Thursday, 11 February 2010

‘ Tis the silly season!

While most of us are still thinking about Twenty20 cricket, the Highlanders kick off their Twenty10 campaign in that most English of New Zealand cities, Christchurch, tomorrow night. You can’t help but sympathize with Jimmy, Jamie and the other Bravehearts for having a Mel Gibson moment as they charge into battle.

The Crusaders might be warm favourites at the TAB, but I’m not prepared to write off the southerners just yet. It’s rugby blasphemy, I know, but there’s an almost human look about the Crusaders forward pack with Brad Thorn starting off the bench, Wyatt Crockett, Corey Flynn and Chris Jack all injured and Richie McCaw watching from the Deans Stand.

Admittedly Dan Carter’s presence will do little for the southerners’ confidence, but they can take some consolation Sean Maitland is not starting on the wing in tandem with Zac Guildford. I’m picking these two speed demons will demonize all comers in the Super 14.

As for the Highlanders, there’s a more mature look about the team this year with All Blacks Tom Donnelly, Adam Thomson and Jamie Mackintosh anchoring a pretty useful forward pack. The question will be whether the other ABs, Jimmy Cowan and Ben Smith, can do likewise for a vanguard that’s been average, at best, in recent seasons.

While it’s disappointing Robbie Robinson is not getting a start (his time will surely come if the Highlanders are serious about sparking their backline), of more concern is the omission of Tim Boys from the playing 22. If there’s a better open-side flanker in the Highlanders, I’ve yet to see him.

Win, lose or draw in Christchurch, the true litmus test for the Highlanders will come next Friday night when they host the Blues at Carisbrook before embarking on their arduous South African tour. The Blues are beatable and if the home side is to win over the home fans - who’ve deserted the ‘Brook in droves in recent years - nothing less than victory will suffice, satisfy and save their season.

Let’s hope some of that successful Southland psyche has rubbed off on the southerners.


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