By RICHARD KNOWLER, The Press
Saturday, 06 December 2008
Those readers who predicted Andrew Hore would be New Zealand rugby's player of the year can save themselves time by clicking to the next page and basking in the glory of the cleverness.
Well done to that lot; they produced a masterstroke in determining the All Blacks hooker would receive the Kelvin Tremain Memorial Player of the Year trophy. Little point reading on, they backed a winner. Some of us mere mortals, though, are still scratching our noodles over just how All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw was overlooked for the top gong.
When the New Zealand Rugby Union press release pinged off The Press' wires on Thursday evening, this reporter reacted as though someone had threaded a wire through his bread roll, plugged it into a power point and flicked a switch. The feedback was somewhat electric. There was an urge to spread this news to someone as quickly as possible and within seconds a colleague was informed.
His reaction to McCaw being overlooked was muted, the reply being that the openside flanker had already won the award before so why not have another name engraved on the trophy?
When another staffer bumbled his way into the sports department yesterday, he offered the same opinion: McCaw gets plenty of recognition, time to give someone else a go. Bejabbers!
Before injury ruled him out of the Grand Slam tour, Hore was a reliable performer this season, nudging out Keven Mealamu as the All Blacks' top hooker when Graham Henry shelved his rotation policy.
Alas, he is no McCaw.
Although the Hurricanes did not make the final - they were beaten by the Crusaders in the semi - Hore also did enough in the eyes of the judges to also be named as the Super 14 player of the year. He had a knack of scoring tries for the Hurricanes and throughout the year proved a powerful scrummager, accurate lineout thrower and carried the ball aggressively.
But it would not matter if Hore hailed from Otara or Otautau, this judgment would remain the same. That award should have gone to McCaw.
No player in New Zealand was under more scrutiny than the skipper this season after the All Blacks lost the World Cup quarter-final to France last year. His leadership was rightly questioned.
Flag the conspiracy theories about referee Wayne Barnes costing the All Blacks at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. If the All Blacks, and McCaw's captaincy, had been up to scratch they would have survived. But if McCaw felt burdened by letting down an expectant nation, it did not show in 2008.
He responded by leading the Crusaders to the Super 14 title, his form peaking in the final showdown against the Waratahs in Christchurch and continuing into the opening tests against Ireland and England before an ankle injury cut him down at AMI Stadium.
In his absence the All Blacks lost to the Springboks and Wallabies, but on his return he led them to a crushing win against the Aussies at Eden Park.
The hits just kept on coming: he was magical against the Boks in Cape Town and although largely nullified by the Wallabies forwards in Brisbane his leadership played a major role in the All Blacks retaining the Bledisloe Cup. Then came the win in Hong Kong, followed by the Grand Slam title.
So compelling was his form earlier this year that All Blacks forwards coach Steve Hansen labelled McCaw as the best No. 7 New Zealand has produced. It was a bold call.
Almost as bold as the one by the judges that declared Hore a better bet than McCaw as the nation's best player.