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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Southland Stags ITM Cup 2014 Report Card - Where To For The Stags?

The Southland Stags 2014 ITM Cup campaign finished in the wet against Manawatu.  This year was the first under new coach Brad Mooar and while there were glimpses of potential, it was a season which saw the Stags finish fourth and lose in the semi-finals.

This was a similar result with four wins and a draw from their 11 games to other seasons, so while they didn't set the world on fire, they still deserve a pass mark.

We saw a new brand of Stags rugby which was exciting, but some great tries were overshadowed by some passive defence which saw the Stags finish as one of the worst teams defensively.

The win over Canterbury in Christchurch was brilliant and in some ways summed up their inconsistent season.  The wins over Bay of Plenty and North Harbour saw them get out of the starting block quickly before a mid season slump.  The draw against Hawke's Bay was disappointing, but also a great effort too. The Stags scored some great tries and looked more dangerous on attack than in the past.  The win over Northland was exciting and very satisfying.

Lowlights How could a team beat Canterbury away and draw with Hawke's Bay on the road, yet come unstuck away from home against Manawatu and lose so heavily at home to Tasman, Counties and Otago?  That Otago loss was particularly tough to stomach given that Otago weren't that good this season.  It ends up that Manawatu, Tasman, Taranaki and a fast finishing Counties were impressive in 2014 and while you don't want to blame the draw, not playing Wellington and Waikato from the ITM Cup Premiership was a disadvantage.

The ITM Cup is about building momentum and confidence.  This new Stags team showed glimpses of potential, especially on attack, but they lacked the aggressive defence required to be competitive.

As a long suffering Stags fan, I found it frustrating knowing that quality players like Jimmy Cowan and Marty McKenzie were starring for other teams when Southland had let them go.  It would have been great to have that pair in the Southland Stags team.  We also saw Robbie Robinson, Brayden Mitchell and Nick Barrett in action for other teams.  The Stags could do with some depth at prop like Nick Barrett can provide.  JP Koen despite playing Super Rugby is only solid, so we need another prop or two to add some steal.

There were plenty of new faces in the Southland Stags 2014 team and that probably doesn't help.  I don't mind imported players making the Stags, assuming they earn their right to play for the team by playing club rugby or are a Super Rugby starter like Lima Sopoaga.

It was interesting seeing how the Stags struggled at set pieces against teams with less experienced and Super Rugby players like Manawatu.

The ITM Cup seems to unearth plenty of new talent.  Counties Manukau unearthed so many good young players a few seasons back, last year it was Tasman and this year Northland and Manawatu were impressive with teams featuring mainly local players and very few Super Rugby players.  It was hard to stomach the Southland pack getting pushed back by other teams with less proven Super Rugby players like Manawatu and Otago.

Unfortunately I wonder if Southland club rugby has enough good players coming through to form a competitive ITM Cup squad from only local players?  It was funny that by the end of the season it was two local guys scoring tries on the wings despite all of the new imported outside backs coming into the squad.

There were a few disappointing performances during the ITM Cup semi-finals.  I thought that Stags legend Jamie Mackintosh was found wanting.  Whoppa has been a loyal servant, character and great leader, but he gives away too many penalties, including in the scrums and was also found out defensively a bit.  Whoppa does provide plenty of experience and leadership, I just think that ITM Cup seems to have got increasingly fast and open which may not suit him.  Don't get me wrong, the guy is a legend as a player, if only there was a way to lower his penalty count, although he probably does a lot behind the scenes to help the team which aren't seen by most fans.  It must be tough being Whoppa's size at times, so maybe it is just some technical tweaks that are required.

I also wonder about the future of Scott Eade the first five turned halfback.  He just seems too small on the field and was exposed in defence several times in the ITM Cup semi-final.

He has also been guilty of turning the ball over plenty of times this season with charged down kicks, kicking the ball out on the full from outside his 22 and handling errors when picking the ball up at rucks,  It is hard to know if it is the forwards fault or his lack of experience at halfback is costing him.  He has serious gas though, but it is hard to know how long to perservere with him as a halfback.

Eade joins some two or three year Stags who haven't kicked on in their careers.  We took for granted in the past when guys like Josh Bekhuis, Tim Boys and John Hardie strolled into Super Rugby, but players like Cardiff Vaega, Willis Halaholo, Michael Fatialofa and Scott Eade are doing alright at ITM Cup level, but aren't doing enough to get Super Rugby contracts.  Vaega had a season at the Hurricanes but didn't really make that step up.

Given Southland's history in producing quality halfbacks and front row forwards, I am hoping that there are some new Southlanders coming through in those positions, because seeing Southland pushed around at ITM Cup Championship level didn't sit well with me.

According to Opta Statistics, the Stags were towards the bottom of all 14 teams for carries, metres, ruck and scrum percentages although their tackling percentage and lineouts were midtable.

Good points -
Lima Sopoaga is a class act and was a great recruit.  The loose forward trio of Dixon, Boys and Hardy were also impressive along with Bekhuis.  Tuapati finally established himself at ITM Cup level, although it was a shame that Rutledge was injured.  In the backs, Halaholo was impressive early on in the season, but was prone to defensive errors, while Mark Jackman was one of the better new Stags and Junior Ngaluafe finally fulfilled his potential.  Keanu Kahakura and Bryan Milne ended up on the wings and played well while being at different stages of their careers.  Whoppa's leadership and decision making was generally pretty good.  The Stags won some entertaining games.

Hopefully this team stays together for next season and can improve on their performance for ITM Cup 2015.

I hope I haven't been too harsh on the Southland Stags.  I love this team and want to see them do well.  It is also difficult watching ITM Cup after watching the All Blacks playing as sometimes the gap in ability is heightened.

Sunderland Squad Offers To Pay Fans - Wellington Rugby Fans Take Note!

The Sunderland football squad has offered to pay their 2,500 fans who travelled to Southampton and saw them lose 8-0, 24 pounds each.  It is a noble gesture from the team who obviously place a high emphasis on their fans.  If fans do not want the money back, then it will be donated to charity.

It would be interesting to see if any rugby teams follow this lead, although Wellington rugby fans could be due a massive windfall if this did happen!

It does show that the players mustn't be short of dosh, but in other ways it shows a good side of them which will hopefully keep their fans returning for future games.

Do you think this could happen in rugby, why or why not?

Most rugby players in New Zealand don't earn as much as is available in Europe, while in Europe, most rugby fans are considered to be relatively well off anyway.  If as a Wellington fan, I witnessed Wellington's demise at the hands of Counties in the ITM Cup, I would consider a refund.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Waratahs Coach Michael Cheika To Coach Wallabies

Waratahs coach Michael Cheika is set to become the Wallabies new coach after confirming he has signed a three year contract and will be joined by Stephen Larkham and Michael Foley in the coaching box.  He will coach the Waratahs and Wallabies at the same time by the looks of it.  This is unorthodox and could be a conflict of interest, but the Wallabies have little choice as far as other candidates go and Michael Cheika seems to have got the best out of a number of Wallabies at the Waratahs and is the obvious candidate.  Australia doesn't really have heaps of coaching depth.  He is a friend of former coach Ewen McKenzie, which would make things a bit difficult.

With the Wallabies leaving for their End of Year Northern Hemisphere tour, a decision has to be made urgently.

What do you think about Michael Cheika as the Wallabies coach?


Pacific Island Nations Taking IRB To Court Over International Eligibility

Pacific Island Nations of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa are set to take the IRB to court after they changed the rules on player eligibility heading towards the Rugby World Cup 2015 and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

The problem is that initially players only needed to participate in one IRB World Sevens Series to be eligible for that country.  This meant that some players scheduled one sevens tournament to then be eligible, the IRB then changed the rules making it more difficult for players as they had to play four tournaments.

It will be interesting to see what happens in this case and how much money gets spent on court proceedings.  Nations like Tonga, Fiji and Samoa were set to gain the most by these rules with plenty of former Wallabies and All Blacks wanting the opportunity to still play international rugby at a Rugby World Cup.

This could be a massive waste of resources as court proceedings are expensive and the IRB is often called to help out the Tier 2 nations like Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, so a court case will probably not be too popular or practical.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

The All Blacks End of Year Northern Hemisphere Tour Squad - Thoughts?

The All Blacks November Internationals squad for the Northern Hemisphere tour made up of 34 players has been named.  The interesting talking points are the inclusion of Aaron Cruden, Victor Vito, Ryan Crotty and halfback Augustine Pulu, and the return from injury of Dan Carter and Luke Romano.  
The main casualties are Dominic Bird, Colin Slade, Matt Todd and Steven Luatua who are victims of the large amount of depth in their positions.  
There is simply too much depth at blindside flanker and first five eighth.  It is interesting to see Vito gain selection ahead of Luatua.  Selectors must see Vito as a better option at Number Eight than Kaino and have gone for five locks anyway, so there is no space for Luatua who can play lock.    
Bird misses out to the returning Luke Romano and the young Patrick Tuipulotu.  
I am surprised selectors picked a squad of 34 players which includes five locks.
It will be interesting to see who plays against USA, with Nathan Harris, Joe Moody, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Cane, Victor Vito, Charles Piutau, Aaron Cruden, Augustine Pulu and Ryan Crotty likely to get game time in Chicago, but potentially not much more on the rest of the tour.
What do you think of the All Blacks End of Year Tour Squad 2014?

Dane Coles (Wellington, 24 Tests)
Nathan Harris (Bay of Plenty, 1)
Keven Mealamu (Auckland, 120)
Wyatt Crockett (Canterbury, 33)
Charlie Faumuina (Auckland, 22)
Ben Franks (Hawke's Bay, 37)
Owen Franks (Canterbury, 63)
Joe Moody (Canterbury, 5)
Brodie Retallick (Bay of Plenty, 33)
Luke Romano (Canterbury, 16)
Jeremy Thrush (Wellington, 4)
Patrick Tuipulotu (Auckland, 5)
Samuel Whitelock (Canterbury, 60)
Loose Forwards
Sam Cane (Bay of Plenty, 21)
Jerome Kaino (Auckland, 54)
Richie McCaw - captain (Canterbury, 134)
Liam Messam (Waikato, 35)
Kieran Read (Canterbury, 69)
Victor Vito (Wellington, 24)
TJ Perenara (Wellington, 7)
Augustine Pulu (Counties Manukau *)
Aaron Smith (Manawatu, 36)
First five-eighths
Beauden Barrett (Taranaki, 25)
Daniel Carter (Canterbury, 100)
Aaron Cruden (Manawatu, 35)
Ryan Crotty (Canterbury, 9)
Malakai Fekitoa (Auckland, 6)
Conrad Smith (Wellington, 83)
Sonny Bill Williams (Counties Manukau, 19)
Outside backs
Israel Dagg (Hawke's Bay, 43)
Cory Jane (Wellington 52)
Charles Piutau (Auckland, 11)
Julian Savea (Wellington, 28)
Ben Smith (Otago, 35)

Can Rugby Players Translate To NFL?

This is an interesting interview by Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll following the recent interest in rugby league players into the NFL. The same goes for rugby players. Do you think that rugby players can make it in the NFL? Should we be worried given how much more money players can earn in the NFL than rugby? When will Sonny Bill Williams switch? Will any NFL players switch to rugby in an attempt to win an Olympic Games medal and should we be worried by the sleeping giants of world rugby, USA?
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