24 Feb

Slippery When Wet
by Paul Waite
24 Feb 2003

For once all the bad weather was over in Australia where the busy buzzy Waratahs bizzed and buzzed and lost to a Blues team which looks like it is going to be tough to beat.

Wet weather marred the game and seemed to turn the high-tech plastic/rubber ball into a bar of soap. Why is it, in these days of orgasm-inducing technology (so we’re told) they can’t come up with a compound which is at least reasonably grippy in the wet? The sight of the thing squirting out of a firm hold to land eight metres away without the excuse of a collision should have the men in white lab-coats nervously jiggling the pens in their top pockets and wondering whether they’ll have jobs on monday.

Aside from that the game showed us that the Blues have successfully translated their last season NPC form into the Super 12. The key feature of this is a tough uncompromising, swarming defence reminiscent of the Crusaders famous Oh-fensive Dee-fence, but it doesn’t end there. Starting from a basis of that defensive effort the team has sharp fangs on attack. The back three have pace to burn with The World’s Best Winger playing at fullback, and twin speedsters Caucau and Rokokoko on the flanks. In particular Rupeni Caucau is something very special indeed, with an acceleration over 15m which would require most of us to wear a G-suit to protect against blackout.

Added to an already explosive mixture was Orene Ai’i, who replaced the mercurial Carlos Spencer at first-five eighth very late in the piece. This ex-sevens star turned on a performance which should see him secure in the spot for at least the next round. The Waratahs loosies are probably still having nighmares over his now-your-see-me, now-you-dont’ performance.

Elsewhere in the round we noticed a Very Strange Thing, news of which you might need to be sitting down for: the New Zealand teams all seemed to be well prepared for the opening round!

Since the inception of the Super 12 in 1996 the NZ franchises have traditionally been utterly useless for the first three weeks of the competition. Most of the players haven’t even looked like they knew which end they were supposed to be running towards, let alone grasping the complex concept of teamwork. Not this time.

We have to ask ourselves why this is so. Is there a kind of gestation period for our rugby brains-trust, of about 6 years, for an idea? Quite likely, but there is another possibility. All Black coach John Mitchell has made it known that he has been visiting each franchise and participated in trainings.

So, maybe Big John is behind this exciting new initiative of actually being ready for the first Super 12 round, instead of sportingly letting the Australian teams have a head start of three weeks before the Crusaders win it anyway.

If you are diligent (and sensible) enough to have read all our columns, you will probably be aware that we have long been of the opinion that the way players have been pushing the ball underneath their bodies and out between their legs is, essentially, cheating. We called it the Birthmother Setup Technique, and denounced it way back in April 2001. Well here we are a whole two years later and Super 12 Officialdom is proving they do listen. The “Squeeze Ball” technique (we gave them a perfectly good name, why couldn’t they use it?) is now outlawed. You will still see the ball coming back through the legs, but it has to happen immediately, or the refs will blow. Good stuff.

While we’re on the subject of credibility, which we weren’t, there’s another improvement. The kicking tees which used to be used for restarts have been done away with.

Hoo-bloody-ray! Instead of watching the dubiously silly spectacle of a player perching the pill three feet off the deck on a recycled dayglo red traffic cone, and then having to have a ballboy risk death by coming on to retrieve said appendage affter it has been sent tumbling God knows where after kickoff, we have a simple drop-out.

We are all incredibly grateful that The Powers in the game have all succumbed to an attack of DoTheBleedingObvious-itis and made a sensible decision.

Next on the agenda is to have more test matches played in the daylight hours, where the rugby is best and the spectators happiest. Close on the heels of that is to stop our stadia being turned into rock-concert venues during the games, and a public shooting of all the DJ’s they employ to do so.

Apart from the mind-blowing result over in South Africa where the Bulls registered A WIN (!), there weren’t many upsets. The Crusaders creamed the Canes, the Highlanders flung the Chiefs, the Brumbies eaked out a mind-numbingly boring win over the Reds and the Stormers rained on the Sharks parade.

Just looking back at that monumental Bulls result, we think that this is due to the Cats dropping down to the Bulls’ wooden spoon level, rather than the Bulls raising their game. Competition for The Spoon is therefore likely to be hot this season.

Watch this space for regular updates and the usual perspicacious commentary on it!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

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