Sunday, February 21, 2010

Crusaders' apocalypse, four horsemen appear
By PHIL GIFFORD - Sunday Star Times

OPINION: In the Bible the four horsemen of the apocalypse were Death, Destruction, Pestilence and Famine. A famous New York sportswriter Grantland Rice renamed them in sport as the four men in the backfield of the Notre Dame football team.

In Brisbane, the Crusaders produced their own four horsemen: Fumble, Error, Turnover and Penalty.
Let's not underestimate how good the Reds were. Unlucky to have lost to the Waratahs last week their new stars, Will Genia and Quade Cooper, look the goods, and their team-mates are rising with them.

Later in the year halfback Genia may well be the key man if the Wallabies are to become consistent winners again, that's how good he is. Think a bigger, stronger George Gregan.
Last year, first five Cooper spent way too much time dancing on the spot, doing a slightly demented chicken dance version of Benji Marshall's hop and go.

Unaffected on the field by the cloud of a burglary charge from the off-season, he's suddenly assertive, commanding, running straight, and reading the game like it's as simple as The Cat in the Hat. But in the end a huge factor in the loss was that the Crusaders, with a few rare exceptions such as Dan Carter and Jared Payne, couldn't, as they say in Brissie, have caught a punch in a bar brawl.

There are just two lights on the horizon. One is that this is an outfit that has shown for years it can survive and recover from a nightmare. The other is that next Friday's game in Christchurch with the Sharks is against a team good enough to command respect, but not travelling so well as to inspire fear. How the Crusaders react next Friday will be a road sign to the rest of their season.

NOT QUITE RUGBYWHISPER IT, but the last 30 minutes of the Chiefs-Lions game was such a weird mixture of sevens, touch football and basketball that it barely felt like rugby.
The bright spot for the Chiefs is that in the first 50 they looked every inch the title contenders they did in the victory they ground out against the Sharks in the opening round.

During the week Carlos Spencer was criticised by his Lions coach, Dick Muir, who would surely be the first coach in Spencer's long history to bag him for playing too conservatively.
Against the Chiefs there were flashes of the old brilliant Carlos, but the overall impression was still of an old boxer who sees a knockout opportunity but can't quite seize it.

SHOW US YER JUGS LAST WEEKEND delivered the unusual sight of referee Keith Brown and the Chiefs' Stephen Donald sidestepping a flying beer jug in Durban.
Sadly the odd bottle isn't an unusual sight when fans are disgruntled. But the jug looked odd.
Five other unexpected objects seen on rugby fields, in rough order of rarity.

5. Shetland pony-sized dog turds: In Galway, in 1989, when the All Blacks beat Connacht, Frano Botica said: "It wasn't nice having to step around them when you went to kick a goal."

4. Bernie Fraser's cousins: They came out of the crowd to form a protective ring around him when fans invaded the field during the 1980 All Blacks' provincial game in Lautoka.

3. A small pig: Let loose during a Ranfurly Shield game in Te Kuiti in 1986 between Auckland and King Country. It proved much more elusive than the traditional dog.

2. Jerry Collins' manhood: You know the story, test match, caught short, quick tinkle, sneaky camera-work.

1. Flour bombs: Dropped from a Cessna by an anti-tour protester on the 1981 All Blacks-Springboks test at Eden Park. As Gary Knight was being attended to after he was knocked out by a direct hit on his head referee Clive Norling said to the medical staff, "For God's sake don't pour water on him, he'll end up battered."

LUV YA, JIMMY HIGHLANDERS' CAPTAIN Jimmy Cowan, so abrasive on the field you could sandpaper a whole house with his attitude, has developed into the sort of larger-than-life character rugby so badly needs in a vanilla age, which makes his signing to the end of 2012 with the NZRU all the more welcome.

However, in reply to an email from John, a transplanted Southlander in Christchurch, there does not appear to be a Jimmy Cowan fan club. With her tongue in her cheek, a woman at Rugby Southland suggested John might like to start an "I Love Jimmy Cowan" page on Facebook.
"I bet Jimmy would love that," she quipped.

GET 'EM ONSIDE ONE MORE way to improve the quality of Super 14. Make the assistant referees on the sidelines enforce the offside lines at every breakdown. Space between backlines is to open play what oxygen is to fire. The more you have the more you get.

TAX BREAK BEFORE THE anti-rugby mob light the torches, I'm not suggesting this should actually happen, but the question has to spring to mind. If public exposure in Europe for a New Zealand team competing in the America's Cup is thought by the government to possibly be worth Mr and Mrs Taxpayer dishing out a lazy $30 million or so, how much should the All Blacks get when they tour there?

QUOTE OF WEEK ASKED WHAT he and Crusaders halfback Andy Ellis (right) had been chatting about on the field last weekend, Cowan replied: "The cheeky little bugger asked me how my fitness levels were."

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