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 Post subject: Inky
PostPosted: Sun Mar 15, 2015 9:38 pm 
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Joined: Tue Jan 31, 2012 11:05 am
Posts: 17037
Location: Adelaide via Sydney and Patea

Battening down the hatches last night for the storm that never arrived, I saw my neighbour doing likewise. He’s an old gun sailor with good Team New Zealand connections and a couple of solo records that stand to this day.

I called out, “Hurricanes four from four, best ever start to a season.”

“Yes, poor old Vanuatu,” he called back, “hopefully it slips by us.” His hearing isn’t as good as his sail trimming, obviously, so I didn’t risk any further confusion, or ask him if Dean Barker had some legal right to carry on losing forever.

If you follow rugby, and clearly he doesn’t, the Hurricanes being four from four is no small beer. Two of those teams beaten are the Force and the Lions, but two are former champions. They certainly entertained a full house in Palmerston North on Friday with a bonus point thrashing of the Blues.

The score was 30-23 but any loss must feel like a thrashing to the Blues when they’re smarting so badly already, and the cavalier manner in which it was applied would be doubly galling. The home side were flipping passes around like the Harlem Globetrotters. They were also drawing and passing beautifully in midfield, where Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith almost made fun of the Blues’ defence.

A breakout counter-attack brought the first try to halfback TJ Perenara, but he blotted his copybook a few minutes later with a loose pass which was intercepted by Blues fullback Lolagi Visinia and carried the length of the field. The reinvigorated Blues put a few good minutes together shortly after this and wing Frank Halai crashed over to give them a six point lead, but that was retaken by the Hurricanes after another field-long attack, three minutes after the siren to end the first half.

The Hurricanes slalomed downfield through the Blues, hot-dogging to the delight of the locals, and amidst the free-wheeling carnage first five Beauden Barrett had the clarity of vision to see no one home at the back. He chipped ahead for Matt Proctor to chase and the wing narrowly beat an out-of-position Visinia to the ball.

After the break more elegant simplicity from Nonu and Smith made space for men on the outside, particularly fullback Nehe Milner-Skudder who injected himself regularly. As the Blues’ defence became increasingly ragged, he and number eight Blade Thomson both had the satisfaction of presenting open try-lines to wing Julian Savea.

If you’ve ever played in a team that loses with depressing monotony, spare a thought for Blues players at the moment. The size and talent of their squad is going to waste. It’s a horrible feeling when fans’ pre-season hails about town turn into awkward silences, and journalists look like wolves.

No one should waste a single thought in dissecting the Hurricanes. Live it up, fans. Do what the team is doing, keep the foot on the gas. Tails-up form like this is rare for good reason. Spend any time over-analysing it and the spell will break.

Eventually it must, because hubris like this is unsustainable. In the meantime go for it. When they finally come a cropper it should be a lesson in getting too carried away, like when Elvis started doing his karate moves on stage.

The Crusaders dealt to the Lions 34-6 in Christchurch next day, no coincidence them getting their act together on the return of halfback Andy Ellis. He opened the scoring with a try from an attacking scrum and found both his five-eighths all day with crisp passes for them to run onto. The Crusader pack made a mess of the Lions at scrum time and also won the breakdown battle, so Ellis’ option-taking was made a lot easier.

If the coach can somehow manage not to strangle their desire to play expressive rugby they could build on this, but at this stage it’s just a tick in the win column against a team that traditionally struggles to finish in the top ten, doesn’t travel well and probably partied too hard after beating the Blues.

Far more impressive were the Highlanders, down two early tries against the defending champion Waratahs in Dunedin but fighting back to win 26-19, ducking and weaving like Hillary Clinton, impossible to land a knockout blow on.

The comeback began with a try to lock Tom Franklin after concerted scrum pressure. Halfback Aaron Smith darted from the base before being brought down right underneath the goalposts, where Franklin followed up with the pick-and-go.

The forward battle was even but the Highlander backs humiliated their opposites time after time. When centre Malakai Fekitoa rushed up to stop Waratahs fullback Israel Folau and stripped him of the ball, it clearly illustrated the difference in urgency. When he flung that ball to Waisake Naholo and the big winger left three defenders sprawled in his wake, it underlined it. Defence is attitude, and the Waratahs’ was slack.

In the second half the attitude got worse. Not only did Waratahs put two high shoulder charge attempts on flanker Elliot Dixon as he drove into their 22, when that possession went wide to fullback Ben Smith he stepped between five eighths Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale to score like they weren’t even there.

Left wing Patrick Osborne then emphasised it by shrugging off his marker to begin a surge downfield, several Highlanders getting involved and evading tacklers before Osborne got the ball again. When he did it was to leave one rushing defender clutching air and another couple avoiding their team-mates’ eyes as he strolled to the line.

A late Waratahs try to former captain Steven Hoiles was worth a bonus point, but that was almost more than they deserved. They’ll have to dial in and pay attention in the mass flirts their coach calls tackling sessions this week.

In Cape Town the Chiefs were on fire against the Stormers. Initially the home side looked good, especially midfielder Damian de Allende who opened up the Chiefs defence for a try to Kobus van Wyk and would have put him over for another if the wing had been fast enough to beat a superb cover tackle by Bryce Heem.

From that point onwards however, the smaller New Zealanders were like flies the Stormers couldn’t swat. Heem created a try on the right wing, leaving his marker for dead and fending off fullback Cheslin Kolbe before unloading with a scoop to first five Aaron Cruden in support.

On the other wing, James Lowe went over by cutting back inside after Cruden sucked all the defenders wide. It was fitting reward for Lowe who was one of the most threatening attackers on the day, and has been consistently so far this year. Lowe had to momentarily check his stride not to over-run the pass, something we don’t see enough of these days as passes get flatter and flatter.

Ever since the sport began, wingers who don’t like being tackled have been racing into holes before passes are given, and in many cases demonstratively throwing their hands up in frustration to avoid a suspicion that the move didn’t work because they were too eager to avoid contact, not because someone less picky hadn’t managed to spot them while preoccupied.

But everyone’s doing it now, from hookers to halfbacks, all trying to get a yard headstart on the defence. Seeing someone hitch their step to complete a safe transfer was refreshing.

Big Sonny Bill Williams at second five and tiny Tim Nanai-Williams at centre made an unusual pairing, but played their odd hand well and the vaunted Stormers defence was unable to restrict them. Much of the second half was a battle for quick ball in midfield, and the Chiefs forwards won it with the assistance of their centres. The Chiefs held a narrow lead, stayed largely in the right half of the field to maintain it and their superior fitness began to tell.

Two decisive moments settled the issue. The TMO was needed to see flanker Sam Cane grounding the ball in the corner with nine minutes remaining, and the Chiefs had to hold off a determined late attack from the Stormers. They did so with considerable poise. Liam Messam wrestled the ball loose from a driving maul and Heem banged it downfield. To a man the Chiefs sprinted after it while only half the Stormers could manage anything more than an exhausted jog, and the whistle blew time on the heavyweight bout of the year so far.

In Perth the Force went down to the Rebels 17-21. The Rebels were impressive. Both their wins so far have come on the road in notoriously difficult venues. But this was the high point of the weekend’s Australian action. The Brumbies travelled to Brisbane and smoked the Reds 29-0, bringing howls of derision from the Lang Park grandstands as that once-great team’s slide continues. Down went another couple of dozen knee-high and behind-the-man passes. Any local League fans tuning in would have been sniggering.

Seeing as I’d stayed up for the Chiefs I figured an extra few hours to see the Cheetahs and Sharks in Bloemfontein wouldn’t hurt. I was wrong, but only because I was cheering for the Cheetahs, who went down rather meekly by 10-27. The Sharks needed little more than a functioning lineout drive to beat them, which left me shaking my fist at the screen and wondering why I’d bothered.

In those pesky early morning hours between games in rugbyland, if you need a refresher course in thanking your lucky stars, I can recommend American news channels for the most entertaining coverage of rugby free zones.

As the U.S. State Department lurches from one surrender to the next, with Facebook and old hippie musicians its weapons of choice, is it any wonder a former Secretary decided to store email on her own server?

It isn’t their only blind spot. Putin isn’t stupid either, hedging his eighty billion rouble cash reserve against gold. He won’t even need to borrow until the gas price drops below Sean Hannity’s IQ, and the putschers in Kiev are starting to realise they backed the wrong horse.

Soccer hooligans still hurl racist insults at each other in the smoking rubble that stretches from Tripoli to Kurdistan. Greece has announced it will pay its debt in full as soon as Germany apologises for Hitler. Kim Jong Un is celebrating total victory in the War on Sideburns by ordering the last apple to be shared equally.

Never forget you enjoy the right to contest possession of an odd-shaped ball. You may kick it, pass it or flatten the guy who has it. These rights are sacred and your life wouldn’t be the same without them.

Until next week,
Inky remains at your service.

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