Last week I wrote that the Blues were not going to start winning until they got the ball to winger Rieko Ioane so this week they did that and he scored four tries. You see?

Hello, Mr MacDonald, Mr Coach, Sir? Why yes, my services are indeed available, and for a very reasonable consideration. Almost laughably reasonable, compared to your average Super Rugby salary.

While we're finalising terms, would you like some more free advice? Let's make the Blues the first team in the history of the comp to stay onside in defence. Because this is also a good winning strategy.

I'm serious. Rugby would be a better game if they all stopped the cheating. It's not just the Blues. Defensive cheating is structured into the game plans of all the teams, even though it's becoming a high-risk strategy for losing.


It was the Blues' opponents, the Sunwolves, doing it more obviously on Saturday at QBE Stadium in Albany. But that's because the Sunwolves had to spend more time in their red zone, the defensive danger area between 22 and try line.

As every rugby fan knows, it goes like this: attacking player runs at the line, gets tackled, ruck forms, ball comes back to the halfback, halfback passes, new player runs at line. Keep repeating. Sometimes there's more passing or a cross kick.

Each movement, in theory, gets the attackers closer to the line and eventually, in theory, either they score a try or someone drops the ball.

In practice, that's not what happens. In practice, the defenders give away a penalty. They risk losing three points to shut down the risk of losing five or seven. This is what happens most of the time when a team is on sustained attack.

Economists would call it rational behaviour. But it's cheating. The usual way it's done is when the ruck if formed and the line of defensive players stands closer to the attacking line than the rules say they can.

The rule that keeps them apart is a good rule: it gives the attacking team a reasonable chance to run, pass or kick before they are tackled. Without it, rugby would degenerate into endless rucks.

But wait. The most effective defence in rugby is called the rush defence. When the ball comes out of the ruck, the whole defensive line rushes at the attacking line. No team in the world has worked out how to counter a good rush defence.

What makes a "good" rush defence? Cheating. They stand closer than the rules allow. They keep on creeping up, in a line, testing how much the referee will let them get away with.


My hero in Albany on Saturday wasn't Rieko Ioane, despite those four tries. It was Mike Fraser, the ref. He wasn't blind to offside cheating and he didn't bother with the empty warnings favoured by some of his colleagues: "You've been doing it too much and if you do it again there'll be a yellow card," that sort of nonsense.

Fraser dished out two offside penalties straight away, both against Blues defenders, and as a result the Sunwolves started the game 6 points up.

Lessons learned? Not really. As the game turned and the Sunwolves had to do most of the defending, Fraser penalised them often for offside play. And when it was done close to the tryline, he had no hesitation in yellow carding the offender. Sending them off for 10 minutes. He did it twice, without warning.

Match referee Mike Fraser.
Match referee Mike Fraser.

The result? "Defensive penalties", aka "professional fouls", aka cheating, lost the Sunwolves the game. The Blues scored tries because of it. They won because of it.

That was splendid. If all the refs were like Fraser, within a week or two we'd have faster, smarter, more open running rugby. More skills, more entertainment. Possibly more tries, but also more demand on defending teams to step up their tackling and positional skills.

And a better lesson for everyone: don't cheat. You'll get caught and your team will lose.

What a good way to make rugby more appealing.

Those four Ioane tries, wow. He was busy all night, often popping up as first or second receiver on attack, always looking dangerous.

But you don't score four tries on the wing unless you're actually on the wing. The remarkable thing about Ioane's game was that for all his line-busting midfield action, he was always in position out wide when he needed to be.

He made it look easy, strolling over for a couple of those tries, but the real skill he had on show was his ability to read the game, to keep knowing where he had to be and what he had to do.

Even so, he wasn't quite my favourite player of the night. The Sunwolves' Jamie Booth came closer. Once a Blues player himself, he made a mockery of the defence with several searching runs. And there was Sunwolves' captain Michael Little, who played as always like a man possessed. He's North Harbour rugby royalty, courtesy of his father Walter, and he distinguished himself mightily at home on the Little ground.

It really does seem little, in a good way: the QBE Stadium has such an intimate feel you'd swear the pitch was smaller. And getting there and back was so easy on the free-with-your-ticket AT buses: took me just an hour, very relaxed, door to door.

But my real player of the day? That would be Blues' stand-in captain Sonny Bill Williams. He was everywhere, carrying, tackling, organising the backline to produce those four Ioane tries, inspiring the troops, leading them to a tough but true victory.

Leadership agrees with SBW, right down to his agreeably insistent way of getting in the ref's head. "If you could check that please, sir," he asked the ref at point. Very cool.