Chris Rattue 's Opinion

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

Chris Rattue: Time to dismount from dark horse Chiefs

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Tevita Mailau. Photo / APN
Tevita Mailau. Photo / APN

There's no point in being anything other than bright and cheery after the opening round of the Super 15.

Taking positive by the horns, it is uplifting to know there should not be another game this year as bad as the one between the Brumbies and Western Force in Canberra.

I peeked at this match through scrunched eyelids using cupped hands as an additional filter. And that was to read the match reports. Wild horses fed on Tour de France steak couldn't have got me to watch it on TV. A depleted squad coached by Jake White will do for running rugby what the 1958 Chevy Impala did for fuel economy while the Western Force are dog tucker now they are struggling to win in the player import-export business. Enough of that match.

The Highlanders, who pipped the Chiefs, will be fizzing. They arrived in Hamilton beaten up by injuries and left the healthier of the two teams.

The Chiefs were my dark horse pick for the Super 15 title, but I have dismounted to search for a safer outside bet.

The Cheetahs and Lions are under consideration, followed by Lassie and Mr Ed.

The Highlanders are a fantastic team for a middle-aged neutral to follow because there is something old fashioned about the way they look. Adam Thomson, Andrew Hore and co. appear from another age ... possibly Neanderthal or Stone.

Thomson was magnificent against the Chiefs, with an imperious lineout display of Victor Matfield proportions, helped by the Chiefs failing to notice he was the visitors' only lineout option even after a heap of clean takes. Thomson kept hammering away around the field as well. If this column had a player of the week award, a plastic kettle would be heading Thomson's way.

Great news on the all-important All Black rebuild front. Highlanders centre Tamati Ellison was mightily impressive. Put it this way: if Ma'a Nonu returns from Japan with similar gusto, the Blues can dream of coming third.

As for the Chiefs, Saturday night's match offered supporters the chance to reminisce about the good old days under Ian Foster, when they failed only reasonably dismally. If they can't beat the Highlanders under these circumstances, they are no chance. The Chiefs inexplicably turned down a mid-second half penalty, although they might repair this tactical naivety by introducing the influence of a third co-captain.

What can one say about the Hurricanes, well beaten by the Stormers in Cape Town? Their coach Mark Hammett does the distressed look better than a faux antiques dealer. Hammett has taken important steps in ripping out the Hurricanes' dodgy foundations, but someone else will probably get to finish off the building.

Somewhere else in South Africa, someone kicked a lot of goals, but the eyes tend to glaze over at news like that. It might have been in Pretoria.

All we ask for is consistency and here the Blues have come through once again. On their opening night showing against the Crusaders, they will finish fourth and fail to make the final, and you can't be more consistent than that.

The Crusaders often start slowly, which they did again. But this time they won which does not augur well for their fellow New Zealand conference teams. Not that anything hardly ever augurs well for the other New Zealand franchises.

A key point: other teams have handy players waiting in the wings whereas the Crusaders started on Friday night without Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Owen Franks. Sparing little Tom McCartney the prospect of facing Owen Franks from the outset was an act of incredible kindness from the Crusaders.

I'm not one to comment on haircuts normally, because each to their own. But the one worn by the replacement Blues prop Tevita Mailau was very distracting, especially to anyone brought up in the age when tight forwards had short-back-and-sides cut by a traditional barber and travelled to matches by tractor.

Mailau has a fringe on his upper back, looking like Abraham Lincoln with his head on backwards. Anyway, showing the age there ... the Mailau look will just take some getting used to.

There was a fantastic, test-type finish at Eden Park, where Israel Dagg used blinding speed to tip away Piri Weepu's attempt at a winning drop goal. What can be said is had the roles been reversed, the same team would have won because Piri, for all of his lovely qualities, isn't the quickest out of the blocks in any sense. He is built to roll, and if this includes with the punches he'll enjoy the Blues. Weepu received a fantastic reception from his new home crowd, a dreadful blow to the breast-feeding lobbyists.

There was also a superb finish in Sydney, where the Reds overhauled the Waratahs with a long-range try at the death. The return match, which is effectively the second leg of the Australian conference final, is in the last round, in five months' time, and should be well worth the incredibly long wait.

- 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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