2 Apr

Dazed and Confused
by Rob Wallace
2 Apr 2001

The Blues blew their semi-final chances with an ill-disciplined and error-ridden inept perfrormance in Sydney losing 35-19 to the Warratahs. The frustrating part was they created more opportunities, scored more tries and looked the more talented team but threw the game away with a petulant self-centred display of non-thinking rugby.

Take Andre Watson, the referee for the game. I’m not a fan of Watson – he errs on the pedantic side, is quite authoritarian with lots of whistle blowing and stoppages for minor incidents – but he is a good referee, and seldom makes mistakes. I know this, surely the Blues know this. But, no, they decide to continually infringe, get all niggly and are penalised out of the game. Burke has 8 kickable penalties and kicks 7 of them – those 21 points made all the difference.

The Blues front row went well, but that was about it. Brooke is again looking like the jaded disinterested player he was at the beginning of 2000, Flavell keep forgetting to play rugby in order to get involved in off the ball incidents, Newby was out of his depth, Parkinson showed no adaptive skills and was penalised so often he almost lost the game single-handedly, while Cribb was anonymous.

The backs weren’t much better. Robinson had a good game but was sinbinned for “lazy running”. OK, so it may be an offence, but 10 in the bin for that? Spencer was his erratic self, and produced too much aimless kicking, while Innes had a good game, solid in defence, distributed well and set up two tries before blowing a third with a poor pass that was intercepted when the Blues had a 5 on 1 overlap. Stanley was rock in midfield – solid on defence but stolid on attack – his distribution is terrible and unless Innes throws a miss pass the wingers don’t receive the ball. Howlett looked sharp and scored a good try as well as making another, Vidiri played as he does, from good to poor in the same game. Ai’i remains a defensive liability, and that would be ok if they actually gave him some ball to make up for his lapses – we see little of his brillint running.

Worse is the whole work ethic of the team. After last weeks poor display against the Chiefs where the Blues seemed to think they only had to turn up to win, this week the team seemed bemused and irritated that the referee would penalise them and got all petulant from then on and forgot about playing decent tight rugby. When they did, they looked great.

It may now be too late to sort this team out. I would drop Brooke, play Taylor and Reichelmann at lock, Flavell on the side and hope Justin Collins is fit soon. Since Ai’i isn’t being used as a runner, Hayden Taylor would be a better defensive option at fullback and I’d love to see Valence or Wilson have a run at centre.

The other NZ games thie weekend were crackers. The Hurricanes found their 2000 form with the forwards outplaying the Crusaders and finally we saw the wonderful Hurricanes backline working properly in their 41-29 win. Standout players for me were Tito, Waller, So’oialo [at openside] and Steinmetz, while Cullen and Umaga showed us what know they can do. Technically it was interesting too, as the Hurricanes used backs to run one off the rucks and mauls rather than forwards. The Crusaders defensive line has always been founded on having large forwards in the backline to stop big runners bursting through making their defensive line hard to penetrate close in. But while those props can pull down a charging forward they aren’t mobile enough to catch a quickstepping back and Wellington took advantage of this.

The best game was the Chiefs 50-19 victory over the Highlanders. I have been impressed with Otago over the last few weeks as they looked to be coming into some form, and they still played quite well but were thrashed by a very impressive Chiefs side. The Chiefs made few errors, their defence was outstanding and they were clinical in their finishing – this was the best display of rugby from a NZ team this year – the whole team was superb.

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