Friday, August 17, 2007

Holah: It was tough against Richie the great (Rugbyheaven)

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Marty Holah has finally tired of co-existing in a parallel rugby universe with stellar No 7 Richie McCaw.

The Waikato and Chiefs flanker today confirmed a two-year deal with Welsh club Ospreys, ending an eight-year domestic career cursed to coincide with the All Black captain's meteoric rise.
Holah joins the player exodus to Europe at the end of the Air NZ Cup in October, linking with a club with ambitions to annex European rugby's coveted Heineken Cup.
That challenge, a change of lifestyle plus the fact McCaw – and latterly Chris Masoe – have combined to thwart his 36-test career influenced the 30-year-old's agonising decision.
"It was really tough," the Waikato stalwart said.
"I've had a couple of offers over the last three months and I've been sorting out whether to go or not.
"I'm still really enjoying what I'm doing in New Zealand. That made it a really hard but I felt it was time to look for another challenge and move on to something new. The time was right."
The decision would have been made harder still had the specialist openside been a fixture in the All Blacks squad, but with Wellington's Masoe having the ability to cover all three loose forward positions from the bench, he had to settle with being among a group of players on standby for the World Cup.
Holah accepted he had been marginalised since making his final test appearance against South Africa in August last year.
Summoned to South Africa only as injury cover, he was reduced to a brief cameo at the tail end of the All Blacks' only loss – the 20-21 Tri-Nations defeat at Rustenberg.
The dye had probably already been cast for the likeable Holah earlier that season when he auditioned as a blindside flanker against Ireland on his beloved home turf in Hamilton.
His combination with McCaw – the All Blacks equivalent of Australia playing George Smith and Phil Waugh in tandem – was not considered a success, and marked Holah's 12th and final start in a test match.
"They wanted to see if I could cover six if I was on the bench and I obviously didn't do a good enough job of it," he reflected.
Holah was philosophical about his career dovetailing with a player of McCaw's quality, acknowledging New Zealand rugby had regularly been blessed with numerous options at No 7.
"Richie's definitely the world's best, as he has been for a number of years," Holah said.
"He's one of those special guys that matured a little but before his time. He came into the international scene really young, it seemed really natural for him and he hasn't looked back since then."
Holah made his debut five months before McCaw – as a back-up for Taine Randell against Samoa at Albany in June 2001 – but once the Cantabrian ran on in Dublin that November, only injury or rotation has curbed his involvement.
Although he had to play second fiddle to McCaw at international level, the Junior All Blacks co-captain has been without peer at Waikato Stadium and will be sorely missed by the Mooloo faithful.
Waikato may be blessed with plenty of loose forward options – Sione Lauaki, Liam Messam, Steven Setephano and former captain Steven Bates are regularly mix and matched – though as Holah pointed out he is the only out and out opensider.
"I feel a little bit guilty. Waikato has a couple of young guys coming through at seven but they're probably not quite up to it yet," he said.
"Batesy (Steven Bates) can play seven but personally I don't think it's a great option for him."
Holah nominated 20-year-old Matty Blain as a potential successor once he bulks up his 95kg frame, while the Chiefs should be well served by the Bay of Plenty's Tanerau Latimer.
Meanwhile, though Holah may be quietly lamenting his bad luck he justifiably contrasted his test career with one of Waikato's less fortunate favourite sons.
"Duane Monkley never got as chance to wear the All Blacks jersey, and he was definitely a better player than I was," said Holah of the opensider blighted by playing in the Michael Jones era. – NZPA

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