Gareth Thomas makes an important step forward

So, Gareth Thomas is gay.

There's nothing wrong with that in my book.

Best of lucks to Gareth Thomas, because being gay and an important name in sport don't often get along very well.

New format for NPC: can it fool anyone?

Now, it seems the Air New Zealand Cup is going to have Canterbury, Wellington, Waikato, Hawkes Bay, Auckland, Otago and Southland in the "Premiership" and Manawatu, Counties Manukau, Tasman, North Harbour, Taranaki, Bay of Plenty and Northland in the "Championship".


Who's going to win the championship?
Who's going to have the Log'o Wood?
Who's going to have the crowds?
Who's going to be cut down when the money runs out?

Yeah, sure, keep thinking the NPC is still a 14-team competition.

The season is over

December is come and with December, the usual Barbarians games against a southern nation announces the end of the rugby season.

While northerners have just started the new campaign and are positioning themselves in the Top 14, Magners, Guinnes Premiership and Heineken Cup, the south takes a deep breath.

This season has shown the might of the South Africans. Forget about stupid arguments, this is not about who's the best, this is about strengths. South Africa have shown theirs and these and not any others you should expect from them in New Zealand in 2011.

The rest of the nations are more or less underdone, with the possible exceptions of Wales and Ireland. Wales, Ireland and South Africa are the closest ones to the final product, while England, France, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand are still looking for it.

If you think you know which situation is better, I will warn you, in 2006 the Springboks were put to the sword by the Wallabies by a record 49-0.

Fear the Wallabies, bet for a very strong kiwi side, expect the unexpectable from the French and be warned about the English, they will play better in two years time. About the Argentinians, I don' t really know.

Wallabies Grand Slam tour is at last finished

If anything, this tour has shown how easily the Wallabies could have achieved their second Grand Slam tour.

A Brian O'Driscoll play at Corke Park denied the Wallabies a win over Ireland, while a missed conversion by Giteau made the difference between winning and losing at Murrayfield.

But being so close and still not being able to accomplish the goal is one of the worst situations that you can be in.

The Wallabies should be aware that it is only their fault, their inability to win close matches, the main reason that is preventing them for realising their full potential.

It's a tough task to find it once you have lost it.

Deans' end

Last post was about Richie McCaw and how close could he be to the end of his rugby career.

This one is about Robbie Deans' end as Wallabies coach.

  1. In 2009, the Wallabies have played 13 tests, with 5 wins, 7 losses and one draw.
  2. In 2008-2009, the Wallabies have played 27 tests, with 14 wins, 12 losses and one draw.
  3. Eddie Jones was sacked in 2001 with a better success rate.
  4. Deans' continuity has been a subject addressed by up to 5 different sources, including ARU boss John O'Neill in the 24 hours following the Scottish hiding.
  5. This season the relation between the ARU and Australian players has been patchy at its best, and clearly Robbie Deans has been supporting the ARU. Issues have arised with Giteau, Tuqiri, and bold coaching decissions like those involving Smith, Mortlock, the captaincy and vice-captaincy have certainly not helped.
  6. Australia should have never lost to Scotland.
Robbie Deans is a good coach. He is an outstanding coach, in fact. But this Wallabies team apparently has got a lot of internal issues that he has not yet managed to fix. I wonder if anyone is capable to fix them.

I don't know if the ARU should keep him or sack him, what I do know is that winning is the best way to solve them, and solving them is the best way to winning.

And Robbie Deans has not managed to do any of those things.

Richie McCaw's closing to the end

First the All Blacks coaches said they were preparing an understudy for McCaw's subsitute.
Then it was suggestions that McCaw could eventually switch to 8 latter in his career.
After that we sought him playing 8 for Canterbury.
Last week the talk was how damaged and stressed was McCaw's body after a test.
A few days ago we knew that McCaw would skip the first three games of the Super 14 2010
Also this week he could be seen scrummaging at 8 during the All Blacks training session.

All in all, McCaw can't last forever, as tough as he is, putting his body to the line, week in week out. So I bet he will be targetting RWC 2011 as his ultimate goal. Nothing longer than that. Yes, perhaps he will still play for a year or so after the RWC, but he's sending out messages that rugby's a heavy burden when you are an openside, and just like Schalk Burger's and George Smith's, his body's got a limit.

I like him more than ever.

Graham Henry's words about the Twitter afair

"I had to find out what bloody Twitter was. I thought it was a new guy playing five-eighth for England."

Scrummaging, Boks-Saracens and Habana citing

Three questions have been cleared out in the past 24 hours.

Referee Stu Dickinson from Australia has been cited for his refereeing of the scrums in the Italy-New Zealand. The news have been gathered with joy by the kiwi team. While I think it's fair Stu Dickinson's job has been revised, I don't think Paddy O'Brien should go much into the details, as is exposed here. Ok, the guy did a mistake. Moreso, he did it once and again and, fortunately, it did not affect the outcome of the match. Let the guy learn what he missed (the binding of Castrogiovanni) and he'll be better for it. But dirty clothes are cleaned at home, goes a saying in my land, and I think that Dickinson has already coped with a lot of flak. Paddy O'Brien should be true to his word and remember his fellows are the referees and not the kiwis, kiwi as he may be.

The Boks are simply lost. Three consecutive losses against Leicester, France and Saracens are three to many. Now games against Italy and Ireland will be tougher, especially the one against the Irish. Plenty to lose and not much to win for the Boks as things are right now.

Habana citing for a kick to France's Vincent Clerc has been dismissed for some unclear reason. While I think the video clearly shows that Habana's leg was pulled by Traille and therefore it is France's number 15 the one who should have been cited, it is far from encouraging to know that a possible explanation of the dismissal is that the citing was not made within the legal 48 hours after the game was played. What is so rotten in the governing bodies for these things to happen? I am so glad that Habana did not mean to kick the French player... Bok as he is, he is one of the best sportsmen I know and only fair play I have ever witnessed from him. As long as no other prove is presented to me, he will in my mind, be not guilty of such behaviour. (That does not mean that I want anything different for him than to be badly beaten by whoever wearing the 14 jersey any time)

Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika

Some Springboks accepted it with a smile. Keep it cool, guys, anthems shouldn't be such a serious thing :)

Weekend's games in two sentences

France - Springboks: A very spirited french team. Were those guys really the Springboks?
Italy - All Blacks: Nice forwards effort by the italians. Where did you say the depth in NZ's gone?
England - Argentina: Argentina needs game time in the Southern Hemisphere. England needs a new 15.
Ireland - Australia: Australia should start learning how to finish games off. It's becoming a familiar trend to spoil it over in the dying minutes.

Good bye, McLinden

Brisbane Reds are a Super 14 franchise full of talent; Ioane, Cooper, MacMeniman, McLinden, Barnes, Horwill...

It is beyond my understanding how they have systematically been at the bottom of the table and the worst-performing of the aussie franchises. I always said and I'll say it again: I like the Reds.

But it is awful news that Mark McLinden has announced his retirement. He's a great player, very experienced, and the Reds are surely going to miss him, especially since this has been only year two after Chris Latham left to England.

Sad news for the Reds and sad news for Australia.

The fact that he's quitted due to health issues makes it sadder. I remember Julian Huxley who's also got to quit.

Best of lucks for Mark in the future.

Gatland is only doing his job

Warren Gatland complaining at the referee is not something that should surprise anybody. The fact that at least two tries were denied to the All Blacks is something that he was always going to "forget" in his criticism to the referee.

Just exactly when was a scored try much more important than a clearly-unintentional high tackle?

The plain truth is that whereas the All Blacks did never show more skill than the willing Welsh (except when it comes down to tackle, especially with their flambuoyant left winger), physically they were a level above. And the game was always going to be Black.

But Warren Gatland has sworn he'll get them to the promise land, and now he's just trying to convince them he's leading them there.

Congratulations, Can'bury

A final with a lot of starring players.

Brett, phenomenal with his boot, for once.
Alby Mathewson, the smartest guy in NZ?
Victor Vito, skill and power.
George Whitelock, growing and growing and growing.

But above all, one who shut them all. Despite being sin-binned, despite being intercepted in the Lions first try, Colin Slade was the main figure of the match. He was all around, intercepting, catching the high ball, giving counter-attack chances, and scoring.

Congratulations, Can'bury, and congratulations, Slade.

Quade Cooper

Yes! Yes!

I don't exactly like Australia, but Quade Cooper is my man. I like him ever since the first time I saw him. It is not really a coincidence that he is a born-kiwi, is it?

He has had limited opportunities at the Wallabies, but he's always performed,I think. I don't see the need of moving Ashley-Cooper to 2nd five eighth, when he's available.

Robbie, please consider using Gits and Quade Cooper. Or Quade Cooper and Barnes. He's not the best defender, but he's got skill and speed and is a great player.

Not that Carlos Spencer was the best man to outplay him, though.

Air New Zealand Cup semifinals

Canterbury came back in fashion from their Ranfurly Shield defeat against a willing Hawke's Bay side who made a few too many errors. If only two weeks ago the Magpies were denied a chance to draw the game by the lack of a TMO in the ruling of the final action, on Friday they had none. Canterbury played a semifinal with the aim to host the final, and it showed.

Isaac Ross was impressive, just like Stephen Brett was. George Whitelock drew his series against Lowe after a clear sweep by the black and white seven two weeks ago. The whole team stepped up and Rob Penney must surely feel confident.

The most entertaining game, both before and during the game was the one played in Wellington. The Stags must call themselves unlucky that Wellington rediscovered the magic in time for the semifinal. The second half of that game is a must-see. Running rugby, going from coast to coast and tons of quality in both sides. I could give you a few names who were worth to see playing: Scott Cowan, Jason Kawau, Hosea Gear, Victor Vito, David Smith, Josh Bekhuis...

A really exciting game in which the better team won. Wellington Lions may well be this year ready to secure the title that they just let slip last year.

Where the fifteenth franchise?

Eastern Cape or Melbourne?

Well, I don't know what would be best in terms of rugby, I know what would be best for SA, and I know what would be best for Australia.
David Kirk and a retired NZ High Court Judge will determine where the fifteenth franchise goes.

Something tells me that Eastern Cape have no choice. They already have 5 franchises and I don't see kiwis accepting so easily super rugby growing in SA. If we add to this that the conference system forces the new franchise shall play in the AU conference, it means there are hundreds of reasons that can be used in order to justify the election of Melbourne.

So, I don't know what is best, although I have a certain soft spot for the Eastern Cape proposal, but I'm sure of one thing: the franchise goes to Melbourne. It is two kiwis who will have the last word, remember.

Journos asking the impossible

Now there's this Marc Hinton asking silly things again.

Yes, he's done it here. He's asking 5 things to the All Blacks coaches, among them, two pearls:

-use the kick and chase that SA have use to good effect.
-make the game appealing.

Yes, both at the same time.
You are a genious, Marc.

Counting frames

SA-based rugby365 proudly shouts out loud that the All Blacks have ended up counting frames to study lineout jumps, specially Matfield's jumps:

"The All Blacks research unit counted frames on jumpers and Springbok Victor Matfield was the quickest in the world from the ground to the peak of his jump."

The truth is no one needs a single replay to see that Matfield is the quickest jumper on the test arena. The truth is that quicker does not mean better. The truth is that the Lions were able to get a decent percentage of ball from lineouts against the Springboks, and the truth is that those are the videos the All Blacks should be studying.

Southland to get the Ranfurly Shield??

Wyatt Crocket, Corey Flynn, Owen Franks, Brad Thorn, Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Andy Ellis, Daniel Carter.

These are the names of the 8 players Penney won't have in the final defense of the Ranfurly Shield against a stron Southland side who have thrashed Tasman 41-0 and cleanly swept Taranaki 29-13 in their last two games.

Southland only unavailable player due to All Blacks tour is Jimmy Cowan.

Possible Canterbury squad:

15.- Colin Slade
14.- Sean Maitland
13.- Casey Laulala
12.- Tim Bateman
11.- James Paterson
10.- Stephen Brett
9.- Tyson Keats
8.- Nasi Manu
7.- George Whitelock
6.- Michael Paterson
5.- Isaac Ross
4.- Sam Whitelock
3.- Peter Borlase
2.- Ti'i Paulo
1.- Andrew Olorenshaw

Likely Southland Squad:

15.- Glen Horton
14.- Matt Saunders
13.- Kendrick Lynn
12.- Jason Kawau
11.- Pehi Te Whare
10.- Robbie Robinson
9.- Scott Cowan
8.- David Hall
7.- Tim Boys
6.- John Hardie
5.- Joe Tuineau
4.- Josh Bekhuis
3.- Chris King
2.- Jason Rutledge
1.- Jamie Mckintosh

If I were from Invercagill, I would be licking my lips.

Ben Alexander said...

(speaking of Tony Woodcock)

''He is such a smart guy. He constantly adapts and is regularly changing the way he scrummages. You have some loose-heads who scrum one way, and once you figure that out, you can nullify them. But as Woodcock is constantly changing, it makes it very hard. He's definitely given a lot of opposing props curry over the years.''

Steve Tew said

"I'm going to watch with some interest how Graham goes with the lineout"

All Blacks touring squad

The most surprising thing about the squad that will travel northwards is not the inclusion of Delany or Smith. My personal opinion is that they, just like a number of young New Zealand players, really deserve the call.

The most surprising thing is not the absence of Rokocoko, de Malmanche or Ross, either. Rokocoko is a shadow of what he used to be, de Malmanche has indeed got to improve his throwing in, and Ross... well, the selectors had been given hints that he wouldn't tour, had they not?

The most surprising thing about the squad is the coaching reshuffle that Henry has orchestrated and that points towards a name: Steve Hansen. He, as forwards coach has already been named as the ultimate responsible for a poor forwards delivery (mainly in the lineout, really) during the Tri Nations and by taking over the forwards coach duties, Graham Henry implicitly acknowledges Hansen's critics.

Steve Hansen would have been dropped from any other coaching staff, but not from this one which seemingly will march apiece or die apiece.

Interesting. This ought to be seen as loyalty. Loyalty of Henry towards Hansen, just two years after the toughest times in Henry's coaching career, when both Hansen and Smith remained loyal to Henry.

It was a try!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sona Taumalolo scored a try, right during injury time, when his team was 20-27 down that was disallowed in a wrong call by international referee Chris Pollock.

Hawke's Bay played well and deserved more in a high-quality game against the best side in New Zealand (a side with 10 All Blacks, nothing less).

Something's going on in the Bay, and not even the wrong calls of referees will stop it. Zac Guilford, Israel Dagg and Thomas Waldrom, they all deserve a close look by Graham Henry.

All Blacks midfield

With Conrad Smith back in action last week for Wellington, some injury concerns the All Blacks had about their tour may have been eased. Some may not.
Richard Kahui and Isaia Toeava are out for the tour... and Luke McAlister may well join them this very week.

Who's then, ready to travel northwards? Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith, for sure.
Who else? Well, there's plenty to choose from: Tamati Ellison from Wellington, and Shoemark and Kawau from Southland also deserve a close look at them. Canterbury provide a few names; with Laulala leaving NZRU he misses what would have been a certain selection but still, Ryan Crotty, Tim Bateman and even Stephen Brett could fill the 12 position.

Plenty to choose from, actually. But who's going to be besides Nonu and Smith?

Save our teams

There is a campaing in favour of the four "condemned" teams that are going to be cut from the Air New Zealand Cup.

These teams, independently from their performance are thought to be:
  • Northland,
  • Counties Manukau,
  • Manawatu,
  • Tasman.
From now on, I will support the Makos in their Air New Zealand Cup campaign and in their fight to survive the axe.

Here's the website:

I don't know if the NZRU is right or wrong, I don't know if 4 teams, 2 teams, 1 team or no team at all need to get out of the way, but I cannot help but feel sorry for a team that is performing as well as Tasman is performing and by no means I'd like to see them axed. NZRU must be certainly afraid of Otago and Auckland performing poorly if they don't dare to take the decission on axing exclusively according to each teams performance.

Go Tasman!! Go Makos!!

Depth in NZ rugby

I was wondering what to write about Graham Henry's comments on the direction the game is going when I fetched the post of Totalflanker on this very subject.

While I basically agree with his point of view, there was something he said that's giving me headache after headache. He (wisely) adviced Graham Henry to look inside New Zealand Rugby for answers and solutions to the underperforming All Blacks instead of blaming the rest of the World.

But what in opinion of Totalflanker is a main problem is the lack of depth at lock, first five and openside flanker; When I read that, it totally stunned me.

I then said to myself there's no lack of depth at first five: Slade, Cruden, Brett, Bowden and even Witt are gifted players... the only problem is the World doesn't know of his existence as they have not been internationally tested. At lock we have been missing Chris Jack and Ali Williams, while Brad Thorn has been outstanding and two new guys are up there: Ross and Donnelly. We cannot forget Boric and Eaton, as well. They all need more tests, indeed, but there's no real lack of depth.

Openside flanker is another story and I do conceed there are not many openside flankers for Henry to choose from.

But then, I review what my thoughts about depth are and I say to myself that quality is undoubtedly there, but quality is not exactly depth.

Jake White was always proud of the increasing test experience of his squad. The Boks are, right now, the most experienced squad in the World in number of test caps, with over 600 caps. How many caps do Slade, Donnelly, Cruden, Boric, Eaton and Brett add up?

And then I say to myslef: What the All Blacks need is caps. Not more caps on senior players, but caps on the youngsters. Caps for Kaino, Thomson, de Malmanche, Donald, Masaga, Gear, Ross, Boric, Eaton, Slade, Vito, Cruden...

But how in the hell are you supposed to give caps to the All Blacks if they are neverallowed to lose? Do you choose experience to win a test or capping ahead of the next future?

And then I thought that being the All Blacks coach must be one of the most delicate tasks a person may have in NZ.

But that does not make Henry innocent of doing a "Peter de Villiers" about the penalty goals.

All Blacks contenders

So, 2009 Tri Nations is over. Now sights are put on the future. Who'll be contending for a position in 2 years time?

Let's see them all;
  • PROPS: You have Woodcock and Tialata as first-choice options, and then, young Owen Franks, John Afoa, Wyatt Crocket; Southlander Mackintosh is ready to resume his career while Newland would also be a good choice. Do expect Carl Hayman to be back in time for 2011
  • HOOKERS: Andrew Hore and Keven Mealamu are going to be there. Aled de Malmanche seems to be just there, too. The future is of his. Are there any other options? Unfortunately Flynn's too injury prone to be counted on. I would rather go with Hika Elliot.
  • LOCKS: Henry's concern has been on the lock position for two long years. Last year, Brad Thorn and Ali Williams were miraculously perfect. This year, with Williams injured, Boric injured, young Isaac Ross has got to take the reins. I hope he won't be found guilty for the All Blacks woes with the Lineout. Brad Thorn and Ali Williams just have to be there. Next are Isaac Ross and Chris Jack (he's coming home). And then, Boric, Eaton and the new kid on the block, Tom Donnelly. I personally like Bekhuis as the Stag is doing a fine ANZ.
  • LOOSE FORWARDS: Richie McCaw is the only player you will always expect to be selected here. Not even great So'oailo has managed to secure a place. Read, Kaino and Thomson are next to the skipper. Then, you could be looking for So'oailo, Latimer, Messam and, perhaps we shall see him this very November wearing the Black Jersey, Victor Vito.
  • HALFBACKS: Although disappointing, Cowan has been consistently the best halfback of the international season. Leonard is better than Cowan, but he's just out of form. I would say that Andy Ellis is my preferred choice for halfback, he did shine with the Crusaders.
  • FIRST FIVE & SECOND FIVE: Daniel Carter is a certainty here, and so is Luke McAlister. Stephen Donald will always be a backup, but I would like to see youngsters Cruden and Slade. Add Nonu also here and, more than anything I would love to see also Nick Evans here.
  • CENTRE: Kahui, Toeava, Smith and Laulala.
  • WINGS: A big problem of late. Sivivatu's doing well, more or less, when he's fine. But Rokocoko seems to be struggling and neither Gear nor Masaga take their chances to claim a clearly open position. Wulf could be there, and even Doug Howlet could be filling a position here.
  • FULLBACK: Mils Muliaina and Cory Jane are first and second choice. Israel Dagg is a promising third choice. Some others could be a fill-in fullback: Slade, Toeava and even Rudy Wulf.

Robbie Deans' credit is over

Just look here.

Robbie Deans may or may not be guilty of the poor 2009 performances by the Wallabies, but he's run out of credit.

Now the Wallabies must deliver or his time as Australia's Head Coach shall be over.

At the other shore of the Tasman Sea, Henry's head stands firmly, as we all know nothing is going to remove "Ted" from his position until 2011. But then, NZ hopes may be fading, after a three consecutive losses to SA and another loss to France.

Rugby is nowadays a 4-year sport and we are right in the middle of this 4-year race with the All Blacks losing ground to first-placed Springboks and the Wallabies asking themselves if they have what it gets to go the full distance.

Argentina in the mix

So, it is official, Argentina has been invited to join the SANZAR to expand the Tri Nations into what would be the Four Nations.

I say it's good news for Argentina, and it's good for the Southern Hemisphere. Argentina has a lot to offer to rugby and ... wouldn't it be better anyway to switch from three games against the same two opponents to 2 games against 3 opponents?

Long have most of us been waiting for this to happen. And 2012 it's not by any means an early date, I daresay. But it will be good for everyone.

It was exciting, but not good

The game was full of excitement. The All Blacks finally found themselves a way to demolish the Springboks defense in open play... but it was only too late.

Don't be mistaken, it was the fitness factor. SA players just couldn't find their breath for the last 15 minutes. And when they were so severely punished, they played with intelligence. Set pieces to set pieces. Did you pay attention on to how annoyed was McCaw when the referee didn't let the play go on? He was on the edge of a penalty for complaining. During the dying moments, Carter's foot made the difference, but in the end, it was not enough.

The first 65 minutes, though, we saw a repetition of what happened in SA. Green waves barely contained by the All Blacks and error after error from NZ. I repeat, it's not skill, it's physicality. Unlike the Wallabies last week, the All Blacks couldn't match the Springboks physically. And it made the difference.

The Springboks are the best team in the World. Can anyone be World Champions, win the Tri Nations, be ranked number 1 and not be the best team in the World?

PdV is getting annoying

"People don't want to see other teams being successful. That is my biggest problem at the moment,"
-Springbok coach Peter de Villiers

So, is it Peter de Villiers against the whole rugby world who don't want South Africa to be on the top?

No, Mr. de Villiers, that is not your biggest problem at the moment. Your biggest problem at the moment is your first row.

Air New Zealand Cup Question

Where in NZ can you hear bagpipes during a rugby match, and even hear a famous european national anthem?

Bonus question: which anthem is it?

Air New Zealand Cup

2009 may well be the year of the Air New Zealand Cup.

In 2007, the World Cup made us even forget than for the first time a SA side won the Super 14.
In 2008, the heat was so intense in the ELVs and the re-built wallabies, boks and all blacks that the 3N was everything one could think of.

2009, on the contrary, has been so pleasant for SA, that everybody is turning their attention to the domestic competitions.

In New Zealand, particularly, that and the fact that at the end of the competition 4 unions will be dismissed from the "first division" of provincial rugby have drawn the hearts of the rugby fans, all wishing to know, all wishing to see.

I daresay that the Canterbury-Wellington game where the Ranfurly Shield was in dispute has had as many fans (in NZ) as the test in Sydney the week before. Besides, young guns like Aaron Cruden (Manawatu), Israel Dagg (Hawke's Bay) and the amazing league convert Michael Witt (Otago) keep us dreaming of future days of glory for the men who were the black.

At the moment, Canterbury, an amazing Bay Of Plenty and Southland are in the top of the competition. Big names Wellington, Otago and Auckland fare in the middle of the table whereas Waikato are slightly behind. None of the big 5 shall worry about being cut. They are out of the equation.

That is pretty unfair, even more unfair if one thinks that, from 2011 on, the promotion/relegation system will be based only in the table points.

But except for Counties Manukau, who are struggling with a number of injuries, and perhaps North Harbour (yes, North Harbour, no less) the rest is in a fierce competition to avoid the cut. Taranaki, Manawatu, Hawke's Bay... they seem all doom to stay. Even mor safe is the future for Southland and Bay of Plenty.

And the future could be gloomingly dark for Northland and, so sad but so true, Tasman. Tasman could be the biggest victim of the whole system. Last year their performance was outstanding. This year, they are again in the hunt... But their sin is being a small union... And that's equivalent to being spanish in a race against an ethiopian athlete; if she falls, you will be disqualified.Tasman is in danger of being disqualified.

By the way, if you are wondering what about the winner, I'll tell you it's less important, but if you want to know, Canterbury shall win again this year.

About coaches

Springboks, Wallabies and All Blacks.
That is to say: PdV, dingo Deans and "Ted".

This is the alpha and the omega of the southern hemisphere as we know it (Argentina, where art thou, Argentina?).

For the last year and a half, no coach in the world (except perhaps Manolo Preciado but he's got nothing to do with this sport nor with this hemisphere) has accumulated more detractors than Peter de Villiers. I have read it in almost any blog, in almost any newspaper; that PdV is a puppet, an outspoken jester, that he'd better sober up... Now, all of a sudden, he's made a seemingly unvincible team and no one is paying due tribute to him; they all now speak of the Springboks, of du Preez, of Steyn...

Dingo Deans is perhaps the most appreciated coach in the world. The most succesful coach in Super Rugby history has exactly had one year and 4 games before the first critics have arisen. They respect him; they don't dare to criticise anything other than he being stuck to certain players. But the coach who had arrived in Australia to make a champion team can be running out of time. What would be his fate if the Wallabies don't win a single game in 2009's Tri Nations?

"Ted" is the man under whom the All Blacks have had the best period in their history and the worst result in a World Cup. For 42 games the All Blacks seemed all but invincible and people said New Zealand would win the 2007 World Cup even with the second best 15. 2 years after the disaster of a loss (a loss is always a disaster, has always been a disaster and will always be a disaster in New Zealand) to France, the team is trailing behind pace-makers Springboks and still, there's no talking in New Zealand of his dismissal.

Under these circumstances, my question is:

What is in a coach? What difference does a coach make?

I'll tell you a few things:
  1. being a good coach does not guarantee taking good decissions.
  2. taking good decissions does not guarantee helping your team.
  3. helping your team does not guarantee your team a win.

On the other hand, there are times when being a bad coach can't prevent your team win:

  1. The coach does not kick, so he can't make an error on the field
  2. The coach does not catch high balls, so he can't make an error on the field
  3. The coach does not tackle, so he can't make an error on the field.

Some teams, like the 2009 Springboks could play with Pienaar at loosehead and Mtawarira at fullback and still be winning.

So, ease it on the coaches, they have not the almighty power everybody likes to think they have. Take Deans, take de Villiers, take Henry. Not the worst coaches in the world by any means.

Boks clinch title

There's still a remote chance for the All Blacks to win 2009 3N, but it would require the Boks to lose their remaining two games with no bonus points and it would require the All Blacks to bonus point win their two remaining fixtures (at home).

So you can bet on the Boks now.

The Boks shall be winners of the 2009 3N.

4 times have rivals New Zealand and Australia tried their best to defeat them. 4 times they have been exposed by an astounding SA team.

I said that the Boks were not as good outside SA. They have proved me wrong.

Some say the Boks have played like the real World Champions they are. If that's true, then Deans and Henry, and the whole world should learn from the Boks.

Congratulations, Springboks, this is an All Black zealot envying such a well constructed and performing team.

Be realistic, dream about it (The Springboks can't win outside SA)

I have often said that the Springboks don't have the habit of winning outside South Africa.
Of course, they say in SA that winning a World Cup outside South Africa means being able to do it. But, c'mon, Argentina, Fiji and England don't play in the Tri Nations.

From 1996 to 2008, the Springboks have played 28 Tri Nations games outside SA. They have won 4 (2 in NZ and 2 in AU) , drawn 1 (in AU) and lost 23.

And that, to me, is more important than a World Cup.

Do not expect SA to win more than, at most, one game.

So be realistic, dream with the All Blacks winning the 3N.

Injured 2009 or crisis in NZRU?

  1. Daniel Carter injured, out for most of the season
  2. Ali Williams injured, out for most of the season
  3. Richie McCaw's injuries have not let him play four games in a row
  4. The same goes for Brendon Leonard, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Conrad Smith
  5. Awful start to the international campaign with horror games against France and Italy
  6. Christchurch not able to fill the stadium to see the All Blacks
  7. Major injuries to Corry Flynn, Casey Laulala, Richard Kahui
  8. Super 14 lost
  9. Tri Nations lost even before it has started.
Is all that enough to start frightening? Is 2009 a year of bad luck? A year in which NZRU has to check if everything is going in the right direction?

Amidst all, Graham Henry seeks his re-election until 2011


"Our job was to disrupt the Lions this week going into the Test on Saturday, and I think the boys did a great job there"

.Dick Muir


Sorry, I mean, ...what? Are you playing the Lions to get them exhausted so the Boks can win?
Are you just trying to lower their self-confidence so it is easier for the Boks later on?

Let's put aside opinions on how fair these aims are. It's up to you. Let's focus only on "what the hell, you are the Emerging SpringBoks", many of you shall play for South Africa sooner rather than later, and when you are given a formidable opposition to test yourself against, all you have in mind is "to ease things for the elders"?????

This I cannot understand.

Powerful Blues or weak All Blacks?

That's the whispered question going on all along New Zealand, and perhaps, it's the same at the other side of the Tasman Sea.
In South Africa they are all too focused on their win over the Lions to even rise their sight to other places.

But, how can we explain the fact that New Zealand did not smash France as was in everybody's mind before the series, but rather escaped a series defeat although were not able to retain the Gallagher Cup?

Well, let's examine things closely once the games are over.

  1. Casualties were there for both teams. So it's not that the All Blacks can blame casualties for failing to produce the game everybody was expecting.
  2. How can a team produce just their third Grand Slam tour in 100 years in November and draw a test series to France at home next June?
  3. Is super 14 the best breed for test games?
  4. Does Super 14 lack intensity?
  5. How important the ELVs have been?
  6. How important the Graham Henry (Robbi Deans) has been in order to adapt to the old (new) rules?
  7. Why does Donald look so error-prone at test level? Can he cope with the intensity of test matches?
  8. When an experienced tight five in a pack weighing over 900 kg misserably fails to dominate a 830 kg pack, is it a matter of form? What's Tialata exactly doing there?
  9. If France was so bad at the 6 Nations, how come they have posed such a big threat for these two tests?

And the last and more important question: Is form the glue that will put all things in place, come the Tri-Nations?

The game was not that bad

I have watched the game again and I must say there are some signs that the All Blacks should do much better next time.

First, as the coaches pointed out so wisely, it was all mainly about physicality. Turnover after turnover killed the All Blacks which were not specially bad in attack, the problem was that they didn't exactly enjoy quality possession.

Apart from that, one must admire the lock pair. Ross was superb in the lineout and Thorn was exactly doing what the loose trio should have. Bringing his body to the game. Keven Mealamu and Aled de Malmanche can show the guys how it is done.

Stephen Donald deserves a special chapter. The boy should do the basics. And just that; the basics. With time, with confidence and with a bit more experience he'll be able to do "different" things, but those are not what the team needs now, specially when every bit of ball possession is so precious. He kicks well. He kicks well indeed. Let the boy grow from where he's at the moment.

Let's see what the next test brings.

By the way: Do not be much too impressed with Deans trying Barnes at 10. Given that Quade Cooper has not got enough experience to start at 10 for the Wallabies, someone must backup the best first five in Australia.

Stupid assholes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Beware when you put your fingers onto the new All Blacks players looking for guilts after the (twice-in-a-row) defeat to the French.

I have read in some places that it was due to All Blacks errors.


The mere fact that you are afraid of the All Blacks losing does not mean they ought not to try things.

Do not be harsh on Messam for trying a late run and a chip kick over the French which the French number 8 gathered and ended up in the second French try. You'd better laud him for his audacity, or otherwise you are risking them not being able to try it again.

If I were the All Blacks coach, nothing would I fear more that a gang of players afraid to play.

Do not expect much of the first test

Twins New Zealand and Australia start their first tests of the season.

For Australia, it should not be much different than the Barbarians, except for the never-ending high expectations put on the Italian forwards. They are physical, they say. True, but physicality ain't everything in forwards play. There's more to it. So, expect a tough physical match for the aussies, but a comfortable win.

For New Zealand, things are pretty much the same. Concerns are everywhere in this ever-scared-of-losing country but the truth is that the side that Henry fields does not lack class, does not lack power, and more importantly, does not lack form. Which Les Blues happen to lack. What is more, they cannot fiedl their best 15. So, don't be afraid, the beloved All Blacks shall win.

These games will only give some ground to the newbies (less trialed players) in both squads: O'Connor, Brown, Turner for the Wallabies; Ross, Messam, Read, Wulf for the All Blacks.

And that's all.

Sonny Bill Williams (again)

So, now it seems Sonny Bill Williams is playing tricks to get a chance to play the 2011 RWC.
When Sonny Bill Williams says he is elligible to play for Australia, is he putting pressure on NZRU to sign him? is he desperate for someone to hire him? is he doing both things?

When asked about Sonny Bill Williams helping injury concerns in the All Blacks camp (Kahui needing surgery and Smith out to a hamstring) Graham Henry laughed.

Is NZRU keen to sign Sonny Bill Williams? Is Sonny Bill Williams asking too much money? Is it fair for people like, say, So'oailo or Muliaina, commited to the NZRU despite lucrative offshore offers that a youngster with as much talent as things to prove in this new code could surpass what they earn?

All in all, it's down to the same thing, the cruel and vile gold, which was exactly what rugby sold its soul for, wasn' t it?

Boring weekend

It's been a bore.

The Barbarians couldn't put up a team against the Wallabies.
The second-string Cheetahs made the Lions blush.
And Perpignan won the Top 14. Good news at last for Carter.

Which game was worst? I'll tell you one thing: The Wallabies are a very good team, the Barbarians are on vacation. That match was the worst.

Let's see what the next week brings on.

BTW: MacAlister can't play 10.

Matt Giteau, Rocky Elsom to the Brumbies

Have you paid a close look to the back row of the Brumbies for the upcoming season?
Elsom, Smith, Hoiles. Nothing less.
Have you paid attention to the halfback-five eight-center combination?
Valentine, Giteau, O'Connor, Mortlock.

So, Bulls, here's your first enemy to win a second Super 14 tournament in a row.

The question is, what can be expected from the drained (e.g. Western Force) franchises? With the Waratahs model already stuck, is Australia putting all the eggs in one single bag?

Super 14 review

The Super 14 2009 is over. The Bulls, crowned champions, have been the best team in a very very contested tournament where resilience has been the key.

Resilience was with all three Australian contenders, with the Waratahs losing the fourth spot to the Crusaders only by points difference. Resilience was also in the Brumbies, a very very interesting side for Robbie Deans, as the faith they have shown will be very handful come the Tri Nations and Bledisloe. Resilience was what brought the Crusaders from the 11th place in round 5 to a place in the semifinals two months later.

But above all, the Bulls have shone. Their easy game-plan, their ruthlessness at the breakdown, their superb kicking game, their deathly counter-attack game and the incredible boot of the young man who's going to lead the Springboks for a long time have put them beyond their rivals.
More importantly, they have fine tuned them as the competition went on and their form of the last month has been simply astounding.

A lot of "ifs" will have to be answered next season. Some of those "ifs" include Daniel Carter's absence, a load of injuries to a number of players in every single kiwi franchise, the change of the set of ELVs in use... To see whether the Bulls can show this year's impressive form is almost as exciting as to see whether any team can come up with the key to dismantle these Bulls' game.

Some warning should be sent to the South African franchises, though. Cheetahs, Lions and Stormers have too oft been sure wins and three sparring franchises out of five are far too many. When the Boks play the Lions, Wallabies and All Blacks, they are going to need more than two options (Sharks or Bulls) for every position. Andy Marinos may have fought for a sixth franchise in South Africa, but the truth is that the prospect of having another african franchise with less than 4 wins is not appealing for the future of Super Rugby.

But now the Super 14 2009 is over and the Lions tour is focusing all sights. What will the Boks do against this Lions side? Who's playing 15 and who's covering 3? What's the depth of this team?

Super 14 final prediction

This is the toughest call I have done.

Bulls 26 - Chiefs 23

Don't ask me, I just wish it will happen the other way around. I simply don't think it will. Our players are focused, the quality is there, they have been winning close matches, of late; but like someone said: Loftus is like the Everest... We miss sir Edmund Hillary.

Go Chiefs! Go Chiefs! Go Chiefs all the way.

About legacies

I never thought Victor Matfield was anything close to outspoken; on the contrary I thought he was a pretty decent guy, very realistic in terms of rugby, as he knows what it takes to climb on to the top.

Just the opposite of what the Watsons have always done.

That's why it's so thrilling to see him talking about legacies, or the Bulls building a Crusader-like legacy, with just less than a week to go before the final. Should you not be concentrating, talking your chances more down than up and focusing on what's surely going to be a massive game?

All odds may be in your favor, but in rugby it is tackles, not odds, what wins titles; And only after a number of titles has been won (and the key word is after) careless journos write on legacies. Duncan Johnston says Victor Matfield has gone one step or six too far... For once I agree.

There's only one legacy in Super Rugby. And it has not been a matter of winning one year or two. In Canterbury they have a culture of rugby, a culture of winning. Players have come and gone and still the culture has been mantained. The Andrew Mehrtens left room for the Daniel Carters, the Blackadders, for the McCaws, the Marshalls were substitued by the Ellises... and the important things, the things that have made of the Crusaders a successful team have been preserved.

Back to Earth, you have not won anything yet, Mr Matfield, and you would do well to stop thinking in legacies and start thinking about the Chiefs, or keep dreaming at your own risk.

Praise of the Chiefs

Astounding. Simply astounding.

How can a team start off a season by losing the first three games and then make the finals? The Chiefs have done so, by winning 10 out of the following 11 games. Their only other loss was a hard-fought game in Pretoria, which leaves the count at 10 victories and 4 losses for the Chiefs, and still counting.

What have they done today? They have used their weapons to full efect. Even without May, without Leonard and without Kahui, even suffering a bit in the set-piece. But Sivivatu was attacking from everywhere, Masaga, too. Muliaina being everywhere and Donald kicking and passing wisely. Just unlike Willie Ripia.

I said at the beginning of the season that the weak point of this Hurricanes was at 10. Well, today they lost the game there. Senseless kicking and an accurate Chiefs defense and counter-attack put the Chiefs on top.

Back to 2006 memories for the 'canes as in the final 5 minutes an old foe came back; the fog. Bad omens for a team that had everything to win the Super 14, but this year they came up short. Again.

Congratulations, Chiefs. Robbie Deans predicted a Hurricanes-Crusaders final. I hope he'll be right in at least one name of the two finalists.

Super 14 semifinals prediction

Chiefs 24 - Hurricanes 26
Bulls 17 - Crusaders 14

And that's all I have to say.

Praise of the Crusaders

Having started the season with just a win in the first five rounds, no one expected the Crusaders to be able to claim a spot in the top four. Having suffered cruel injuries to almost any senior player (Franks, McCaw, MacDonald, Thorn, Ellis, Laulala...) early in the season, what were the real chances of the Crusaders to make way through to the semis?

Todd Blackadder's team has been able to do so. Youngsters like Colin Slade or Ryan Crotty have been inmense. Veterans like Kieran Read have glued the team together. And wins over every major foe (and a sole loss to the Cheetahs) in the last 8 weeks have put them where we all wanted them to be.

Congratulations, Crusaders. Robbie Deans has spoken of the resilience of the Brumbies. Fighting against everything to keep their hopes alive. He has not spoken of you, guys, who have done as well as the Brumbies until round 13, and have bettered what the Brumbies achieved in the last round.

Now, how valuable was the last-second goal kick by Leon MacDonald against the Cheetahs? Or how much is worth the fourth try scored against the Hurricanes in Christchurch?

Wonderful job, boys. And remember you have already beaten the Bulls this season.

Praise of the Lions

Not for the first time this season the Lions surprise me. Despite having lost to the Waratahs, they have shown commitment and a will to win the match as if their own chances of classifying were at stake.

The final minutes have been a nail biter. After trailing 17-28 at half time, they were able to come back and take the lead, just to allow the decisive try to the Waratahs with 5 minutes left. A final penalty put the Lions within 5 meters of the aussie line and indeed they seemed they had scored a try when referee Marius Jonker called for a forward pass...

But it was not the end of the story. For three times the Lions put their hearts in the scrum and asked the ref to call for a free kick in their favour... After three resets the Lions loosehead prop (or was it the hooker?) lost his foot in the scrum and the ball was freed for the Waratahs backs to kick it out. The Waratahs won 38-33.

Sharks and Crusaders will have to fight if they want to match the 'tahs.

Super 14 round 14 predictions

Well, I kept myself out of any rugby for a few hours and now I feel I am ready to do the predictions.

At the time I am writing this, I don't know what my predictions will exactly be, but I am certain of various things: The Sharks are too tired. The Bulls are rampant. The Chiefs will win. The Waratahs will win as well. The Crusaders are a better team thant the Blues.

So, let's start:

Chiefs 24 - Brumbies 17 (Thus comes to an end the resilient Brumbies campaign)
Lions 18 - Waratahs 33 (bonus point, yes, for the Waratahs)
Blues 22 - Crusaders 26 (I cannot predict if the Crusaders will get a bonus point. I will say they won't)
Reds 20 - Hurricanes 35 (No mercy)
Force 13 - Highlanders 15 (Who cares?)
Cheetahs 17 - Stormers 14 (Any more injuries for the Lions tour?)
Sharks 17 - Bulls 23 (With this, the Bulls will claim top spot of the table, and will have a good shot to win the title)

If all this happens, the four graceful teams will be:

  1. Bulls 46
  2. Chiefs 45
  3. Hurricanes 44
  4. Waratahs 41
  5. Crusaders 41
  6. Brumbies 38
  7. Sharks 37
Now, beware. If only the 'tahs can't score 4 tries in Johannesburg or the Crusaders manage to score 4 tries against the demoralised, unable to defend Blues, the Crusaders shall classify:

  1. Bulls 46
  2. Chiefs 45
  3. Hurricanes 44
  4. Crusaders 42
  5. Waratahs 41
  6. Brumbies 38
  7. Sharks 37
I would also like to quote Spiro Zavos, when he reminds us all that this nail bitter is only due to the fact that teams qualify independently of the nation where they are from:

"SA Rugby killed off an excellent proposal to have six teams in the finals by insisting that each of the SANZAR partners have two teams in the finals. This nonsense was rejected by the ARU and the NZRU. If the two-team policy was in place all the drama that is coming up this weekend, with the last match between the Sharks and the Bulls probably deciding who is in or out, would be lost."

Aussies impressed me!!!!

Both Waratahs and Brumbies have been on the very razor's edge for the past three weeks. I did expect and in fact I did predict both teams to be out by now but the real truth is that they are still in the hunt for the playoffs.

With the semifinals cut-off at 41 points (or perhaps 42), both teams need a bonus point victory to have any chance to get through it, but they are capable of doing it.

Specially difficult is the task for the Brumbies, as no team has bonus-pointed a win in Hamilton this season, and the Chiefs are looking really powerful. But the Waratahs could very well get a win, and even a bonus point victory, after their unexpected feat of beating the Sharks at home.

I now think that Bulls, Chiefs, Hurricanes and Crusaders will get classified, but the aussies are still there, which is amazing... Amazing.

Super 14 round 13 Predictions

With the blues of knowing that Leon MacDonald will be gone by June still inside me, I will be a bit hard on the Reds Prediction today. So sorry, guys, I like you above any other side in Aus, but the Crusaders need the points and Leon's last game in Christchurch is well deserved a biased prediction.

Apart from that, Hurricanes and Chiefs could get both classified this week if both score 4 tries and the Chiefs win by seven points or less. The other two must-see are Brumbies-Blues and Sharks-Waratahs. Expect a win for the home side in both games, although with unpredictable Blues, who would dare?

Crusaders 34 - Reds 16 (A try by Leon MacDonald included, of course)
Lions 23 - Highlanders 18 (This end of season tour is meaningless for the Highlanders)
Chiefs 32 - Hurricanes 28 (This is unrealistic, I know, but I want the Chiefs to get 5 points)
Brumbies 25 - Blues 23 (Do not be mistaken, 4 points are not enough for the Brumbies)
Sharks 18 - Waratahs 13 (With this, all hopes by any Australian franchise should be over)
Bulls 24 - Cheetahs 16 (And thus the Bulls would also get through)
Stormers 14 - 11 Force (Believe it or not, this is the hardest match to predict. Both are teams with more rugby than their position suggests but their internal problems have hindered them throughout the season. I don't know who shall look harder for a win)

And the table would look like this for the last round:

  1. Chiefs 42
  2. Hurricanes 41
  3. Bulls 41
  4. Sharks 39
  5. Crusaders 37
  6. Brumbies 36
  7. Waratahs 33
  8. Blues 32

Which would mean that Sharks and Crusaders would find themselves fighting in Durban against the Bulls and in Auckland against the Blues at the same time for a place in the top four. I think the Crusaders will grab it.


Leon MacDonald has signed with japanese club Kintetsu and will play there right after this season is over. He is reported to be in Japan by June, so I suppose that leaves no room for him playing any games for Canterbury.

This is the end of Leon MacDonald as an All Black, and this weekend's game in Christchurch will certainly be his last match in home soil for the Crusaders (even if the Crusaders achieve the feat to get to the semifinals, they would play any playoff games away).

I would like to say just once again how much I like Leon MacDonald. He's the fullback whose play I have enjoyed the most. I will certainly miss him.

Best of lucks, Leon.

Lions vs Boks, stop the nonsense talk

John McBride, former player for the Lions:

"I know the game's changed, I know the game's professional and I know that scrummaging has changed but, whether we like it or not, I still believe that the team that can scrummage is the team that wins the match."

Please, someone can stop this nonsense? Can someone explain this old legend that the team who shall govern the breakdown will have more quality possession and therefore, will have more chances to attack? Can someone tell him that line-out mastery is far more important than a slight advantage in the scrum?

In the Super 14, when a free kick is awarded and the ball is not immediately released so the attacking team can take the defending players receding and flat-footed, a scrum is preferred rather than a free kick. Why? because it's more useful than a free kick.

Now, what does make McBride think that with no ELVs sanctioning, the scrums will be so important? I know it is a matter of pride about the scrum more than anything else, but please, we're not back in the seventies, pride is not the key to win. Ability to understand what your team needs is. So, please, pick a pair of halfback, first-five who can rule the game against du Preez and Pienaar, if you want to have a chance to win anything.

Springboks who are injured at this very moment.

This is a list of Springbok players who are currently unavailable to play and, in some cases, won't play against the Lions.

  • Conrad Jantjes, fullback
  • Adi Jacobs, centre
  • Frans Steyn, second five eighths
  • Jean de Villiers, second five eighths
  • Butch James, first five eighths
  • Fourie du Preez, halfback
  • Schalck Burger, openside flanker
  • Andries Bekker, lock

Shall we review this list on a weekly basis?

Please, think a bit

At the beginning of the Super 14 season we were shocked to see so many New Zealand players, specially All Blacks players, hit by injuries every once and again. Form was generally poor by kiwi sides and in round two, the only win by a kiwi side was against another kiwi side. Meanwhile, the South African franchises were all happy to see both Bulls and Sharks in command.

Three months later, kiwi players have tended to recover from injuries and gained some form and little by little kiwi sides have popped up to the Super 14 table, and now it seems it is the South Africans who are getting numerous injuries. The Springboks coach, Peter de Villiers has just asked what the prospects of playing in the all-important Lions series are for a number of injuries.

And in the meantime, nonsense talk about the Super 15 has been going on. They all want more games and more money and there are two silly ways to get it: the South African way which would require to start even earlier, say, in January, and the Australasian way which would require to extend the Super 14 until July and even play international tests at the same time that the Super 14 is being played.

So, do you guys realise that will only increase the number of injuries? How many games per season you want your players to play? Please, think a bit.

Super 14 round 12 predictions

Last week was much of the same thing. Was ever a harder Super 14 season to be doing predictions?

So, it is more for you, loyal readers of the weekly predictions here at Ka Mate Ka Mate, than for anything else that I keep posting my predictions this week.

This week's about consistency. Hurricanes should defeat a non-consistent Blues team; that would almost secure them the payoffs. But the Blues have been performing like a wave: one hill and one valley. Will the Hurricanes unleash the real power of the Blues to their fate? Don't worry about the Sharks or the Bulls. They shall win. The Stormers vs Chiefs game could be the one to watch, as the classy Stormers arrive in home after an ill-fated tour. But the Chiefs, even in the defeat at Loftus, have shown they are a fearsome team and they are certain a much better SA tourists than they were in the past. The Brumbies and the Waratahs need wins. But they also need bonus points. They may get wins, but I'm not so sure about bonus points.

So, to the facts:

Hurricanes 34 - Blues 27 (I would only ask for both teams to get 4 tries. The outcome of the game, I really don't care)
Lions 18 - Crusaders 24 (McCaw is not playing, Laulala is also out and the Crusaders need all their firepower to get a bonus point from Jo'burg)
Cheetahs 16 - Waratahs 23 (This is the warm-up for the real Waratahs exam next week. Beware Waratahs or the Cheetahs could very well bite you out of the playoffs)
Reds 25 - Brumbies 18 (This is the end of the story for the Brumbies)
Sharks 33 - Highlanders 23 (The real question is: will the Sharks get 5? They need it)
Bulls 27 - Force 15 (The Bulls and the Hurricanes are my picks to host both semifinals)
Stormers 22 - Chiefs 40 (This win is 50% of the playoffs road for the Chiefs. They deserve it. They really do.)

Therefore, the table after this round would look something like this:

  1. Hurricanes 38
  2. Chiefs 37
  3. Bulls 37
  4. Sharks 35
  5. Waratahs 32
  6. Blues 31
  7. Crusaders 31
  8. Force 28
  9. Brumbies 28

Why I can't stand football

Englishmen used to say that their real national team is the rugby national team (A.K.A. pommies, for the rest of the world), whereas in most other european countries (Germany, Spain, Italy...) the only possible team is the football national team.

So, in a time when a football star can earn as much as the whole budget of a team like, let's say, Perpignan (currently on top of French Top14), in the U.K. there are lots of campaigns to convince people switch their attention towards rugby.

It's fair, given the fact that RFU almost rules everything in rugby these days, including which ELVs should stay and which are not worth even a try. It's fair that they try to gather people from football, as people mean money and money means power. It's something that can be done in England. Or Scotland. Or Ireland. Not many more places.

To us, people from other countries, not blessed with the glorious gift of having been born in a place where they cook using filthy butter instead of olive oil, where they can't make a proper salad, don't know any use for the tomatoes, have no proper fruits at all, don't have quality meat and lack every possible single sign of civilised cuisine... For us, people not blessed with the glorious gift of such a nationality, rugby is not something we grow up with, and we need external help to get into it.

This is one or two weeks old and a very good example of what makes a normal person switch towards rugby.

Blues are out of it. It could be a tough day for New Zealand franchises.

The Reds totally outsmarted the Blues and the Auckland franchise is out of the playoffs contention.

It is alarming the ease with which the Reds dismantled Blues display. It should make the Blues coach think.

By the way, today could be a terrible day for the New Zealand franchises. At this very moment, the Blues are down 5-31 in Albany while the Brumbies have just scored a try in Wellington.

Good luck, 'canes.

Super 14 round 11 predictions

It's predictions time at Ka Mate Ka Mate...

And it is hard times in Sydney and Durban. No matter what happens, Bulls, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Brumbies and Crusaders will look to put miles ahead of Sharks and Waratahs who may well be wondering what would have happened if their last week's games (bonus-point losses for both teams) would have been played after a bye and not before a bye.

But so to the facts,

The Bulls and the Chiefs meet in Pretoria, where the Bulls have not lost a game this season. The Bulls have done a bit of what Rassie Erasmus claimed to be the key to put his Stormers into the playoffs during the pre-season: make your home ground a fortress, so it is not going to be easy for the Chiefs not to be bullied at Loftus. I claim that whoever wins the match will play home advantage during the semifinals. The Hurricanes and the Brumbies face each other in Wellington in a sweet moment for every team, and neither team can afford a loss. Crusaders and Blues need a bonus point win, and while the Blues play at home and have shown their attacking power, the Crusaders play away and they need to remember how to score tries if they are to get classified.

Highlanders 22 - Stormers 13 (a meaningless game that should, however, cement some All Blacks contenders' hopes. A win for the Highlanders)
Western Force 33 - Lions 19 (The Force are 18 points away from the playoffs and this is their only easy game remaining. They'll get 5)
Blues 42 - Reds 14 (While the Reds can be a formidable foe, ask the Sharks, the fact that they are playing for nothing will sort things out. Besides, no return home for Braid leaves this match spicyless)
Hurricanes 28 - Brumbies 26 (This would be the match of the week, should any of those teams not be a bore)
Cheetahs 23 - Crusaders 30 (Either bonus point or DEATH for the Crusaders)
Bulls 25 - Chiefs 19 (I would love the Chiefs to win, but they have lost to the Waratahs, the Crusaders and the Sharks, and only been able to defeat the Blues. They have trouble with the big teams)

So, I wouldn't be surprised if at the end of round 11 the table looks something like this:

  1. Bulls 33
  2. Hurricanes 33
  3. Blues 33
  4. Chiefs 32
  5. Sharks 31
  6. Crusaders 31
  7. Waratahs 28
  8. Brumbies 28

Who will make the playoffs and who won't

Only a few weeks ago no one would have bet on:
  • The Bulls or the Sharks in risk of not making the semifinals.
  • The Crusaders with real options of making the semifinals.
  • The Chiefs on top of the table.
And this is how the picture is right now, with just 4 games to go (except for Waratahs and Sharks, with only 3 games remaining).

First of all, given the fact that both Waratahs and Sharks have been playing for ten succesive rounds without a bye and both have lost their last week's game, had not it been fairer if they had rested last week?

But, that's not the subject, although it could take a high toll to both Durban and Sydney at the end of the season. What are the chances of every contender to the title?

  1. Chiefs. The Chiefs have got it right since round 3. 28 points in 6 rounds must be a kind of record and have deserverdly lifted the Chiefs to the number 1 spot. But two are the Chiefs main foes, now: a hard calendar, with games in Pretoria and Cape Town and two finals in the final weeks against Hurricanes and Brumbies is the first, and their own ghosts of the past is the other. Last year they were also in a run when suddenly they fainted. This year, things look much better for them, with better play, a better position in the ladder, but still, the hard calendar lies ahead. The Chiefs would need at least 10 points to classify, which inevitably means two wins. Wins at Cape Town and against the Brumbies are a must, while everything would smoother if they manage to win at Loftus Versfeld next week. I think the Chiefs will end with 41 points and possibly, fighting for the 4th place.
  2. Sharks. All of a sudden, the Sharks numbers are not right. With a bye next week, their worst enemy could be the lack of chances to gather points. With Highlanders, Waratahs and Bulls visiting the once so strong Durban's fortress, how many points can the Sharks get? 15 points would see them classified, but, can they get three victories? 2 wins and a loss could see them getting less than 10 points (they have 31 now and will have 31 next week), and Waratahs and Bulls will surely be desperate for a win. The Sharks-Bulls game in the last round will be the most exciting game of the season for sure. I predict the Sharks to end with 41 or 42 points fighting for the 4th place.
  3. Bulls. The Bulls are possibly the team with the easiest path to the top. Three games at Loftus Versfeld could be enough for them, making the last game in Durban less relevant. But if for any reason they lose one of their three home games, they would come to the last week with less than 40 points and praying for a win. That means that the game against the Chiefs will be a final for the Bulls. If they get this one, the Force and the Cheetahs won't look so threatening and they could seem themselves already classified with 42 points with one game to go. My prediction is that the Bulls will end in first-second place with 43 or44 points.
  4. Hurricanes. Beware. The Hurricanes can get to the first place. They play the Brumbies and the Blues at home, the Chiefs in Hamilton and the Reds in Brisbane. They should be targetting both games at home and the one in Brisbane, for a total amount of 14 points. For them, getting the most of their upcoming fixtures at home is life or death. Neither the Brumbies nor the Blues will be easy victims, but the Mackay mourn alone won't be enough for the Brumbies and the Blues... well, the Blues look fearsome. I think the Hurricanes will end with 42 or 43 fighting with the Bulls.
  5. Blues. Oh, God. The Blues have stolen the Chiefs the label of being the most powerful and the most vulnerable team of the Super 14 this season. They have the advantage of playing three games in New Zealand and one in Canberra, but their rivals won't be easy at all. Hurricanes, Brumbies and Crusaders could spoil their bid to the playoffs. Their first game against the Reds will surely give them 5 points but, how many points can get them out of the last three? A win in Canberra won't be easy, but a win in Wellington seems even more difficult. The Blues could see themselves in the last round with 37 points playing in Auckland an all or nothing game against the Crusaders. Nothing less. You cannot miss the last week!!! I predict the Blues will fall short of the playoffs, with 38 points at the end of it.
  6. Waratahs. Oh, God (bis). The Waratahs do have 27 points and will have 27 points next week, which is a burden almost too heavy to wear. The loss to the Force could have come at a heavier loss; they are now 14 points away of the playoffs with only three games remaining. And their try-scoring ability is not their best quality. They could get 9 from Bloemfontein and Jo'burg, but do you see them getting 5 or even 4 from Durban? Even 13 points in three games would not be enough. I predict the Waratahs to finish with 37 points out of the playoffs just like the Blues.
  7. Brumbies. The Death of Shawn Mackay has made the Brumbies click. Now they share something in common which is greater than the colors they defend. They are now together in a quest to offer their lost teammate their affection, their love towards him. This is what permitted them to defeat the Bulls last week and make them a hard foe, if not the hardest of the foes. Expect the Brumbies to win every game when decided by close margins. But their toughest game will be next week at WestPack stadium, against the Hurricanes. Only 4 wins will be enough for the lack-of-bonus-points Brumbies, but I don't see them getting close to it. I can see them gathering 10 or 12 points and ending with the Blues and Waratahs or perhaps a bit better, 38 or 39 points, but not enough to get to the playoffs.
  8. Crusaders. Cheetahs, Lions, Reds and Blues. All away, none at home. Expect the Crusaders, the hot team of the competition to win their three games coming to Auckland and perhaps reaching 39 points before coming back to New Zealand. Then, in one of the strongest rivalries in the history of Super 14, both teams might play a game with the winner getting a place in the playoffs. I'll be bold and concede the victory to the Crusaders, ending thus with 43 or 44 points and, oh surprise, on top of the ladder.

Then, this would be my predictions for the ultimate standings

  1. Bulls, 43
  2. Crusaders, 43
  3. Hurricanes, 42
  4. Chiefs, 41
  5. Sharks, 41
  6. Brumbies, 39
  7. Blues, 38
  8. Waratahs, 37

I think that Waratahs, Brumbies and Blues won't make the semifinals, but they could drag some teams with them out of the playoffs. This is the toughest of the calls, but I'm sticking to it.

Cowan's guilty

Glen Moore can be annoyed by Cowan's behavior yesterday at Eden Park.

When you are a skipper, you don't turn your own free kicks into penalties against you.
When you are a skipper, you don't talk more to the referee than you do to your teammates.
When you are a skipper, you don't let your team one man down for illegal, nonsense, shoulder charges.

Even with a normal skipper, the Highlanders would have lost yesterday's match. But having Cowan as skipper can do Highlanders more harm than good. He loses his focus and that does not make for a good skipper.

Good day.

Super 14 round 10 predictions

This is a tough week to predict. Not that the past was easy, either (did anyone bet on a Cheetahs' 25-point victory over the Sharks?) but I must confess this time I don't know where to start.

Firstly, would you risk predicting any outcome of the North vs South game? I like the Highlanders, I want them to win, but... do you trust the Blues, either for the good or for the bad? Pat Lam seems confident that he's finally found the recipe for his Blues, but the Highlanders are full of confidence after, let me remind you, three wins in a row. Besides, the once most powerful first row in New Zealand, the Blues' first row, seem now weak against the Super 14's best-fit first row, in which Newland, Mackintosh and Hall feature. However, the Blues play at home. But the Blues have not performed well at all this year at Eden Park. Who can tell???

Secondly, will the Cheetahs strike twice in a row? They have a clear 2009 record: 100% of wins at home, and 0% wins on the road. The thing is, all their upcoming matches are at home. Besides, the Chiefs always struggle in SA. Can anyone bet on a Cheetahs loss at home after they dismantled the Sharks? But the Chiefs look certainly impressive. They managed to defeat the Reds in Brisbane with apparent ease, the same Brisbane where the Cheetahs were severely punished.

What would you expect of the Sharks against the Crusaders? Can the Bulls prove Heineke Meyer right when he predicted three wins out of five games for his former franchise during their australasian tour?

I'm going mad. This is what I think:

Blues 28 - Highlanders 31 (Berquist, Vainikolo, Bowden, Shoemark, Smith, Dagg. If one manages to learn the names of the any team's backs and they feature in the game, they have a chance to win)
Brumbies 21 - Bulls 16 (Fear the new-look, dry, Brumbies)
Hurricanes 18 - Stormers 12 (I would not bother to watch this game. Both sides are playing horribly)
Red 27 - Lions 21 (Did I ever tell you I like these Reds?)
Waratahs 31 - Western Force 18 (From time to time the Waratahs like to remind us how damn good they are. I have the feeling that this is going to be one of these times)
Cheetahs 12 - Chiefs 24 (After the feat, comes the relax)
Sharks 15 - Crusaders 11 (My kingdom for a red and black try!)

Colin Cooper, you should learn from the Cheetahs

The Hurricanes coach blasted the Super 14 calendar when his sided had so little time to recover after a trip to SA followed by a game in Perth.

Wonderful. Then, what should the Cheetahs, whose seven starting games have been played outside Bloemfontein, think about the calendar?

No complains, mister, as the calendar is not specially difficult for the Hurricanes. The conference system, if ever the SANZAR reaches an agreement over that matter, will certainly ease travel troubles which, I swear, are not bigger for the kiwis than are for the saffers.

Super 14 round 9 predictions

Chiefs and Crusaders have a bye this week while Sharks and Waratahs will seek to extend their lead. Hurricanes and Western Force play a crucial game for both teams whereas the Brumbies certainly play for more than a single win after the painful death of Shawn Mackay.

Blues 44 - Lions 21 (Last train for the Blues. Can they get on ?)
Western Force 18 - Hurricanes 23 ( It could be the other way around, but I want the Wellingtonians to win)
Cheetahs 12 - Sharks 20 (The Sharks will win in Bloemfontein, but not easily)
Highlanders 32 - Reds 19 (One team is going up and the other is going down)
Brumbies 20 - Stormers 10 (The Brumbies have been struck twice in two years with terrifying health issues over their players. Best of lucks to them)
Waratahs 14 - Bulls 12 (This is going to be the match of the week)

Shawn Mackay

I have no words.
Rest in peace.

Brave Lions should have won

The Chiefs can be pleased. Can be happy, indeed.

8 games gone and 27 points lift them to a place into the top 3. Their bye week comes next and after that, winning 3 games out of 5 should be enough to see them qualify for the semis.

But after impressive wins over Reds and Blues, they can call themselves lucky to have escaped the ropes with which the Lions had tied them early in Hamilton today.

The Lions played great. The Lions played brave. With impressive defense against the expansive approach of the Chiefs, they conceded just 10 points in the first 40 minutes while Pretorius and Fourie dismantled the weak Chiefs defense. Mils Muliaina did have trouble with the number on his jersey and more trouble with the tricky balls the Lions played. Fourie was happy. 10-22 at halftime.

The gap was widened through an interception by the Lions and with 20 minutes to go, the Chiefs saw themselves 19 points behind.

Hika Elliot came in for Aled de Malmanche and the recipe worked. Better throwing at the line-out put confidence on the Chiefs, just what they needed to unleash their backs. One, two, three and four times the Chiefs crossed the line as the look on the eyes of the Lions was of resignation.

The Chiefs were again on top, Donald kicking superbly and not even a drop goal could put the Lions ahead again. Game over.

Chiefs 36 - Lions 29

Yes! I made a mistake!

Sure! Wonderful thing that I totally missunderstood the Crusaders - Bulls game. I thought the Bulls would go on to win the game in the latter stages...

But Brett's kicking and drop goaling was enough to tame the Bulls.

4 ugly points are still 4 points. Even for the exquisite rugby standards of Canterbury.

Congratulations, guys.

Crusaders 16 - Bulls 13

Super 14 Round 8 Predictions

Last week I did pretty well. I only failed to understand that the Blues would misserably loss to the Waratahs and, although I predicted the Highlanders to prevail over the Bulls, I did not foresee such a margin.

This week is consederably tougher for the kiwi franchises. The Crusaders receive a wounded Bulls side with Matfield and Habana back from their respective injuries. McCaw is still out and Ellis is out again. The Hurricanes, despite the win in Johanesburg showed weakness against the Lions and it is not going to get any easier in Durban. Only the Chiefs can be confident they will win, as they receive the Lions in Hamilton before their Bye.

So, these are my predictions:

Crusaders 18 - Bulls 23 (It's hard to predict the Crusaders will lose, but even with Slade at the wing and a magnificent Read they are lacking firepower)
Western Force 25 - Reds 28 (This should be a fun game to watch. I like the Reds and my friend Miff likes the Force)
Chiefs 33 - Lions 17 (Last season the Chiefs were on their usual mid-season come-back when they unexpectedly lost in Johanesburg a match they needed to win so badly. Suddenly their chances to reach the finals were over. This year, the revenge will be in Hamilton)
Waratahs 25 - Stormers 15 (The Waratahs are in the 3rd place and want to see themselves away of the chasing group that starts with the Chiefs, and the Stormers want to join the chasing group. A defining match for the two teams, but I feel the 'tahs will not give the Stormers any chance)
Cheetahs 23 - Brumbies 28 (The Cheetahs have Smith back but the captain has not been able to grant them more than two wins in the last two years. No hope for the Cheetahs)
Sharks 24 - Hurricanes 22 (The Hurricanes are pretenders, but the Sharks are contenders)

All in all, a tough week for NZ teams, it seems.

Super Expansion

Expanding the Super 14 does not look like a good idea.

I think it has all come down to money, and what the aim behind super expansion is, it can only be money.

More teams mean more matches. More matches mean more attendance and more TV and that means more money. 22 games definately mean more money.

Do Super rugby need more games? Money is needed, certainly, but is more Rugby good for Super Rugby? Everybody seems to agree with the idea that the level has been dropped a level or two since the las Super Expansion. No, Cheetahs and Force are not responsible for it, but could it be that more games on an already crowded calendar are killing the cow?

14 Super rugby games + 6 3N games + at least 5 or 6 ANC or Currie Cup games + 4 November tests = 30 games per season.

Do we really intend to increase the number of the games a player must play and at the same time ask the player to maintain top form from week 1 to week 52?

Super Rugby needs a re-think and a schedule from January to June cannot be mantained. Beside, the expansion does not take into the equation both Argentina and the Islanders... which would certainly make for a healthier pool of players.

Please, Marinos, O'Neill and Tew, don't look at the short-term. I don't want enough money to retain the required players in order to win the 2011 RWC; What I want is to enjoy the Rugby from 2009 on.

Message in a bottle

The following message has been put in a bottle and the authors hope it will pass from hand to hand until it reaches Jonah Lomu. The message at the moment of writing this post is thought to be in Dublin.

Dear Jonah,

We are writing to you because we think you are the best rugby player in history and also because you are our model to imitate these hard days. We are player aged from 11 to 14 playing in the Vigo Rugby club. Vigo is an industrial city in the Atlantic Coast of Spain. There is not much passion for rugby here, but you know, when rugby is inside you, it does not really matter how many people might be attending the game.

You can figure out that not even in normal conditions it is easy to play rugby here. But with the economic crisis things are much worse. Unemployment increases all around, companies close and it's all looking so bad. We feel it both in our families and also inside our rugby club. We started the season with no sponsorship, as the ones we had last season couldn't stay any longer. In the end, we could kick the season off due to the help of the senior players who put money of their own to keep it going.

As you can see, we don't have many reasons to be happy, but we have got one reason to keep fighting for: rugby. We don't want to write a letter to make people cry. This is a letter of fighting, a letter of the ones who don't give up. We hail you, Jonah, aiming to maybe one day be as strong as you are. Mind and body. Cheers from all players from 11 to 14 years old and all players in the schools of the Vigo Rugby Club.

(thanks to Fermin de la Calle from for this very special story)
(and my best wishes to all young players of the Vigo Rugby Club)

Super 14 round 7 predictions

Step by step we have reached halfway at the Super 14 (and me fool thinking it had just started). Bulls and Sharks are clearly ahead of the rest, and behind, at least 8 or 9 different teams are fighting to make the semifinals.

This week's match-ups are really interesting:

Blues 38 - Waratahs 27 (This is the no-returning point for the Blues. Last year the game at Sidney showed how poorly prepared were the Blues to be among the top 4. This year it is the Waratahs the bad-looking team)
Highlanders 19 - Bulls 17 (I cannot resist to draw a win for the Highlanders. I just like them)
Crusaders 26 - Stormers 18 (Which Stormers' face shall we see in Christchurch?)
Reds 25 - Chiefs 33 (This should be this week's game)
Sharks 32 - Brumbies 25 (Tough times for Canberra)
Lions 16 - Hurricanes 23 (Which of the two would be harder to imagine: two wins in a row for the Lions or two losses in a row for the Hurricanes?)

Best goal kicker?

Who's the best goal kicker in the NZRU?

Daniel Carter? Stephen Donald? Jimmy Gopperth?

Well, you would be wrong. The golden boot, the man-who-nearly-never-misses has not played a single game of rugby... union.

Yes, Michael Witt, former and I do mean former rugby league player for the Auckland Warriors has just switched codes and will be playing for Otago at the Air New Zealand Cup. He had a wonderful 2008 NRL season, kicking over 90%.

Could he make attendances boost in Dunedin? Can he lift Otago to a decent campaing this year? Will he be playing for the Highlanders next year?

With Daniel Bowden heading to Auckland next year, there's a gap that could be perfect for Witt; the aussie-born has already expressed his desire to perform the haka at test level.

Super 14 2009; players on a roll

Sharks, Bulls and Chiefs have been the most competitive of the last three rounds. But who are the key players that are making the difference?

Halfback: Brendon Leonard. He's astonishingly better every week. How can he? He was impressive against the Western Force, but he did really kick the ass of the Blues last Saturday. Children in New Zealand must be watching him and wishing they will grow up as halfbacks just as he is.

First five: Sorry, Mr Giteau, but the in-form player of the tournament is Morne Steyn. Simply unbelievable with the Bulls, he (and not Mat Goddard) was the main cause of the Bulls win last week in Wellington; he must be in the mind of de Villiers, come Lions time.

Hooker: Aled de Malmanche. True, he has got to improve (and improve and improve and improve) his ball throwing at the line-out, but he's the best battering-ram in the competition by a whole lot. All of a sudden, Hika Elliot is his back-up and it is not for nothing.

Lock: Bakkie Botha. Oh, hell, yes. I know what I said just yesterday about him, but that does not mean that he is not both ruling the line-out in the absence of Matfield and powering everywhere in the field as he always did.

Wing: Sorry for this one, Sivi, but not even 4 tries in a game is enough to cast shadows over the great great great season of Lelia Massaga. He has produced some blistering game so far. I hope Graham Henry will have noticed.

Loose forward: Pierre Spies. Oh, please, I know I'm selecting almost every player of the Bulls here, but who wouldn't?

Prop: You can have two: Chris King and Clint Newlands. Is it a mere chance that they come from the same franchise where Jamie Mackintosh and Carl Hayman grew up?

Midfielder: It must be one of these: Adi Jacobs, Jaque Fourie and Richard Kahui. And... ok, we'll please Spiro Zavos by naming an aussie here, Stirling Mortlock.

Fullback: I see Isaia Toeava in his best Super 14 season.

Bakkies Botha ain't a good guy.

Rugby, as any sport, is a psychological game. As such, psychology tricks work, both on one self, and on the others. Players do know it, coaches do know it and even fans know it.

So, the typical prop tactics of looking upong you as if you were unable to match him in the front row of a scrum, as if silently saying: "What are you doing here, son?" simply work. They do.

The Bulls did win the physical battle against the Hurricanes and they played better in a game that had more of the old Springboks-All Blacks rivalry than it had of the Super 14 Bulls-Hurricanes.

Or so it seemed as fellow Bakkies Botha, not very clever, perhaps, spear-tackled a Hurricanes player and while he was being warned by the referee he made jokes (in Afrikaans, I imagine) of the tackled player (that all his teammates around him laughed, of course).

Two things are clear to me:
- Bakkies Botha ain't an intelligent guy.
- Bakkies Botha ain't a good guy.

A force, a brute, a power of the nature, but not a good guy, for sure.

I do think, however, that the Bulls are the strongest side of a very very open super 14 season.

Super 14 round 6 predictions

Things start to click. I predicted (luckily or by own merits) the trouble that both 'tahs and Sharks had last week. I expected the Sharks to overcome them, but for once the Sharks didn't look so strong this season. The Crusaders-Force was a real difficult one to predict and in the end it could have gone either way.

What's on this week?

Let's see:

Hurricanes 24 - Bulls 21 (The Bulls usually have trouble in New Zealand)
Highlanders 27 - 19 Cheetahs (in a second)
Chiefs 31 - Blues 28 (I cannot really foresee what will be the outcome of it)
Waratahs 15 - Crusaders 12 (A good tactical game, but not very pretty)
Western Force 18 - Sharks 32 (The Sharks strike back)
Lions 14 - Brumbies 26 (Eloff's problems are a mortgage for the struggling Lions)

Frans Steyn at 10

If we are to pay attention to Andy Marinos, Super Rugby is a Sotuh African matter more than anything else.

Therefore, let's pay attention to what really matters: South Africa, South Africa and South Africa.

South Africa lacks a 10. Unlike Australia or New Zealand, there has been no player able to claim a regular start at 10 for a long time. James, despite what my good friend Miff thinks of his (James') performance during the last RWC, has not managed to show he's the right owner of the jersey. The fact that de Villiers is picking Pienaar, a halfback, ahead of him reveals that he's got not much to choose from.

What about South Africa's boy, Frans Steyn? He's gifted, he's strong, he's fast (the only player I have witnessed to ever see a ball of him intercepted by Habana and yet be able to run backwards 50 meters and tackle him) and he's loved by anyone in South Africa.

This weekend he's got a chance. With Pienaar out for 3 or 4 matches, Steyn has got a shot to show his credentials at number 10. What will he show? Will be we all grateful enough to Andy Marinos for letting us watch this pearl playing at 10 ? Do we really deserve such kindness?

Open for everyone.

The 2009 Super 14 is more open than ever. With 11 teams within just 8 points after round 5, even these strange Crusaders can make the semifinals.

Only Cheetahs, Lions and... *sigh*, Highlanders seem not to be contenders. No, I don't resign. The Highlanders are only 10 points away. They can. Yes, they can.

Th point is that this season, specially after this week 5 has witnessed that any team can beat everyone. Waratahs and Sharks lost to Brumbies and Reds respectively. Waratahs have also suffered yet another blow to their front row, with Freier out for the rest of the competition. Something must be asked to their backs when the forward pack is decimated little by little.

Should the Bulls win at Westpack stadium this week, they would be clear favourites to get the first semifinal spot. If they crack like Waratahs and Sharks (and remember that is possible, given the record that the Bulls have in NZ), the Hurricanes will place themselves among the top 4 with ease and looking to the eye to anyone.

Blues, Stormers seem to be back, and the Chiefs didn't look so good at Invercagill as they did two weeks ago in Hamilton.

Things change from week to week and this is, once more, a marathon, a competition to be regular. Who can demonstrate the recipe of what is needed to be a super champion?