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:
14 Roy Kinikinilau
13 Umaga (c)
11 Hosea Gear
2 Hore (vc)
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.by