Seven rugby talking points from the weekend, and two more on Beauden Barrett.
Yeah, that'll work
A hard ground in Suva, with a bone dry ball, and the Māori All Blacks chose to kick and kick and kick again, handing possession to the Fijians, some of the best runners and handlers in world rugby. Only after Fiji romped to a 22-0 lead after 46 minutes did the Māori side wake up to the idea that giving the ball to their opponents was like, as David Bowie once sang, "putting out fires with petrol". It was far too late and Fiji richly deserved their 27-10 victory.
How long ago was that last win?
The last time a Māori side lost to Fiji was in 1957 at Carisbrook in Dunedin, when Fiji won 17-8. That was 23 years before Jacinda Ardern was born, and two years before the Auckland Harbour Bridge opened. All our commercial aircraft had propellers, Elvis Presley had just bought Graceland, and in Rotorua, a strapping boy called Wayne Shelford was born. At primary school, they started to call him Buck.
Better off mowing selector's lawn
The Māori side was a chance, it was suggested, for players to promote themselves for a late shot at the All Blacks World Cup squad. Two men in particular probably needed blinders. One was halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi. He snapped out some sharp passes and made a terrific tackle on Fijian second five-eighth Levani Botia that saved a try. But unfortunately for Tahuriorangi, his replacement, Bryn Hall, played with the dynamic aggression he'd shown all season for the Crusaders, putting Tahuriorangi's effort well in the shade. The other candidate for elevation was No8 Akira Ioane, who had the chance to mow down rampaging Fijian No8 Vili Mata but was swatted away as Mata ran on to score his 32nd-minute try.
Reinforce Cheika's coaching box
At the World Cup in Japan later this year, Fiji will meet Australia in the Sapporo Dome on the afternoon of Saturday, September 21, in just the second game of the tournament. The space age dome, usually used for baseball, means conditions will be perfect for rugby. Given that Fiji, as the Māori team found, can score a try from anywhere, connoisseurs of coach rage may be in for a treat if Michael Cheika's Wallabies fall behind.
All this and $6 cheese rolls, too
As someone whose home town is Waihi, I don't know that I've enjoyed a rugby game more this year than the Ranfurly Shield challenge at the Wanaka Showgrounds, in which first division Otago had to dig very deep to hold out third division champions Thames Valley 41-21. The Valley, wearing the old school jerseys I remember so well from hitch-hiking to Te Aroha, Thames and Paeroa in the 1960s to see them play, led 13-0 until the last minute of the first half. And when it seemed Otago would probably blitz them in the second half, Valley scored another try when flying wing Harry Lafituanai sprinted away for his second touchdown of the match.
Mother knows best
On the official Thames Valley team list, Christine Wisnewski is listed as "Team Mother". Known to the players as Mama Bear, she acts as team chef. It was reported last year that if the Valley won in the weekend, she'd cook pudding for the players as an after-training treat during the following week.
He's eaten his pudding
Sitiveni Tupou, the Valley's tighthead prop, weighs about 150kg. It may be a little more. In Paeroa, they say the last time he stepped on a scale, the machine started flashing "error" after the 150kg limit was hit. Whatever the truth about his size, he is, with Andy Ruiz, living proof that physical contact sport is not always the preserve of cut gym bunnies. Tupou was a dynamic force when Valley won the Heartland Championship last year, and he epitomised the spirit that made the game in Wanaka such an unexpected treat.
The perfect choice
Beauden Barrett has extraordinary physical gifts and skills. The huge bonus for the Blues is that he also has a rock solid temperament, terrific communication skills and a maturity beyond his years. If you were able to invent a player to take over the No10 jersey and run the ship at the Blues, he's what you'd come up with. One man doesn't make a team but the right man in the right position can make a massive difference.
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They'll still love him in the 'Naki
Speaking during the week with a born and bred Taranaki rugby man, a relation by marriage I'm happy to have, I asked how he thought Beauden Barrett moving to Auckland would be regarded back home. "We know the Blues need to be better for the good of New Zealand rugby, so that's good. I don't think he'll be playing for Auckland though, and in all honesty, if Auckland get belted every weekend, that's fine by us here."