Super 14 2008 analysis

Half of the Super 14 regular season is already gone, and it is due time to make some analysis.

First of all, the Crusaders are clearly the team to beat. Only the Sharks have performed with the consistency of the Canterbury franchise, and nevertheless, the Crusaders look stronger at this point of the competition.

Second, New Zealand franchises are all strong except the Highlanders. Blues, Hurricanes and even Chiefs can upset every team at any field. On the other hand, South Africa teams are performing horribly. Stormers are the only other team besides the Sharks that has shown anything while the Bulls are still to prove they are the defending champions and it is 7 rounds gone already.

Let's take a look to these statistics:
  • NZ franchises have a winning rate of 0,61
  • AUS franchises have a winning rate of 0,5
  • SA franchises have a winning rate of 0,36
  • NZ teams average 19,8 points at this stage of the competition, 3 points per game (That is ahead of the Hurricanes who are 4th).
  • AUS teams average 15,8 points at this stage of the competition, 2,4 points per game (That is ahead of the Brumbies, who are 9th)
  • SA teams average 13 points at this stage of the competition, 1,97 points per game (That is ahead of the Reds, who are 10th)

In plain words, the kiwis are performing really well, the aussies are performing quite average but the real news is how badly this first half of the regular season has gone for SA franchises. Be it the ELVs or be it the Matfields and Montgomeries abroad, but they need to improve.

The second half of the competition looks interesting. The regular season champion position seems to be for the Crusaders unless the Sharks can beat theam at Christchurch. Hurricanes and Blues seem the strongest teams to fill the remaining two playoff positions, but Stormers, Chiefs Force and Waratahs are close behind.

Unlike many journalists I don't consider Brett's and Carter's injuries are going to seriourly harm Crusaders potential. Deans is wise and his team will cope with them.

I would like to take a few minutes to speak about the Blues. The Blues are really the team of the tournament. They may have lost two games but in their game one finds many amusing things. First, the brilliancy of their backs, a delightful combination of talent and experience, youth and wisdom. Second, the best first five in the competition; Sorry Carter, but Nick Evans is currently playing awfully good. I will say it again: Carter is more gifted, but Evans puts his all in every game and that makes the difference. Third, John Afoa and the scrum. They have shown they are the best in every game except perhaps against the Sharks.

Finally mi top 4 for the rest of the regular season: Crusaders, Sharks, Blues and Hurricanes. No surprises here :-)

Goddess Nikhé allies with Blues

What an exciting game the Blues won against a better Bulls side. Better than them, at least today.

Leading 17-7 again early in the second half, they were so close to scrap it again that only the wish of the Goddess of victory allowed them to win at the end. Just look.

  • 20-14 with 15 minutes left. Habana makes a wonderful run, sees Evans off and serves the try. Hougaard converts it
  • 20-21 with 10 minutes left. Evans goes for a DG (yes, I mean a DROP GOAL, make the ball bounce and kick at goal) and scores.
  • 23-21 with 5 minutes left. A bull breaks the line, slips throught the fullback by kicking the ball over, which bounces one meter before the scoreline and he is in clear first to get it and score. The bounce is ugly and he knocks on. Truly.
  • 23-21 with 4 minutes left. The referee penalises for the subsequent scrum for colapsing.
  • 23-21 with two minutes left. the Blues defense holds after waves of Bulls charging and get a scrum after a knock on.
  • 23-21 with one minute left. Evans kicks to touch but no Blue player arrives. Quick Habana throws in and right to Hougaard for a DG(they were expecting it) but Hougaard slips it and it is a knock on.
  • End of it. 23-21.

What a wonderful player Habana is.
What a wonderful player Evans is.

What an exciting game it was. Lucky Blues

Marshall Interview on TV

Well, there it is. Minute 4:10. See Warren Gatland's face as Marshall beside him says that the 6N has been below par. He knows. He agrees.

For the rest of the interview, Marshall's really got sense of humour, and the All Blacks choke ... we all should wear one :S

John Afoa

I witnessed it. He is John Afoa and was the best in his side's loss 17-27 against the Force two weeks ago.

He must be ahead of Sommerville and Tialata to replace Hayman.

NZ Rugby future debated at Wellington

Provincial unions, super franchises, NZRU bosses... they will all debate the future of rugby in NZ for two days starting tomorrow (I mean, in a few hours).

To make it clear: The problem is money.

Audiences matter less. Provincial unions problems matter less. Even top players heading toward England and France can be substitued...

But the solution to every problem above (including audiences and attendances, of course) is money. That means it is a somewhat closed-loop situation.

Some say privatising super franchises would do. I doubt it would be enough. But anyway the future is in private hands, I fear.

Giteau to replace Larkham

Perth's West Force is performing at a very high level and Matt Giteau is one of the responsibles. After nearly upsetting the Crusaders in round 4 (the collected 2 points despite the loss) they went on to defeat the Blues in round 5.

Matt Giteau showed in the two games that he's on fire and... is there anyone better placed than him to start at 10 for the Wallabies?

He's fast and a reliable kicker and, as he showed last Saturday, a wonderful tactical kicker. He drove the Blues defense mad.

The Brumbies miss Larkham and Giteau could be the man they are after to replace him but... What does Deans think of him?

Congratulations, Wales.

Wales defeated France and won the Six Nations tournament and a Grand Slam.

Super 14 weekend

In brief: Blues lost at home to the Force. The Hurricanes destroyed the Brumbies. The Chiefs were defeated by the Stormers at home and the Crusaders looked wonderful in their 55-7 defeat of the Cheetahs.

Blues: pretty bad. They look impressive, John Afoa is a monster, John Afoa could be playing at 6, Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock also kick asses... but how much they do need Nick Evans. Leading 17-7 at halftime, the loss of Evans was key to see the Blues conceeding 20 unanswered points to the Force in the second half.

Chiefs: They should turn on the light as soon as possible. They are better than they are showing.

Hurricanes: It's four in a row now, but the hardest part of it comes now. They rest the next week just to meet the Crusaders on week 7. It's going to test their recently acquired regularity.

Crusaders: They are the best.

All Blacks scrum

On Henry's words, the scrum will be the most affected area after Hayman and Jack leaving for the northern hemisphere.

Perhaps that's the reason for kiwis to turn their attention to their natural backups: Neemia Tialata, John Afoa and even youngster Ben May. The second row is more of an issue as veterans Brad Thorn and Troy Flavell are currently the best options to join Ali Williams.

I have found this video about scrummaging drills that these All Blacks used to practice.

Hurricanes win, Chiefs lose.

4 in a row is the number of straight wins for the Hurricanes after defeating the Brumbies at Canberra by 15 - 33 some minutes ago. The Hurricanes are on fire and install themselves firmly on the top 4 places with 18 points.

Let's see if the Waratahs (who happen to rest this week) can keep the pace. The Hurricanes make a halt now and will rest during week 6 just to resume with a hard game against the Crusaders on week 7 before another hard game against the Sharks on week 8.

On the other hand, a very irregular Chiefs team has not only lost to the Stormers at home, but have also managed not to get a single point; 26-35 being the score. It's five games past for the Chiefs now; if they are to be the second-leg champions again, they should start gearing up now.

We have to wait for the main course Blues vs West Force which is served tomorrow. And a sweat cake afterwards: Crusaders - Cheetahs. A pity that the Chiefs self-destructed.

Is ARU being serious?

It is now thrice that I have heard the same story: ARU wants the Super 14 to be longer, include a franchise in Japan and fill it with japanese and aussies.

Do they want Larkham back in Super Rugby? Do they want an easy retire for Mortlock and Giteau? What are the reasons for pointing at Japan and overlooking Argentina?

Oh, now I know.

Let's give some facts:

  1. The Super 14 competitions is played besides national championships which happen to be very strong in New Zealand and South Africa but have misserably ran out of public in Australia.
  2. The present Super 14 contract expires in 2010 and a new one is to be signed. Two of the three SANZAR unions (NZ, OZ) are hoping for bigger revenue whereas there has been certain gossip about the third side (SA) to quit playing super rugby to join northern hemisphere's competitions.
  3. Argentina has been asking for a long time to be included in one of the two 'nations' tournament.
  4. The Islanders had two teams in the first super rugby competitions.
  5. Japan has got money and pays well. (Ask Larkham, Flavell or Mortlock).

So, basically Australia is saying: "I don't have a domestic competition. I want more money, I want a franchise in Japan which I will feed with australian players. What NZ and SA should do is forget their useless domestic competitions and join my plan".

Is ARU right? Should SA and NZ focus more on how to increase revenues at the risk of losing their strong competitions? Is Japan the direction that this opening should take? What about the Argentinians and the Islanders?

Meanwhile in NZ...
And also...

100th post: It is not about rugby

If a hundred posts deserve any kind of celebration, this news is probably the best way to do it. It is certainly the best news I have ever heard. Of course, it's not about rugby.

A dolphin took two whales out of Mahian Beach, in Hawke's Bay, who had previously stranded and were about to die and guided them safely into the sea.

The lucky witness of this effort was Malcolm Smith, a Department of Conservation worker who had been trying to help the whales back to the sea.

Rugby vs Soccer

Six Nations: Wales succeeds and England colapses

Everything could have happened yesterday at Croke Park and the Welsh emerged victorious because they were running for their lives... I mean, Grand Slam. They have, at least, won the Triple Crown, and after the France-Italy game, they will receive the French at Cardiff knowing that only losing by 20 or more points they would not be champions.

So, congratulations, Wales.

Meanwhile, Scotland have most likely put Ashton's coaching place on vacancy by convincingly defeating England as all including coach Ashton admitted. What's up with England? I mean, what the hell are they playing at? Is not the awful performance of english lined-up players much worse than the axed Cipriani's? After all, Cipriani's fault did not happen while playing, but during his free time. What should England do with their players who failed so badly?

England's case is to be examined. They were almost certain of winning a Grand Slam; after all, they were RWC runner-ups and had Cipriani and Vainikolo... but after the initial loss, it seems they are no longer interested. France, on the contrary, have used this edition to start building on the future. The final test will be Wales, who has been the best side throughout the tournament.

It is going to be the best test of the tournament.

Super 14's fourth round

In short: the Sharks defeated the Blues.

A bit more ellaborated: Electrical start and astounding effort by the Sharks at the breakdown gives them the victory over a good Blues side. The Crusaders won and are leaders.

A bigger overview: Round four featured the clash of two of the three undefeated teams. After an impressive first ten minutes, the Sharks were leading 12-0 and their ability at the breakdown set it 19-0 before the Blues scored a penalty go to make it 19-3 at halftime. In the second half the Blues tried hard but the Sharks were again superb in defense and at the breakdown and only by a miracle, they didn't get a bonus point. The Blues looked close to it, to come back but at the end the game only lasted 80 minutes and the Sharks won. Both teams were brilliant. The Crusaders suffered to win at Perth, the Waratahs contested and triumphed against the Brumbies for the best aussie team and the Hurricanes extended their winning strike to three games against the Highlanders.

It was a nice round but for the loss of the Blues. The loss, however, is not a bitter defeat. It's the defeat of a team that offers signs that will get better and better. The breakdown is the area that needs more improvement, whereas the physical condition of the team is perhaps the best of the competition. The Crusaders are a very very very serious team and their bonus-point victory at Perth is going to give Carter and co some real under-pressure minutes to build. The Sharks seem to have less talent than the two New Zealand sides but to handle it very wisely.

ETA are terrorists

We don't fear them.
We are not haunted by their assassinations.
We want elections without deads.
We want them to stop.

Interview to Percy Mongomery

What follows is a translation of the interview that Springbok Percy Montgomery conceded to spanish newspaper El Mundo Deportivo on Feb 22 2008.

Coming from Saint Petersburg, where he and his teammates were awarded the Laureus Trophy for the best team of 2008, Percy Montgomery warmly welcomes us. "To be honest, I know spanish football (soccer) better than spanish rugby. My eldest son, who plays more footbal than rugby, has already watched a football game in Barcelona, but I don't know the cicty, yet; I've been told it's beautiful but I find myself at home here in Perpignan", says Percy.
Why did you move from South Africa to France? we ask him. "A change was much needed. I always wanted to play in France. As a child I watched Les Bleus tests and after winning the World Cup I made my mind. Besides, I like the french lifestyle and I also love the way they play rugby, the way the ball is passed here; their gamestyle is much like mine, so with these factors, and the fact that life in Perpignan is quietter than in my country, that the USAP has made it so easy (house, car), here I am...", he answers.
He's delighted with the house, neighbours, weather, food and language. He's also delighted of leaving his country after the World Cup madness. "I needed to leave, find new challenges: European Cup. That's what they have hired me for". Montgomery says that rugby is South Africa's national sport, but he finds names like Gary Player and now Ernie Els have helped a lot putting South Africa under the spotlight. "'Big Easy' is a great rugby aficionado and watched the final at Paris. Once it was over, he came with president Mbeki and we celebrated the triumph with some beer", he explains. About the third time myth, he says: "Of course there is a third time! Once you have won, there's no better way to celebrate than with a beer".
The 6 Nations is played by northern hemisphere teams wheras the southerns -South Africa, Australia and New Zealand- play the TriNations. "It would be wonderful to play the 6 Nations, but that's what the World Cup was made; to gather all big teams. The All Blacks are always favourites in the World Cup, althought they have only once won (1987). Montgomery thinks the kiwis have a lot of pressure, a lot is expected of them... But they are great players, I do have good friends there and next Rugby Wolrd Cup edition they will be favourites again", he points out.
Montgomery is adamant that the successes of the national rugby team (They won their first title in 1995) "has united people of different cultures and skin-colours, and that's very positive. The World Cup helped my country to feel a little bit more united. The celebration was spectacular".
The World Cup triumph helps the image of South Africa towards the 2010 Football World Cup. "Of course, we not only have the 'Big Five' (Lions, Leopards, Buffalos, Elefants and Cheetahs). We have a very beautiful country, a wonderful weather and security, although it's a problem, is being figthed by the government. I love my country but crime is a real problem and the government is facing it".
Montgomery has met a few times apratheid icon, ex-president Nelson Mandela. "I feel very lucky that I got to know him. He's a very good person and a big follower of ours. There is a before and after Mandela and my country has changed due to him".

See the original intervew (in spanish) at: El Mundo Deportivo

Cipriani axed

The pearl of the english rugby has been excluded from the english national side by coach Brian Ashton.

The reason? He's been found by some journalist during a night out.

I am no seer but a side with so many "accidents" is not to win a tournament like the 6 Nations. Focus on the tournament is a must.

England were supposed to win a Grand Slam this year. Everybody was expecting it. Now, it is not sure whom they are actually fighting.

Danny Cipriani does not want to commit himself to rugby discipline, while perhaps Julian Huxley won't be able to play again.

Mad World

Some things simply can't be understood.

Today we get to know that the IRB has said that Argentina will not join the Tri-Nations before 2012.

At the same time on the opposite side of the world, we know that the ARU is in talks with Japan to include a japanese Super franchise into the Super 14 Super-South Super-Rugby. Super.

What's going on? I mean, it's wonderful to draw the attention of japanese rugby to play in the Super 14. It would be a boost, I daresay. But, what is this thing about Argentina? I know that argentinian players play in the northern hemisphere and I can understand that only with their first team Argentina is going to be cleared to play in the Tri-Nations but...

Don't IRB thinking heads realise that by delaying Argentina to play in a major competition they are destroying any chances for argentinian rugby to stay on top? Argentinian rugby is perhaps the best thing that has happened to rugby worldwide. Many will tell you how special the rise of Argentina has been, the way they have built their rugby culture. But they need support. They are pledging to get into a big competition to keep improving, the only thing you could listen from argentinian players during their RWC success was: "don't leave us aside".

The funniest thing is that the IRB have tried to blame the UAR for the delay... IRB, what are you playing at?

Well, about the Japanese in the Super 14, I want to quote John O'Neill (ARU chief executive) words about a team based in Tokyo: "It would perhaps be half japanese, with Japan best players, and the other half foreign, predominately Australian".


All Blacks around the world (III): Laredo

First of all, I live in Laredo, a village in Spain populated by 15000 people.

Second, in Spain people think that rugby is a game played in the USA and has something called "touch-down" and a hero called something like "cuore-back".

Third, I don't know these guys performing Ka Mate in Laredo, so I can't believe that I found this.

Fourth, it's the worst haka I've ever witnessed but I love it, anyway. :-)

PS: We are 20,000 km away from New Zealand.

Julian Huxley has a (probably benign) brain tumor

We saw him faint during the Brumbies match against the Reds attempting a front-on tackle on a Reds player.

He was taken to a hospital.

Best of lucks for the Brumbies fullback.

Forth, Julian!

4 matches for the Bledisloe

It's the news of the day: A fourth game will be played in Hong Kong between New Zealand and Australia. This means that Deans' side will require 3 wins to get the Bledisloe Cup back and that the All Blacks will need just two wins.

Fair play would require an odd number of games in order to win the cup, as it is easier to win 2 of 3 for the side who lost last year than winning 3 of 4.

Warren Gatland speaks: "Kiwis are arrogant"

In a rare display of self-criticism Warren Gatland has stated that Kiwis are rarely aware of anything outside their borders and wrongly consider themselves as a world reference.

Is Watland right? I think most will agree (nonetheless Monsieur Rugbycan, I'm sure)

Is he wrong? Many new zealanders won't like Gatland's words. Is he regretful that he has not been given a super franchise coaching position?

But most important of all: Will he take Wales to the 6N title?

Blues, Crusaders and Sharks on top of table

With 3 wins out of 3 matches, Blues, Crusaders and Sharks are still the leaders of the Super 14 with the only difference between them being the four-tries bonus points gathered: three for the Blues, two for the Blues and one for the Sharks.

After their 3rd-week victories, the Hurricanes and the Brumbies have looked impressive and seem the main threat for the 3 above.

French first five eighths Frederic Michalak (he destroyed us oming off the bench on October the 6th) seems to have perfectly found his place in the South African team, and has scored for second straight week. Meanwhile, Blues backs Rocokoco and Toeava had a monster day against the Cheetahs, and certainly the Blues are the top scorer team with 45,7 points per game and top try scoring team with an average of 6 tries per game. On the other hand, the Crusaders have only allowed their oponents 7 points per game.

On the opposite side are the Highlanders. The Otago franchise failed, for third straight week, to gather a win. While young Vainikolo looks certainly promising, it is the more experienced players of the team the ones who have to step up. Next week Dunedin will host the Hurricanes in a must-win game for the Highlanders.