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Friday, October 31, 2008

The Highlanders Likely Set Up

Now that the squads have been named. It is time to make suggestions for the starting lineup for the Highlanders.

15. Israel Dagg
14. Lucky Mulipola
13. Jason Shoemark
12. Jayden Hayward
11. Fetu Vainikolo
10. Matt Berquist
9. Jimmy Cowan
8. George Naoupu
7. Tim Boys
6. Adam Thomson
5. Tom Donnelly
4. Hayden Triggs
3. Clint Newland
2. Jason Rutledge
1. Jamie MacKintosh

16. Chris King
17. Josh Bekhuis
18. Stephen Setephano
19. Sean Romans
20. Daniel Bowden
21. Ben Smith

I think that there are some exciting players in this squad. Watch for Israel Dagg to thrive. I think James Wilson would've been handy off the bench with his ability to play at fullback or first five. Kenny Lynn has reinvented himself at centre and would be exciting with Jayden Hayward who is a classy inside centre at the ripe old age of 20. Sean Romans has potential at halfback, while Josh Bekhuis and both Number Eights George Naoupu and Stephen Setephano are potentially great Super 14 players.

Unlucky Players

There are always unlucky players to miss selection in Super 14 squads. These players could be named in back up training squads, but it is still pretty tough on some of these guys. It seems that in some positions we have so much depth, that there are heaps of good wingers unselected.

Paul Perez
Pehi Te Whare
Tim Mikkleson
Miah Nikora
Blair Stewart
Alfeke Pelenise
Blair Cook

These guys are probably the most unlucky to miss selection. Blair Stewart was the top points scorer in the Air New Zealand Cup and will probably shift overseas after missing out on a contract. He may well suit the northern hemisphere style of play better. He isn't much of a runner or attacker, but is a solid performer.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

South Africans A Joke

It is funny how the South African Rugby Union only wanted the Super 14 playoffs extended to six teams if they were guaranteed a home game. I am afraid that despite their massive population and the fact they are World Cup holders, they probably realise they would struggle to have a top two or three team. Their lack of depth is interesting with rumours of Stags outside backs Pehi Te Whare and Willie Rickard getting contracts over there. It is crazy how the Stags outside backs usually struggle and can't make the worst team in the country (Highlanders), yet could probably make the Lions and maybe the Stormers. The decision to extend the playoffs in the 14 team competition is therefore delayed a year.

The Hong Kong Bledisloe Cup match is on tomorrow in case you have forgotten! Mortlock vs Carter is the matchup of dreams!

A Record 10 Stags Make Super 14 - Stoked

Here are the 2009 Super 14 squads.

The Stags are the big winners with eight Highlanders. Jason Kawau and James Wilson have been drafted, but will see limited minutes behind All Blacks.

The Highlanders resemble Hurricanes B.

It is funny how Matt Berquist and Jason Shoemark's careers return to Otago!

I am happy with the Highlanders especially with the Hawkes Bay influence of Peter Russell and picking up Israel Dagg. I thought Israel Dagg is the same age as Robbie Robinson and John Hardie who were both protected as they are considered too young?

The 28-man Super 14 squads are as follows:

* Indicates player named in Rebel Sport Super 14 squad for the first time. (D) Indicates draft player.

BLUES: Tony Woodcock (North Harbour) , John Afoa (Auckland), Charlie Faumuina (Auckland)*, Tevita Mailau (Auckland)* , Keven Mealamu (Auckland), Tom McCartney (Auckland), Ali Williams (Auckland), Anthony Boric (North Harbour), Jay Williams (Auckland)*, Kurtis Haiu (Auckland), Justin Collins (Northland), Josh Blackie (Auckland), Onosai Auva’a (Auckland), Jerome Kaino (Auckland), Chris Lowery (Auckland)*, Taniela Moa (Auckland), Chris Smylie (North Harbour), Tasesa Lavea (Auckland), Jimmy Gopperth (North Harbour), Michael Hobbs (Wellington) (D)*, Benson Stanley (Auckland), Jamie Helleur (Auckland), Anthony Tuitavake (North Harbour), Joe Rokocoko (Auckland), Rudi Wulf (North Harbour), Rene Ranger (Northland)*, Paul Williams (Auckland), Isaia Toeava (Auckland).

CHIEFS: Arizona Taumalolo (Waikato)*, Ben May (Waikato), James McGougan (Bay of Plenty)*, Joe Savage (Bay of Plenty)*,Hika Elliot (Hawke’s Bay) (D), Aled de Malmanche (Waikato), Kevin O’Neill (Waikato),Toby Lynn (Waikato), Craig Clarke (Taranaki) (D), Mark Burman (Waikato)*, Liam Messam (Waikato), Tanerau Latimer (Bay of Plenty), Serge Lilo (Wellington) (D)*, Sione Lauaki (Waikato), Colin Bourke (Bay of Plenty), Brendon Leonard (Waikato), Toby Morland (D) (Otago), Stephen Donald (Waikato), Michael Delany (Bay of Plenty), Callum Bruce (Waikato), Jackson Willison (Waikato)*, Richard Kahui (Waikato), Sitiveni Sivivatu (Waikato), Lelia Masaga (Counties Manukau), Sosene Anesi (Waikato), James Wilson (Southland) (D), Malili Muliaina (Waikato), Dwayne Sweeney (Waikato).

HURRICANES: John Schwalger (Wellington), Neemia Tialata (Wellington), Jacob Ellison (Wellington), Tim Fairbrother (Wellington), Andrew Hore (Taranaki) , Dane Coles (Wellington)*, Jason Eaton (Taranaki), Jeremy Thrush (Wellington), Bryn Evans (Hawke’s Bay), Api Naikatini (Wellington)*, Faifili Levave (Wellington), Scott Waldrom (Taranaki), Karl Lowe (Hawke’s Bay)*, Victor Vito (Wellington)*, Rodney So’oialo (Wellington), Josh Bradnock (Manawatu)*, Alby Mathewson (Wellington), Piri Weepu (Wellington), Willie Ripia (Taranaki), Dan Kirkpatrick (Wellington)*, Ma’a Nonu (Wellington), Conrad Smith (Wellington), Jason Kawau (Southland) (D), Tamati Ellison (Wellington), Hosea Gear (Wellington), David Smith (Wellington), Zac Guildford (Hawke’s Bay), Cory Jane (Wellington).

CRUSADERS: Wyatt Crockett (Canterbury), Ben Franks (Tasman), Owen Franks (Canterbury)*, Bronson Murray (Canterbury), Corey Flynn (Canterbury), Jason Macdonald (Otago) (D), Brad Thorn (Tasman), Ross Filipo (Canterbury), Isaac Ross (Canterbury), Michael Paterson (Canterbury), Kieran Read (Canterbury), Richie McCaw (Canterbury), George Whitelock (Canterbury), Thomas Waldrom (Canterbury), Nasi Manu (Canterbury), Jonathan Poff (Tasman), Andy Ellis (Canterbury), Kahn Fotuali’I (Tasman), Colin Slade (Canterbury)*, Stephen Brett (Canterbury), Tim Bateman (Canterbury), Ryan Crotty (Canterbury)*, Casey Laulala (Canterbury), Adam Whitelock (Canterbury)*, Kade Poki (Tasman), Sean Maitland (Canterbury), Jared Payne (Canterbury)*, Leon Macdonald (Canterbury).

HIGHLANDERS: Jamie Mackintosh (Southland), Clint Newland (Otago), Chris King (Southland), Anthony Perenise (Wellington) (D)*, David Hall (Southland), Jason Rutledge (Southland), Hayden Triggs (Otago), Tom Donnelly (Otago), Josh Bekhuis (Southland)*, Ross Kennedy (Otago), Adam Thomson (Otago), Tim Boys (Southland), Alando Soakai (Otago), Stephen Setephano (Otago), George Naoupu (Hawke’s Bay) (D)*, Jimmy Cowan (Southland), Sean Romans (Otago) *, Daniel Bowden (Otago), Matt Berquist (Hawke’s Bay) (D), Jason Shoemark (Hawke’s Bay) (D), Jayden Hayward (Otago)*, Johnny Leota (Otago), Kendrick Lynn (Southland)*, Brett Mather (Otago), Lucky Mulipola (Otago), Fetu’u Vainikolo (Otago), Ben Smith (Otago)*, Israel Dagg (Hawke’s Bay) (D)*.

The number of players from each province is as follows: Auckland (19), Bay of Plenty (5), Canterbury (22), Counties Manukau (1), Hawke’s Bay (8), Manawatu (1), North Harbour (6), Northland (2), Otago (17), Southland (10), Taranaki (5), Tasman (5), Waikato (17) and Wellington (22).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Field Position

It is hard to believe that the All Blacks are playing in Hong Kong in a dead rubber against the Wallabies. There is plenty of confidence to take from a victory in this match and the chance to get one up over the old foe.

The All Black selectors have named Stephen Donald at first five, with superstar Daniel Carter outside him. These don't mean too much as both of these guys will be called upon to do plenty of kicking. It is great having what is traditionally known as "an educated left boot" at second five eighth. This will take pressure off Donald and make sure that he gets a taste of the action. The only time the Wallabies defeated the All Blacks this season it was field position and territory which won them the game, along with Sione Lauaki's shocker.

The other talking points are the inclusion of Wellington's Hosea Gear and Neemia Tialata fresh from their final loss in the Air New Zealand Cup. Gear is in such sublime for that he has to be included ahead of Anthony Tuitavake, Richard Kahui and Joe Rokocoko who all missed out on playing over the past few weeks, so they will be saved for Scotland the following week.

With the tour throwing up test matches galore for each of the next five weeks, Scotland shapes as one of the matches where plenty of new players will be tried. While the All Blacks have never lost to Scotland or Ireland, beating them in the Northern Hemisphere is never as easy.

Mils Muliaina arrives late for the match and may be replaced by Isaiah Toeava who has matured as a player in the last season.

NEW ZEALAND: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Hosea Gear, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Jimmy Cowan; 8 Rodney So'oialo, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock. Reserves: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Greg Somerville, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Adam Thomson, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Ma'a Nonu, 22 Isaia Toeava.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Whopper's In!

The All Black selectors have named their touring party and I am pleased with how close I got to their selection. I rate the new faces they have brought in and the few they have chopped especially Sione Lauaki.

The race between Tanierau Latimer and Scott Waldrom was the toughest selection, but Waldrom finished strongly and has more X Factor and pace. Obviously Super 14 form counted as several young up and comers who only got limited chances in the Super 14, but did well in the Air New Zealand Cup like Israel Dagg, Hika Eliot and Zac Guildford missed the cut.

The inclusion of Kieran Read, Liam Messam, Ben Franks, Jamie MacKintosh, Hosea Gear and Corey Jane is looking towards the next World Cup where these guys will be part of the mix.

My luckiest players - Anthony Tuitavake hasn't done much as an All Black and I reckon he is a great Super 14/ Air New Zealand Cup player, but struggles with the step up.

Stephen Donald gets the nod by default, with Steve Brett out for most of the season and the lack of alternatives.

Corey Flynn barely played in the Air New Zealand Cup and has been out of the All Blacks for years. He is injury prone, but explosive and did have a great Super 14, yet missed the mid year All Blacks.

Andy Ellis - gets an easy ride with Canterbury, but I believe we would've definitely won against the Springboks in Dunedin this year if Piri Weepu or Jimmy Cowan were on at the end. His pass is slow and if Matthewson got some more game time in the Super 14, Ellis wouldn't be there!

Joe Rokocoko - his experience and reputation got him in here. We need a good right winger and although Rokocoko was a victim of Auckland's poor form, he does possess the ability to turn it up when it counts!

My unluckiest players to miss - Jeremy Thrush - There were only two spots for Ross Filipo, Thrush and Jason Eaton, the other two finished the season better.

Wyatt Crockett - helped demolish all comers with the Canterbury scrum. The Canterbury pack were never bettered.

Tim Bateman has more dimensions to his game than Ma'a Nonu. If more players were taken then he would be there!

Paul Williams isn't as flashy as Corey Jane, but is defensively very good. He is probably more of the no frills winger/fullback.

Hika Elliot - was the best thrower into lineouts in the country, but probably needs to move to get Super 14 game time.

Rudi Wulf - would've made it if Hosea Gear wasn't playing so well.

Alby Matthewson - Alby Matthewson must be close to pipping Andy Ellis for the third halfback spot. He needs more Super 14 game time, but he possesses plenty of speed and I think was unlucky to miss out.

THE SQUAD Backs: Mils Muliaina, Cory Jane, Joe Rokocoko, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Hosea Gear, Anthony Tuitavake, Richard Kahui, Conrad Smith, Isaia Toeava, Ma'a Nonu, Daniel Carter, Stephen Donald, Jimmy Cowan, Piri Weepu, Andy Ellis. Forwards: Rodney So'oialo, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Scott Waldrom, Liam Messam, Adam Thomson, Jerome Kaino, Ali Williams, Brad Thorn, Anthony Boric, Jason Eaton, Ross Filipo, Tony Woodcock, John Afoa, Neemia Tialata, Jamie Mackintosh, Ben Franks, Andrew Hore, Keven Mealamu, Corey Flynn. The games: Nov 1 v Australia, Hong Kong Nov 8 v Scotland, Edinburgh Nov 15 v Ireland, Dublin Nov 18 v Munster, Limerick Nov 22 v Wales, Cardiff Nov 29 v England, London

What do you think of the team?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

My Picks

Air New Zealand Cup
Teams: Wellington vs Canterbury
Local Time: 25/10/2008 19:35
Venue: Wellington
Your Pick: Away team by 12 & under

AA Rewards Heartland Championship
Teams: Poverty Bay vs Horowhenua-Kapiti
Local Time: 25/10/2008 13:35
Venue: Gisborne
Your Pick: Home team by 12 & under

Teams: Wanganui vs Mid Canterbury
Local Time: 25/10/2008 16:05
Venue: Wanganui
Your Pick: Home team by 13 & above

My Letter From A VIP

Hidden in my email today is a letter from a VIP.

Dear Stags Supporter,

We'd like to take this opportunity to thank you, our loyal Stags fans, for your unwavering support this year.

It's been a season of extremes with some amazing highs and some disappointing lows, but we're really grateful for your support throughout it all! To see great crowds at all of our home games this year as well as travelling supporters at each away game was a particular highlight - we hope to see you all back next year!

Our defining moment of the season would have to be the fantastic way we achieved our first ever semi final berth, and to back it up with a solid performance against Wellington, although not achieving the result we wanted, was pleasing.

With the nucleus of our team back next year, and coaches Dave Henderson and Simon Culhane confirmed also, we are hoping to build on this year's results and really take it to the rest of New Zealand in 2009's Air New Zealand Cup.

Have a great summer, make sure you support our local guys in the Super 14 and of course, go the mighty stags!


Jamie Mackintosh
Stags Captain

Surely Leo The Lion can deal with Larry The Lamb too?

Here is a promo for the Wellington vs Waikato game. Hopefully they can pull the wool over Larry the Lamb's eyes.

Every single All Black from Wellington and Canterbury who isn't injured will be in action this weekend apart from one, Daniel Carter. Carter has signed with French club Perpingnan, but will play on the end of year tour ahead of Stephen Donald. It is funny how he isn't playing in the Air New Zealand Cup final where him and Richie McCaw could almost single handedly win the game. Today he played for the shadow All Blacks against the Babarians. He played outside Stephen Donald. In other interesting news Jamie MacKintosh was tested at tight head prop after injury forced out John Afoa. This could mean that Greg Somerville gets the call up for the dead Bledisloe Cup rubber in Hong Kong. This guy Yoda is probably the only decent tight head we have if you take out the injured Tialata and Afoa.

MacKintosh is refreshing with his honesty and Southern attitude when being interviewed.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Picking the Highlanders

It is hard enough to pick the top teams, but when you are strapped for players, it is difficult to know how much the Highlanders will have to dip into the draft pool of players.

Logan Savory from the Southland Times picks the following players


Possible protected list
Jamie Mackintosh, Clint Newland, Chris King, David Hall, Tom Donnelly, Hayden Triggs, Josh Bekhuis, Tim Boys, Alando Soakai, Adam Thomson, Steven Setephano, Jimmy Cowan, Toby Morland, Daniel Bowden, Johnny Leota, Jayden Hayward, Fetu'u Vainakolo, Karne Hesketh, Lucky Mulipola, James Wilson.

I am thinking along similar lines, guys like Kenny Lynn, Pehi Te Whare, Jason Kawau, Matt Saunders, Brett Mather, Aaron Bancroft, Blair Stewart, Chris Noakes, Hua Tamariki, Jason Rutledge and Jason MacDonald could be picked up in the draft by the Blues and Chiefs most probably. It is ironic that guys aren't good enough to make the Highlanders protected team, yet could start for a better team. There is also a chance that these guys could make the Highlanders squad after they dip into the draft.

There are rumours that Daniel Townsend is off to Wellington (he must've missed the Highlanders). Jason Kawau could make the Blues, while Hika Elliot will probably go to the draft, allowing him to get game time away from Andrew Hore. The Highlanders would love his talent. Any other rumours or potentials? Karl Lowe? George Naoupu?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

No Eliott?

The All Black selectors named a training squad of 25 players not included in the Air New Zealand Cup final. It is interesting that Hawkes Bay hooker Hika Eliott not named. This makes you think that the third hooker will be Corey Flynn, although I thought the selectors would go for someone who is more up and coming, so don't write off Wellington's Dane Coles.

All Blacks wider training group: John Afoa, Anthony Boric, Jimmy Cowan, Stephen Donald, Jason Eaton, Ben Franks, Andrew Hore, Richard Kahui, Jerome Kaino, Tanerau Latimer, Sione Lauaki, Jamie Mackintosh, Keven Mealamu, Liam Messam, Mils Muliaina, Josevata Rokocoko, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Adam Thomson, Brad Thorn, Isaia Toeava, Anthony Tuitavake, Scott Waldrom, Ali Williams, Tony Woodcock and Rudi Wulf.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Old Foe Set to Battle Again

The favoured two teams to make the Air New Zealand Cup final Canterbury and Wellington have obliged, but were both made to work hard by provincial teams Hawkes Bay and Southland. Both matches were tight, but the cream rose to the top in the end to keep the tipsters happy.

Players to impress this weekend were Hosea Gear and Piri Weepu for Wellington while Jimmy Cowan showed his defensive qualities for the Stags. Hawkes Bay loose forward Karl Lowe was brilliant with two tries, while Colin Slade and Kieran Read are stars for the future and McCaw is amazing.

I would prefer if Wellington win, but think that Canterbury are the favourites.

Keep picking your All Blacks End Of Year Tour Squad.

There are some good players who I have failed to mention including Bryn Evans, Willie Ripia and Colin Slade who are all potential All Blacks at some stage.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Highlanders Squad 2009

I am trying to select New Zealand's smallest franchise Super Rugby team. The problem is that Otago finished poorly in the Air NZ Cup, yet Southland are probably more of a journeyman team of grafters rather than individual talent capable of playing Super 14. One looks at someone like Blair Stewart who is too one dimensional for Super 14. He can run the backline and kick, but his running and tackling is vulnerable. He has scored over 100 points in this years competition.

Using the loan system, the Highlanders have signed Johnny Leota and Hayden Triggs from Manawatu, Jayden Hayward from Taranaki and Clint Newland from Hawkes Bay. They have also signed Fetu Vainikolo for both Air NZ Cup and Super 14. The big dilemma is whether to draft a player from outside the region when there is someone inside the region who is not quite as good, but not much worse.

The Highlanders 28 man squad

Robbie Robinson, James Wilson,
Fetu Vainikolo, Karne Hesketh, Lucky Mulipola
Johnny Leota, Jayden Hayward, (two of Jason Kawau/Aaron Bancroft/Brett Mather/Matt Saunders/Willie Rickards/Paul Perez/Pehi Te Whare/Israel Dagg/Kenny Lynn)
Daniel Bowden, Tony Brown
Jimmy Cowan, Toby Morland
Steven Setephano, (Two of Hua Tamariki/Dion Bates/George Naoupu/Michael Johnson/Karl Lowe/Victor Vito)
Tim Boys, Alando Soakai, Adam Thomson,
Josh Bekhuis, Hayden Triggs, Tom Donnelly
Jamie MacKintosh, Chris King, Clint Newland (Taumalolo/Keith Cameron)
Jason MacDonald, (David Hall/Dane Coles)

This is my squad, although there are a few positions which have options depending on who is available in the draft.

The Stags Lost But Were So Brave!

They lost their first choice second five eighth before kick off and their second choice after ten minutes and were ahead 14-11 with ten minutes left. Unfortunately Hosea Gear carved up and despite some great defence from Southland, the more dangerous team won 28-19. Southland were treated harshly by referee Steve Walsh until he limped off in the first half. They stood strong and even scored two well taken tries, yet withstood a barrage of Wellington attacks even with 14 men after Willie Rickards got sin binned in the first half.

The Stags did well in lineouts and hung on. Unfortunately when they did get the ball they turned it over too easily and often paid dearly with Wellington almost scoring a few more tries. Wellington brought Conrad Smith on from the bench to have seven recent All Blacks on the field, and despite the heroics of the Southland defence, especially Jimmy Cowan they eventually tired in the last ten minutes. The Wellington backs were always dangerous, while the breakdowns were very even, although the introduction of Serge Lilo to Chris Masoe and Rodney Soioalo, made gave the Lions the speed boost they needed.

Sure Wellington won, but the Stags put up a brave fight and considering the injury toll this season which has left the Stags using their top hooker at Number Eight after their top three hookers got injured. The province has created some depth and although they will lose Hoani MacDonald, they will continue to improve with players like Kenny Lynn, Rob Robinson, Josh Berkuis and Jamie MacKintosh gaining experience. It will be interesting to see how many of these guys make the Highlanders with Otago doing so poorly in the Air NZ Cup. Willie Rickards who is a reserve back has supposedly signed with the Lions from South Africa. They are obviously searching far and wide.

Several of the Stags will make the Highlanders for next season. Jamie MacKintosh, David Hall, Chris King, Josh Berkuis, Tim Boys and Jimmy Cowan must be certainties. Several other Southlander players may make it depending on whether there is a significant benefit in selecting a home based placed over one from outside the area. Guys like Fai Mika, Jason Rutledge, Daniel Ramsey, Dion Bates, Hua Tamariki, Blair Stewart, Jason Kawau, Kenny Lynn, Pehi Te Whare, Robbie Robinson, Tony Koonwaiyou, Willie Rickards and James Wilson will all be close to the Highlanders squad, while most of these guys will be in the back up training squad.

Good on you guys!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

My All Blacks End of Year Tour Squad

Here is my All Black squad for the 2008 end of year tour. Please note, it has been confirmed that Daniel Carter will be available. The squad make up of 35 includes 5 props, 3 hookers, 5 locks, 7 loose forwards, 3 halfbacks, 2 first five eighths, 4 midfield backs, 4 wingers and 2 fullbacks.

Place your bets! If you submit your team as a comment before it is named and you get it 100% correct then you will get a $10 TAB bet on the End of Year tour. Limit one entry per person, entry must be posted before the squad is named!

My team

Mils Muliaina
Cory Jane
Anthony Tuitavake
Sitiveni Sivivatu
Hosea Gear
Joe Rokocoko
Richard Kahui
Conrad Smith
Ma'a Nonu
Isaiah Toeava
Stephen Donald
Daniel Carter
Jimmy Cowan
Piri Weepu
Andy Ellis

Rod Soioalo
Richie McCaw
Jerome Kaino
Tanierau Latimer
Liam Messam
Kieran Read
Adam Thomson
Anthony Boric
Brad Thorn
Ali Williams
Jeremy Thrush
Jason Eaton
Tony Woodcock
Neemia Tialata
John Afoa
Jamie MacKintosh
Ben Franks

Pick your team down the side of this blog and we will see how it differs from mine. Also name the team exactly the same as Graham Henry's squad and you will get a $10 TAB voucher.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Pick Your All Blacks and My Air NZ Cup Picks

It is possible for you to select your All Black End of Year Tour Squad down the right hand side of this blog. I am selecting my own and will now pick the outside backs.

Certainties: Mils Muliaina will be the top fullback.

Probables:: Cory Jane has done plenty on attack for Wellington. Will this be enough? I think so!

Possibles Paul Williams will go head to head with Jane for the back up spot. The other options are bolters like Israel Dagg and Jared Payne.

Certainties Sitiveni Sivivatu is the current starting winger. With Kahui likely to be in the centres there could be some new blood on the flanks.

Probables Joe Rokocoko is out of shape, but has shown glimpses of form after his injury lay off. Anthony Tuitavake didn't stand out in his test appearances, but has some utility value. Hosea Gear has grown as a player and looks set to grab a spot.

Possibilities Rudi Wulf had his chances but was nothing more than solid. Leila Masaga has defensive frailties. Other options include Kade Poki, Zac Guildford and James Patterson. I would love to see these young guys blooded, but fear the selectors will go with those mentioned in the probables!

My picks

Mils Muliaina
Cory Jane

Sitiveni Sivivatu
Joe Rokocoko
Hosea Gear
Anthony Tuitavake

Air New Zealand Cup
Teams: Wellington vs Southland
Local Time: 17/10/2008 19:35
Venue: Wellington
Your Pick: Home team by 12 & under

Teams: Canterbury vs Hawkes Bay
Local Time: 18/10/2008 19:35
Venue: Christchurch
Your Pick: Home team by 13 & above

AA Rewards Heartland Championship
Teams: Wanganui vs West Coast
Local Time: 18/10/2008 13:35
Venue: Wanganui
Your Pick: Home team by 13 & above

Teams: Poverty Bay vs South Canterbury
Local Time: 18/10/2008 14:30
Venue: Gisborne
Your Pick: Home team by 12 & under

Teams: Horowhenua-Kapiti vs Wairarapa Bush
Local Time: 18/10/2008 14:30
Venue: Levin
Your Pick: Away team by 13 & above

Teams: Mid Canterbury vs North Otago
Local Time: 18/10/2008 16:05
Venue: Ashburton
Your Pick: Home team by 12 & under

Southlanders Unite

It is time for all Southlanders past and present to unite. Southland is the most geographically isolated, most travelled and smallest by population out of the Air New Zealand Cup provinces, yet they have made the top four. I beat the NZRU are pleased that they did allow the Stags to remain in the competition. I want all Southlanders to attend the game on Friday night.

This Southland team finally played to their ability on Saturday, thrashing Bay of Plenty 45-11. In previous weeks they had choked against Otago, Auckland and Bay of Plenty securing nothing but bonus points despite deserving the win. They have played averagely, with poor handling skills whenever they went wide (against Auckland and Bay of Plenty especially). Yet they still finished 5th on the ladder. I have been waiting for this team to finally play to their potential and they did both against North Harbour and Bay of Plenty. The province has a great development and retention policy that they have the depth to avoid having to recruit heaps of players. This depth has been tested this year, but you get the feeling that next season could be even better if they avoid the injury plague. There is a great team culture and the coaches Nibs and Goof are former players and have been there before.

So get along to the Caketin and support the boys on Friday, they need all the help they can get!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Semi Finals

The Air New Zealand Cup semi finalists have been found with Hawkes Bay claiming the last spot. Their reward is a match against Canterbury on Saturday. The Stags play Wellington at 7pm on Friday night. It is funny that the so called experts can make so many mistakes. No one seemed that clear on who would play who if Waikato actually defeated Hawkes Bay. Some thought that the winners of the matches are pre determined, while others thought the lowest seeded from round robin winner would play Wellington and that prooved to be the case. It gave me more interest in the Hawkes Bay vs Waikato game because I really wanted to go to the game and sure enough the Stags will play Wellington who have a more relaxed defence at the moment than the Canterbury team who ironically have only lost to Manawatu.

Both Canterbury and Wellington are obvious favourites, but fairytales happen, with two of the strugglers from the 1990s now into the semi finals. Will the traditional up front grinders of the Stags play their New Zealand Warriors/ Harlem Globetrotters styles again.

Watch for the shaven head brigaide of David Hall, Blair Stewart and Jason Rutledge. It is hard to know if Hua Tamariki and Kenny Lynn will make the starting line up, while Blair Stewart's defence which is often exposed will be under the microscope.

One of the interesting rulings is the offside when someone loses the ball forward and their retiring team mate touches the ball even though they were in front. It cost Southland their first game against Otago when a penalty was awarded, while a similar penalty gave Southland a win over Tasman, yet last night there were scrums awarded instead for the same thing. It seems inconsistent!

The All Black end of year tour squad will be interesting. Now we look at the midfield, the easiest selection.

Certainties Ma'a Nonu, Richard Kahui and Conrad Smith.

ProbablesIsaiah Toeava is a utility who must make the team. He is ideal on the bench and can play anywhere outside halfback. He was introduced too soon, but seems a far more mature footballer despite his tender years, he is still in his early twenties.

PossiblesTim Bateman and Casey Laulala are probably the next cabs off the rank, while Benson Stanley and Jayden Hayward could be a few seasons off. Jason Shoemark could be a real bolter!

My picks
Conrad Smith
Ma'a Nonu
Richard Kahui
Isaiah Toeava

The Southland Globetrotters

They didn't play like the Southland Stags team I have known and grown to respect over the last 25 years. Usually Southland are known for their up the guts, no frills play, but they won 45-11 over Bay of Plenty playing an offload brand of footy associated with the New Zealand Warriors and Harlem Globetrotters, not New Zealand's most conservative style of team.

I can't remember the last time a Southland player was on fire so much. Possibly a Pita Alatini special match Otago vs Southland in 1997, or Justin Marshall in 1994 vs Hawkes Bay, or even Hayden Martine vs Otago in 2002. Pehi Te Whare was on fire and scored a strange individual try involving a great run then pass then picking up his pass, nearly dropping it, then scoring. He then laid one of for Cowan, and even Josh Berkuis on in on the act with a solo run of twenty metres which must've surprised even him. These were a few of some great tries, while there were even a few possible tries disallowed for inconclusive evidence. I must say that despite a great kicking display by Blair Stewart and even a try, Stewart was again exposed on defence about three times I saw. He also struggles with the ball in hand. His experience though is probably crucial.

It will be interesting to see if Southland welcome back some of their injured cavalry or don't dabble with a winning team?

The Stags play Wellington next weekend and I will be there. I enjoyed this Wellington match, as Taranaki have got some real talent out wide. Jayden Hayward, Paul Perez and Willie Ripia kept Wellington honest. I know the Highlanders will have Jayden Hayward, but I wonder if it is worth getting Perez who has seven tries and size and speed. Karne Hesketh and Matt Saunders may have something to say about that. Hosea Gear and Corey Jane surely must have done enough for the All Black selectors.

Canterbury must be the favourites now, because most teams can't score past their defence!

All Blacks End of Year Tour
Loose Forwards
Certainties Richie McCaw, Jerome Kaino and Rodney Soioalo these are the starting All Black loose forwards and have all been well rested for this tour.

ProbablesAdam Thomson and Kieran Read Thomson has that crazy speed and try scoring ability. He showed in Otago's last game, how good he really is. Kieran Read has been consistently brilliant this season and was told after Super 14 that he should make the All Blacks at the end of the year.

PossibleTanierau Latimer, Daniel Braid, Scott Waldrom, Liam Messam, Sione Lauaki.
There will be one specialist back up to Richie McCaw and I think that both Waldrom and Latimer are the best placed for this spot.

Latimer is slightly younger and more of a future option.

Braid signed overseas, meaning he is probably not in Graham Henrys' plans.

Liam Messam can play in all three loose forward positions and so would be ideal on tour.

We all know about the brilliance of Sione Lauaki, the only problem is that we all know about his shockers! He has such power to strike fear into the Northern teams, but will they persist?

So my loose forwards are Richie McCaw, Rod Soioalo, Kieran Read, Jerome Kaino, Liam Messam, Adam Thomson and Tanierau Latimer. This would leave us with Kaino and Messam to cover Number Eight!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

New Zealand Rugby Has Swung 180

The domestic fabric of New Zealand rugby has swung 180 with the latest Air New Zealand Cup player movements. Auckland and Otago have been busy signing players plenty of who will then be loaned back for the Air New Zealand Cup. This is a way that the Highlanders can protect their players from being snapped up by their actual Super 14 franchise. So how many guys like Johnny Leota, Hayden Triggs, Jayden Hayward, Fetu Vainikolo and Clint Newlands who will all play for the Highlanders will also don the blue and gold for Otago? I for one are pleased that the system works because in previous years they would all have had to play NPC for their new team. That was why the top teams were always the Super 12/14 based sides. These days they will get loaned back to their old team. The salary cap finally works! The Highlanders will probably need a few more ring ins for next season, but I am excited by the guys they have signed, many of who are returning players who wouldn't get a chance with their home franchise. Jared Payne will be loaned back to Northland by the Crusaders, but the craziest situation is Thomas Waldrom. He will move from Wellington to the Crusaders and then be loaned to a Hurricanes franchise partner Hawkes Bay who already have a great Number 8 George Naoupu. Naoupu would do well at the Highlanders!

From the http://nz.sports.yahoo.com/rugby/news/article/-/5063770/transfers-heat-ahead-2009-super-14

Player transfers:-

Ross Filipo from Wellington to Canterbury, Tom Harding from Wellington to Waikato, Jayden Hayward from Taranaki to Otago, Nigel Hunt from Wellington to Bay of Plenty, Tasesa Lavea from Counties-Manukau to Auckland, Zar Lawrence from North Harbour to Bay of Plenty, Johnny Leota from Manawatu to Otago, Faifili Levave from Waikato to Wellington, Ben May from Tasman to Waikato, Bronson Murray from Northland to Canterbury, Clint Newlands from Hawke's Bay to Otago, Jared Payne from Northland to Canterbury, Joe Savage from North Harbour to Bay of Plenty, David Smith from Auckland to Wellington, Sona Taumalolo from Hawke's Bay to Waikato, Hayden Triggs from Manawatu to Otago, Fetu'u Vainikolo from Northland to Otago, Thomas Waldrom from Wellington to Canterbury, Ali Williams from Tasman to Auckland, Paul Williams from Canterbury to Auckland.

The mighty Stags haven't partaken in the transfer market because they have heaps of good enough players that it would be hard to improve on. If they can hold onto their squad and reduce the injuries they will continue to do well. Guys like Tony Koonwaiyou, Noah Soqueta, Iona Sipa and James Wilson were rarely seen this season!

Without their three top Number Eights David Hall will play there in the Quarter Final vs BOP. The Stags may also be without two of their best players in Kenny Lynn and Tim Boys. These guys have some spark otherwise lacking from the Stags. One look at Saturday's lineup suggests the Stags have the better tight five while the Steamers look better across the rest of the paddock except halfback.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Glamour Sport?

Stade Francais have jazzed up their girly pink jerseys. It seems like not that long ago rugby jerseys were build for comfort rather than style, but the times have changed very quickly. I wonder if Colin Meads would've worn these tops? Even if he played for them?

The Quarter Finals are on this weekend and I am most looking forward to the Hawkes Bay vs Waikato match. It is the top Super 14 based provincial team in the country against a team with a backline to make most other teams envious. The injuries to Stephen Donald and Liam Messam will be a blow, but the inclusion of reliable fullback Mils Muliaina will help.

In the other games most of the All Blacks will be in action, including the Canterbury vs Tasman match where Richie McCaw will come off the bench. The injury to Steven Brett will keep Canterbury on their toes a little, as will the inclusion of Brad Thorn in the Tasman middle row. This match is a Crusaders trial and although Canterbury should win, it will be a hard earned victory.

The same goes for the Wellington vs Taranaki match which sees mate against mate. Wellington will like Canterbury be favourites, but the Taranaki team has shown remarkable enterprise on attack in recent weeks and are probably more dangerous than their eighth place suggests.

The Steamers and Stags are so evenly matched this season that you would expect nothing except a tight match on Saturday night. The Stags awoke from their slumber to almost take down the Steamers last time. I am a Southland lad and believe that they are one of the most consistent teams in the competition. They have a great defence, but hopefully can unlock their backline with Kenny Lynn returning from injury.

Air New Zealand Cup

Teams: Canterbury vs Tasman
Time: 10/10/2008 19:35
Venue: Christchurch
Pick: Home team by 13 & above

Teams: Wellington vs Taranaki
Time: 11/10/2008 17:05
Venue: Wellington
Pick: Home team by 13 & above

Teams: Bay of Plenty vs Southland
Time: 11/10/2008 19:35
Venue: Mt Maunganui
Pick: Away team by 12 & under

Teams: Hawkes Bay vs Waikato
Time: 12/10/2008 14:35
Venue: Napier
Pick: Home team by 12 & under

AA Rewards Heartland Championship

Teams: Wanganui vs North Otago
Time: 11/10/2008 14:30
Venue: Wanganui
Pick: Home team by 12 & under

Teams: Mid Canterbury vs Buller
Time: 11/10/2008 14:30
Venue: Ashburton
Pick: Home team by 12 & under

Teams: King Country vs West Coast
Time: 11/10/2008 14:30
Venue: Te Kuiti
Pick: Away team by 12 & under

Teams: Horowhenua-Kapiti vs Poverty Bay
Time: 11/10/2008 14:30
Venue: Paraparaumu
Pick: Home team by 12 & under

Teams: South Canterbury vs Thames Valley
Time: 11/10/2008 14:30
Venue: Timaru
Pick: Home team by 13 & above

Teams: Wairarapa Bush vs East Coast
Time: 11/10/2008 14:30
Venue: Masterton
Pick: Home team by 13 & above

The Tight Five


Tony Woodcock, John Afoa and Neemia Tialata are "certainties" for the end of year tour. This leaves spaces for two other props.

The other two spots are very open to interpretation.

"Probable"- Jamie MacKintosh - Whoppa has future All Black written all over him.

"Possibles" - Owen Franks, John Schwalger, Ben Franks and Greg Somerville.

This is too close to call, but I will go with Ben Franks because he got called in earlier this season to cover when we had an injury crisis. Schwalger has had his chance, while Owen Franks is not quite ready. Greg Somerville could go if the selectors get scared, but it would be a backwards step!


Andrew Hore is the best hooker in the country by far, making him the ideal first rake and a "certainty"

Keven Mealamu was disappointing this year and while he was in the All Blacks squad all season, I would only rate him a "probability"

Possibilities - We are short on decent hookers with Corey Flynn injured too much, while Hika Eliot from Hawkes Bay is the best up and coming hooker around. I would go with Eliot for that third spot, but you can't write off Flynn.


Five locks is a difficult proposition. We simply don't have the depth from what we saw in the Tri Nations!

Certainties - Ali Williams, Brad Thorn and Anthony Boric are the incumbents and there is very little competition from elsewhere. There is so little opposition that there are no probabilities in this category, the cupboard is thread bare underneath.

Possibilities - The loss of James Ryan, Keith Robinson and Chris Jack has exposed our lack of depth. Options here are Tom Donnelly (not enough hard yards?), Jeremy Thrush, Isaac Ross, Jason Eaton and Ross Filipo. Kevin O'Neill is out injured. I would probably go with Ross Filipo and Jeremy Thrush, but wouldn't be surprised if I was wrong!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Auckland Is Gone!

In a crazy turn of events, Auckland were eliminated by a late Northland penalty which gave the Cambridge Blues a 21-13 victory over the Auks. It was strange because there was uncertainty over what would have happened if Auckland got a bonus point and finished tied on 23 points with Tasman and Taranaki. It goes down to who beats who if they played each other, but three teams were tied on 23 points it would've come down to points differential.

What a crazy situation where three of the top seven ranked teams by the NZRU can't finish in the top half, while strugglers like Tasman, Southland, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki all made it.

As a Southland supporter I would rather play Bay of Plenty, as we should've beaten them last time. It is a shame that the mighty Waikato will play Hawkes Bay rather than Canterbury. The good thing for me is that if Southland can topple Bay of Plenty, then they will most likely play here in Wellington the next week. The other brilliant thing is that there will be some provincial teams in the semis (hopefully two). The defeat of Wellington by Otago has probably done Taranaki no favours, but at least they are still alive for the upcoming grudge match!

Wellington vs Taranaki
Canterbury vs Tasman
Hawkes Bay vs Waikato
Bay of Plenty vs Southland

I like the local derbies next week. There some history between Hawkes Bay and Waikato from recent years. Bay of Plenty and Southland are traditonal battlers, so it is great seeing them both at the other end of the table. I wonder when the games are on and where Bay of Plenty will play Southland. It could be a great road trip!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Select Your End of Year Tour Squad

The All Blacks go on their end of year tour and I am leaving it to the punters to pick their squads using the polls down the right hand side of this blog. There will be plenty of new faces as the player drain and retirements have left the selectors with paper thin depth in some positions. I will drip feed my picks for positions. I have classified players as "Certainties" "Probables" and "Possibles"

Starting with the squad make up. According to the Stuff website the squad will consist of the following.

Five props,
three hookers,
five locks
seven loose forwards,
three halfbacks
two each in the other backline positions.

Today I will start with the halves.

First Five Eighth

With King Dan overseas, the lack of depth at first five eighth is severely exposed. Now that Nick Evans, Luke McAlister, Aaron Mauger and Leon MacDonald are not available then it is hard to pick the next cab off the rank. The selectors need to look to the future. There are plenty of journeymen floating around the traps including David Holwell and Jimmy Gopperth. There are also some new guys who are probably not ready yet in Dan Kirkpatrick, Robbie Robinson, Lachie Munro, Colin Slade and Willie Ripia. This leaves the injury plagued Stephen Brett and Stephen Donald. I would consider the slowly improving Donald to be "Certainity" while Brett is "Probable". The next cab off the rank would probably be Willie Ripia "Possible".
There are also some other utilities like Isaiah Toeava and Piri Weepu who can provide cover.

Stephen Donald

Stephen Brett

Willie Ripia


This position is clear cut with Jimmy Cowan and Piri Weepu coming into some great form towards the end of the Tri Nations. They are both certainities for this tour. Andy Ellis started the Tri Nations and is a good chance of being the third halfback. Some outsiders are Taniela Moa and Kahn Fotuali'i, but they are only required if injury hampers one of the incumbents. Brendon Leonard's injury is a blow!

Jimmy Cowan
Piri Weepu

Andy Ellis

Taniela Moa
Kahn Fotuali'i

Stags Avoid The Big Two

The Stags may have lost 25-6 to Canterbury and never really threatened the Canterbury tryline, but it seems that they will avoid a quarter final showdown away to Canterbury. Because they only lost by 19 points, Waikato will probably face Canterbury assuming Auckland beats Northland. Both Waikato and Southland finished on 25 points. This season, anything is possible, with Auckland a shadow of their former selves facing Northland. If Auckland don't win Southland would be away to the deteriorating Bay of Plenty rather than what seems likely, a showdown with the Hawkes Bay Magpies.

On recent form, Wellington and Canterbury look odds on to play in the final. Southland again struggled to breach the Canterbury defence. IT seems that this Stags team doesn't concede as many points as other teams, but they don't have the abolity to score tries themselves!

Go Northland!