Saturday, December 06, 2008

Quinn: Rugby awards perplexing
Dec 5, 2008
By's Keith Quinn

Look - it's still a free country, right? Which means everyone can still have their own opinions.
But sitting on my couch at home for the first time in five weeks and flicking through the TV channels, as blokes do, I paused at the Steinlager Rugby Awards Show live on Sky TV. Long enough for me to see the last couple of awards presented.

I always like to see who gets the Kelvin R Tremain Memorial Award for New Zealand Rugby's Player of the Year. That is our rugby's equivalent of the Oscars or the Emmy winner. The award is in memory of one of New Zealand rugby's all-time great players.

Kel 'Bunny' Tremain was a great guy; a friendly man off the field but a ruthlessly proud and determined All Black on it. In 1994 the New Zealand Rugby Union honoured his shock death as a 54-year-old by naming their prestige annual player award in his memory. So the judges have to get it right, you know?

Now let me ask you; in all our rugby in recent years - who has been the most talked about and most influential players of all from New Zealand? You could put up a sound argument for Daniel Carter I suppose. But this year I say that man has to have been Richie McCaw.
All over the world you hear, read and see people's reaction to those two far beyond any other players in the All Black team. Using the word carefully McCaw and Carter are the two 'great' players we have in New Zealand at the moment.

But did Richie McCaw win this season's Kel Tremain trophy? No, surprisingly, he did not. The All Black hooker Andrew Hore did. I cannot understand the judgement.

Richie McCaw is not above criticism. There are those (northern hemisphere media mostly) who think he plays too close to the letter of the law from his flank forward position. And there have been those who have said in the recent past (mostly me, a lonely figure) that Richie's captaincy lacked sufficient push and presence on the field. Especially at the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

This year though the formerly timid captain McCaw has been replaced by a much more authoritative leader, one who is more visibly seen urging his teammates on and letting all referees know he is there right in their faces, making sure they make the 'correct' decisions.

As a player this year McCaw has maintained his very high work rate and standards. And perhaps gone even better than ever before. While there was time when there was a lot of excessive writing about his talents he is now widely admired by fans all around the world.

Let me remind you of McCaw's 2008 record. He led New Zealand to the Tri Nations win, held the Bledisloe Cup and the Hillary Shield high, plus sundry other sponsor's trophies for minor Test matches. Most significantly he recently led New Zealand to a Grand Slam of test wins in the UK. He played excellent rugby throughout. He dominates the breakdown area of the game which secures the possession to enable his teams to win.

When McCaw wasn't named as one of the International Rugby Board's trophy winners in Britain a couple of weeks back, his All Black coach Graham Henry leapt into criticism of the international decision-making system. Many Kiwis were baffled when Shane Williams, the Welsh winger won that major award.

Graham Henry's comments in defence of his All Black captain not winning then therefore looked like he disagreed with the Williams decision. The comments made world headlines.

Now I ask, will Mr Henry do the same of the selection system in New Zealand? Will he jump out of the cake and lambaste the choice of Andrew Hore as New Zealand's Player of the Year ahead of his skipper?

I doubt it. Hore is a front choice All Black too and besides, Mr Henry works for the Rugby Union you see. So I might be making a lone cry here. But someone has to wonder about this Tremain award decision.

I hope I am not coming down too hard on Andrew Hore. His form as All Black hooker in the games he played this year was admirable. He took over the number one spot from Keven Mealamu and until he was severely injured in the Test against Australia in Hong Kong he was going superbly. But to me it seems odd that he should win on the basis of a part-season contribution. After his injury was sustained he was a non-player for the rest of the season. Therefore he made no contribution in the climactic All Black event of the year, the Grand Slam tour.

For mine, (gee it's great to use that old Aussie expression of surety) McCaw's profile, position, form and improvement as captain far outreaches Hore's playing authority and significance to the All Blacks and the season.

[As a sidebar; Both Hore and McCaw played in the Super 14 competition this year. Hore played outstandingly for the Hurricanes but they were beaten by McCaw's Crusaders in the semi-finals. McCaw was then the captain of the winning Crusaders team in the grand final.]

I have had a look at the judging panel of four, and three of them are good mates. However, under the heading of 'it is still a free country' and we all have our own opinions, I beg to differ boys.
I can understand McCaw missing out winning on this award last year. He didn't deserve it then. But not this year. This year he was so much ahead of the field.

There endeth this rant.

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