13 Nov

Season report cards
by Zand Moloney
13 Nov 2004

Time for the boys to get their end of year reports, it makes pretty good reading but ‘must try harder’ comes to mind as falling at the final hurdle is difficult to stomach.

Shannon Paku – needed a big season and delivered, sound under the high ball and effective when he came into the backline. Should push Brent Ward this year for the Canes. 8.5

Lome Fa’atau – undoutably one of the stars of the season, whenever Wellington scored a great try he had something to do with it. Scared the life out of all defences with his speed and guile and his defence was much improved. 9

Sireli Bobo – strong and fast Bobo was effective whenever he was on attack. Not quite the complete package yet but very exciting to watch. 7

Roy Kinikinilau – This should have been the big man’s year, he showed great skill last year but it was missing this time. Looked disinterested and average and deservedly missed out on the Canes this year to former Chief draftee Fa’atau 3.5

Conrad Smith – Outstanding! Smith showed there is still a place for smaller men in the midfield, making up for in vision, agility and speed what he lacks in sheer size. His combination with Nonu was amazing and suggests that there is life after Umaga. 9.5

Ma’a Nonu – A great return to form for Nonu who reminded us all just what he can do. His ability to break the line and off load in tackles was in evidence every week. Not sure about the mascara though.. 9

Tana Umaga – With a self-emposed lay off he looked back to his old self, hitting the line hard and at speed, and he was absolutely everywhere on defence. He pace may have slowed but he is still one of the best midfielders in the world. 9

Tane Tui’pulotu – No rating for the sadly injury ravaged midfielder, hope to see him back to his best for the Super 12.

David Holwell – In his final season Holwell again showed that although he is not flashy he is still an outstanding pivot. Mr Reliable held this backline together for many years and this season was no different. A sad loss for Wellington and New Zealand rugby. 9

Riki Flutey – Is he a halfback or a five eighth? There is no doubt he has a good running game, and generally has good option taking but really he doesn’t have the kicking game required for a top level fly-half. 6.5

Jimmy Gopperth – No rating, didn’t get enough game time for a comment, hope to see more of him in the Super 12.

Piri Weepu – another good season by the former leaguie. His kicking game was much improved and his sniping runs were telling. Not sure if he is ready for an AB’s tour yet but certainly one for the future. 8

Rodney So’oailo – Like fellow former All Black Nonu he needed to step up to prove himself to be a contender and did so. The captaincy made him think more on the field and he grew into a good leader. Good to see him back to his best. 8.5

Kristian Ormsby – His power and strength was a highlight in the early rounds of the NPC and suggested he should have been given more chances to impress. Great with the ball in hand and good in the air, 8

Thomas Waldrom – Did nothing wrong, like Ormsby unlucky not to get more game time. Rarely used at his favoured no 8 position he did well whenever he played. 7.5

Jerry Collins – again was one of the standouts of the pack. Hit the line hard every time and drove players back in the tackle. Needs to think about his tackling technique, but you can never question his commitment. 8.5

Scott Waldrom – troubled by injuires early in the season Waldrom came back strongly and was a major reason for the demolition of Taranaki. Great pace and an eye for a gap he was a key link-man between backs and forwards. 8.5

Ben Herring – again and again had the dirtiest jersey on the park beause of his rummaging around in the rucks, Herring was a constant thorn in many teams sides. Played himself to a standstill sometimes with scant support (particularily against Otago), the Kronfeld to Waldrom’s Jones 8.5

Ross Filipo – needs to work on discipline, good with the ball in hand and in the air, 6

Ross Kennedy – continues to develop at a startling rate. Great with the ball in hand and dominating in the air he should continue to be the first choice for the Canes. A future All Black, 9

Luke Andrews – another good season for the former Southlander. A good man in the lineout and strong defender, forms a good combination with Kennedy, 8.5

Tim Fairbrother – sadly injury robbed him of a chance to continue on from a good season for the Canes. Very strong scrummager, 7.5

Neemia Tialata – showed just what a talent he is this season, never taking a backward step. Learnt some hard lessons in the scrums sometimes which will serve him well, 8

Joe McDonnell – the rock of the scrum, McDonnell’s experience proved a crucial new ingrediant for the Lions. Showed Fairbrother and Tialata what is required at this level, 9

Mahonri Schwalger – a good new addition to the Lions this season. Scrummaged well and threw in effectively. Unlucky to end up on the draft, 8.5

Luke Mahoney – outshone somewhat by Schwalger, Mahoney did little wrong (apart from the odd misthrow). Needs more time to develop, 6

14 Sep

The 'Mighty' Auks?
by Zand Moloney
14 Sep 2004

Now, I don’t want this to be an article where I gloat and revel in the misfortune of Auckland but must ask this, why is Pat Lam so confident of retaining his job with the ‘powerhouse of New Zealand rugby’ doing so badly. People often say ‘When Auckland rugby does well so does New Zealand rugby,’ if that’s the case we are in trouble because this Auckland side is pretty poor.

Wellington played very well, the only thing that continues to concern me is the great big hole that is going to be left when David Holwell leaves. I have had many debates about this particular player, with some people saying to me he is average and all he does is kick goals and for the line. Last Saturday he made a liar of all people who hold that opinion, his vision and Lome Fa’atau’s pace combining for the try of the season. Welllington again looked much more composed when he came on the field to replace poor Ma’a Nonu and I just can’t see that there is a ready-made replacement for him. For many season he has been the man who has held the creative players together and I worry about what will happens when he goes.

In terms of the rest of the backline, again Conrad Smith showed his class as did Nonu until he went off with a broken thumb. It is a tragedy for Nonu as has been the form second five this season and would have been a shoe-in for the All Blacks tour. One hopes his injury heals quickly. That said Wellington are very lucky to have the All Black captain to slot in at centre and move Smith in one.
Fa’atau played well, but Bobo was unconvincing, perhaps it is time to give Roy Kinikinilau a chance out wide to give a different sort of threat, the broadsword to Fa’atau’s rapier.

The forwards were outstanding, two pushover tries from a pack that has been much maligned over the years shows what a good job John Plumtree has done. Neemia Tialata had a hard time in the scrums, but did well around the field, McDonnell seemed to have the better of old mate Kees Meuwes, and Mahonri Schwalger again put his hand up for Hurricanes honours with another strong performance.
The loose trio was again brilliant and had the measure of Rush, Lauaki and Kaino.

I will refrain from commenting about the performance of the referee, I think enough has been said by others but those in charge should review the ‘injury time’ he allowed Auckland carefully, personally I thought it was extremely pedantic.
Bring on the Bay!!

7 Sep

Getting there..
by Zand Moloney
7 Sep 2004

Another good, but certainly not great performance by Wellington and one that suggests that they can win the important ones. After that dreadful start I was thinking ‘Here we go again..” but thankfully that new character came throught again.
The forwards dominated in the loose and the tight and despite two very soft tries to Bates and Kelleher a half time score of 17-13 must have looked pretty good to Wellington.
The second half was a revelation, the loose trio snaffling huge amounts of loose ball, Rodney So’oailo playing like a number 7. The pick and go worked well, and with the centre combination of Nonu and Smith again to the fore Wellington were rampant in the second half.
Problems? Well, although he didn’t play badly Riki Flutey is not the sort of player we need at first five eighth, his positional and tatical kicking is no existant but he does have a good running game. Sad to say I think he will be a perennial bench player, he is great to have coming off the bench as he covers first five and halfback well but is not specialised enough to start in either position. In my humble opinion Jimmy Gopperth is the man to take over from Holwell when he goes to Leinster with Flutey the perfect backup.
Other than that Wellington really just need to get it together in one game, that hasn’t happened yet, but they are still second on the table, it’s nice to think they still have more left in the tank for the end of the season.
I must also add, putting on my Hurricanes hat, how happy I am with the play of Taranaki. Not only is the forward pack doing the business, but they seemed to have unearthed some very talented backs. Someone should sign up Brock James and Shayne Austin needs to be brought into the ‘Canes for next year. Hopefully the Hurricanes will have two franchise members in the Semi’s!
As for this week, well it is the game I always dread, Wellington always struggle against Auckland, especially when they are playing badly. C’mon boys show a bit of character and composure and we should be alright..

30 Aug

Lucky, lucky Wellington
by Zand Moloney
30 Aug 2004

I don’t know what is going on this season. What one gets used to as a Wellington supporter is that the close games always go against you, and that heartbreaking losses, where wins are deserved are the norm.
This season Wellington have played well in patches but have yet to put a true 80 minute performance together. Despite this they lie third on the table with two wins and a draw, and to be honest they probably deserved to lose against Harbour. Taking nothing away from the Lions defensive effort, which for the second week in a row was superb, but if Harbour managed to cross the lie twice when the try line was begging Wellington would have got nothing from this game.
Rodney So’oailo seems to be growing into his leadership role, his decision to go for a try paid off and levelled the scores at 11 all, which was crucial. He also led the pack well, rucks and mauls were much improved, and again hard driving tackles from the loosies and tight five.
The centre combination of Nonu and Smith is working well, Smith particularly looks good with the ball in hand and puts his wingers into space with hard, straight runs. His run to set up Fa’atau was class, the Lions denied by a great tackle by a player who will join them next season Hosea Gear.
Nonu again broke the line well and seems to have recovered last seasons form after a poor Super 12, it will be interesting to see what happens when Tane Tuipulotu is fully recovered. Whoever sits on the bench will be unlucky as they are all class players and this is before Umaga is brought into the equation.
Shannon Paku had one of his best games in a Wellington jersey, composed at the back, and he timed his attacking runs well.
Overall a good game, but there is no doubt Wellington got a ‘get out of jail free’ card this time.Harbour and their fans must be feeling terribly unlucky and I feel for them. It reminds me of many heartbreaking games at Athletic Park, particularily against Auckland.
Wellington must realise their good fortune and plan for next week. There needs to be a step up in intensity next week considering the form of Waikato in thumping a classy Auckland side.
C’mon Wellington, pack the stadium and fire the boys up for a big one!

30 Aug

The house of bog
by Zand Moloney
30 Aug 2004

Poor, that’s all that can be said of the game against Otago. It describes the playing surface, the standard of play and of course the entertainment dished out to the fans.
To be honest it was always going to be hard to have a good game considering the state of Carisbrook, I think that Otago should have organised another (neutral) place for the game to take place, perhaps Canterbury because ‘The Brook’ was terrible.
The game itself had it’s moments but with the cold and the state of the ground it was always going to be hard to get the passes to stick. Wellington, as is there want, were constantly pushing the pass which led to far to many knock on’s and dropped balls. Someone (ie Mr So’oailo) should have said to the boys ‘Hold on to the pill, go to ground rather than throwing the pass’ but to be honest you can’t take that sort of game away from Wellington teams.
In many ways Wellington were lucky to get a draw, but did well to defend for so long without any possesion or field position. Ben Herring stood out for me, he was constantly on his feet trying to steal the ball, great to see him back from injury and fired up. Kristian Ormsby wasn’t really seen on attack but was great on defence, his work rate was outstanding. The scrum was solid throughout, the lineout was up and down, both teams seemed to be able to steal oppostion ball but struggled to hang onto their own.
David Holwell again showed how important he is to the Lions controlling the game, his kicking very important and his understanding with Piri Weepu seems to be getting better and better. Otherwise the backs had a quiet night, although Ma’a Nonu seems to be getting back into form.
Rodney So’oailo played alot better, hitting the ball up, offloading in the tackle well but there are major problems with his game which will preclude him getting back into the All Blacks. First of all he has to stop his aimless kicks which cause all sorts of problems, turning promising attacking situations into defensive nightmares. I have seen it work once during the Super 12 but otherwise it is diabolically bad. John Plumtree should fine him everytime he does it.
The other thing that worried me was his ill-discipline especially evident during Otago’s rolling mauls. Although the ref warned him that the next player caught doing it would be sent off he continued to try and pull down the Otago pack, not something one would expect from a potential All Black and NPC captain.
The most interesting thing though is the Mr Plumtree finds himself in that rarest of situations for a Wellington coach, having an embarrasment of riches. In almost every position there is competition for places and it will be interesting to see how he rotates the squad, especially in the loose forward and centre combinations. Bring on North Harbour!

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.

27 Apr

This is the end…
by Zand Moloney
27 Apr 2004

Well, that’s it then, the season effectively at an end with two weeks to go. This has been the most frustrating season I have endured watching the ‘Canes because everything looked set for continuation or perhaps improvement on last years form but it seems the team has gone backwards.
The problem seems to be that the Hurricanes tended to rely on one or two game-breakers (Cullen, Lomu and Umaga mostly) to open the game up when nothing else was on, but out of those three players one left to go off-shore, one left through illness, while Umaga spent most of the season trying to shrug off injuries.
The games against the Waratahs and Highlanders summed up the season, not too far off but also not quite there. The inability to regather kick-off’s meant that although the ‘Canes managed to score good tries against an effective NSW unit they were constantly on the back foot. Without much possesion they needed to secure all the ball that came their way, but that didn’t happen.
The Highlanders game was similar, the only reason the ‘Canes stayed close for so long was that the southerners were equally dire. In the end it was the brilliance of Nick Evans, and perhaps the bounce of the ball that went against the boys but really they can’t feel too hard done by.
Colin Cooper has singled out the poor attitude of the players as the main factor in the mediocre efforts, that is no doubt a problem however it seems certain players haven’t been given a fair go.
Kristain Ormsby has always proved himself as a line-out option and with the ball in hand and could count himself unlucky not to get more chances.
Similarly Tane Tuipulotu has been the star back for the ‘Canes and one of the best in the country but had to give up his place to Ma’a Nonu who has been ineffective this season.
Pride is all that is left for the ‘Canes to play for so it would seem that the best thing to do is to give some of the ‘fringe’ players a chance. Thomas Waldrom was a star for the Wellington Lions and should be given a chance at Number 8, and Piri Weepu showed enough skill last week to demand selection for the remaining games against the Brumbies and Crusaders. Also Tony Penn is another that has showed his worth in previous seasons and could by relied upon to deliver the goods again.
It’s time for Cooper to take some chances on youth, perhaps it could pay divdends next season and with this season over that is what he needs to think about.

25 Mar

The entertainers
by Zand Moloney
25 Mar 2004

Just as I start to get despondant the Hurricanes come to play, showing exactly what they can do against the Cats and the Stormers, and then are unlucky losers against the Sharks.
The Stormers game was just the sort of gritty performance that was needed after two losses, then the Cats performance? Well that is why we ‘Canes supporters put up with some abysmal games, tryfests like that.
Perhaps I was a touch harsh about the earlier games, Colin Cooper’s game plan seems to be coming together and those areas that were poor have got much better.
The scrums are improving, and the loose trio have been a revelation, especially Ben Herring who despite his size seems to be the sort of ball-winning terrier we need at openside.
Brent Ward has really taken over well from the great Cullen, but the outstanding backs for me so far have been Ma’a Nonu and Tane Tuipoluto who have formed a great partnership it the midfield.In fact there seems to be depth in all postitions and even stalwarts like David Holwell and Jason Spice know there is pressure for them to perform.
Although much needs to be done for a semi-final place the ‘Canes are looking much more like the team of last year, the one worry is that next up are The Blues who have terrorised us fans since the start of the Super 12.
No matter how badly the Blues play against anyone else they seem to get it together to beat the Hurricanes so I am not at all confident, despite the Blues poor showing so far.
However, if the Hurricanes can overcome what seems to be a mental block about the Blues we may see a new confidence about the team.

7 Feb

Hurricanes '04 Preview
by Zand Moloney
7 Feb 2004

Well summer is here and my mind is focused on one thing, Super 12 rugby and the exploits of my beloved Hurricanes.

For the first time I am filled with genuine optimism, as opposed to blind faith, that things will go well. Normally I am happy if we are not the worst performing New Zealand franchise, now my expectations are a lot higher.

The first reason for this is coach Colin Cooper who did magnificently last year. The ‘Canes were a revelation with good solid forward play augmenting the slick back play that the lads have always been famous for. Cooper drilled the need for a forward platform, and discipline into the team and the results were there to see. Although struggling against the big three of the Blues, Brumbies and Crusaders towards the end I have little doubt that Colin Cooper is by far and away the best man for the job, and one of the best coaches in the country.

Backing up his technical nous is his ability to attract talent to the region, Joe McDonnell, who has been on the fringe of All Black selection, has joined the WRFU along with Tane Tuipulutu who has undoubted talent but cannot justify a regular place in the Auckland teams blessed as they are with so many great midfield backs. Also picking up Hosea Gear on the draft adds to the level in the backline. The reduction of the number of draft players this season also shows how far the franchise has come since the inauguration of the Super 12. Initially we had a hodge-podge of players coming in on the draft from all round the country as far away as Northland and King Country. Now we only have a few players coming in, and all are top quality, either in teams which are not one of the main unions or are behind incumbents at their regions Super 12 team.

I also believe that with the taste of semi-final rugby that the ‘Canes got last year gives them an idea of what the standard required is and that the team will be more prepared should they make that level again. The All Black selection of Collins, So’oailo and Nonu means we have another three players who have made the grade at the highest level and they will be battle hardened from the experience and can share this with the rest of the squad.

One of the only things that has dulled this sense of optimism is the loss of Christian Cullen and Jonah Lomu with one going overseas and another ruled out by illness. Lomu loss was felt last year, but with Brent Ward playing so well the ‘Canes managed to deal with it. That said Jonah is a game breaker with few peers and it is very sad that we will not be able to see him play this season, and possibly ever again, all the best big man.

Personally though I think the loss of Cullen will be greater. He has been there from the start and was always one of our best, if not the best player in the franchise. My favourite memory of Cullen was the game against the Waratahs at McLean park in Napier in 1997 where he managed to run the length of the field, and through the entire Waratahs defence to score under the posts. His ability find gaps from fullback, break the line and make try saving tackles is unparalleled and I doubt we will ever truly replace him. Even last year, with a knee injury robbing him of speed, he still showed what world class skill he has. I wish him all the best at Munster but can’t help thinking it would be better for New Zealand to see him pulling on the Hurricanes jersey at least one more time.
Overall I think that anything less than a semi-final place would be a disappointment from the Hurricanes, this team has experience and skill and within the addition of many of the NPC finalist Wellington Lions, youthful enthusiasm.

Now they seemingly have got rid of the inconsistency tag that dogged them over previous season, now they just have to prove to themselves and us long suffering supporters that they are up to the standards of the Blues, Crusaders and the Brumbies.