Scotty Stevenson: Stalwarts destined to be denied one last showdown

Veteran Blues and Crusaders hookers Mealamu and Flynn worthy rivals

Keven Mealamu and Corey Flynn will be unlikely to lock horns in their teams' upcoming clash and won't meet again, with Flynn's current Super season also his last. Photo / Getty Images
Keven Mealamu and Corey Flynn will be unlikely to lock horns in their teams' upcoming clash and won't meet again, with Flynn's current Super season also his last. Photo / Getty Images

There will be very little fuss made about them come tomorrow night and they wouldn't want it any other way. Keven Mealamu and Corey Flynn will just get on with the job, the way they have both done since making their respective Super Rugby debuts in 2002, back when Flynn was a transplanted Southlander in Christchurch and Mealamu was a Chief.

Mealamu has been the beating heart of the Blues for 12 seasons, since the tubby Tokoroan became the Otahuhu Nugget. He was the beating heart of the Blues even when the team had no pulse. No one ever has a bad thing to say about him. John Kirwan calls him the team's Matai. Funny isn't it? One hundred and fifty games into his Blues career and Mealamu is still a Chief.

For his part, Flynn has broken bones - his own, usually - for the Crusaders for 13 seasons. He has only ever had one job in the team: to make it clear to the next generation of hookers that the only way they get to wear the Crusaders' No2 jersey is by taking it off him.

Plenty have failed to grasp that concept. But Flynn won't be back next season. Ben Funnell has been given the nod. Flynn will watch him from the bench tomorrow night. He'll come on to finish the job.

It's sad to see Flynn on the bench for this game, this most classic of all Kiwi encounters, and no one will feel more disappointed than him. This bloke has remained so steadfastly committed to the Crusaders' cause that no one has taken the field more for the franchise. Through all the knock-backs at international level, through all the broken arms and other ailments, for all the times spent trying to stay in the All Blacks, he now rides the pine on borrowed time for a team that he has never given up on.

It's doubly sad that his selection on the bench means these two veterans are unlikely to lock horns one last time. By the time Flynn gets his call to action, Mealamu will have most likely emptied his tank, yet again. He'll be heading to his place alongside his teammates to have his outsized calves packed in ice and to be jacketed against the Christchurch cold; to catch his breath and watch the end of what he began. Flynn will take his place in the scrum, with a chirp for James Parsons and word to the referee, and a look ahead to the space his great rival and peer has just vacated.

There'll be plenty else to talk about of course. Kieran Read and Jerome Kaino will attempt to out-class each other in the loose, Dan Carter will attempt to wind back the clock in a jersey that used to fit so well, before he made another his own. Ma'a Nonu will be opposite him, on top of him, around him. We'll find out if anyone's allowed to tackle Dan Carter. Andrew Hore might finally get an answer to his three-year-old question.

We'll find out if Ihaia West is the promise or the potential, and if Israel Dagg is the guarantee. We'll find out about power and pace and the gaps between in which dwell the split-second differences that dictate the outcomes. We'll see if Nemani Nadolo can be turned around and if Charles Piutau can be unleashed. We'll find out about squad depth and the Blues' third-quarter push, and we'll see about commitment and the Crusaders' final-quarter stand.

Most likely, though, we'll revel in the fight for the inches, where all the great games are won, and where the veterans conduct their most profitable business. We'll watch will and force collide on that invisible line where the front foot and the back foot begin and end: rugby's infinite line of cliche.

And in the thick of it - one at the beginning and one at the end - will be Keven Mealamu and Corey Flynn, the adopted sons of the Blues and the Crusaders who became the father-figures of the franchises. One will be trying to extend his side's season, the other to prolong, for a few more weeks at least, a career that deserves far more recognition than a place on the bench.

- NZ Herald

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