30 Jul

Watch Out Jerry
by WAJ
30 Jul 2007

Only 15 sleeps to go and the excitement is just starting to creep in.
Melbourne is of course completely immune to it all, too busy focussed on
drugs, suspensions and sacked coaches in the AFL and their finals around
the corner as well.

Though I will say that the mighty Melbourne Rebels
have taken an early lead in the Aus Provincial Champs, and even managed
to attract close to 5000 for their debut game in Melbourne. Enough – I
know – who cares about non-rugby Aus sport!

More importantly the AB’s are in their final phase of their home

So we are about to find out how much past their peak this
team really is!?!? I see it this way – we have dominated on every NH
tour we have undertaken over the last 3 years and in fact are unbeaten
in doing so. We have beaten the best France, England and Ireland can
throw at us, often by considerable margins with mix and match teams, and
this after long S14 and International seasons.

This team plays well at
the end of the year! Of course we have the usual barrage from all and
sundry, especially over here, about the choking in the past and the
current hobby horse of being past it, though how a team with it’s best
XV having an average age of 26.9 and average caps of 40 (compared with
Aust of 28.0 and 51 respectively) is past it is beyond me. Still that is
the Aussie go – have a huge bash at the team considered their strongest
opposition in the hope it will get them some advantage.

Though somehow,
when Jerry Collins is making his umpteenth play of the game, he isn’t
going to suddenly think "oh shit we’re past it, better be a bit shy in
this contact". Good luck to them!

And how great is it to see Hawkes Bay in the Top 4 of the ANZC. All
power to them, and beating a top province like North Harbour will only
give them more confidence. And big Troyser launches his campaign to
usurp Jerry Collins on the blindside flank this Friday – pity is it’s
about 2 – 3 months too late!

And so to the games:

Counties Manukau v Hawkes Bay – you have to fancy HB continuing on their
merry way here. Recent results against North Harbour by both teams would
suggest a close win to HB. Both teams have talented individuals in the
backline, and this is where CM will need to get the best of Masaga and
Ta’auso to have any chance. But HB looked after the well credentialled
NH backline last week, and expect they will do it again. The big question
will be how many people turn up on a Thursday night?
Hawkes Bay 1 – 12

Southland v Northland – The inbreds v the potheads – surely a true
classic in the making. You could probably make a movie about it – say a
cross between The Waterboy, Good Bye Pork Pie and Up in Smoke – no rugby
but plenty of fun getting there. I fancy a close Southland win. They
have improved of late and will be too strong at home. Northland will
back themselves though, and if not winning have been super competitive -
won’t like the cold though, rain OK, cold no. Southland 1 – 12

Auckland v Taranaki – Taranaki always play well against Auckland, but
the mighty Auks are on a roll and will be far too strong, especially up
front with what is a fairly large and mobile pack – and I see they have
named a 5:2 bench as well. Taranaki will bring their usual gutsy effort
but will be blown away by this very good Akld team
Auckland 13+

Bay of Plenty v Otago – BoP will be disappointed to lose to Manawatu,
and seem doomed to haunt the bottom of the table this year – they simply
lack any class or experience in a lot of positions. Otago too are on a
low too but have enough to win this.
Otago 13+

Wellington v Tasman – The Trans-Cook Cup! Big brother will eat up little
brother and spit him back to where he belongs. Just too much experience
up front, and too much class out back, very typical of a lot of these
type of games in the ANZC where of course the S14 base teams will
dominate – a bit of a yawn really.
Wellington 13+

North Harbour v Waikato – NH have been pretty crap all year. Their most
dominant performance was against Taranaki in the 1st Shield defence and
they only just held on there in the end. They win enough ball, though
their scrum is a bit dodgy with the 2 young props, but something is not
quite clicking in the backs – is Wulf a 2 5/8, does Pisi control the
game well enough from 1 5/8, some of his option taking seems
questionable. Waikato will be nicely primed for this, back to full
strength and thus with a very solid set of forwards, if a bit light at
lock, and a mix of young and old in the backs led by the most improved
player in NZ rugby at 1 5/8. The Duck has really stepped forward this
year, and I for one roundly criticised him, but he has plugged away and
though he has the worst kicking style, he is mightily effective with it.
Needs to nurse his inexperienced midfield through this, especially the
challenge Tuitavake presents. But Waikato will be too good for a
disfunctional NH
Waikato 13+

Canterbury v Manawatu – refer Wellington v Tasman.
Canterbury 13+

Regards Waj

19 Jul

Get on Board
by WAJ
19 Jul 2007

Not one to blow my trumpet, but come on guys lift your game. Or is it
that being exposed to 7 games of rugby a week you are confused by it all
- mind you if you are a Southland or Taranaki supporter you bloody
should be. I see the lower divisions start this week – how the hell do
you a draw a line through that lot? Usual suspects I suppose, with a
good dose of guess work in the early rounds to back it up.

What is up with the likes of Wellington and North Harbour. Stacked with
S14 players, plenty of pedigree, but up and down like whore’s drawers.
No Umaga retiring or Weepu dropping occasion to fire up Wgtn this week,
and they seem to need that sort of spark, and NH continue to be bloody
awful, all class – no substance perhaps, though I suppose in fairness
they do have some very young players – a short RS reign though methinks.

The Aus provincial champs started last weekend using modified
Stellenbosch rules. Went OK too, though will reserve judgement until I
see a game played live – go the mighty Melbourne Rebels!!

This weekends games:

Northland v Tasman – Can Nthld continue their impressive start to the
ANZC? They have a good mix of old S14 heads and local players and in
typical no nonense Nthld style get on with it. Tasman have also been
solid this year but without Jack and away from home will struggle here.
Northland 13+

Waikato v Counties-Manukau – A good win to Waikato here. C-M are another
one of the erratic sides around, good one week, average the next. This
is the poor week, and whilst they will start with a hiss and a roar, the
all round strength of Waikato will see them through to a comfortable
victory. I see Messam is on the bench, even with Lauaki gone – needs to
show he can play it in the tight consistently as well as the loose stuff
I reckon.
Waikato 13+

Hawkes Bay v North Harbour – Hell this is a toughie. Harbour have been
crap away from home so far this year, well they didn’t look that flash
at home either to be fair, and Hawkes Bay have been a revelation. But
you would think Harbour have just enough class to see them home in a
close one.
North Harbour 1 – 12

Southland v Auckland – Plenty of changes for the mighty Auks and that is
probably the most interesting thing about this game. How will Taumopeau
go at hooker especially with his lineout throwing, will big Troyser have
some of his dash back, is using the back up loosies and 1 5/8 too much
of a risk, and great to see another Stanley out and about. Weather looks
OK, so Auckland by plenty against an improving Southland side who will
be out-paced and out-classed
Auckland 13+

Taranaki v Otago – Taranaki will want to make amends for last weekends
poor performance, and they have the opportunity against an average Otago
side. Home town wins are extremely valuable and Taranaki won’t want 2
home losses in a row. But Otago still may be to strong here and will win
in a close one.
Otago 1 – 12

Canterbury v Wellington – the game all Canterbury supporters dread -
will their bogey team strike again. I think not. It is looking more and
more like an Akld v Cant final already as both teams continue to post
impressive victories on the back of their huge player depth. This is a
good Cant team and, and they get to add Gear this week. Wellington are
too erratic, have lost their AB’s, and Umaga, and will struggle.
Canterbury 13+

Manawatu v Bay of Plenty – A pretty even match up this and very tempted
to go for Manawatu at home. But they just struggle to win at all. BoP -
well they are at the bottom of a rebuilding phase, but retain some
players who can guide them through this sort of game and for that reason
am backing them, again in a close one.
Bay of Plenty 1 – 12

Regards Waj

16 Jul

How Easy Is This
by WAJ
16 Jul 2007

Hawkes Bay’s Clint Newland gets 10 weeks I see, entirely appropriate that he doesn’t play again
this year I reckon.

And what about the crap flying around in the Aussie media of late. On one side we have Greg Growden reporting on all sorts of issues amongst the Wallabies coaching and support staff, and on the other Wayne Smith in The Australian saying there is no disharmony at all, just a bit of
robust discussion from time to time. All has gone quiet now, the Wobblies are in a 5 day survival camp (strange timing I would have thought 4 weeks out from the WC), but quite bizarre that 2 journo’s should square off in this manner. Who knows what to believe – can’t be helping though:-)

And I see Williams and Robinson, amongst others, sat out yesterdays practice game. Great, Williams plays 2 games and he gets injured. With Robinson injured again I wonder if Henry is wishing he had Flavell in his 30?

And don’t expect to see the selectors much this weekend – they will be
off scouting Romania v Neath and Portugal v Canada XV – wouldn’t want
any WC surprises!

So to round 3.

Bay of Plenty v Northland – Northland have been going very well so far
this season, perhaps, with Hawkes Bay, the surprise packet. Bay continue
to struggle with a lot of new faces, the loss of experience a telling
factor. Holwell in and Castle out swings it to Northland for me, but not
much in it.
Northland 1 – 12

Counties Manukau v North Harbour – CM will battle all season, no depth,
lack class in the inside backs, and Masaga and Ormsby can do little to
stem the tide. I think Harbour will cut loose this week after 2 tight
games. Either way it is an indicator of where Harbour are heading this
season, an unimpressive showing here will not augur well for the big
guns they have yet to face.
Harbour 13+

Tasman v Hawkes Bay – This game is a bit dependent on whether Jack is
playing. Both sides have had good starts, especially HB and more than
anything this will give them confidence. But the opposition will be
primed for them now. I think these 2 teams are pretty evenly matched,
Jack (in his final game for Tasman – so that makes it what 5 or 6 – a
great buy in the end) would definitely swing it, and on the basis he is
playing am going Tasman in a tight one.
Tasman 1 – 12.

Wellington v Manawatu – A thrashing. Nothing more or less will surfice
in Tana’s last game in NZ. Wellington need to start putting consistent
form on the board. Manawatu have nothing.
Wellington 13+

Auckland v Waikato – now we’re talking. Finally a game to attract some
interest. You would hope a crowd turns up for this, and I mean 25k plus,
or what does that say about the ANZC. We have two pretty evenly matched
sets of forward packs, the battle between the loosies should be a beaut.
Auckland look to be stronger in the backs, and this will be a good test
for some of the emerging players in the Waikato backline. The key will
be Waikato’s ability, or not, to shut down the free flowing Auckland
game and if Donald can dominate and Lauaki run a bit they could well
win. A better performance by Auckland last week though, and with the
addition of Braid to the starting lineup, and big Troyser off the bench,
means they will send Howlett off to the WC with a good win.
Auckland 13+

Otago v Canterbury – It wouldn’t surprise me if Canterbury rested some
players for the harder games to come in this match. Even at Carisbrook
Otago will struggle to be in this at halftime and will continue the
downward spiral, down, down, down……
Canterbury 13+

Taranaki v Southland – a top game for Sunday afternoon viewing, bound to
pull in spectators from all over the place. Sky must cringe when this
sort of game pops up on a Sunday. Southland have been a real
disappointment so far, a better performance last week against Waikato,
but still 0 for 2. Taranaki really took it to Harbour, and that form
should see them home but not by much
Taranaki 1 – 12

Regards Waj

13 Jul

The North Island Benefit Comp
by WAJ
13 Jul 2007

With apologies to Canterbury.

But some woeful performances from SI teams doesn’t augur well for the
rest of the ANZC, or for the Highlanders in the 2008 S14.

No wonder
Cooper moved! The highlight of last weekend has to be the performance of
Hawkes Bay, to win in Invercargill was a great effort. And Southland,
with 10 or so S14 players fronting, a disgrace!

And why aren’t more AB’s playing in the ANZC? I would be resting Woody,
Haymaker, the 3 loosies, Carter & Toeava. It is not as if the rest have
had an overtaxing season, with all apart from the aforementioned 7
having injury interruped seasons or part of the 22 or both. Don’t
Muliaina, Mauger and Big Kev need more game time? They are rugby players
for God sakes – so let them play rugby.

So to the games.

Tasman v Manawatu – intriguing match up this. Both didn’t disgrace
themselves last week, Tasman look to have strengthened up considerably
in the forwards with the addition of Jack, a good foil for Triggs the
main Manawatu lineout threat. Two pretty even teams really with home
advantage perhaps the deciding factor.
Tasman 1 – 12

BoP v Auckland – the loss of a number of players has seen the Bay drop
back to the pack after a few years of good results. They will be cannon
fodder for the mighty Auks, who have made a raft of changes as Lam tries
to find his best 15. These 2 teams best illustrate the gulf between the
haves(or S14 centres) and have nots (the rest). Wouldn’t Bay love to
have the luxury of rotating the likes of Braid and Macdonald.
Auckland 13+

Otago v Northland
– based on results Northland should win this, but I
think the kick in the pants they would have received as a result of the
loss to Wgtn will mean the Otago side will come out all guns blazing.
They are not a good enough team to run away with this, but at home will
win comfortably enough.
Otago 1 – 12

Hawkes Bay v Wellington – up yours says Weepu, and what a revelation he
was. Where was that sort of form in the 3N? A good performance last
week, admitedly against 15 revolving doors. Wgtn could give the ANZC a
bit of a shake up, plenty of depth all over the park, with a lot of NZ
Juniors make them 2nd favorites in my book. Expect a relatively easy win
against a good HB side that lacks the overall class of Wgtn and who now
won’t be taken as easy as previous form would suggest.
Wellington 13+

Waikato v Southland – well this is an easy game to sum up – Southland
need to pull the finger out of their collective arses or they will get
belted by an even larger margin than last week. Waikato obviously don’t
think much of them, resting Gibbes and Holah. Thus Southland will come
out breathing all sorts of smoke and ash, be very direct with their big
forward pack, but will still lose to an improving Waikato team.
Waikato 13+

North Harbour v Taranaki – NH would be the most erratic team around.
Capable of some quiet brilliant running rugby, but still battle a bit
with the basics and thus struggle. They look a bit stronger up front
this week and will need to be on their game for the full 80 minutes
against a typically yeoman like Taranaki. The Ranfurly Shield will
ensure NH are focused, and those classy backs will be the winning of
this game.
North Harbour 13+

Counties Manukau v Canterbury
– clearly the overall standard in the ANZC
has lifted this year. CM were very solid last week, and but for a bit
more class in some positions would have run Auckland a lot closer. Again
you feel this week will go along similair lines. How much better would
CM be with say Brett, Tuiali’I and Johnstone in their respective key
positions. They haven’t of course so that is all moot, but CM are a
good, gutsy team, well coached and capable of an upset or 2. That won’t
happen here with enough wise heads to see Canterbury home reasnobly
Canterbury 13+

12 Jun

You've gotta love it…
by Tracey Nelson
12 Jun 2007

Despite some vacuous wailings coming from certain media circles in the past few weeks, the Air New Zealand Cup provincial rugby competition is not in decline and a boring spectacle, but is alive and kicking. Kicking some serious butt, in actual fact.

Last year saw the launch of the Air New Zealand Cup competition, with the previous NPC revamped from three divisions into just two – ostensibly to distinguish between the professional and amateur levels of the game in our provinces. Fourteen teams now make up the Premier Division, with Hawkes Bay, Counties-Manukau, Manawatu, and Tasman (the amalgamation of Marlborough and Nelson Bays) coming up from Division Two to join the established Division One sides.

In 2006, Manawatu and Tasman certainly struggled with the step up to the Premier Division and despite some brave performances finished at the bottom of the ladder, Manawatu only managing a draw as their best result. Hawkes Bay and Counties-Manakau also battled to be competitive against the bigger guns in their first year back at the top level for some time. The doomsayers shook their heads and predicted that these teams would continue to struggle, and really what was the point in them trying to compete with the Super unions because the gap was too big. It was never going to work.

However, in the space of just one year the worm has well and truly turned and the big guys are being taught a lesson or two in how the game is played out in the provinces. This has been a timely reminder for some top professional players that rugby is not a game for Nancy Boys, and you do have to get your jersey dirty from time to time. Yes, we may not be seeing the sweeping try movements we’re used to on the firm, late summer ground we have in the Super 14, but the ANZC games are no less of a spectacle in my opinion. Given the wet, wintery conditions in many of the games to date, there have been some exceptional performances and honest endeavour to play fifteen man rugby. Good old fashioned rugby at that, you might say.

Hawkes Bay have proven to be giant slayers, first winning a slug-fest against last year’s semi-finalist Wellington in the rain and mud at Blue Chip Stadium (and teaching them a thing or two about scrummaging on the way), then two weeks later producing another home win against Ranfurly Shield holders North Harbour. Tasman managed to topple Hawkes Bay in Blenheim between times, showing the visitors that you can’t assume you’ll win a game on the back of your last performance.

Manawatu topped things off in Round 4 by recording a famous victory at FMG Stadium in Palmerston North – beating Bay of Plenty in their first Premier Divison win for 19 years. And not just by a point or two, but beating them comprehensively with some tremendous backline moves to score four tries and come away with maximum points from the game. This was just reward for a side that has toiled tirelessly without result, yet has a loyal fan base that turn out every game despite the lack of wins.

Barely into the second year of the new provincial competition, suddenly we’re not seeing teams going into games against the minnows confident of coming away with a win. They are having to work hard to score points and in some cases are lucky to come out with the win. Despite Auckland and Canterbury heading the points table, I’m not sure that anyone thought Hawkes Bay would be sitting in third place behind them. Nor that the likes of Northland and Tasman would be in the top half of the table while Wellington, North Harbour and Otago are sitting forlornly below.

There is a new excitement pumping in the veins of the forgotten provinces, the unions who have had to fight hard to keep their heads above the financial waterline as the game went professional with the added crisis of urban drift decimating their rugby playing populations. But they’re back, and although it’s a gradual strengthening it’s a strengthening nonetheless. It’s great to see the familiar face of provincial rugby again, and how refreshing it is to see some traditional props, guys who look like they ate the entire menu at KFC but who can scrummage till the cows come home. Likewise it’s nice to know there are still some skinny chaps that can run like whippets playing out on the wings. As one mate quipped recently – even better than watching is listening to the local radio commentators giving their version of what’s going on. Plenty of Kiwi accents and parochialism, mixed with decidedly non-PC comment.

So by all means try and tell the folk in Napier, Blenheim, Palmerston North and any of our other provincial centres that the ANZC is boring, and nobody is interested in it. I dare say that like their rugby teams, they would be more than capable of taking you on in that argument and coming out on top.

[In the picture above the representatives of the four new teams are: Tasman's Nathan George, Counties Manukau's Ben Meyer, Manawatu's Josh Bradnock and Hawke's Bay's Mutu Ngarimu.]

3 Oct

Blowing the whistle on the whistle blowers
by Tracey Nelson
3 Oct 2006

A friend recently put forward the comment that the confusion and lack of consistency in rulings at the breakdown is a serious issue, and that someone needs to figure out a workable solution. Not surprisingly, it’s also come up for some discussion after the last Air New Zealand Cup round.
In my opinion there IS a workable solution. Referee the laws the way they are written. Currently, NZ referees are allowing players arriving at the breakdown to go in off their feet and not bind to another player. It is blatantly incorrect, yet they are allowing it to happen. As soon as a player comes in off their feet at a ruck it should be a penalty. Pure and simple.

If they penalised players going off their feet, we would have a lot more clarity at the breakdown. It would be very obvious when the tackler is on his feet and trying to play the ball, and whether or not the tackled player has released the ball immediately or is hanging on to it. At the moment there are too many instances of the tackler being legitimately on his feet and playing the ball, but then being pushed down by opposition players flopping all over him as they try to form a ruck.

A ruck forms when the ball is on the ground and one or more players from each team are on their feet over the ball, and at least one player is in physical contact with an opponent. The key words in the formation of a ruck are “players on their feet”. Apparently those words have mutated in the minds of referees, as it seems that it’s now perfectly legal for players to launch themselves into rucks with no attempt to bind or remain on their feet.

Inconsistent applications of the laws during games are also frustrating for both the players and spectators. One such example could be taken from the Canterbury-Auckland match midway through the second half:

A Canterbury player was tackled, and Devine and Carter arrived almost simultaneously at the breakdown. Devine was on his feet attempting to play ball as Carter tried to bind to him to form a ruck. A further player from each side also arrived a split second later and the ruck was formed just as the referee blew the whistle to award a penalty against the Canterbury player for not releasing the ball in the tackle.

Five minutes later an identical situation arose, with Devine once again the player on his feet attempting to wrestle the ball free just before the ruck formed, but this time he was told to take his hands off it. The two situations were almost indistinguishable, yet the rulings were poles apart as one was deemed a tackle situation yet the second was apparently a ruck despite the players being in exactly the same positions.

Little wonder then that the players (and public) are confused as to what they can and can’t do, when there is so much variation even within a game. Of course, this isn’t just limited to New Zealand, it’s a world-wide problem. Whilst the long-term solution seems to be the tweaking of the laws that are to come into being following the 2007 World Cup, in the meantime it would help if referees were directed to rule correctly to the laws and not allow players to go off their feet at the ruck.

24 Sep

Friday night fizzers
by Tracey Nelson
24 Sep 2006

The major outcome of the New Zealand rugby weekend nearly escaped under the blip of the radar, thanks to the hopeless TV schedule we have in place at the moment. No, I’m not talking about new-kids Tasman thrashing Northland by 56-15 on Saturday afternoon, but rather North Harbour finally getting something to put in their dusty trophy cabinet after lifting the Ranfurly Shield off Canterbury just after 6pm on Sunday evening.

That this game was relegated to the 4.35pm Sunday slot when all other games were completed by Saturday night was something of an insult to Harbour, Canterbury and the Ranfurly Shield, so in many ways it was rather pertinent that against the odds Harbour won the game and the coveted Log of Wood. It was against the odds that Harbour (who in 10 previous challenges had failed to win the Shield) did manage to come out on top as far as the scoreboard went, because Canterbury were dominant in just about every other facet of the game. Ranfurly Shield history has long been about teams who take their chances and nail their points, and on September 24 2006 that is exactly what Harbour did. Along with some tenacious defence and endless tackles, they eventually denied Canterbury the chance of winning the game. But I wonder how many people actually saw the game?

Congratulations to Harbour, but shame on those who decided this game should be played late on a Sunday afternoon. Why did it not get a Friday night spot? What was the reasoning behind playing Counties-Manukau vs Manawatu in the second leg of the Friday night double? While the 6.05pm game between the two Bay teams had a bit of skill on display and would have been a nice lead-in to a top six game, instead we had to watch the bungling efforts of two Repechage teams who quite frankly made the 80 minutes as tedious as an international long-haul flight in economy class – except at least you know you have duty free shopping to look forward to at the end of that. The only thing everyone was looking forward to at the end of the last Friday night’s second game was the final whistle blowing.

Meanwhile, the Waikato-Wellington game only got the 5.30pm slot on Saturday evening, with the Auckland-Otago game apparently getting top billing for the weekend. What a shame, because the best viewing spectacle of the weekend was undoubtedly the game out of Waikato Stadium. Both Waikato and Wellington were deserving of the Friday night slot with the standard of rugby that we saw. Obviously someone must really dislike Harbour though, because their second round draw has them playing one 2.30pm and two 4.35pm Sunday games – not a single top time slot for them.

What the powers-that-be need to get through their heads is that there is only so much rugby a soul can watch, and the NZ rugby public are discerning enough that they want quality not quantity. Hence they a) aren’t turning up at the games (the three Big Six games averaged out at around 12 000 spectators per game this weekend) and b) they are going to find something else to do on a Friday night than sit down and watch what is essentially Division 2 rugby. Most punters would be more interested in reading the fine print on their beer mat than keeping an eye on some of these Repechage games, and you really can’t blame them for that.

Thankfully this coming week we finally get a Top Six game on a Friday night, and with most of the All Blacks back in action hopefully we will finally see some top rugby and in the proper time slots!

21 Nov

Say No To Yellow
by Paul Waite
21 Nov 2005

It’s time the IRB had a good hard look at the whole idea of the sin-bin, and what it is doing to our game. The body which runs the game recently made a decision which is absolutely right for rugby, by awarding New Zealand the 2011 Rugby World Cup. It has shown it values the things that the game stands for, and did not ‘sell out’, as everyone widely expected.

So let’s look back at some other basic tenets of our game and consider the sin-bin in the light of these. In days of yore rugby was a very simple game, where two teams were assembled, and people watched the game to see which of the teams would prove to be the best.

There is a wonderful clarity about those days. There were no subsitututes, virtually nothing in the way of policing of foul play, very little in the way of rules, except for what constituted a score, and certainly nothing resembling a ‘sin-bin’.

Two teams fronted up, and the strongest prevailed, end of story.

Moving forward in time the game became more structured, with rules being invented to control modes of play, but there were still no substitutes. Two teams took the field with 15 players, and the strongest prevailed. If anyone got injured, then they obviously weren’t strong or canny enough, and bad luck – all part of the game.

Stepping into the time machine again we zip forward, and find that substitutes are allowed – for injuries validated by a doctor. We still have reasonable clarity of the teams and the outcome, since only badly injured players were replaced.

Nearer to today, professionalism brought a huge decrease in the aforementioned clarity. It muddied the waters considerably by increasing the number of subsitututes, and allowing them to be brought on at any time. Moreover, the ‘blood replacement’ laws allowed players to temporarily leave, be patched up and go back on. All very confusing for the spectator as compared with yesteryear.

But this way of playing the game has indeed settled over the past 10 years or so, and has largely been a success in the modern game with the very high workloads and therefore fitness required of the players. Usually we do see a pretty clear result with XV versus XV (with a few late replacements, or the odd injury-related replacement) in the mixture.

The sin-bin is the joker in this pack of cards, and has the capacity to totally ruin a fine, tight test match as a spectacle within minutes.

The intent of the yellow card is to allow the referee the option of punishing a set of fouls which are viewed as ‘spoiling’ the game, and which have not ceased due to other remedies, such as verbal warnings, free-kicks and/or penalties. The usual format is that a team infringes, and attracts a penalty or two. Then they infringe in the same way again, and are given a verbal warning along with the penalty against them, that the yellow card is next if they repeat the offence. If the offence is repeated, then the player committing it is sent from the field for 10 minutes.

This escalation is all very well in theory, but in practice it has an effect which, in my view, is so detrimental to the overall game that it is worse than not having it.

In other words, to exemplify to the extreme, it’s a bit like trying to cure a child of a bad habit by shooting it in the head. Sure enough they won’t ever do that bad thing again but…

The result of sending a player from the field for 10 minutes, is to totally destroy what in my view is one of the basic tenets of rugby – that the result should be decided by XV against XV to see which is the best.

The yellow card (sin-bin) should be removed from the game in my opinion, and replaced by a panel or panels set up by the IRB to review test matches for cycnical or professional fouls and the like, in a consistent manner, and mete out punishments to help remove these from the game in the way that yellow cards are failing to do.

Aside from the basic violation of a cornerstone of rugby the yellow card system has another basic flaw. Every single referee has a different set of criteria for its use, and therefore this devastating punishment is never going to be used consistently, as exemplified by the hair-trigger yellow carding performance of Alan Lewis in the England vs New Zealand test last weekend.

I call on the IRB to at the very least review the yellow card and its awful effect on what should be the very best spectacle rugby can offer – the tightly fought test match between the top rugby nations of the World.

Hopefully some sense and canny analysis can prevail here as it did with their wonderful decision to award New Zealand the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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13 Aug

NPC Kickoff!
by WAJ
13 Aug 2005

Real Rugby is at last back on the screen for the season. You just can’t beat watching two New Zealand provincial footy teams going at it.

Suddenly the National Rugby Burden is lifted from the shoulders and you find yourself watching a game with your National Pride safely tucked away where it can’t get hurt.

Passions are still fired when your own province is involved, especially with a close rival province but it’s a safe warm and cozy home-fires type of passion, and one which feels as comfy as a well-loved pair of slippers.

Last night we had Waikato vs Taranaki. There was a lot of kicking, and a lot of mistakes from both teams in their first outing of the NPC season together, but it didn’t matter. It was just great stuff to watch on a Friday night.

The only discordant note was the referee’s uniforms.

Who, in their wisdom, decided that it would be a great idea if our referees were made to look like a bunch of faggots on their way to a pyjama party?

Luckily the ref was Lyndon Bray, who is a fairly imposing sort of bloke. Smaller, yappier refs might just get laughed at by the players in future fixtures. The costume just looks bloody stupid, and the NZRFU needs to dump ‘em and get down to the local Canterbury Clothing shop smartly to pick up some shorts, socks and jerseys which look like they’re actually designed to be on a footy field, instead of inside a harem.

Ah well. Even with a pansy in silk drawers wielding the whistle, it was great to be back watching NPC.

Bring it on!

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.