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Saturday, September 20, 2014

ITM Cup : How To Fix The Southland Stags?

They may be one of the smallest provinces by population in the ITM Cup, but the Southland Stags have produced some great All Blacks like Justin Marshall, Jeff Wilson, Simon Culhane and even the All Blacks first ever Number Eight Tommy Metcalfe, but what has happened to the Southland Stags in the ITM Cup Championship 2014?

If you rewind only five years ago, Southland won the Ranfurly Shield twice and even made the semi-finals of the first division, it kind of gave long suffering fans like myself hope and a chance to raise our expectations from one win a season to several wins a season and the fact the Stags would actually be able to compete finally with the big boys of New Zealand rugby like Auckland, Waikato, Wellington and even Canterbury.

It ends up that the ITM Cup and rugby in general is getting faster and players are required to run more.  I think this doesn't work in favour of the Southland Stags.  The Stags traditionally relied on their forward pack and played a slower style of game usually in bad Southland weather.  I also think that teams like Manawatu and Northland are playing some quality fast flowing footy at the moment, which makes it difficult for the Stags.  It is hard to know if the Stags should completely change their style like they have done under new coach Brad Mooar and they have scored some great long range tries, but it seems to have come at the expense of set piece dominance where Southland have traditionally excelled.

The Stags used to have good defence and be tough to beat at home. There are five current Southland Stags forwards who were part of that budget blowout team from five years ago in Jamie Mackintosh, Josh Bekhuis, Tim Boys, John Hardie and Elliot Dixon.  These guys have all played Super Rugby.  This makes me wonder what has changed when you consider that these and some of the other players in there are quality players.

The backline might have something to do with it.  The current Stags backline is full of new faces, but they are full of potential and look threatening, but we still aren't winning.  First five eighth Lima Sopoaga is a starting first five eighth at Super Rugby level and is a quality player.  The Stags miss one of the Cowans at halfback, while the rest of the backline looks dangerous, but looking back at that Stags team who won the Ranfurly Shield twice, the current team has no Super Rugby starting players in the backline besides Sopoaga.  Only Cardiff Vaega has a Super Rugby contract.  The interesting thing with the former Stags backline is that it didn't have many rockstars, but in guys like Robbie Robinson, James Wilson, Matt Saunders, Kenny Lynn, Glenn Horton and Kade Poki, it was a backline of Super Rugby quality, even though it was hardly lethal, but they were defensively sound.  I also neglected to include the name Mark Wells who I think deserved more kudos than he got.   Unfortunately that team was living outside their means.

I mention defence, because that has been the main problem with the Southland Stags 2014 ITM Cup campaign.  They have conceded over 30 points per game.  Their defence seems to passive and their line speed is lacking compared with other teams.  While the attack looks constantly threatening, I wonder if there is too much focus on attack to the detriment of defence.

It would be a shame to miss the ITM Cup Championship semi finals, but it is on the cards.  We were all given confidence after two wins to start with, but it ends up that they were over the worst two teams in the competition.  Since then the Stags have only one win over Northland which was exciting, but they have suffered disappointing losses to Otago, Manawatu, Tasman and Taranaki where the defence has been found wanting.

The current Stags team does seem to have a great culture, maybe they just need a season or two to gel?  Maybe they need some more local players?  There are so many potential reasons for their lacklustre 2014 season.  They don't have the money to do what Taranaki and Hawkes Bay have done by buying lots of big name players.

I think they need a quality tighthead prop and hooker who could then boost the Highlanders squad.  It is also hard to know how many seasons to give young players new to ITM Cup before you have to discard them?  This team has a good mix of youth and experience, so hopefully they gel sooner rather than later.  They probably have to win two games to guarantee an ITM Cup semi finals spot, so the season isn't over yet, but given that their remaining games include Canterbury, Counties and Hawkes Bay, it could be a tall order!

Being in my mid thirties I remember the days of Eion Crossan and Simon Culhane kicking us to victory in the second division, only for the Stags to only win one game in the first division and get relegated again, so in some ways we shouldn't be surprised seeing the Stags struggling in the ITM Cup Championship in 2014.

What do you think has happened to the Southland Stags and what can be done to fix their 2014 ITM Cup Championship campaign?

I hate to say it, but I think that going back to grassroots like Northland has with a majority of local players could be the best option.

Israel Dagg and Jonah Lomu Could Be Fined

The Electoral Commission of New Zealand could fine All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg and former All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu up to $20,000 for tweeting who they voted for in the New Zealand General Election 2014. It is a crime to publish anything on election day which could influence other voters. This rule was fine in the days before social media, but now with the advent of selfies, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook this rule seems ridiculous and must be so difficult to police. These two All Blacks are probably two of thousands of New Zealanders who have breached the rules, but because of their massive followers on Twitter, they are probably more likely to face punishment. It will be interesting to see if these two guys are made an example of or if the Electoral Commission goes easy on them.

You can understand why the rule is in place, imagine a barrage of advertising or people trying to influence your decision outside the polling booth!

To see the Tweets in question go to 

Friday, September 19, 2014

IRB World Rankings - The Demise of Argentina?

The latest IRB Rugby World Rankings have been released and while New Zealand has a resounding lead at the top, the biggest talking point is the demise of Argentina who are 12th in the rankings behind teams like Scotland, Japan, Fiji and Samoa when usually you would expect Argentina to be able to beat these teams.

I think the main problem is that Argentina doesn't get access to their top players until the Rugby Championship when they are playing against the best three teams in the world so they don't win many games.

Argentina at full strength would be a Top Eight team in the world and have made the Rugby World Cup Quarter Finals several times and even made the semi-finals once.

It is great having a South American team in Super Rugby soon and involved in The Rugby Championship offering a different style and skill set to teams in Africa, Europe, Asia and Oceania.

How much can you read into IRB World Rankings?  Not much in my opinion.  Remember the All Blacks have only won the Rugby World Cup twice despite usually being the top ranked team in the world.  They aren't as much of a joke as the FIFA World Cup rankings which see teams ranked in the Top 20 failing to make the World Cup.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Super Rugby 2015 Draw Released

Here is the Super Rugby 2015 draw.  The features of the draw depend on which team you support, but I must admit that I like not having the June International Test Matches interrupting the business end of the competition.  ANZAC weekend will see all Australia and New Zealand teams in action, while the main talking point for my Highlanders team is that they have the bye in Round 1 which sucks and they play the Crusaders in Round 2 which will be a rude awakening!  They also don't play the worst Australian team, the Rebels.  

What do you think of the Super Rugby 2015 draw?  How does it suit your team?

Each team plays home and away derbies within their own conference, plus the following cross-conference matches in the 2015 Super Rugby season:
Brumbies: Chiefs (A) Cheetahs (H) Blues (A) Highlanders (H) Stormers (A) Lions (A) Bulls (H) Crusaders (A)
Force: Hurricanes (H) Bulls (A) Sharks (A) Cheetahs (H) Stormers (H) Chiefs (A) Blues (A) Highlanders (H)
Rebels: Crusaders (A) Lions (H) Hurricanes (A) Chiefs (H) Blues (H) Stormers (A) Sharks (A) Bulls (H)
Reds: Highlanders (A) Lions (H) Bulls (A) Cheetahs (A) Hurricanes (H) Crusaders (A) Sharks (H) Chiefs (H)
Waratahs: Highlanders (A) Blues (H) Stormers (H) Hurricanes (A) Sharks (H) Crusaders (H) Lions (A) Cheetahs (A)
Blues: Stormers (A) Cheetahs (A) Lions (H) Waratahs (A) Brumbies (H) Force (H) Rebels (A) Bulls (H)
Chiefs: Brumbies (H) Stormers (A) Sharks (A) Cheetahs (H) Force (H) Rebels (A) Bulls (H) Reds (A)
Crusaders: Rebels (H) Lions (H) Cheetahs (H) Bulls (A) Sharks (A) Reds (H) Waratahs (A) Brumbies (A)
Highlanders: Reds (H) Waratahs (H) Stormers (H) Brumbies (A) Sharks (H) Lions (A) Cheetahs (A) Force (A)
Hurricanes: Lions (A) Bulls (A) Force (A) Rebels (H) Stormers (H) Waratahs (H) Reds (A) Sharks (H)
Bulls: Hurricanes (H) Force (H) Crusaders (H) Reds (H) Blues (A) Chiefs (A) Brumbies (A) Rebels (A)
Cheetahs: Blues (H) Crusaders (A) Chiefs (A) Brumbies (A) Force (A) Reds (H) Highlanders (H) Waratahs(H)
Lions: Hurricanes (H) Blues (A) Crusaders (A) Rebels (A) Reds (A) Highlanders (H) Brumbies (H) Waratahs(H)
Sharks: Chiefs (H) Force (H) Crusaders (H) Highlanders (A) Hurricanes (A) Waratahs (A) Reds (A) Rebels (H)
Stormers: Blues (H) Chiefs (H) Highlanders (A) Hurricanes (A) Waratahs (A) Force (A) Brumbies (H) Rebels (H)
See the full Super Rugby 2015 draw here

Wallabies Set To Play British and Irish Lions Before 2017 Tour To New Zealand

The Australians have done it again in a repeat of the underarm incident with the British and Irish Lions set to play a test match in Australia against the Wallabies at the start of the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand.

This is an attempt to recover costs from the 2015 Rugby World Cup year which will see teams play only a few home test matches compared to other years.

Isn't this a kick in the teeth for New Zealand rugby fans who have had to wait 12 years for the British and Irish Lions to return to New Zealand and all the money and hype which goes with this massive tour?  I think this is cheap by the Wallabies as neither South Africa or New Zealand cut Australia's lunch last year when they hosted the Lions.  Maybe the British and Irish Lions wanted to actually win a test match on their tour after they were thrashed by the All Blacks in 2005.

Anyway, is this the end of the British and Irish Lions tours to only one country every four years and each country housing their tour every 12 years?  This will surely start taking the novelty away from these tours if they are going to stopover and play tests in other countries on their way to their destination.  

It actually makes sense this game taking place with the Wallabies providing an excellent warm up for the tour and some money for the coffers, but as an All Blacks fan I feel a bit like a kid hosting a birthday who has to let his friends play with his new toys.

Should Australia host the British and Irish Lions in 2017 on their way to New Zealand?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Death Of Pay Television - Should Live Streaming Rugby Become Official?

In the days of being able to watch most shows and sports events on the Internet, it seems funny that there isn't a way of watching live streaming rugby legally, is it time for Sky Sports in New Zealand to get with the times and provide live streaming online?  People wanting to watch rugby have had to pay around $100 per month to watch all of the sports offered by Sky Television, even if they don't want them.  Sky have held 240,000 New Zealand rugby fans to ransom by making them pay $100 per month to watch rugby and all of the other sports they offer.

Other sports like football and basketball have websites where you can pay for an NBA season or an English Premier League season.  Would it be too difficult to get fans to pay $30 for The Rugby Championship season or $6 to watch the All Blacks play a game?  I think if it was affordable then it would stop people who usually watch on low quality free live streaming feeds would pay the money to watch a HD live streaming feed, especially for overseas fans who can't watch Sky Television from their country of residence.

Orcon recently wanted to do this, but it seems that the heavy hand of Sky Television will probably stop them from providing this service.

If you love all sports, then Sky Sports $100 per month package is probably what you want, but if you only watch one or two sports, then an online live streaming service is what you want.

It is a tough issue given that pay television provides money for competitions like Super Rugby.

Is it time that Sky Television offered live streaming rugby in New Zealand?

How do you watch rugby, online or on Sky Television?

I actually thought this service should exist about 5 years ago, but Sky probably does have plenty of traditional customers who prefer watching on television, but the younger generation with smartphones, laptops and iPads may prefer other options which other sports can provide.  It probably wouldn't be too difficult to start up too.

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