Ten talking points from the weekend's Super Rugby.
YOU'VE HEARD OF THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE. WELCOME TO THE SANDRINGHAM RECTANGLE
Eden Park has become a burial ground for the aspirations of coaches, and, in some cases, players. The problems with the Blues don't lie with the current team, or their head coaches, Leon McDonald and Tom Coventry. It lies with years and years of poor management, on the board, and in executive positions.
In 2018 I wrote a column about the massively damaging disconnect between the Blues and the Auckland provincial team. I was summonsed to a meeting with then Blues' CEO Michael Redman and came away even more depressed for the Blues' prospects. Why, as Sir Graham Henry had often proposed, didn't the Blues follow the Crusader-Canterbury model which benefited both teams? Well, was the bizarre reply, the Crusader system was one way of doing things, but there were other ways too.
The fact that over the last two decades the Crusaders had been by a mile the most successful team in New Zealand was apparently not enough of a recommendation.
Times have changed. The Blues board is now filled with people who know their rugby, rather than businessmen. There's been a shakeup in top management, and rifts between the franchise and the three rugby unions involved are being healed. The reforms have yet to work miracles on the field, but if a fish has rotted from the head for 15 years the repair job won't get finished overnight.
GRAHAM MOURIE SAID IT PERFECTLY
Mourie, the captain of our first Grand Slam All Black side, in 1978, used to tell his players he wanted them in a state on the field where no matter how frantic they were physically, their mind was as calm as if they were "sitting in an armchair considering things."
In the 25-8 towelling of the Blues at Eden Park by the Crusaders on Friday night there was really only one moment, in the 35th minute when Sevu Reece swerved infield with three outside him to his left, that could really be called a tactical error. Dominating the scrums and lineouts was a terrific base for the victory, but it was clear thinking from forwards as well as backs that sealed the comfortable win.
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The stunning performance on Friday of loose forward Cullen Grace, just 20 years old and already bigger than Colin Meads was in his prime, was a reminder how the Crusaders can not only attract out-of-towners like Braydon Ennor, but can also spot homegrown talent young.
Grace was a local hero for three years in the First XV at Timaru Boys' High, and at 16 was in the Crusader Junior Knights development group. He doesn't turn 21 until December, so to say his future looks bright is an Olympic level understatement.
THE BRUMBIES SHOULD ONLY BE ON BLACK AND WHITE TV
In their golden era 20 years ago, coached by Eddie Jones, and then David Nucifora, the Brumbies brought new meaning to the word boring. They were successful, but played a game so limited that if they allowed a midfielder to be involved in a rolling maul it was considered daring.
Lo and behold, in 2020 in Canberra against the Highlanders the same tedious tactics were on full narcolepsy inducing display, all three tries to hooker Folau Fainga'a coming from lineout drives.
WHICH IS WHY THE HIGHLANDERS' WINNING TRY WAS SO APPROPRIATE
The fact the try in the 83rd minute that won the Canberra game 23-22 for the Highlanders came from a lineout maul was a perfect touch for anyone with a taste for irony. And a special pat on the back for halfback Kayne Hammington, now in his fourth season as Aaron Smith's back-up.
It was Hammington who screamed at his forwards to keep moving in field, until, when Te Ariki Ben-Nicholas dived over for the try near the posts, the conversion needed to seal victory was easy pickings for Josh Ioane.
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SOMEWHERE HARRY HOUDINI IS APPLAUDING
All Blacks coach Ian Foster has fondly referred to Damian McKenzie as "a fly in a bottle" noting how much he admires the fearlessness, both physical and mental, McKenzie shows when he has the ball.
In the highly entertaining 43-17 win by the Chiefs over the Sunwolves in Tokyo McKenzie was at his dazzling best, and pulled off the play of the round. 33 minutes into the game, covered by three men, he shrugged off one, pushed off another, skipped past the third, and sent a miracle ball to Solomon Alaimalo, who crossed the line, and then, in a gesture as spontaneous as it was unshowy, pushed the ball into McKenzie's chest so McKenzie could dot down for the try.
With McKenzie on board and on song the Chiefs lift from not only being rounded, dynamic winners but also being hugely entertaining.
IN TOKYO 20,000 PEOPLE IS JUST A QUEUE FOR THE TRAIN
The wisdom of dumping the Sunwolves has to be questioned when you see 20,000 or so people having the time of their lives, even with their team being well beaten by the Chiefs.
Having spent two weeks in Tokyo at the World Cup last year I can report that (a) rugby only scratches the surface of sporting interest there and (b) that doesn't really matter. Why doesn't it matter? Because in a country so heavily populated that every day 3.4 million people passed through the railway station, Shinjuku, that housed our hotel, you only need to be a minority sport to attract big crowds, which must lead to, in a thriving first world nation, big money.
GAS, AS EARLE KIRTON SO OFTEN USED TO SAY, YOU CAN'T BEAT IT
Hurricanes wing Ben Lam was stunning on attack as the Canes beat the Sharks, 38-22, in Wellington. Former All Black selector Kirton, himself a very quick first-five in his All Black playing days, was right when he suggested speed should be at the top of the list when looking for a good wing.
Lam was in this sort of blistering form last year too, but missed out on the All Blacks because of concerns over other aspects, especially his ability to deal with high kicks on defence. The national selectors probably got that right, but it doesn't detract from the joy of watching him skin would be tacklers on the outside break, especially when the men left grasping air are as good, and quick, as the back three in the Sharks.
YES HE'S A WRECKING BALL IN BOOTS, BUT HE CAN STEP TOO
Ngani Laumape provided a stunning reminder of just how good a midfielder is with a try against the Sharks in the 27th minute that started with a daring cross-field kick by Jordie Barrett.
The one defender Laumape had to beat was tiny replacement halfback, Sanele Nohamba, who was spotting Laumape a terrifying 31kg. Laumape could have squashed him like a bug on a windscreen, but instead produced a lovely little stutter step, and steamed on untouched to score.
ONLY A DUMB BACK AND A BUSYBODY OFFICIAL CAN STOP PROPS DOING ANYTHING
What should have been the try of the round came seven minutes into the game in Wellington, when the Sharks 119kg tighthead prop, John-Hubert Meyer, second receiver on the Canes' 22, ran and drew the last defender, then flicked a silky pass to his 122kg tighthead prop, Juan Schoeman, who glided over the line.
Tragically, 40 metres downfield and 20 seconds earlier a stupid back had thrown a forward pass, and a pin pricking TMO watching the replay disallowed the try. Such can sometimes be life for the skilled, selfless men who provide the intellectual heart of all rugby teams.