Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Stags are out to pasture for summer. Here’s my end-of-year report card (plus I’ve gone back 12 months to compare the corresponding ratings following the euphoria of the Ranfurly Shield victory).

Glen Horton – this year 7.5 (last year 8): Like many of the Stags he finished on a slightly flat note compared to 2009. Gutsy and a great counter-attacker.

Mark Wells – 8 (not rated 2009): The surprise package of 2010. They call him “crazy legs” for his ungainly running style but he ran, caught and kicked with aplomb.

James Paterson – 6 (not rated): Henderson and Culhane rated him but we couldn’t because this obvious athlete was hamstrung by injury.

Tony Koonwaiyou – 6.5 (7.5): Show glimpses of good form but if the Stags are serious about winning the ITM Cup they need to find some fast wings – fast!

Kendrick Lynn - 9 (8): The outstanding attacking back of 2010. When the Highlanders pulled rank and insisted on his groin operation, the Stags were sunk.

Matt Saunders – 9 (8): Was a revelation in the number 12 jersey. Only Lynn was better.

James Wilson – 7.5 (6.5): This bloke is gifted. Showed genuine tenacity to fight his way back into the Stags and deserves a Super contract.

Robbie Robinson – 7.5 (9): The Boy Wonder is still a wonderful player but suffered from being the player other teams targeted.

Scott Cowan – 7 (8): Another who did not perform quite as well as 2009 but unless big bro Jimmy is available he’s still head and shoulders the best we’ve got.

Elliot Dixon: 8 (not rated): This kid’s got the goods!

Kane Thompson: 7 (not rated): Took his opportunity well with the injury to Dixon but the old bull will probably make way for the young buck.

Tim Boys – 8 (9.5): I’m still chairman of the Tim Boys fan club but I think, as does Jamie Joseph, this wonderful flanker has been overtaken by John Hardie.

John Hardie - 9 (9): In the best traditions of Bill McCaw, Ack Soper, Ken Stewart, Leicester Rutledge and Paul Henderson before him, another champion rolls off the Southland loose forward production line.

Josh Bekhuis – 9 (9): It’s when, not if, Graham Henry comes calling.

Joe Tuineau - 8 (8.5): Good but maybe not as good as 2009? Needs to step up and cement his extraordinary athletic ability at Super 15 level

Alex Ryan – 7 (not rated): With the likes of Dixon, Hardie, Brayden Mitchell and Nic Barrett also coming through , Southland has the makings of fine forward pack for several seasons to come.

Chris King – 8.5 (9): Head down. Bum up. It was business as usual. You beauty!

Jason Rutledge – 9.5 (10): Deserved a 10 for effort. The affable plumber became a cult hero at the ripe old age of 32. Should be in Hong Kong blocking a lineout – not in Invercargill unblocking a toilet.

Jamie Mackintosh – 9.5 (8.5): Boys was my player of the year in 2008. Last year it was Rutledge. This year I flipped a coin and Captain Fantastic gets the heads-up.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Depending on the results of the Bay of Plenty and Taranaki games, the Stags will know their fate in the race for an ITM Cup top-four spot by the time they take to the park tomorrow night.

A Bay of Plenty win last night (my deadline is 5pm Thursday) could already mean curtains but if the rugby gods and bonus points have been kind, then a four-try victory (whilst denying Wellington a bonus point) could do the trick.

Semi-finalists for the past two seasons, in all probability the Stags will be denied top-four entry through the back door but that should not detract from what has been an historic season.

Never in this union’s proud history has the Ranfurly Shield been defended successfully on six occasions in one season. By my reckoning, 1946 (5 occasions), 1939 (4), 1938 (3) and 1930 (3) were the previous best efforts.

Attention will then turn to the Southland Rugby Supporters’ Club function saluting the class of 2010 on Monday, November 1. The occasion will also double as farewell for long-serving chief executive Roger Clark who, along with the Southland Mafioso of Simon Culhane, Leicester Rutledge, Jamie Mackintosh and Jimmy Cowan, will set about righting the badly-listing Highlanders.

The player of the year award will hold the most interest. Kenny Lynn (until injured), Matt Saunders, John Hardie and Josh Bekhuis could all justifiably put their hands up for the award but it’ll undoubtedly be a two- horse race between Jason Rutledge and Mackintosh.

If you’d asked me a month ago, I’d have said Cabbage in a canter but coming down the home straight, Whoppa has made every post a winner. At the risk of throwing in yet another horse racing cliché, this one will be a photo finish!

* While I’m on the cliché and bad pun bandwagon, I’ve a bone to pick with a purveyor of fine meats, namely Gerry McSoriley.

The diminutive butcher, who could never be accused of mincing his words, tried to convince me Eric Anderson toured South Africa with the 1970 All Blacks. A debate/argument ensued. I had no beef with Gerry personally but I was prepared to steak my reputation on my answer. It was thus decided to settle the dispute like men, with a quiz-off at dawn (well closer to midnight if truth be known).

So next time you’re in Southlamb Gourmet Meats make sure you ask the singing butcher to name the only three members of the 1970 All Blacks to South Africa who did not get a test.

I did. And he couldn’t get all three. God bless Bruce Hunter!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

As reigns go it wasn’t quite up there with Queen Victoria’s 63 years, seven months and two days but it was a glorious 352 day reign none-the-less.

It’s gone but not forgotten. For those of us who waited a lifetime to see the Log of Wood, it was worth the 50 year wait. The Stags were beaten but unbowed, defeated yet defiant in defeat and made me proud to call myself a Southlander.

October 22, 2009 at Lancaster Park will live long in my memory. The other moment that stands out was the defeat of Auckland in the week of the southern snow storms. Southland was on its knees, awaiting a knock-out punch, but 22 brave young men got off the canvas and in 80 minutes did more to lift the sagging spirits of a province than they will ever know.

* Bob Howitt’s excellent new book on Sir Wilson Whineray, A Perfect Gentleman, is a must-add to any serious sporting library. Of particular interest to Southlanders is the segment on Whineray’s time in Southland, where as a 16 year old fresh out of Auckland Grammar, he played a season for Waikaia in 1952. Such was his ability, he was promoted straight into the Northern Southland senior sub-union side.

It was only after Northern’s opening game that the selectors realized his age. A special meeting was convened and it was resolved, in Whineray’s interests, that he should limit his appearances to senior club rugby.

Unfortunately for Southland, he left for the Wairarapa at the end of that year. And unfortunately for Southland, he returned in 1959 to captain the Auckland side that lifted the Ranfurly Shield.

* As Dunedin struggles to pay for its new stadium, let alone fill it with people to watch an under-performing rugby team, my faith in small-town New Zealand was reinforced when the Riversdale community raised $42,000 for Youth Olympic triathlon champion, Aaron Barclay.

Former Commonwealth Games champion Dick Tayler regaled the tale of his epic 10,000 metres victory in 1974, with some great one-liners thrown in for good measure.

However, the best line from last weekend came from Invercargill socialite Deidre Heenan at the post-election victory rally for fellow socialite John Norman Philip Young, who was successful in his quest to make the Invercargill Licensing Trust an even better organization.

A group of us, including Tayler, were pondering marathon running. I appreciate Tayler has changed somewhat in appearance over the past 36 years – gone are the flowing locks and he’s a bit broader of girth – but Deidre brought the house down when, in innocent bliss, she asked the athletics legend whether he’d “done a bit of running?”

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Whichever way you look at it, tomorrow’s seventh Ranfurly Shield defense promises to be a Herculean task.

Let’s be honest here. Man for man, the Canterbury fifteen are better than their Southland counterparts. They boast a more than useful forward pack, boosted by the return of Sam Whitelock, two former All Blacks in Isaac Ross and Wyatt Crockett, plus Corey Flynn (even though he’ll only be the second best hooker on a park).

But it’s the backs where Canterbury could really cause carnage. An All Blacks halfback and first five-eighth combination, the combined 217 kgs of the bruise brothers in the midfield and, for good measure, the fastest bloke in New Zealand rugby at fullback.

Yep, man for man, we’ll struggle. So where can Southland win when are odds seem so stacked in Canterbury’s favour?

The answer lies partly with talisman players Jason Rutledge, Jamie Mackintosh, Jimmy Cowan and Robbie Robinson. The answer lies partly with workhorses Chris King and Josh Bekhuis. The answer lies partly with the likes of John Hardie, Tim Boys and Matt Saunders sacrificing their bodies for the greater good, with the latter most probably having to donate his to medical science after 80 minutes of Sonny Bill bashing.

But most of all the answer lies in the numbers game. This epic encounter is not about fifteen men versus fifteen. It’s about fifteen Cantabrians versus 15,000 Southlanders and that’s why Southland will win.

* Tonight in my old home town of Riversdale, former Commonwealth Games star Dick Tayler will be the guest speaker at a gala fundraising evening for World Youth Olympic gold medal-winning triathlete Aaron Barclay.

Like a lot of small country towns, Riversdale can claim its fair share of sporting glitterati. The late great Kel Tremain, is probably the most famous footy player, even though he spent only one year, 1957, in the district and didn’t make the All Blacks until 1959. Steve Hardiman was a New Zealand Colt and a member of the 1966 Southland side that tipped up the Lions.

Shona Elder (nee Sanson) represented Southland in five sports (hockey, golf, tennis, squash and badminton) while Lew Hollands could claim four (rugby, cricket, tennis and badminton).

To the best of my knowledge though, Northern Southland’s finest village has never produced a world champion. That is up until now. Which makes young Barclay, deservedly, Riversdale’s most famous sporting son.