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April 13, 2014 | by  | in Opinion Sports |
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Sports Banter

This week, Ollie Ritchie takes a look at the poor start to the Super Rugby season by the New Zealand franchises.

In New Zealand, we are an odd bunch. More people can name the captain of the All Blacks than the leader of the Labour Party. It’s David Cunliffe, by the way. We are very unforgiving when our rugby teams lose. International, Super 15, ITM Cup; it doesn’t matter the level. So I can’t imagine we’re all too happy with the way our Super Rugby teams have started this year. I know I’m personally a touch worried about my beloved Crusaders – we’ll be sweet though! However, for the talent we have in this country, we should be winning more.

The defending champion Chiefs have drawn their two recent matches in South Africa and lost to the Force in Perth.

The Blues must be one of the more frustrating teams to support. A couple of really encouraging home wins, yet as soon as they hit the road, they get swept off the park.

The Highlanders and Hurricanes, though, have always been very hot and cold. Admittedly, the ‘Canes have had two big wins in recent matches against the Crusaders and Bulls, but the Hurricanes have undeniable talent in their squad. Beauden Barrett has to be the best first five in the country at the moment (remember Dan’s on a sabbatical). Julian Savea can make plays out of nothing. Yet they can’t put consistent performances on the park.

The Crusaders are expected to win every weekend. That’s what comes with seven titles. But lately, their attack has seemed out of sorts. Is it because there’s no Dan? Potentially, but with the amount of talent in their squad they should be producing more complete performances.

So with all these poor performances, what can we put it down to? Coaches? Individual players? On-field effort? Surely, on-field effort can’t be questioned, but I’m sure that if these performances don’t pick up then there will be some very concerned coaches around the country. Let’s start with Todd Blackadder at the Crusaders. Every year when the new Super Rugby season commences, the Crusaders go in as one of the favourites. Do not mistake that they have fully earned that right. However, since Blackadder took over in 2009, their best finish has been second. Yes, they have made the semifinals every year since he took over, but the people of Christchurch and the Crusaders region are demanding a title, and if Blackadder can’t give them that, then it may be time to look elsewhere. And what about those Blues? JK’s expertise in curing depression might have to be put to good use if the Blues continue their inability to string results together. Likewise at the Hurricanes and the Highlanders. Neither team has really threatened to even contest a playoff spot in recent years, and it doesn’t look like that’s about to change, so maybe it’s time for some restructuring there as well.

Whatever way you look at it, it has been a very slow start to the season for the New Zealand Super Rugby teams. Looking ahead to the international season, I’m not worried. But for now, teams need to step up or that silverware may end up in Australia or South Africa.

Kiwi teams in action this week:
– Friday: Hurricanes vs Blues, Wellington, 7.35 pm.
– Saturday: Chiefs vs Crusaders, Hamilton, 7.35 pm.
(Highlanders bye)

Top 5: Athletes who won’t go away.
5. Kyle Mills: Although his figures are impressive, Mills has never really been anything special, with his unchanging ‘Jewfro’ and un-athletic frame. Always lumbering in, bowling those deliveries in the mid-120s, the New Zealand bowler is as uninspiring as he is solid.

4. Lleyton Hewitt: The tennis player really does personify the term ‘Aussie battler’. Although he’s made more trips to the surgery table than Michael Jackson, his withered old frame simply refuses to give in. Hewitt is actually younger than All Black captain Richie McCaw, and only seven months older than on-court rival Roger Federer, but it seems as though the 33-year-old has been around since time itself began

3. Irene van Dyk: van Dyk’s presence on the netball court is almost as unremitting as her South African accent. An international player since 1994, the 41-year-old mother-of-one has established herself as the most iconic name in world netball.

2. Ryan Giggs: The 40-year-old has the record for the most Premier League appearances of all time with 611, and has won 13 Premier League titles with Manchester United since he debuted for the club in 1991. That’s a 23-year-long career in the world’s most demanding football competition. And it’s still going.

1. Brad Thorn: A true legend. I think I speak for most people when I say we don’t mind the 39-year-old hanging around. Three NRL titles, two State of Origin series wins, two NPC titles, a Ranfurly Shield victory, a Super Rugby title, a Heineken Cup, a Rugby World Cup, and international appearances in both rugby league and rugby union. There aren’t many blokes out there with a résumé like that.


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