Chris Rattue 's Opinion

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

Chris Rattue: Sort team out and leave refs alone

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Williams' on-field debate echoes Henry's attitude towards officials

Blues captain Ali Williams argues with referee Jonathon White during the team's 38-28 loss to the Highlanders. Picture / Getty Images
Blues captain Ali Williams argues with referee Jonathon White during the team's 38-28 loss to the Highlanders. Picture / Getty Images

Time to take control of your team, Sir John Kirwan, and the Blues boss can start by bringing his errant mentor and captain into line.

Sir Graham Henry's shameful attack on officials after defeat to the Crusaders had a sequel as captain Ali Williams engaged in fruitless debate with referee Jonathon White during a thoroughly deserved loss to the Highlanders. The Blues have unravelled, and their smokescreen is a cheap-shot blame game against referees, who are about as popular as journalists and politicians.

Referees are over-protected and certainly not perfect, or close to it at times, but irrational, malicious attacks such as Henry's only reinforce the need for that protection.

The Blues are a stuck record, with Williams turning into his master's voice. They are crying wolf. The Highlanders were fabulous in the first half, which is why they won.

The once magnificent Williams is struggling for form, the reason he tries the cheap routes around rucks and mauls. He should be left to sort his own game out, without infecting the rest of the side.

Luke Braid was the outstanding Blues captaincy candidate. Along with Rene Ranger, the valiant loose forward is the Blues soul. On the poacher-turned-gamekeeper philosophy, I'd make the erratic Ranger Braid's vice-captain next season if the Northlander takes the All Black bait and negotiates out of a French club contract.

The responsibility might further enhance Ranger, a potential All Black superstar if he puts his mind to it. Henry, meanwhile, should take a leaf out of Wayne Smith's book instead of his own which made scurrilous insinuations against the English referee Wayne Barnes.

Smith works away diligently, leaving no doubt that Dave Rennie runs that particular ship. And look at the result. Grandstanding is all very well now and then, but there needs to be a purpose and validity. Analysing referees is justifiable, but not via arbitrary, outrageously incorrect attacks. The day a coach claims his team won thanks to errant refereeing decisions is the day I'll start taking them seriously.

Meanwhile, the Highlanders showed they should have been contenders, although the clever Tamati Ellison reinforced how much he was missed early in the campaign. International rugby is seriously twisted when a player of Ellison's class is lost to the rubbish which is played in Japan.

Television commentary

The most exasperating thing on television is Justin Marshall, followed closely by Jeff Wilson. Man, can those two commentators talk, and often about nothing in particular. Marshall brought a lot of good things to rugby commentary, especially his fair-minded and worldly attitude. I still admire him for that. At times, he is almost tougher on his old Crusaders team in the way a junior coach might treat his son a little more harshly. Wilson sounds like a frustrated coach - funny that. The two of them jabber on relentlessly, which was compounded over the weekend when they worked together. These great All Blacks might take the advice of a Herald reader, who emailed me to say that Wilson should give the pictures a chance to tell the story, unadulterated. Both have ability, in spades, but need coaching. In the meantime, my advice to Sky is keep these two yappers apart and serve them camomile tea on match day.

Carter fires up

Adversity brought out the best in Crusader pivot Dan Carter's running game. Faced with a potentially season-crippling defeat, the golden one took the Waratahs on with his tricky running game and won. Carter cruised early in the season but is firing up. Super 15 adversity might have a payoff for the All Blacks.

Issac Luke one to watch

On a similar note, the Kiwis' number nine Issac Luke is playing superstar league without the recognition he deserves. New Zealand has struggled to find quality dummy halves and Luke is far and away our best ever. He is so good that I'll take the risk and say on his best days, he rivals the great Storm leader Cameron Smith, although in a different way. Luke had a fabulous game in a depleted South Sydney victory over the Newcastle Knights, and the numbers backed this up. He ran for over 150 metres, had five tackle busts, a line break and made 38 tackles. He's an absolute dynamo, and a very clever runner with it. He is playing a big part in Souths' impressive charge and New Zealand's campaign to retain the World Cup will depend heavily on his presence.

- 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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