23 Mar

Now You See It, Now You Don't
by Paul Waite
23 Mar 2003

It was another very entertaining and informative week in the Super 12 championship here in the sunny South. Totai Kefu provided us with a wonderful demonstration of how to go about motivating a team before a big game, when he obligingly rarked up the Blues in the media midweek.

The 62-20 humiliation of his “full strength” team can, in some part, be attributed to his dismissive opinion that they “weren’t that good”, and implications that they had scored most of their points by dint of opportunistic fluke. This all goes to show that, just because a bloke is bloody good at playing rugby, it doesn’t necessarily translate into being good at analysing it. It seems to me that even a complete imbecile could see that the Blues “opportunism” was the direct result of the pressure they put on their opposition; something no doubt, that a much sadder, and much wiser Totai could now testify to, having felt it first-hand last Friday evening.

Tappe Henning refereed the game in question and also provided some much-needed enlightenment into the complex world of refereeing. The Reds mauled the ball over the line in a shapeless mele of steaming imbecility, some of which were yelling “try ref!” and others (who seemed to be wearing blue, shouting something extremely rude, and to the contrary. Henning naturally went to the Third Moron Off-screen (TMO) who obviously replied with something like “search me, over to you mate”. Henning then gave the try, opining that he couldn’t see any reason that it wouldn’t be one.

Well strike me down with a feather. I’d naively thought, all this time, that it might have to be the other way around: ie. don’t give the try unless you can see a reason it *was* scored, given that a hand, an arm, a leg or some of the more unspeakable parts of the human anatomy might be placed betwixt ball and ground at the critical moment. So, using the very latest “I see no evil” Henning logic, if a Blues player sneaked a ball from a ball-boy and walked upfield un-remarked whilst play was at a standstill for some reason at the other end, it must be a try. After all the ref wouldn’t have seen the intercept, wouldn’t have seen the dash to the try-line and wouldn’t have seen the ball forced, but also wouldn’t have seen anything to indicate that it wasn’t a try either, so it must be a try eh? Colour me confused on that one but good old Oberfuhrer Henning has ever been thus.

The highlight of the game itself was the ever-marvellous Carlos Spencer. In the previous weeks I’ve said he’s back to his electric best. That’s wrong. Truth is I don’t think Spencer has ever played as well as we’re seeing him play right now. Even in 1997, as first-choice for the All Blacks he wasn’t as utterly dangerous with the ball in hand. He seems to have a real-time 3D map in his head of just where everyone is and six times the computing power of everyone else in coming up with a solution to avoid them. At this rate he won’t just be a chance of playing in the World Cup for the All Blacks, he’ll have Mitchell ringing him up every evening just to make sure he’s still coming.

Over the Tasman things initially looked good for the Waratahs, then they turned to shit. Actually the Tahs turned things brown themselves by blowing a gimme try in the turning point of the game mid second-half. After an early 21-0 deficit the Stormers had fought back well, but the Tahs were just about controlling things. Rogers made a superb break down the left and had the much feted Nathan Blacklock inside. Blacklock got the ball with the line begging but inexplicably decided it would be much more impressive if he beat yet another defender, like last week, before scoring and turned the wrong way. Bzzzt. Blown try. The Stormers brewed, and the Tahs gagged. It was touch and go, but the Stormers were the stronger finishers, with the home team reverting somewhat to their previous season’s lightweight play.

One other thing which struck me in this game was the complete ordinariness of Tahs halfback Whittaker. This bloke makes Justin Marhsall’s passing look crisp and quick by comparison, and that says it all. Much of the Tahs’ static backline movement in multi-phase play was the result of his dithery distribution.

Over at Kings Park the Highlanders flung themselves into the shallow end with the Hammerheads, and just about deserved to win a dour struggle. In a week where Taine Randell was taken to task for speaking his mind over a painfully obvious discrepancy in the South African disciplinary board’s consistency, the men from Otago did well to keep it together for this one. Actually maybe it helped them in an “us vs. them” team bonding scenario, who knows.

As for Randell’s outburst, it was very silly of him to expect that a South African board would mete out proportional punishment when on the one hand the offender was South African, and on the other a putative New Zealander. Pigs might fly before that happens. A deliberate flying head-butt which was definitely intended to harm the buttee got Venter 4 weeks suntan time. A raised knee against a South African player which was debatably intended to harm but was most likely just stupid and reckless got Tuilevu 50% more. Was this a reasonable advertisment for fairness in our game? I think not.

More power to Taine Randell and any other player willing to speak out despite the draconian muzzling clauses in their contracts, when the powers that be are doing a piss-poor job. Remember how John McEnroe raised the appalling standards of tennis umpiring by refusing to pander to the “old boys” in charge? Same thing here. Bringing the game into disrepute my arse.

Still in the Republic, the Canes blew away the Pussies in a meeting of two sides which like to play a helter-skelter style of rugby. The kiwi visitors stuffed the Cats by four tries to two, grabbing a full set of points, and moving up to fourth on the table. If they aren’t careful people will start to take them seriously. We’re presuming that normal service will be resumed once they get back to this neck of the woods.

Over the Tasman we were treated to a thrashing of the same kind of order as the Blues vs Reds match on Friday. The Brumbies hummed and clicked and totally rodgered the hapless Bulls who looked one-dimensional and tired.

Apart from the free-scoring blitz visited on the boys in blue during the second half, the highlight of the game for me was a complex dance of confusion enacted by referee Steve Walsh and George Gregan. “Sorry!” the ever-apologetic Walsh blurted, stepping right into Gregan’s path when the diminutive robo-half sought to feed a scrum. “Re-scrum.” he added, as the pack popped up. “I’ll step to my left.” he helpfully informed George, as the scrum set itself once more. Completely suckered in by the courteous Walsh, the intrepid Wallaby halfback surged forward, ball at the ready, only to be castled in a collision that must have rattled his upper set by a referee who might know his arse from his elbow, but not his right from his left.

It probably wasn’t payback for all the gob that Gregan visits on referess, and was just an example of Extreme Silliness but whatever the case it brought a chuckle as we watched it unfold. To be honest I have to admit to wishing that, one day, Walsh would cease and desist from his over-empathetic approach to refereeing and would, for once, simply tell a whinging skipper who hasn’t a clue about the Laws but thinks its part of his job description to have the ref on, to “just fuck off back 10 metres and stop embarassing yourself on TV”.

For the record Walsh said “sorry” a lot more instead, and the Brumbies won the game as easily as the 64-26 scoreline suggests, continuing in their march back to form, despite losing key player Stirling Mortlock for the season.

Finally, the Player of the Round for me has to be Matt Rogers of the Tahs. As a league convert Rogers breaks the mold. The lad is sublimely skilled with a swerve on him that would bamboozle even the most seasoned defender. Add to that his vision – the ability to be in the right place at the right time – and you have a potent package. He’s got to be a cert for a Wallaby jersey in this coming World Cup.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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