothing short of woeful. Only Crighton and fullback Todd Miller showed any signs of actually worrying the defense, the rest looking rather pedestrian.

Round three saw the Mighty Mooloo men take the trip to the winterless north to play an all but full strength Northland side who had looked the goods against a fragile looking Canterbury side (who always start slow) but had faltered under the weight of the Taranaki juggernaut during round two and had taken a heavy loss. A fine and sunny day saw an almost reverse performance from the forward pack and the backs, the forwards coughing up possession left right and centre and the backs making incisive runs, clever little wipers kicks and generally looking like a polished unit. Defensively though they were let down by some rather in effectual tackling and some equally as ordinary refereeing which gifted Northland one of their two tries.
A double to centre Regan King who is starting to show some of the form that put him into an All Black touring party, and some deft slight of hand from Rhys Duggan who is starting to come right also saw the backs make the most of the dry and sunny conditions to run in four tries to seal a vital 5 point away win. Cudos also has to go to MOTM openside flanker Wayne McEntee who ran himself to a standstill and was the pick of the forwards in the first half, Jonno Gibbes who lead from the front in a style reminiscent of Deon Muir, and Keith Robinson who is doing all the things in-form locks do very well.

As a fan it has been a rather frustrating season so far. Looking at some of the things the team has done well compared with some of the braindead things they have done also is a terrible thing for me to deal with as I don’t know if the team will grind out a win, get totally thrashed or run away with the game. I now know what it must be like to support Wellington. On a good day this team will beat anyone, but is also likely to lose to anyone on any other day.

6 Sep

NPC Round 4 – Oh the pain!!
by Euan Kilgour
6 Sep 2001

This week I actually felt confident walking in through the gates at Rugby Park. Waikato after a belligerent encounter with 2000 Champs Wellington were finally looking as though they had enough nouse to win the close games and put teams away. Taranaki were coming in on the bottom of the table and after three home games were without a win. Surely Waikato could hold them out.

After a strong first quarter Waikato had been first to score and got in a wonderfully worked try to Scott McLeod. Then another try to Bruce Reihana put Waikato 10 points in the lead, but by this time the cracks were starting to show in Waikato’s tight five, and pressure on them finally lead them to collapse, Taranaki crashing over the line from an attacking lineout. The conversion coupled with a penalty earlier on gave Waikato a slim2 point lead heading into the break.

The second half was all Taranaki who dominated up front and scored two tries to take a 5 point lead. Waikato started to come back, but it was too late, and Taranaki got themselves out of the relegation zone with a 5 point win.

This pretty much sinks Waikato’s chances of a semi berth, as they now must win away again a strong Northland side, and an Auckland side who up until Saturday were looking ominous.

My feeling at the end of the game was one of disgust. Waikato are capable of a much more composed effort than the side that decided it had to play catch up football 10 minutes into the second half. They desperately missed the experience and calming influence of captain Deon Muir, and Rhys Duggans game imploded under the pressure of the captaincy. The backs did well with what ball they got, as Waikato were keeping level with their opponents in loose play. But the 50/50 balls were not going to hand and the last passes were forced, giving Taranaki a surfeit on unforced turnover ball which they calmly converted into territory.

Waikato lack that clinical performance of putting teams away when they’re on top, often going through patches of indifferent form when they should be pressing the foot down on the throat hard. The problem is definitely not in their ability, as Waikato have one of the strongest sides on paper with a ton of skill and potential. No, the answer lies up in that grey matter – they must acquire the mental toughness that Australian teams have.

27 Aug

NPC Round 3 – The Waikato Rollercoaster ride continues…
by Euan Kilgour
27 Aug 2001

After the satisfaction of watching vintage AB rugby as they stuffed the Boks at Eden Park, my warm fuzzy feeling was replaced by that deja vu when Wellington shot out to a 12 nil lead in the blink of an eye against the home side Waikato. Some great opportunistic play lead to excellent tries to Steinmetz and Fa’atau.

After that set back the Waikato forward finally pulled finger and started albeit slowly, to take over the game up front. Wellingtons top notch loose forward trio were sucked into the tight and the gaps started to open up. After conceding a penalty converted by Waikato first five David Hill, a ruck just inside the Wellington 22 saw Hill pop a beauty of a short ball to a charging Scott McLeod who went through unscathed to score.

Wellington struck back again a penaly of their own, and individual skills from Steinmetz saw him land a 49 metre drop goal and later a slightly less convincing but none the less effective drop goal from blindside flanker Filo Tiatia!!

Halftime saw Wellington in the lead 18 points to 16, Waikato captain Deon Muir off the field with brusing to his ribs, and stand in captain Rhys Duggan taking some own souvenirs of his own getting trapped after Wellington blew over a ruck and the ball got stuck up his jersey.

The second half saw rain, the introduction of Glen ‘Psycho’ Remnant for Deon Muir at Number 8, more ill tempered cheap shots (especially from Waikato tight head Deacon Manu, who deserves some pine time for a stomp on Jason Spice’s head), the sunny afternoon turn to cloud and rain, and a finishing off of Wellington as they were kept scoreless. David Hill scored all the second half points with a try, the subsequent conversion, a drop goal and two penalties to end the game with a 22 point haul and the man of the match award.

Special mention must be made of Scott McLeod, who made a lot of good breaks and handoffs, and gave the Wellington backs another player to keep an eye on, as Lowen was carefully looked after by the Wellington defense.

The tight five kept things tight until they took over, when they started getting a little loose again, much to my consternation. Wellington have only themselves to blame as they watched their lead evapourate and could not come up with an answer to the rampaging Waikato tight five.

From Wellington there were good individual performances from Christian Cullen, who looked to be back to about 90% pace, but 100% of his body swerve. Also the loose forward trio of Tiatia (replaced eventually by So’oialo due to a shoulder injury), Collins and Vanisi were everywhere doing everything that was expected of them and more. I think you’ll see them get better as the season progresses.

Overall the game was an uncompromising, bruising encounter full of confrontation and spite up front, but with silky individual skills and finesse out wide. All it needed was the referee to exert a tighter grip on the game and I would have given it 10 out of 10.

Next week sees the Mighty Mooloo men take on the other Hurricanes franchise first division union Taranaki again at Seddon Park in Hamilton. Taranaki after three straight home losses have it all ahead of them and will be desperate to get themselves off the bottom of the table and avoid relegation. Waikato will have no time to rest on their laurels, and they’ll be sorely tested with Deacon Manu almost certain to sit out the game.

20 Aug

NPC Round 2: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous
by Euan Kilgour
20 Aug 2001

Oh how the mighty have fallen. It was with great trepidation that I made my way north on Saturday, heading to Albany to watch Waikato’s match against North Harbour. Everyone around me were telling of a crushing victory to the red, yellow and black but I wasn’t buying a bean of it. I’ve seen Waikato get stung by inconsistent performances in the last two seasons, and as it turned out my fear were justified.

After a relatively controlled start, Waikato went and lost all cohesion and organisation. Even thought they were down 3-0 to Harbour, they were playing catchup rugby like there was only 3 minutes remaining in the game. The forwards failed to protect the ball at the breakdowns, leading to a stirling performance from Matua Parkinson who snaffled the ball right out from under All Black benchwarmer Marty Holah’s nose on a couple of occasions.

All too often the forwards were not delivering the ball fast enough, so the backs struggled to get the ball on the front foot and were knocked over behind the advantage line time after time. Set piece play was also very scrappy, as Harbour did well to disrupt Waikato’s possession.

The only good thing I can say about Waikato’s performance was that they secured the ball well from restarts, something which the All Blacks could take note of.

Things went from bad to worse when veteran first five Frano Botica injected some life into the rather flat Harbour backline and they ran in two late tries to win comfortably by 25 – 6.

13 Aug

NPC Round 1: What a start for the Mighty Mooloo Men!
by Euan Kilgour
13 Aug 2001

I’d like to start off by giving some hearty congratulations to two underdog sides who showed what it takes to win. Take a bow Bay of Plenty and Otago.

Otago proved the depth of NZ rugby by fielding a side lacking 14 first choice players due to injury and All Black commitments against a strong North Harbour side at Carisbrook. The overall standard of rugby by both sides was top notch stuff, and in spite of a bit of rain the error rate was suprisingly low for a first up game played at S12 pace.

I didn’t get to see the Wellington BOP game, but my impressions from feedback from those who did say Wellington only have themselves to blame for the loss.

I went to WestpacTrust Park (hereafter called it’s proper name Seddon Park) with more than a bit of trepidation. There were a lot of unanswered questions in my head pertaining to Waikato and their ability to carry on the outstanding S12 form the Chiefs showed, whether or not they would adapt to playing at Seddon Park, and the fact that they had lost (quite heavily) in the preseason to Counties Manukau.

It was a gloriously fine afternoon in Hamilton, but overnight rain had made the ground greasy underfoot, especially on the cricket block. I spied Loki Crighton standing a few metres away from me with some of his friends watching the game. He had a rather large bandage on his left ankle, which meant that Counties were denied one of their most dynamic, experienced and talented players. I took that to be a good omen, and I was proved right.

After an unsteady beginning Waikato took control up front and let aguably one of the best backlines in the NPC show their stuff, running in 9 tries to 2 in a solid first up performance that exceeded my expectations. Generally Waikato competed well at all phases of the game, and didn’t look as disjointed as they have in previous seasons, although there was still that traditional ‘patch’ that they have during the game where they go off the boil and let the opposition back into the game.

My standout players for both sides were:

Waikato:

Keith Lowen – carried on his S12 form nicely and runs such good lines he looks like an Aussie (dare I say it). Busted the first tackles and created ample space for his wingers – what more can you ask for?

Scott Couch – took his opportunity for some sustained gametime and ran with it. Very much a specialist opensider in the vein of Holah and Monkley, he was always there at the breakdown to won good ball for his tight forwards, and then backed up the midfield backs on attack.

Deacon Manu/David Briggs – I give them both the same mention because they performed similarly. After winning the tight game they then showed their mobility in backing up the loose trio, scoring a try apiece.

David Hill – Controlled the backs well, only missed 1 attempt at goal and was a strong runner. However needs to work on his tactical kicking and finding touch.

Counties-Manukau:

Casey Laulala – Played a fairly solid game at the back. Showed a little inexperience on a couple of occasions, but generally pulled off the big tackles and saved his team two certain tries.

Ramon Lindsay – Gutsy performance in the tight, and was the money man for his sides lineout.

1 Aug

NPC 2001 – Division One Preview
by Euan Kilgour
1 Aug 2001

Now that the dust is settling from a turbulent S12 for NZ franchises, the business end of the NZ rugby season is nearing kick off. As we have seen in recent times the NPC First Division is one hot ticket with the rugby faithful of NZ and the large number of expats living overseas, and the competition this year looks to be as good if not better than last year.

There are a number of exciting prospects to look forward to:

Just how far as Canterbury Rugby fallen? The Ranfurly Shield holders will have to be at their best to repel challenges this year from Auckland, Wellington, Taranaki, the Bay of Plenty and Waikato.

How much will the Blues poor S12 performance affect Aucklands performance in the NPC?

Harbour this year have regained an old hand in Glenn Osbourne, are they going to realise their potential and become a real threat?

Who is this Bay of Plenty team and what role will they bring to the First Division, an easy 5 points or a real test of a sides ability?

Northland and Taranaki have always been dark horses. Will they be able to go all the way in spite of continual plundering of their talent by other unions?

Will Southland finally get themselves off the bottom of the table?

How will Waikato go playing at home at Westpac Trust Park because the Rugby Park upgrades have struck a few snags?

These questions and more will become apparent after a few rounds, but I for one am definitely looking forward to the start of the best national rugby union competition in the world.

24 May

The best of the Chiefs – 2001
by Euan Kilgour
24 May 2001

After a record season for the Chiefs when they equalled their best ever placing in the S12 in spite of the fact that they won more matches than ever before, a number of Waikato players have found their way into higher honours. Congratulations must go out to first time All Black Squad members Marty Holah, Mark Ranby, Keith Lowen and Roger Randle. Mark Cooksley aka Lazarus gains mention as the comeback kid, last donning a Black Jersey in 1994.

I will fly in the face of popular opinion and state that Deon Muir has found his rightful place in NZ rugby as captain of NZ Maori. His inspirational captaincy of Waikato and this years Chiefs side to me meant that his All Black debut would be wasted if he was named as anything other than Captain, something which I believe firmly belongs to Anton Oliver.

While I fully expect only Cooksley to make it into the final 22, it is good to see the All Black Selectors keeping the faith by rewarding players who have played outstandingly well.