The Three C's
by Paul Waite
1 Apr 2001
This week it was all about the Three C’s: The Chiefs, The Canes, and The Cretins.
No prizes for guessing the latter refers to The Blues, after their brain-dead performance in Sydney where they deservedly crashed out 35-19 to the Waratahs on the wrong end of a 16-4 penalty count.
You have to wonder what the Blues coaches are doing. Aside from the decision to pick Orene Ai’i as fullback (pinning your hopes of last-ditch defence on him is like packing a fishing net for a reserve parachute) what did they tell the players prior to this game. Was something like: “Ok boys, we want you to go out there and constantly infringe at the ruck, lineout and maul and whatever you do keep on doing that – don’t learn from the referee’s whistle or anything like that. Oh, yes and while we’re at it, make sure you kick all our posession away in the first half because they’re really really good at running it back at us.”
There was more to it than this, but that will do. The sad thing is, the Blues showed us in patches that they could have won this one. When they kept the ball in hand and built the attack they looked good, and with firepower like Vidiri and Howlett out wide they can score tries.
Spencer had a night he’d rather forget. He was more unpredictable and dizzy than even he usually is, and his kicking from hand continues to be execrable. It shouldn’t be shown on TV before midnight, it’s that horrific.
Added to that was an incident which, for me, encapsulated the team’s misguided attitude. In a scramble near touch Spencer went to ground over the line but just let go of the ball to keep it alive. The TJ said it was out and Spencer obviously yelled something at him concerning his parentage and a goat. Denying the abuse when called to account by the referee, Spencer was seen on TV blowing a kiss to the TJ.
Now this little episode obviously rankled the TJ immensely and festered away in his mind. Some minutes later Ron Cribb waved the palm of his hand vaguely in the direction of a Tah’s head, and the TJ immediately deafened Andre Watson with a shriek of foul play and goose-stepped onto the field. Dabbing at the little trickle of blood coming from his left ear Watson listened with his good one, and the end result was a penalty and three points to the Tahs. The lesson? Never bad-mouth the officials – it will come back on you three-fold. The later sin-binning of Troy Flavell for a similarly retarded offence just kept the nasty little pot of offal bubbling.
Drawing a deep breath and letting all that nonsense go, we turn to the beginning of the weekend. The Chiefs are busy convincing us that the long-awaited turn in their fortunes is not our imagination. After only all of the Super 12 since it’s inception, they’ve been completely useless ninnies but this season, under John Mitchell, they are beginning to give a solid impression of a team which believes in itself.
Unfortunately it’s still hard to be totally sure of this, since their opponents at Rotorua on Friday were The Highlanders, who put in a pretty ordinary 80 minutes.
The game established itself into a pattern which it held more or less throughout. The Highlanders would run it and ruck energetically 3-4 times making ground and gaining the Chiefs half, but would make a mistake and cough posession. The Chiefs would then quickly burst through some paper-thin defensive efforts, spread the ball and score a try. Repeat several times until done.
Ocassionally this would be varied and something unusual would happen, like Wilson going all the way to the Chiefs line to score, but generally you have the picture.
For the Chiefs Danny Lee has to take the Man of the Match award, not only for his hat-trick of tries, but also for his general play which was top-class. He was everywhere marshalling his forwards and feeding his backs. Praise too for Deon Muir, a most under-rated No.8, a great skipper, and one of the king-pins of this Chiefs side.
Yet another brick-bat has to be handed to that laziest of New Zealand rugby players Carl Hoeft. The Highlander obviously takes the word “prop” to heart. He’s a master of scrumming, which involves a lot of standing and preparing and then a bit of leaning and pushing. He’s also brilliant at jogging briskly to each ruck, taking up station on the left side, and leaning on it with his right hand, all the while barking encouragement to various team-mates getting stuck in around him. His work rate is as near to zero as it can possibly be without sitting on the bench. In fact I take that back; the reserves have to get up and keep warm once in a while. Hoeft should never be allowed near an All Black jersey ever again, unless it’s to ask for an after-match autograph.
Finally we come to the Hurricanes, that most unpredictable of New Zealand teams. Having just about flushed their 2001 Super 12 campaign down the toilet, they did what they always do: put in a good one just to keep us guessing.
For their part the Crusaders were terrible. These days their attack has about as much bite as an 18 year-old doberman with dentures. Yes the Canes defence was committed, but that wasn’t the whole story. Too often the ball carrier wasn’t supported and the ideas weren’t flowing – it was too predictable.
For the Canes it was good to see Christian Cullen looking about 90% fit and running much more freely as a result. He bagged two nice tries. Outside Holwell, wearing O’Halloran’s No.12 jersey, Paul Steinmetz impressed too. Although he’s a slightly built man, Steinmetz has a good turn of speed and marvellous vision. He can spot gaps and opportunities by reading the game and that marks him out as something special. Great to see him grabbing this Super 12 by the scruff of the neck.
As well as being lacklustre on attack, the Crusaders were pretty bloody ordinary on defence as well. I lost count of the number of tackles they dropped off, but after last week’s performance when they seemed to have recovered their famous offensive-defence, this week was a complete turn-around again. Their supporters must be as confused as I am.
Looking at the Super 12 leader board it’s pretty certain to be slim pickings for New Zealand teams this season. The only real hope is that the Chiefs will manage to develop further and do enough to make the semis. On points alone the Highlanders have a chance too, but having seen them this weekend they simply aren’t made of the right stuff. Canterbury were in with an outside chance before this weekend, but the Canes put paid to that.
All in all it looks bleak for NZ, the country which has owned the Super 12 trophy since the thing began in 1996. Stepping back a little, maybe this is just a natural progression. Our rugby has been in decline since just after that time. Initially the rot affected only the top tier – the All Blacks – but now it is spreading down through the Super 12 too.
Thank God the NPC isn’t international. At least a New Zealand team will win that.by