Rugby: No time for recriminations

By Anendra Singh

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If the Hawke's Bay Today sport website comments and "Text us" column are anything to go by then it's fair to say the tribe has spoken.

Whether it's a fair yardstick for measuring the Hawke's Bay Magpies' mediocre season or not, it certainly shows the province's passionate fans are vociferous in their assessment of where the team shouldn't be.

If anything, it also is a testimony to how the black-and-white faithful have had their finger on the pulse throughout the ITM Cup competition this year.

If the silence was deafening when the National Provincial Championship kicked off against Auckland in Napier on August 23 with a 29-36 loss, by Thursday last week the winter of discontent had hit a crescendo.

I went to cover the annual Tour of the Bay cycling yesterday in Hastings and a joker walked up to me to say: "Don't stop writing about the Magpies because we're a shambles, mate."

Nevertheless, it's important for all parties concerned to remain circumspect in the aftermath of a cup campaign that has left the Magpies relegated to the lower-tier championship after what seemed like a whirlwind honeymoon in the Premiership.

It is a much bigger issue than whether Hawke's Bay Rugby Football Union CEO Mike Bishop believes Chiefs prop Ben Tameifuna is tipping the cursor on to the wrong side of the bathroom scales.

If prop Peter Borlase's performance against Waikato in the Ranfurly Shield challenge defeat is anything to go by then one must have to agree with critics that even an overweight Hastings Rugby and Sport player would have been a better choice because there was fat chance of him lying on the ground with the Mooloo No8 and captain Alex Bradley doing a rain dance on him.

It is honourable of hooker Hika Elliot to declare after the game his loyalty to the Magpies next season if the HBRFU and coaching stable want him back to help get the team out of the championship quagmire in the space of a year.

Frankly, the 26-year-old was treated badly, reduced to someone coming off the bench. No one would hold it against him if he had flown the coop.

Everyone knows All Black incumbents Andrew Hore and Keven Mealamu are in their twilight years so, consequently, Elliot and Dane Coles were always going to be in the eyes of the national selectors despite their flaws on account of their youthfulness.

Realistically how much time did Elliot have to showcase his ability?

The Tamatea player was always going to be on the back foot considering Coles is hanging tough in the front row pack of a Lions outfit already in the semifinals.

Considering Magpies coaches Craig Philpott and Danny Lee have rightly attributed a claustrophobic window between the Super Rugby and ITM Cup season as well as their injury woes for a fair whack of their mediocrity, how much blame can be apportioned on marquee players when the review process starts?

Perhaps a more pertinent question is: "How many of the pivotal players will want to return next season?"

The second division is not the ideal platform for players who have Super Rugby aspirations.

That lack of PR (Peter Russell) has crept up with monotonous regularity in the seven times out of 10 games the Magpies floundered this season.

It is imperative to emphasise that the Magpies were not relegated to the second division championship under the Russell and Tom Coventry regime in the inaugural season.

The team defaulted to the championship by finishing in seventh place and, agonisingly, one point adrift when the New Zealand Rugby Union cull was executed three seasons ago.

That Philpott is new to the ITM Cup with Lee suggests perhaps the HBRFU should have persevered with Russell and eased in Philpott as his understudy.

Lee, with the logical assumption that a Bay-bred boy should progressively assume the mantle of coach, should perhaps have been kept in his capacity as technical adviser until Philpott moved up with Lee shuffling up on his heels.

Scouting home-grown talent is also vital before looking outside the region .

It makes one wonder when Hastings Rugby and Sport No8 Peniasi Tokakece was playing for the Outkast rugby league 2012 Bay champions on Saturday.

Who else has slipped through and should we start looking at the Bay U20 Hurricanes champions?

- Hawkes Bay Today

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