ANY GIVEN MONDAY with Dylan Cleaver
It's Rugby World Cup year. The tournament is looming. You know what time that is… it's World Cup Crisis Time.
Everyone loves a good crisis, especially coaches and leaders. It makes them feel indispensable. Think of the cinematic potential in a crisis solved. The Imitation Game never gets made if Alan Turing throws up his hands and says, "Sorry, this German code will never be deciphered."
For an event almost as historically significant, harken back to 2011. After a Biblical plague strikes down All Black flyhalves, Stephen Donald is found by Graham Henry wandering along the banks of the Waikato River. Henry slots him seamlessly into the World Cup squad and Donald heroically kicks goal from in front of the sticks. Talk about men for a crisis.
(It is, obviously far more palatable than the script rejected by Hollywood: All Blacks one peep of Craig Joubert's whistle from freezing on rugby's biggest stage against an anarchic team they beat by 20 points in pool play.)
But it wouldn't be a decent campaign without a crisis or two to negotiate – think Bring Back Buck to Suzie the Waitress to Tana's Knee and many more – so here's to a bit more late drama.
Here's your quick and by no means exhaustive guide to World Cup crises, real or imagined.
Damian McKenzie is out of the World Cup.
It is a crisis because…
as presumptive third-choice first-five and second-choice fullback, McKenzie had a vital role in the balance of the squad and, more specifically, from the bench.
Scale of the crisis: Completely overblown, already. So far we've had sirens out for the return of Aaron Cruden, the return of Dan Carter (both, incidentally, key players in the crisis of 2011) and the reincarnation of Mark Nicholls. None seem particularly likely, particularly the first two. At a guess, this crisis will be solved only by unparalleled coaching genius, with the erudite Steve Hansen spending time developing a utility player, possibly Jordie Barrett, in the Rugby Championship.
Sonny Bill Williams has gone under the knife, again.
It is a crisis because…
it's Sonny Bill and he's, well, no stranger to drama.
Scale of the crisis: Possibly slightly underblown in the rush to panic about McKenzie. There are midfield options, for sure, including one who is approaching 40 but who's played a fundamental role in two successful World Cup campaigns, but as much as his critics hate to hear it, SBW can offer things on attack nobody else can. Opposition teams are going to go out of their way to cut down Beauden Barrett's time and space, having the big man fit and in-form alongside him would help alleviate this issue.
Spark's ability to deliver World Cup to our screens.
It is a crisis because…
It's r-r-rugby, it's New Zealand and there'll be hell to pay if anything conspires to get in the way of a man and his live and uninterrupted footy.
Scale of the crisis: Significant, though based on little evidence except for technophobia, the usual resistance to change and false equivalences made with TVNZ's attempt to broadcast the Commonwealth Games. Spark has clearly paid a lot of money for the privilege of streaming every match live, 12 of which will be screened free-to-air on TVNZ. They may wonder if it worth the effort when they see that every Tom, Dick or Harriet who puts their cable in the wrong hole will be given a platform to air their grievances. There are genuine concerns that New Zealand's digital infrastructure may crash under the burden but we have been assured that within minutes any interrupted stream will quickly turn into a free-air-broadcast on TVNZ's Duke.
Beauden Barrett's goalkicking.
It's a potential crisis because…
Kicks are quite important in close matches.
Scale of the potential crisis: History suggests the learned Hansen would be silly not to have a contingency plan. Poor kicking cost the All Blacks a series against the Lions and you only need one mozza to derail a World Cup campaign. You can love Barrett the player and not trust Barrett the kicker. It doesn't make you a bad person. As a strictly unintellectual exercise, plug "Barrett's goalkicking" into Google. These are the first six headlines (abridged):
"Barrett's goalkicking issues - are they physical or are they mental?"
"What to do with Barrett's goalkicking?"
"Barrett's goalkicking back in the spotlight"
"Barrett happy to hand the goalkicking tee to Mo'unga"
"Stats: Barrett is the worst kicker in international rugby"
And my personal favourite - "An inconvenient truth: The astounding difference in Beauden Barrett's goalkicking percentage based on ball brand".
The ghost of Wayne Barnes
It is a potential crisis because... Every World Cup has a victim. Last time it was Scotland. The time before it was South Africa. The time before it was New Zealand. Every time the man in the middle, like the fine man mentioned above, is vilified. In a game of subjective interpretation of laws, you can almost guarantee that at some point the storyline will be the sound of whistle, or lack thereof.
Scale of potential crisis: Epic.
THE MONDAY LONG READ ...
Michael Sam is a story for our times. Very specifically this time. From Yahoo.