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

Chris Rattue: Super 15 form hard to nail down

Brumbies are the nearest thing to pacesetters, while at the other end of the scale are the rotten Highlanders

John Hardie of the Highlanders is tackled by Nic White of the Brumbies. Photo / Getty Images
John Hardie of the Highlanders is tackled by Nic White of the Brumbies. Photo / Getty Images

Western Force rugby coach Michael Foley was on form when he said, "Even when you're moving in the right direction, it's rarely in a straight line."

The way the Super 15 is panning out this season, there is no reliable form guide, an exception being the rotten, winless Highlanders who desperately need a mantra that coach Jamie Joseph can't deliver.

The Highlanders' parts were so promising and the evolving sum so appalling that Joseph might have got the boot by now.

At the heart of what is among the most inept run of performances in New Zealand rugby is Andrew Hore, rugby's thug of the year in 2012, whose constant yapping is being spun into folklore by the Sky commentators.

If only Hore would shut up, or at least the commentators would shut the hell up about him, at least until the All Black hooker has something to yap about. During their latest loss to the Crusaders, Hore chipped his opposite Corey Flynn about a poor lineout throw, Flynn's friendly fire having snuffed out an attacking opportunity.

Not to worry - the Crusaders' scrum quickly made amends, with the talkative one and his mates retreating yet again.

At the other end of the table the Brumbies are the nearest thing to form pacesetters. They are hardly a cut above the rest but they do have a good run home travel-wise, with four of their last seven games in Canberra and the South Africa trip done and dusted.

In the early days of Super rugby, much was made of the travel factor, but that couldn't go on forever.

Management found ways to minimise the impact, and there was no point in the teams or media going on and on about the effects. But the exacting march around the Southern Hemisphere must surely remain a strong contributor to the way form ebbs and flows. And deciphering the points table - a fair old exercise in these days of conferences and byes - has limited significance unless the upcoming travel schedules are taken into account.

The Blues look very well placed for now, but they have a lot of suitcase-packing ahead. In one stanza, they travel to Christchurch, return home for a game, head back south to play the Highlanders, and then shift to South Africa. Should they make the playoffs, it could mean a trip back to South Africa after all of that. Whew.

The Crusaders have five of their last eight games at home, one of their away games in nearby Dunedin, and don't play out of Australasia. They would hit the playoffs in much better shape than the Blues.

The form book in the NRL is similarly scatty, although for different reasons, with one remarkable exception. The Melbourne Storm are setting new standards, a dynasty of rugby league performance that marks Craig Bellamy down as maybe the finest club coach ever in Australasian professional sport.

Planting a team in Melbourne could have been a disaster - similar new rugby league frontiers quickly folded in Australia. It has been a triumph, however, mirroring what the Brumbies did in an Australian rugby union outpost.

The shifting sands of player movement under the restrictive salary cap, and even one tidal wave of a salary cap scandal, have failed to swamp Bellamy's castle.

Teams can give it to Melbourne for 60 minutes, only to be met by a wall of resilience that turns into a rapier that picks its spots and finishes off another victim. Bellamy has designed a system that enables a changing of the guard to operate around a core of players who run the game on the field and set the preparation standards off it. They had a rough period last year, but still took the title.

Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater turn 30 this year, and while there aren't all that many 30-plus players in the NRL any more, there are no obvious signs of wear and tear among the Big Three.

The Warriors play in Melbourne on Thursday night and on respective form, one almost daren't watch.

- NZ Herald

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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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