Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Losing Ranger would be disastrous

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Blues Rene Ranger in action. Photo / Greg Bowker
Blues Rene Ranger in action. Photo / Greg Bowker

Ranger is finally delivering on his exceptional promise and could be an All Black legend.

The Blues have already won one battle, but they desperately need to win another.

In two magic games they have recaptured the public's imagination, and in an unimaginable way considering the despair of last season. It's been a long time since there was this sort of buzz around the Blues.

They are the talk of the town, as much for the dynamic way John Kirwan has them playing. This is what Blues/Auckland rugby is about at its best - explosive power, star power, some intimidation/arrogance, and a willingness to play off-the-cuff as opposed to the methodical ways of the Crusaders. As a famous old boy, Kirwan also brings added emotional value. This has the feeling of Auckland in its heyday.

There are actually still significant problem areas, particularly the set piece and goalkicking.

The young players in a reconstructed team may wilt over the long haul.

These are early days. But two games in, the signs are promising.

As I sauntered past one of Grey Lynn's hair salons on Saturday morning, the proprietor, a woman of volcanic enthusiasm it has to be said, yelled her summation.

"Thank you Sir John, for giving us our team back!" she exclaimed to the heavens, while leaping about on her porch. She spoke for a lot of people.

A major ignition point is Rene Ranger, whose career so far has been of no fixed progression. He is already a key figure in the revolution, yet could be off to France at the end of the year. His potentially disastrous departure would reflect a centrally controlled contract method obsessed with All Black safe bets, that can't or won't compete against Europe's private enterprise dollars for a burning hot prospect like Ranger.

Kirwan has already urged the New Zealand Rugby Union to take action to keep Ranger (who claims he has not signed an overseas club contract yet) and the public could assist by getting on the bandwagon.

Ranger won his contest with the injury-affected Robbie Fruean on Friday night. As a test trial, this was a phoney war because Fruean won't be a huge blip on the All Blacks' radar.

He is pivotal to the Crusaders but doesn't fit the bill as an All Black centre because his involvement and dexterity isn't good enough.

Ranger has much more range than Fruean, including his impact at the breakdown - I counted three turnover steals against the Crusaders.

His ability to find the game and make things happen is second to none. Now that he is stationed in the No 13 jersey, the guile of a centre will come. He is a test sensation in the making and a candidate as the best centre in world rugby right now. Losing him, with career unfulfilled, would be a disaster.

If the 26-year-old Ranger is still free to make a decision to stay beyond 2013, the NZRU needs to get in quick-smart and make an offer that is hard to refuse including some nice noises about test prospects. This is a golden chance to revitalise the Auckland rugby market, and Ranger is absolutely central to the cause.

It's all very well shelling out the big bucks for Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, but the game moves on, their careers are not too long for this rugby world, and the new superstars need to be found. Ranger is a big-ticket item, in the class of our great attractions such as Tana Umaga, Rupeni Caucaunibuca, Christian Cullen, Jonah Lomu and Sonny Bill Williams. He has rare crowd appeal.

If Ranger is already contracted to France, the work needs to be put in to get him back in time for World Cup calculations.

The bottom line: Ranger is finally delivering on his exceptional promise and could be an All Black legend.

As for the Crusaders, they were out of kilter in their opening match, and too lateral compared with the blockbusting Blues. Expat Cantabrians smiled last week in response to coach Todd Blackadder's claims of an attacking revamp, and predicted their team would play as per usual. Is there a rugby cult down there, with secret signals to indicate a ruse? If so, the code was as hard to spot as the new-look Crusaders. But even the old ones can stir themselves into a formidable Super 15 force.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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