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FLANKERLAND
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Rugby families in New Zealand must learn to manage expectations.
 
The Boshiers of New Plymouth have always known their son Lachlan had the talent to do well at first class level. He captained the Boys High 1st XV, made the NZ U-20s and slotted into the Taranaki and Chiefs squads as a valuable utility. But his chances for international honours were always slim in a nation where you can throw a brick in almost any direction and hit another loose forward vying to be the next Richie McCaw.
 
This country’s stocks of quality loose forwards are never low, all the New Zealand franchises have them... Luke Jacobson, James Lentjes, Blake Gibson, Tom Robinson, Dalton Papalii, Akira Ioane, Du Plessis Kirifi, Reed Prinsep, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Whetu Douglas, Jordan Taufua... probably best to stop, before the list becomes more significant for who it omits rather than includes.
 
I have a message to Boshier and every other player whose families may have grown impatient with the national selectors for not seeing what they’ve known all along and who may now be contemplating offers from overseas after an eye-catching performance.
 
Stay and be loved by everyone, not just your family.
 
Doubt is toxic to ambition. Focus must be total when you’re trying to clear the highest bar in sport. The path to becoming an All Black loosie is strewn with ex-pats who we’ll never really know were good enough or not because they listened to friends and family urging them to be realistic.
 
How soon in his career does a player arrive at the crossroad, to face a decision between remaining in New Zealand and taking the big offshore paycheck?
 
That choice isn’t about whether an elevation to All Black, brief or otherwise, is worth the sacrifice. It certainly is. Elliot Dixon will probably never play another test but he can go to his grave happy that he got the chance. Another Highlander Dillon Hunt is still toiling away diligently in the hope of another crack, having been called into an All Blacks squad at short notice and given half an hour against a French XV two years ago.
 
The choice is about whether not being elevated means your efforts are wasted. They certainly aren’t. Believe in yourself. Self belief is one of those intangibles that good selectors recognise. The right pressure comes from within, not from without. No one ever says “I could have been an All Black” but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say their son or brother should have been.
 
There’s nothing wrong with being realistic. New talent comes from all directions and your team’s fortunes can make a big difference. In Flankerland you can be overtaken in the race for black jerseys before the selectors even book a flight to check you out. But being realistic also means knowing how infrequent opportunities to distinguish yourself are.
 
You need to make your mark with a match-winning performance, countering any public perception of you as someone who has already “found their level.”
 
Just like his team-mate Jacobson in Dunedin a few weeks back, Lachlan Boshier had a big night in Hamilton on Friday. With the Chiefs camped on their own line defending a narrow lead for what seemed like the entire second half, he came up with multiple goal line steals and prevented the Reds’ courageous fightback from becoming another sad chapter in the Chiefs’ disappointing season.
 
Chiefs 19 Reds 13
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDdffYj74lw
 
The home side began strongly with a couple of well taken first half tries but the visitors wouldn’t roll over. As the second half wore on and the Reds’ superb ball security became a defining factor, the Chiefs had little choice but to man the barricades. Queensland prop Taniela Tupou smashed over successfully after one particularly dogged drive, then soon after restarting, due to some poor ball security of their own, the Chiefs had their backs to the wall once more.
 
Several Chiefs forwards had match tackle counts of twenty-plus and all the second rowers including Sam Cane, his replacement Mitch Karpik, Tyler Ardron made big plays at ruck time under the relentless pressure but it was Boshier who stood out with some heroic burrowing turnovers with his heels literally on the goal line. Surviving savage cleanout attempts and once with limbs bent in opposing directions, he came up with priceless steals to delight the crowd and re-energize his team-mates when tries looked inevitable.
 
My father and son were both there watching with me, which helped because it was one of those bitterly cold Waikato nights when much is obscured by the steam rising from sweaty jerseys. Multiple sets of eyes proved useful although naturally the youngest vision was most keen. Several times all I saw was the referee waving his arms, but my son would say “Boshier again” as the crowd behind the dead ball line roared, then each time as we turned to the big screen for a replay at the next whistle, his identification was accurate.
 
The fans had turned up in big numbers because it was the Chiefs’ last scheduled home game for the year and losing to the Reds would have been a horrible way for local hopes to die. In the din they raised with every goal line save there was a distinct note of desperation.
 
I hoped for Boshier’s sake that his family was also in the stands somewhere hearing the big crowd’s appreciation, which isn’t always apparent on television and not just because commentators often have another favourite player they’ll be gassing on about instead. When a family member pulls out a big performance the phonecall afterwards is inadequate, you want to be there so you can embrace him and slap his back.
 
Sure, the Boshiers’ son may never pull on an All Black jersey, but he just became the latest to separate himself from those who certainly won’t.
 
And of course, as far as being the next McCaw is concerned, good luck. An accurate measure of greatness, especially for rugby forwards, is the size of the hole you leave behind. It took over a decade for the All Blacks to adequately fill voids left by Sean Fitzpatrick and Zinzan Brooke. The yawning chasm left by McCaw is so vast that even top shelf talents like Cane and Ardie Savea compare unfavorably. But if you embrace the rugby ethos, keep knocking on the door and the attrition rate remains high enough, at least you’ll add your name to the list of contenders. Then one day, and probably only when the selectors need exactly what you’re best at, not just the prerequisites of stickability and self belief, you’ll write your name in bold type on the Wikipedia page of Super Rugby players.
 
The Blues also staged a late comeback against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday, but like the Reds it was only enough to reduce the margin of defeat. Unlike the Reds, they were never able to exert sustained pressure on the defending champions’ line because the Crusaders implemented a perfect game plan for the wintery conditions, kicking and chasing accurately to keep the visitors in the wrong half of the field for most of the game.
 
Crusaders 19 Blues 11
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCp6Xux5hA4
 
The Highlanders fell behind early in Cape Town and never really looked like threatening the Stormers. Missed tackles and handling errors kept them tangled in the pack of teams whose playoff chances are fading fast. They have two games remaining, both at home against the Bulls and Waratahs, so they’re not dead yet but they’re now officially long shots.
 
Stormers 34 Highlanders 15
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfjIKewFI1Q
 
In other games the margins were comfortable.
 
Brumbies 22 Bulls 10
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPiz414DKBQ
 
Sunwolves 7 Rebels 52
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkzKvrYSHiE
 
Waratahs 15 Jaguares 23
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lkmautIoPU
 
Sharks 27 Lions 17
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOJ5WtZQT2Q
 
All five teams in the South African conference remain in playoff contention, with the Lions and Stormers being the lowest placed at eighth equal, but the chances of the Jaguares topping that group are now very high.
 
Several games loom large next weekend. The Hurricanes can damage the Sharks badly with a win at Kings Park, but if they lose they’ll have an obvious stalled momentum problem going into the final fortnight of round robin. The Blues are pretty much dead if they lose to the Bulls at Eden Park, but with a bonus point win they can climb right back into the picture. The Lions v Stormers at Ellis Park is huge because the loser will have bottom rung on the South African ladder to themselves. The Waratahs need to beat the Rebels in Melbourne just to stay alive.
 
And then there’s the Chiefs v Crusaders in Suva, where the Chiefs have generously forfeited home advantage against their toughest opponents in the comp. They’ll need every ounce of whatever mojo they got back in their grim struggle with the Reds on Friday, but if they can pull off a minor miracle it will be heartening for the fans they won’t see again this year otherwise.

Until next week,
Inky remains at your service.

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