The Blues snapped a twenty game losing streak against New Zealand teams on Friday night, downing the Highlanders 33-26 at Eden Park.
Instrumental in the win were two All Black props, Karl Tu’inukuafe and Ofa Tu’ungafasi, coming off the bench and stabilizing the Blues scrum. Up until their insertion the home team had been back-pedalling. Lock Patrick Tuipulotu also came on as a substitute and made a big impact, scoring the go-ahead try.
Of the starting fifteen number eight Akira Ioane was again very powerful and his brother Rieko on the left wing was like a slightly quicker version, scoring two fine tries. Fullback Melani Nanai was the other try-scorer, continuing his run of good form by evading tacklers and successfully connecting with other runners at those moments when in previous matches the ball would end up being turned over.
Two other players deserve mention. Flanker Blake Gibson assumed the captaincy and there is strong evidence that this change at the top was significant. Other players may have been more prominent in the big moments but Gibson spent the entire eighty minutes making big tackles and working in the bowels of every ruck to disrupt Highlander continuity.
The other was centre TJ Faiane, called late into the starting fifteen when Sonny Bill Williams’ leadership skills were deemed essential in the wider community. Faiane’s qualities as captain were exemplary when Auckland won the national title last year and he brought the same game-breaking flair to Friday night’s performance with a hand in two of the Blues’ best tries, each time bringing about a lead change.
With eight minutes remaining the Highlanders had the advantage back but made some crucial errors in striving to find the winning formula. Wing Waisake Naholo was yellow-carded and left his team short-handed as Tuipuluto drove over for the match-winner, after which first five Marty Banks kicked out on the full from restart.
Blues 33 Highlanders 26
On Saturday the Hurricanes overcame a strong challenge from the Stormers, who scored three tries from lineout drives but couldn’t contain a relentless fifteen-man assault from their hosts.
Ardie Savea had been moved from number eight to flanker for this fixture, his added freedom vital in breaking up the Stormers’ pattern at close quarters but also allowing him the scope to roam freely and support ball-carriers when attacking chances presented themselves.
The Barrett brothers combined at first and second five-eighths, Beauden inside Jordie, and the pair seemed to have a clairvoyant understanding of where weaknesses could be probed. Jordie in particular was devastating on the carry, breaking tackles and giving his three-quarters an extra yard of space.
In Sydney to face the Waratahs, the Crusaders looked as ragged as any other team that’s ever unfairly had to spend a week on remedial public relations instead of focusing on their job. They made more handling errors in eighty minutes than they’d made all season prior to this game, one they were mentally unprepared for, and it was awful to watch.
The Waratahs deserve credit, if only for doing just enough to exploit a better team having a bad night.
Then the Chiefs of old rose from the grave like Lazarus to spook the assembled livestock at Loftus Versfeld. Damian McKenzie was once again at fullback and showed exactly why his natural free-running inclinations are better suited to having more space rather than constrained by the responsibilities of wearing ten on his back.
With McKenzie humiliating Bulls tacklers and the Chiefs forwards hunting as a pack in front of him, the visitors scored seven tries to two in an eye-opening display of cohesive mobility. Lock Brodie Retallick scored two of the Chiefs’ tries, twice backing himself close to the line, and as a support runner could well have scored a third in finishing a long range strike move but instead, within an effortless arm-stretch of the goal-line, chose to offload for replacement halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi who had an unopposed path to dotting down behind the posts.
It was a moment of bloody-minded calm which summed up the Chiefs’ performance, even more pleasing given they haven’t been within coo-ee of showing such confidence in the year to date.
Of all places, the high veldt in blazing sunshine is an impressive venue to pull such a rabbit out of their hat. With ball in hand they stomped around like they owned the place, but their defence was also nothing short of inspirational. It’s Monday now but Bulls left wing Rosko Specman will still be asking his friends to repeat their sentences after running into giant prop Nepo Laulala. At full speed he was stopped dead in his tracks, with the kind of sound a cricket bat makes hitting a wet cardboard box.
That leaves us still struggling to process the massacre in Christchurch.
I applaud statesmen like Steve Hansen and Richie McCaw for weighing in on the Crusaders changing their name. Both appear to think it’s an appropriate token and worth coughing up, especially when the plaintiffs are as triggered as any pitchfork-wielding mob ever assembled on courthouse steps.
Now then... how long before we’re not just telling those nasty southern white people they can’t name their team the Crusaders, but making any use of the word illegal? Will we also have to burn all of Walter Scott’s books? Where does it stop? Are those the only questions we should be asking, not to mention these questions being a little late once the process has already started with concessions?
If “who we are” is changing so rapidly our societies are effectively being remade with each new generation, will examining “who we once were” help or hinder the discussion? Harvard’s David Putnam, a dyed-in-the-wool yet scientifically honest liberal, spent the last twenty years trying unsuccessfully to find fault with his own extensive research which showed that diversity tends to make societies more polarized, that divisions spread inside racial groups and not just between them.
Shouldn’t we examine our feet of clay a little more carefully? Sure, mass murder is not who we are, but who are we? Who is truly invulnerable to criticism? Are “we” actually or have we ever been mass murderers? Is this “the conversation we need to have?”
We might thank our lucky stars that New Zealand was reached by British and Dutch explorers before the colonial powers of Europe further south, cut-throats whose dishonorable conquests with few exceptions have become ungovernable hellholes. We might politely acknowledge that the indigenous tribes of these islands weren’t exactly non-violent, eco-sustainable saints.
We might also question exactly what we’re at peace with when we claim to reject war. Rugby players don’t stone adulterous women, genitally mutilate their daughters or throw homosexuals off buildings. When soccer players do, they also burn any hijabs their victims might have been wearing.
A crowd of well-meaning people in Auckland was harangued recently for being institutionally racist. Another crowd in Wellington was evacuated following the hysterical reaction over a tattoo.
In this latest uncomfortable issue we face as a nation, while good people are trying to be calm and compassionate, is nobody else concerned that a horrible tragedy is being openly politicized and amplified by activists who already had giant chips on their shoulders about any traditions which block their path to absolute power?
Rugby is one of the worthiest traditions and no children of activists are allowed to play it.
But that’s actually a good thing.
You can bet Brodie Retallick, whose selfless vision in offloading within spitting distance of a hat-trick I mentioned earlier, was raised in a household where rugby was encouraged right alongside all the other big picture values it dovetails with. Remember that kid in your school team who didn’t pass the ball, blowing what would have been the match-winning try?
The term was “greedy.”
Remember traipsing from the field wishing you could simply point the finger of blame, but you stayed silent because in rugby the whole team is ultimately responsible? In a soccer game, with players either shrieking at each other like chimps or joining a big cuddle-puddle, depending on whether the ball hit the back of the net, motivation is more questionable.
Greed is a wider issue and it would be hypocritical to focus solely on schoolboy match results and not examine its overall effect.
For well over a century rugby was an amateur sport. Laws changed very rarely, like for how many points a try was worth or how players packed down in the scrum. Generally, change was to ratify well-considered innovation.
Then twenty five years ago the professional era began. A few wise men predicted a top tier of players would basically become free agents. But who warned about a non-stop revolving door of tournament sponsors, or the resources wasted negotiating broadcast deals by executives too portly to fly economy, as fans swallowed constant price hikes for pay-per-view subscription fees and seats in the grandstand?
Who foresaw the cost of our stadiums being refurbished, provinces amalgamating to share overheads, uniforms being redesigned every year, franchises reshuffling into different conferences or dropping out because other teams collectively opposed remote venues?
How many law changes, swapping one injury for another to calm the soy-bloated activists who despise us, can we absorb every year without turning the soldier-making game into just another dull exercise in appeasement?
Rugby must fight ill-considered change. Our enemies are emboldened way past the point where they might now pump the brakes. Are we going to ban American teams from tournaments because they didn’t provide counseling sessions while taming the prairie? Or boycott the Irish because U-boats used the Londonderry coastline for cover? When a majority of our western governments are openly taking bribes from the genocidal Chinese?
How long before rugby’s number of female administrators becomes an enforced quota? Ridiculous, you say? South Africa once imposed a cap on the number of white players. Now it’s literally restricting the number of white administrators.
Calls are growing louder for similar measures here. New Zealand’s indiscriminate change agents are no longer confining their activism to thought-policing over team names. We’ll deal with white southern farmers having their land confiscated once their hunting rifles have been handed in.
Selective blame is hypocrisy and turns my stomach.
On Yom Kippur a rabbi once advised his congregation, “If you can’t think what to atone for, examine your good deeds.”
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