Rugby poised for big Halberg haul

By Dylan Cleaver

Shot put champion and Sportswoman of the Year favourite Valerie Adams is likely to be the only non-rugby major category winner at the Halberg Awards tonight.

If rugby doesn't scoop the rest of the main categories it will be the biggest shock since, well, since the 28-person voting academy gave last year's biggest gong to a team that didn't win a match at "their" World Cup in 2010.

The best chance for another sport to get a look in might be in the Sportsman of the Year category. That would surely occur only if world champion single sculler Mahe Drysdale scored a few first-place votes and most of the seconds, while the academy remained confused whether Richie McCaw or Jerome Kaino was the All Blacks' best.

It is hard to make a case for Mark Todd. His achievement in winning a fourth Badminton title at the age of 55 was remarkable, but it is an event that rarely warrants a brief in the paper unless a New Zealander wins it. "I like Toddy's chances at Badminton this year," is a rare opening gambit at the water-cooler, with the possible exception of the offices of NZ Horse & Pony.

The McCaw-Kaino conundrum is intriguing and asks the academy to decide what they value most within the context of a team sport.

There can be little argument that Kaino was New Zealand's most effective player at the World Cup. He played all but a few seconds of the All Blacks' programme and did so with a relentless and, at times, awe-inspiring physicality. Like many in the team, he reserved his least dominant performance for the final but even though he was the second-best No 6 on the night, he was still one of the better players on Eden Park.

McCaw was not as dominant as his loose forward comrade; a broken foot would not allow it. His unwillingness to cede to his injury and his leadership during the knockout rounds made him the public's touchstone for the tournament. This is one of those occasions where there is no wrong answer.

Team of the Year is a given. The three two-man rowing teams are all world champions and the achievements of the men's pair, Hamish Bond and Eric Murray, over the past three years have been epic. While Bled was nice, it was all part of a grand plan and that culminates in London.

For the All Blacks, there was no tomorrow if they didn't win the World Cup - at least that's what it would have felt like after a build-up that bordered on obsessive. For the peace of mind of a country that embraced the tournament in a way we were thought incapable of, they had to deliver.

"Peace" was how Graham Henry described the victory in personal terms. He was put through the wringer after the 2007 World Cup and looked every one of his 65 years during the last moments of last year's version. His redemption must earn him the Coach of the Year.

The supreme award? You'd have to think it would go to the All Blacks after winning seven from seven under the most intense expectation.

A cautionary note, however. Stranger things have happened - much stranger.


Halberg major category finalists:

Sportsman of the Year:
Richie McCaw (rugby), Mahe Drysdale (rowing), Jerome Kaino (rugby), Mark Todd (equestrian)

Sportswoman of the Year:
Valerie Adams (athletics), Lisa Carrington (kayaking), Jo Edwards (bowls), Andrea Hewitt (triathlon)

Team of the Year:
All Blacks (rugby), Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan (rowing), Nicola Coles and Rebecca Scown (rowing), Hamish Bond and Eric Murray (rowing

Coach of the Year:
Graham Henry (rugby), Dayle Cheatley (cycling), Dick Tonks (rowing), Gordon Tietjens (rugby)

The Halberg Supreme Award will come from sportsman, sportswoman, team of the year or the newly created disabled sportsperson of the year category.

- NZ Herald

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