Your Starter For 12
by Paul Waite
6 Mar 2002
I’m getting a bit tired of seeing Australian Super 12 teams starting the competition looking like they’ve trained harder, played more warm-up matches, and generally been more professional about the whole thing than we have.
Last year was a diabolical example of how New Zealand teams have tended to play the first two rounds as if all the players had just been exhumed from a meat chiller the day before kickoff. This year isn’t so bad, but it’s still not good enough. Take the Hurricanes for an example. No, on second thoughts they are a special case, let’s go for the Chiefs. First round up at home they were a mixture of the awful and the awesome. Players were quite obviously at about 80% of the level of fitness of their Australian opponents, the Waratahs, and the whole performance lacked any kind of consistency.
Same with the Blues. First round they played the Hurricanes, who might as well not have turned up. If they hadn’t it would probably have been a better scoreline because the cheerleaders would have had to stand in for them. Have you ever grappled at close quarters with a fired-up cheerleader flailing around with those pompoms? I haven’t, but I’d like to. Err, I digress, sorry about that.
Quite clearly we can’t count that game as an indication of any kind of Blues form whatsoever, apart from the fact that they looked capable of turning up on time for games, which is a positive but fairly inconclusive pointer to whether they’ll win the competition. We had to wait until this week to see their real mettle, and it was more a kind of soggy cardboard in the end. The performance against the Reds was basically the usual Early Round Blues as we saw a flaky performance with dropped ball, poor defence, and ill-conceived attack ranged against a committed and purposeful Australian team.
It isn’t all bleak. For a start we have seen that New Zealand teams do tend to tune in to the program after about the third round, and make up ground on everybody. We also look across at the Crusaders and Highlanders and see a higher order of performance coming from the Mainland, as befits the origin of most of our current All Blacks, but it does beg the question. If the game is meant to be professional, why do some New Zealand Super 12 franchises seem to be incapable of preparing professionally for the season?
I’ve no idea why. It’s obviously more complex than someone just having a bit of a lazy approach and needing a kick in the naughty parts to wake them up; mind you it would be a reasonable place to start. In the first instance I’d like a bit more of a recognition from the NZRFU that this kind of thing is going on, and some evidence that it’s a problem that’s being addressed at least.
The bottom line is – it doesn’t have to be this way. The Hurricanes, Blues and Chiefs squads are perfectly able to be trained and prepared to the same level for the starting game of the Super 12 as the likes of the Waratahs, Reds and Brumbies. I’m not suggesting they should always win or anything like that, but the kind of flaky stuff we see in the first three rounds doesn’t have to be the norm.
In the meantime, let’s hope that Round 3 of the comp sees a big improvement, and if we feel we need some cheering up – we just have to look at how the South African teams have begun the season!by