Chris Rattue 's Opinion

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

Chris Rattue: Much too early to cheer the Blues

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It's early days yet and 'surprise' win against half-asleep Hurricanes is no reason to be hailing a new dawn.

The Blues kicked off the Super 15 season with a strong win over the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty Images
The Blues kicked off the Super 15 season with a strong win over the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty Images

It will take a lot more than a romp against an insipid Hurricanes outfit before this punter gets remotely excited about the Blues.

If they are still travelling well by about round eight then okay, fair enough - time to get excited and chuck a few paper darts around. But there have been too many false dawns.

For sure, they've got a load of big, strong, fast blokes in the backs. But big, strong, fast blokes can turn into big, bumbling, lost, confused, tired blokes when the Whitelock family swarms all over them and Dan Carter works them this way and that and Kieran Read keeps slamming them on their backs. Piri Weepu's goalkicking was substandard against the Hurricanes, the scrum looked vulnerable and Chris Noakes - who had an excellent match in the troublesome No10 jersey - will face a lot more heat in future.

A few of the Hurricanes were half-asleep including Beauden Barrett, who was a defensive liability although he struck goalkicks beautifully. Halfback TJ Perenara had a forgettable night in which he looked out of kilter with any game plan.

The response to the Blues' "surprise" victory has been reasonably measured since Saturday night. Any air of slight excitement has more to do with how horrible the 2012 season was than anything else.

Early matches are notoriously unreliable as season predictors. Take the Chiefs' poor, injury-ravaged opening performance against the Highlanders last year after which we made jokes about the Chiefs' dual-captain system, imagined Dave Rennie running a B and B in Palmerston North, and had the overseas offers drying up for Wayne Smith. Should know better than to rush to judgment, and even more so when it comes to the infamous Blues.

Afeaki ascending
Round two did suggest this though: the highly regarded Chiefs tighthead prop Ben Afeaki is All Blacks bound and is such a prospect that test starter Owen Franks may need to pull his socks up.

New Zealand has terrific prop possibilities but Afeaki, so I'm told, is the biggest of the big hopes. He suffered a broken arm in the round one match against the Highlanders last year which delayed his progress but the North Harbour giant produced moments of outstanding athleticism and skill against the Highlanders in this year's opener.

Wobbly technology
Australian rugby has come up with something to rival cricket's stump cam in the useless technology department - ref cam. For those who missed it, Kiwi referee Chris Pollock had a science project on his head when the Waratahs played the Reds.

This watershed moment in sports history was given an excitable preview by Phil Kearns and the Aussie commentary mob but apart from giving us unrivalled access to players' Nasal hair, who needs it? If anything, it was a wobbly nuisance when the outside broadcast director dared switch to Pollock-cam. Referees' heads do not make good camera stands. They've got enough to deal with in their heads anyway.

Where's the evidence?
Hello, is there anybody out there? We're still waiting, troops, for the evidence to back up the statement that Australian sport had suffered its "blackest day". The crime commission was big on claims but small to nonexistent on evidence that Australian sport was crooked.

The adrenalin rush has subsided, and there hasn't been one iota of evidence to back up the doomsday predictions that sport was riddled with crime and drugs. Investigators need to play by the rules as well - this little drama has created fertile ground for a witch hunt. Innuendo about a couple of players or even a couple of clubs is far from good enough.

Rather than a black day for sport, a lot of people have had their names unfairly blackened and the mud will stick over here as well. So come on you Eliot Ness types, find a way to back up the claims. And if you can't then the Australian Government needs to inquire into the inquiry. So far, the whole thing is coming across as a grandstanding sham.

Herbert's time was up
Ricki Herbert had to go. The problem is, he hasn't gone far enough. Whether he jumped or was pushed as the Phoenix coach, the right decision has been made. But keeping him in an advisory role at the club - presumably because of his contract - is a recipe for problems because the Phoenix need a clean break and Herbert is hardly one of life's great communicators.

His contribution to the Phoenix, especially during the one exciting glory season, deserves respect. But by the end Herbert, who is also in charge of the All Whites, was failing miserably.

Having one man in control of our two most important teams is not ideal and to my mind should never occur again. Hopefully some free thinking, vibrancy and debate will now take place in New Zealand soccer, after being stifled through Herbert's overly powerful position. But it is disappointing to see he will be involved at the Phoenix.

- 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.

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