3 weeks to go

It's incredible. Just 3 weeks ago it seemed impossible that anyone could put Blues and Sharks out of the semifinals and the only question was which of the 'tahs, the Hurricanes or the West Force could grab the fourth place.

Now, only the Crusaders have maintained their pace and lead ahead of everyone while Stormers, 'tahs and Chiefs have proved the real powers of this part of the tournament. The 'tahs are happily second and it seems difficult that a miracle could prevent them from playing a semifinal. The Chiefs have won 5 in a row (franchise record) and tie with Sharks (unbelievable, right?) with the promise of a last heartbreaker game in Durban in week 14. The Stormers also keep winning and winning and tie with the Hurricanes 5-6 just a point behind Sharks and Chiefs.

But three more teams could also be in the semifinals provided they manage to bonus-point win their three games: Brumbies, non-resilient Blues and even the Force.

This is the schedule for the last three weeks. In red I have coloured the key games (the ones I would expect to be decissive).

Week 12:
Crusaders-Sharks (a hard game for the Sharks, as the Crusaders seek a home semifinal)
Reds - Blues (nothing less thatn 5 points is expected from a talented but agonising Blues side)
Hurricanes - Lions (another side who should pick a bonus point, the Hurricanes have the lightest schedule for the last three weeks)
Force - Chiefs (a must win for the two sides but the Force does not look good enough to stop the hot Chiefs)
Bulls - Waratahs (the 'tahs should win here as the Bulls fight for very little right now)
Stormers - Brumbies (another must wind for the two sides, could rule either side out of the semifinals but expect the Brumbies to lose here)

Week 13:
Hurricanes - Force (only if the Force has still any chance by week 13, it can be tough for the Hurricanes)
Bulls - Brumbies (I expect this match to mean nothing by the time it is played)
Highlanders - Blues (the key match for the Blues. They need another bonus point and it will be really hard to beat the Highlanders at Dunedin)
Reds - Crusaders (the revenge of the pre-season game and nothing else)
Sharks - Cheetahs (no matter what will have happened in week 12, this will be a win for the Durban franchise)
Lions - Chiefs (the only easy game for Laulala and co)
Stormers - Waratahs (the Stormers have it difficult to get to the semifinals, and here they will miss Burger a lot, but I cannot foresee what will happen)

Week 14:
Blues - Hurricanes (the end of the dream for one (or even both) of the two NZ franchises. I wish the Hurricanes will win)
Crusaders - Highlanders (if the Crusaders have lost any of the two previous games, this one will put them into the home semifinal)
Reds - Waratahs (a must win for the 'tahs)
Lions - Stormers (5 points for the Stormers)
Sharks - Chiefs (this will rule one of the two sides definately out of the semifinals)

My prediction:

Crusaders, Waratahs, Hurricanes and Chiefs. The Chiefs could be replaced by the Stormers depending on the outcome of the week 14.

It is such a close call, such a close call...

Crusaders vs Blues: That's why I like rugby

A game like the one these two monter teams played yesterday is my reason to love rugby. The game was one of the best I have witnessed, with the Blues adding the spice and the Crusaders the efectiveness.

The Crusaders won at last and managed to get a bonus point, while the Blues have plenty of opportunities to cross the line which were spoiled by inches (and a ferocious Crusaders defense). The Blues won't get to the semifinals, but they have a lot of things to be pleased. Their rugby is spectacular, and if only they could retain Nacewa (much better playing at first five) and Evans, next year they will surely rock. On the other hand, few teams look good enough for these Crusaders and I don't think anyone can stop them in their run for their (seventh?) super title.

Just one last thing. The Crusaders have shown a quality that I thought it only belonged to the SA sides, which is, capitalising from opponent's errors. It would be the best thing to export to the All Blacks, who in my opinion, are far more similar to the Blues than they are to the Crusaders.

You cannot play in the All Blacks if you don't play the Super 14...

...unless your name starts with "D" and ends with "an Carter".

Or so it seems the NZRU is willing to do. NZRU would be relaxing its policy to gain the All Black jersey. They would accept a player who's played a year abroad. Does it makes any sense to you?

Just watch it here.

I think this is a shy step and the full step will be taken sooner or later.

Nacewa leaves to join Leinster

«I really enjoy playing for the Blues and Auckland but am very aware I have to make the most of my playing career while I can. All of us in this game know it is for a finite time-period so it really comes down to making smart decisions short and long-term»

Did everyone understand now?

Independent review of the World Cup.

Much has been said about the revision of the New Zealand World Cup campaign. Blames have been like knifes, thrown here and there to any unwarded back.

Our dear friends at RugbyHeaven ask why the World Cup revision has been published only after 6 months are past and the new coach is already appointed. I wonder if this terrible timing would have been so harshly criticised by them with Robbie Deans coaching the All Blacks. Richie McCaw has also been blamed of lack of leadership (again).

I have not paid much attention to any of these comments but I want to talk about the last one, appeared again within the articles of RugbyHeaven, by an ex All-Blacks coach, Laurie Mains.

Laurie Mains is surgerily right when he says that such revision cannot seriously focus only on 10 minutes of a match. NZRU should not be pleased with such a simple analysis. I mean, just remember the infamous article: "France pose absolutely no threat to the All Blacks". Even if the All Blacks would have won that match via a drop goal, it became clear that France certainly posed a kind of threat. The question after Laurie Mains article is: How did the All Blacks manage to perform worse than ever? This has not been answered yet. Laurie also asks loudly for the apparent lack of independence in a so-called independent review. Why no ex All Black coaches were asked to give their opinions?

All in all, it seems certain that NZRU should put more effort in trying to be more open. Now I wonder... Why was Deans not chosen? Has it got to do with the different ways that Deans and Henry carry these things? Is Deans too open for the NZRU?

First warning to the Crusaders

If ever the Crusaders followers, staff and players thought it to be easy, they should, as well as the Sharks, be really aware of how thin is the edge between the success and the downwards-spiral that the Blues are facing.

We all know that the Crusaders were ripe to lose. We all knew that the Chiefs are on fire...

But what we all expect now is the Crusaders to stand and show that their muscle is still the strongest.

Beware, Crusaders. This is the first warning.

NZRU can't compete.

Carter's offer by the Stade Toulousain sums up to almost € 1 million per one year.

Dear Steve Tew... What if the players abroad could be elligible for the All Blacks?

Nacewa is the last name

We all knew that Nick Evans, Jerry Collins, Daniel Carter, Mose Tuiali'i... were all being chased by europeans clubs. Now it seems that Nacewa is the last name to an already long list of talented players who could head towards the Northern Hemisphere.

And the NZRU says they are going to fight this battle. The battle of Carter, they mean. They have even uttered words about a ight after some tunnel. Well, they NZRU should not be conservative at this point and adapt to the present time. On and on it seems that privatising the Super franchises is the only way to go to the battle, and besides, no one is really sure on what are the good things of not selecting players abroad to play with the Black jersey.

Either or you want to be professional or not. But this NZRU seems to be not wanting to make the full travel and remains somewhere in the middle of the two shores.

Wake up.

All Blacks mid field

I have said throughout this 2008 super 14 season that I would pick the Blues front row, the Crusaders second row and the Hurricanes third row for the All Blacks.

Now I begin to wonder whether 12 & 13 would not be wisely given to the Hurricanes.

After the flights of both Mauger and McAlister to U.K. voices raised about the All Blacks mid field. Credit is for Graham Henry as he said that he had no worry about the mid field. Ma'a Nonu is playing simply great. Just watch him fire in the game against the Bulls, while Conrad Smith may certainly be the most serious player at centre.

What will Henry choose? Brett at 12? Toeava at 13? Nonu and Smith?

Whatever he chooses, he has a wonderful pool available.

(Update: April 13th, Wayne Smith seems to agree)

Blues: David Nucifora is not the problem

but is he the solution?

Michalak supports ELV's.

It must be the english way of doing anything, but I am amazed of the big number of self-credited opinions of northern hemispherers about the ELVs when it is a fact that no northern hemisphere match has been played under these.

Frederic Michalak, who happens to be a different sort of player, is perhaps the only northern to have ever played under the Stellenbosch laws and, how weird! he likes them!

Perhaps Michalak should go in pilgrimage northwards spreading the ELV word. I could even forgive some forward pass. Well, perhaps I cannnot.

Below par

In Justin Marshall's words, this edition of the 6N has been "below par".

For some two weeks I have been quite out of the world of rugby and I have not paid attention to all the dumbness that keeps the world going on. I must be kind of awakening now, as I consider Justin Marshall has just said too much.

"Justin: below par? Do you mean below par?"

It amazes me how much the smallest ones keep on trying and trying, never giving up, to maybe have a chance some day and be able to find themselves in a position of winning. If then the referees, luck and establishments allow them; perhaps they will have a chance to be crown winners.

Just to find that somebody calls that edition below par?

Oh no, pal. Whatever but not below par. England were presenting their best possible squad. A week before the tournament started, you would have not betted on an english Grand Slam just because it was so poorly rewarded. The RWC runner-ups, with a rejuvenated team, keeping the good and adding quality... could they ever lose? Italy is getting better and better. Narrow losses against every team but Wales and their yearly win against Scotland makes them certainly not below par. Ireland's rugby was not certainly below par. Ireland's rugby is where the past years have taken them. Perhaps, the only discussion could be whether the French side was as good as it could have been or not. And here, I will agree that the French side is meant to grow stronger. But it happens once and again: teams need changes from time to time and it has been so for ages. It is not something new, nor has ever any edition been called "below par" just because the French were trying to start again. However, three wins and losses to England and Wales don't certainly make a weak France.

Give credit to the Welsh. They played well. They grew up as a team every week and they have shown some outstanding things. It's true that luck has been with them at times, but no one is crowned champion with no luck at all.

Wales deserved it and it is unfair to call the tournament "below par" just because neither France nor England got the title.

Auckland Blues

No one denies the quality of the Auckland Blues side.
With an outstanding front row, skilled locks and first-class third-rowers, they possess a strong pack. One of the strongest of the Super 14, in fact.

Hm... maybe at the breakdown they are not that strong.

With Evans, Toeava, Tuitavake and co, their backs are pure quality. This is the part of the field where most is expected of the Blues. No matter that Rokocoko can't play, they are superb. Wulf, Pisi and co are also outstanding.

That is why I think the Blues are going to come back to the "easy things" and smash the Brumbies on Saturday. Of course, with a bonus point. No matter if Nacewa plays or is finally sidelined.

But the road to the semifinals is far from easy, anyway.

Weekend News

I have been out and couldn't follow the action.
This is what has happened this weekend:

  • The Highlanders won their first game
  • The Hurricanes were stolen a game against the Sharks
  • Doug Howlett scored a try in Munster's defeat of Gloucester
  • The Chiefs and the Waratahs won convincingly and seem serious candidates to reach the top 4
  • SA halted NZ strike at Adelaida 7s final
  • Voices are rising that NZ rugby should change

Ich bin ein Highlander

All strikes come to an end. And by taking advantage of Lions defense, the Highlanders have finally recorded a win that should have come much earlier. Good news for the Highlanders and, we hope, the start of a completely different second leg of the regular season for them

Highlanders 29 - Lions 20