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

Chris Rattue: The problem with NZ rugby commentators

Sky Television commentator Grant Nisbett. Photo / Getty Images.
Sky Television commentator Grant Nisbett. Photo / Getty Images.

The Crusaders tight five was absolutely magnificent in a hard fought victory in Christchurch.

In stark contrast, the Hurricanes tight five was embarrassingly bad. Not that you would know it.

Rugby's bog standard cone of silence descended over the forward battle in Christchurch.

When is the last time you heard a SKY commentator claim that a New Zealand rugby player had a shocker? The answer might be never.

No one in New Zealand rugby has a bad day according to Sky who - as we all know - are forced into being the obsequious commercial partners of New Zealand Rugby, with opinions tailored to encourage public consumption, although public consumption might actually be increased by a more dynamic critiquing of what goes on.

The game continues to be cloaked in Grant Nisbett's battered cliches, while the rest of the professional sports world digs deep for analysis.

It's not that Nisbo has not been a top class run of play man. But the world has moved on, quite some time ago.

I'll start with the positives however.

New Zealand rugby, and the All Blacks, owe the Crusaders so much. The former Super Rugby giants may not have won a title for a while, but they are still the heart of the operation.

All Black rugby is built on the power and prowess of their pack, and most of the good stuff emanates out of Christchurch.

Owen Franks, Joe Moody, Wyatt Crockett, Codie Taylor, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Scott Barrett - all out of one team. The next best thing prop-wise is Nepo Laulala, who is another Crusaders product.

The Crusaders had to fling a 20-year-old bloke named Quinten Strange into the fiercest of Super Rugby battles on Saturday night, as a replacement lock, and he was fantastic.

There is also the strange business of the Crusader link to all of the the All Black test locks. Whitelock, Romano, Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Dominic Bird - they all have the Canterbury stamp somewhere on their passport to success. Patrick Tuipulotu was born in Christchurch.

Moving forward...

I would love to know a lot more about what goes on in scrums, mauls, lineouts etc etc, including stuff about individual personalities, strengths and weaknesses. Rugby commentary, around the world, gets away with a lot of platitudes. (I still love Ian Smith's sharp sideline observations though).

And there is a stupid tradition in New Zealand in which the tight five is proudly regarded as a private club where none of the good oil flows outwards. Well stuff that - as a paying customer, I say that isn't good enough. There must be so much interesting stuff buried in there, and we want to know about it.

An ex-test forward, possibly Robin Brooke, told me once that body shapes played quite a large part in whether scrums were effective in his day. Some players just fitted well together, others didn't. This may not hold true in the highly professional era, but what does?

We all gets bits and pieces now and then, but we need more.

While writing a feature on Anton Oliver, the ex-All Black captain and hooker told me that the former test tighthead Carl Hayman was regarded as the "Rolls Royce of lineout lifters", partly because he got the jumpers back to earth so safely.

A former player also told me that while Olo Brown was revered for his scrummaging, with that famous flat back, his lack of aggression at scrum time used to frustrate the hell out of Sean Fitzpatrick. I'm probably talking out of school there, but that's what this is about.

Commentators need to talk out of the New Zealand rugby school instead of sounding like the official whiteboard.

There must be heaps of info like this that we are missing out on. Someone needs to break rugby's version of the mafia's Law of Omerta, all over the field. We pay for coverage, not platitudes.

It's something for Sky to think about. Who knows? There might actually be players who aren't good lineout lifters, and there might be someone out there who can tell us that.

Meanwhile, Franks, Moody, Taylor, Romano and the unheralded Strange were absolutely brilliant on Saturday night. Absolutely brilliant.

On the other side of the ledger, the Hurricanes weren't.

Yet no New Zealand rugby player ever has a really bad match. It's like official policy - they can have a few bad things happen to them etc etc. But total shockers don't exist.

Well, we all saw a shocker on Saturday night. The Hurricanes tight five were dreadful. They got beaten up in scrums and mauls, and the important lineout ball went west.
They were pathetic. They were rubbish. Hurricanes captain TJ Perenara tried to defend them in the after-match interview, but he didn't have a lot of good material to work with and was not convincing. Ditto, on both counts, with regards the usually magnificent Barrett brothers.

**************************

Great clubs are not built by flying in alleged superstars for a season, the sort who start negotiating with other clubs not long after the plane touches down.

That's why the Kieran Foran signing was a huge mistake by the Warriors. It sent out all the wrong messages, at a time when club boss Jim Doyle and coach Steve Kearney needed to build a new culture in an ever-failing club.

Footy is, in case you haven't noticed, a team game. The finest teams are built by people who are ready to lay down just about everything for the cause. There are few cheap tricks, like the Foran signing, which work in the long run. The second half capitulation against Penrith was humiliating, but not surprising.

- NZ Herald

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