Thursday, 20 August 2009

If you needed an indictment of Graham Henry’s rotation policy, you need look no further than last Friday night for damning evidence.

A clearly out-of-sorts Jimmy Cowan showed the rustiness and lack of confidence you’d expect from a man who’d played little more than two half-games in the past eight weeks (if you count back to the second French Test on June 20).

To Henry’s credit, though, he’s named his strongest team of the season for tomorrow night’s death or glory Bledisloe battle. Luke McAlister’s inclusion is copping some feral flak on talkback but in tandem with Dan Carter he does offer you right and left foot long-range kicking options to counter Giteau and Barnes.

Like it or loathe it, and I’m in the latter camp, the “modern” game is all about field position.

One doesn’t often get it right in this column, but I picked it like a dirty nose last week and I’m surprised the astute Simon Culhane did not do likewise. Tonight he’s again persisting with James Wilson at 10. Sorry Nibs, but the jury’s out on this one. I hope you prove me wrong.

The goal kicking options will also be interesting. It was questionable Robbie Robinson taking the opening long range kick against Manawatu.

At close to 50 metres it was always going to be more than a nudge for the Boy Wonder. I’ve seen Wilson bang them over from 55 metres and he had nothing to lose by taking the first long range shot. Robinson did have something to lose – his goal kicking confidence – and it duly went walkabout.

Tomorrow night the Central Pirates rugby club celebrates its 60th Jubilee. The older you get, the more nostalgic you get and the more you look back on your years playing club rugby with great fondness.

I proudly spent my playing days at Riversdale but had a bit to do with a couple of Wilsons Crossing legends. Wayne “Jigger” McCallum spent a season at Riversdale before going on to make the New Zealand Colts, while in the 1980s I played a bit of minor rep footy with the Don Johnson (Miami Vice) look-alike, Donny Lewis.

I eventually moved on to radio whereas Donny decided to stay in the decade that brought us acid-wash jeans, Stubbies and bleached hair.

It’ll be great to have a few stubbies again with the bottle-blonde tomorrow night!

Thursday, 13 August 2009

As great as it is to see the talented James Wilson back in the Stags for tonight’s Manawatu clash, I’m a tad disappointed he’s not wearing the number 15 jersey.

I reckon his lanky frame and superb long-kicking game make him more suited to fullback than first five-eighth. Besides, I’d love to see the boy wonder Robbie Robinson go head-to-head with the equally gifted Aaron Cruden. As my cliché-prone mate Podge Macpherson would say, it would be worth the price of admission alone.

At the time of writing I have no idea how many fans paid the price of admission to watch Otago play North Harbour last night, but I’d wager Podge’s best pair of platform disco shoes, it wasn’t many.

If you took the Southlanders out of last Friday’s crowd at Carisbrook you’d have been left with the Otago side, team management, close friends and family, the security guards and the pie sellers.

It reminded me of my days on the terrace as a university student 30 years ago, when Otago only survived in First Division courtesy of some wayward goal kicking by Marlborough’s Steve Marfell in the promotion-relegation match (won by Otago 15-13).

1979 was as bad as it ever got for Otago rugby. As a scarfie with time on his hands, I never missed a match at Carisbrook and for some of the mid-week games there would be barely 50 hardy souls on the terrace.

Otago’s only win in the NPC that year came at the expense of Southland (10-7). Southland fared little better, only claiming the scalps of South Canterbury (16-3) and Taranaki (22-21) in a cliffhanger season finale, thanks to an injury time dropped goal by Brian McKechnie.

This was a Southland side which had defeated France 12-11 and included All Blacks McKechnie, Ken Stewart, Leicester Rutledge and Ash McGregor, New Zealand Junior Doug Murcott and New Zealand Colts Bruce Robertson, Jim Fortune and Chris Hiini.

Throw in the likes of Jeff Gardiner, Ian Donaldson, Wayne Boynton, Murray Mitchell, Gus Dermody, Phil Butt and Lex Chisholm and this was a Southland side which should have done better than third-last in the NPC.

Thirty years on, third-last means you’re history. We now have only two All Blacks and some promising youngsters yet I’m picking the Class of ‘09 will make history - and the final of the Air New Zealand Cup.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Dear Graham

It’s with a heavy heart and a sad soul I write, on behalf of the New Zealand rugby public, imploring you to save us from plague, pestilence, famine and All Black Armageddon.

Your game plan (that’s an oxymoron) is sinful. So I thought I’d remind you of the 10 rugby commandments - as they were laid-out in stone by Vic Cavanagh, then passed on through the ages by such disciples as Fred Allen, Brian Lochore, Grizz Wylie and Laurie Mains.

1/ Thou shalt kick the ball out. Especially in the confines of your own 22 (the old 25 yard mark in biblical terms).

2/ Thou shalt compete at lineout time. It’s not a sin to jump against the opposition! In the ancient times of Saint Colin it was considered a contest to be entered into with much gusto.

3/ Thou shalt not bear false witness at the aftermatch press conference. There is no shame in admitting your sins. A public confession is better than a public flogging.

4/ Thou shalt not covet your opposition’s lineout jumper. We don’t have a Victor so get over it. The prophet Isaac might even go better, if he was left to just jump!

5/ Thou shalt not rotate.

6/ Thou shalt not steal. This commandment actually applies to the Aussies who stole the messiah Robbie and left us with the three wise men, who are still stuck in the stable long after the horse has bolted.

7/ Thou shalt not sub Jimmy after 45 minutes.

8/ Thou shalt remember the Saturday and keep it sacred. For six days you must labour at training but on the seventh you must win a test match.

9/ Thou shalt not take the name of Richie in vain. It’s not his fault. It’s yours!

10/ Thou shalt not try to create a five-eighth in the image of Daniel. He was Almighty in the Lion’s den in 2005. Now you have thrown a hapless Donald to the lions. Carter, the chosen one, might not be fully fit to do the job but that hasn’t stopped you coaching. Go forth, select him, or we’ll end up third!