Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Australian Super 14 Team of the Year 2009

A season of mostly torment and failure for Australia's Super 14 teams has finally come to a shuddering halt. With the carcass still steaming the Rolling Maul casts its eyes over the wreckage to find a few diamonds in the mixed metaphor.

Matt Dunning - Of course. It wouldn't be a Super Rugby season without Matt Dunning taking out the prop of the year award. His influence is as immense as his girth, even when injured for an entire season, as he was this season. The Waratahs scaled new heights and plumbed new depths in his honour. "Do Dunning Proud" was the rallying cry on the field as shots at goal were missed, tries fumbled and tackles missed. The game may change but a team with 15 Mat Dunnings running around will always meet low expectations and fail to deliver. This year was no exception.

AJ Whalley - A player with a chin as big as his barrel chest, Mr Incredible's devastating work at the bottom of rucks and collapsed scrums lit up the Subiaco crowd. 10 incredible minutes per match is testimony to the hard work he put into the off season trying to come up with a name instead of initials. Alas he failed, on and off the field, but every team needs its cuddly mascot.

Saia Faingaa - Still the best looking player running around in Australian Rugby according to the missus so keeps his spot from 2008. His move from the Brumbies to the Reds this season was a masterstroke of career murder and poor timing as the Reds floundered and the Brumbies floundered too but not as badly.

Second Row (Locks)
Van Humphries - It seems like Van Humphries has been around forever and that's because he has. It's nearly 10 years since he made his debut for the Reds and in that time has played all over the world and in NSW without ever securing a starting spot in any team he's played for. This season was no exception, indeed Humphries had a chance, got dropped and then waited for the rest of the team to fall over injured before getting a start again. Then he got injured too. The Reds deserve Humphries and Humphries deserves the Reds.
Tom Hockings - When your Captain and second row partner is as bald as Nathan Sharpe you need a full head of hair to create an impression. Hockings might lack ball retention skills, scrummaging ability and grunt, but he more than makes up for them with free guest passes as a result of his membership at most of Perth's boutique hairdressers and the decreased necessity for the Force to spend money on headgear.

Number 8
Scott Fava's sideburns - Fava became the first player to have taken the field for every Australian Super 14 team when he ran on for the Waratahs early in the season with new more conservative but still outlandish facial growth. It was the final desperate act of a desperate man running away from the headlines. It worked spectacularly well. After two matches Fava's form was so awful he was dumped quicker than anything even Matt Dunning could achieve after a night on the curry and hasn't been seen from since. Mission accomplished.

Sydney International Airport - OK, stick with me here. Josh Valentine started with the Reds then went to the Waratahs and then the Force and has now signed with the Brumbies to replace Josh Holmes who was a Waratah and then a Brumby and has signed to return to the Waratahs to replace Brett Sheehan who started with the Reds then joined the Waratahs and has now signed with the Force to replace Josh Valentine because he was sick of being understudy to Luke Burgess who started at the Brumbies but is still with the Waratahs. And you wonder why the Wallabies struggle to find a replacement for George Greegan who was always a Brumby.

Day Light - The Rolling Maul is sick to death of hearing how Matt Giteau is so far ahead of every other five-eighth in the country that Day Light is second. Well it's a bout time Light was given a chance with the Wallabies to show what he can do. Let's face it, Giteau is a road block and his hogging of the five-eighth role is preventing other players from shining, and no player shines more than Day Light.

Inside Centre (Second Five-Eighth)
Tom Carter - The Waratahs search for a battering ram to replace Nathan Grey seemed over when Tom Carter put his head down and charged headfirst into a few Kiwi forwards. The old Sydney University combination with Daniel Halangahu seemed the solution to the Waratah's try scoring woes, and a couple of solid wins set up season glory. Alas it all came to nought. Ugly wins became ugly losses and by the South African trip Kurtley Beale replaced Carter who was relegated to glorified water boy duties. Three straight wins in South Africa and Carter may find he has to go to the ends of the earth (ie Brisbane) just to get a game.

Outside Centre
Morgan Turinui - Turinui was a shock signing for the Reds for the 2007 season and played well enough (admittedly in the now defunct ARC) to earn a call up to the Wallabies for the World Cup later that year. In 2008 he was average but good enough for Australia A, and in 2009 he didn't play a game for anybody.

Cameron Shephard - Shephard was the Super 14s second highest try scorer in 2009 with 7. Yet he only played about 3 matches in between various injuries. At that rate he should have scored about 30 tries and would have ensured that instead of losing most of their matches by 1 or 2 points the Force would have finished on top of the table.

Clyde Rathbone - Rathbone is the most consistent player to have ever played Super 14. Consistently injured that is. His grand tally over two seasons amounts to about 2 starts and 2 runs off the bench. In those matches he showed impressive speed for a guy in alternately a moon boot, on crutches and in traction. It looks like Rathbone won't be offered a contract in 2010 which is a shame because the Rolling Maul will have to put some effort into finding another winger of the season (not to mention prop, hooker and number 8).

Sam Norton-Knight - Throughout all the succes, failure and boring bits in between that made up the Waratahs early and mid-season the one constant was that Norton-Knight could be relied upon to kick the ball out on the full, off the edge of his boot or run straight into a wall of defenders and lose the ball. The flattest of flat track bullies (he tends to have blinders against the Reds, Cheetahs, Higlanders etc) Norton-Knight did the honourable thing before going to South Africa and injured himself so that Lachlan Turner could take his place. Scarily Norton-Kinght considers his best position to be five-eighth and that's why he signed with the Cardiff Blues. Meanwhile the Waratahs signed Drew Mitchell. There's nothing ugly about that win.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Perfect Plans

It's all falling into place for the Waratahs.

Their cunning no bonus points system is working perfectly. So precise indeed are the Waratahs at this game that Lote Tuquiri even dropped the ball over the try line when he suddenly realised that the game plan was not to score any tries until well into the game. Two tries in the first 15 minutes would have been a severe embarrasment and completely counter to the Waratahs Rugby philosophy. So devastated was Tuquiri at his near not-miss that he deliberately wrenched his own knee later in the game so as to not risk the danger of scoring more tries.

Meanwhile... if there's one thing the Reds have been good at this season it's dashing hope. Hope of a revival in the fortunes of Queensland Rugby, hope for a free flowing running entertaining running game, hope at winning back to back matches. Barnes realised he had discovered a rich vain (pun intended) of form and there was a real and present danger that he could run rampant against the struggling Brumbies. So not being one to shy away from a challenge from a (adopted) New South Welshman Barnes did his hammy in the warm-up before the Reds game started.

But if there's one thing that separates Barnes and Tuquiri from the rest of their teammates and makes them the truly great players they are, it's the personal sacrifice. The ability to step back and analyse their own performance and their place in history and realise that anyone can contribute to score board glory but only the greats can see the greater context. That the Reds are not meant to challenge for the finals and the Waratahs are not meant to be fun to watch.

We are not worthy of watching such legends of the game in action. And they know it so sacrificed their leg muscles for our sake and for that we should grateful.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Ten Big Rugby Issues

So much material so little time. The world of Rugby is awash with juicy material just waiting for a sarcastic smart-arse blogger to comment on. Here are The Rolling Maul's top ten issues for the week:

1) Waratahs assistant coach Scott Wisemantel was quoted in the paper this week speaking of his attacking theory whereby the wingers and fullback should play like three fullbacks and be the "eyes" of the back line. He says one of their roles should be to communicate their reading of the game to the centres - the "ears". Whatever. The point is, who's the arsehole? Matt Dunning is obviously the stomach while Sam Norton-Knight is either the appendix or the tonsils (ie useless).

2) Matt Dunning is unhappy with his contract negotiations and wants all players to have their pay published. That's a pretty big call for a player who's been injured for the last six months, played most of the last Super 14 and Wallabies seasons from the bench and has seen, at the very least, Al Baxter, Ben Robinson and Ben Alexander street ahead in the Wallaby pecking order.

3) Canadian Rugby player plays for Sydney Swans. If definitive evidence was needed that Aussie Rules is turning into Rugby then here you have it. the only difference being that there's more kicking in Rugby, more hands in the ruck in Aussie Rules, and more physical contact in Aussie Rules (though they call it a melee and it's really just a homo-erotic stroking contest).

4) Swine flu pandemic threatens to lead to the limit of mass gathering of crowds for fear of spreading the disease. So the Waratahs shouldn't be affected then.

5) Kurtley Beale resigns with the Waratahs. Oh. Re-signs. Bugger.

6) Overconfidence proving to be the greatest challenge to team victories this season. The good news coming out of the Waratahs camp is that that won't be a problem for them. Indeed so under confident are the Waratahs that most of their players have been quoted in the press this week bemoaning how crap they are and admitting that they don't know how to pass, kick or run. Training sessions this week have resembled Wallarugby training camps. Each player has been rewarded with an ice cream at the end of a day's training, each received a souvenir t-shirt and cap, and they all got to fawn over their hero Matt Burke who was shipped in at great expense to inspire the Warakiddies with tales of bottom ogling from behind the kicker. And now much like Wallarugby matches expect the Waratahs this weekend to follow the ball in a big excited pack before fading after 15 minutes and complaining that the big kid is hogging the ball.

7) Rolling Maul still desperately short of a bandwagon. Just when you think the Reds are in form they're out of it then back in it and then who knows what. The Highlanders and the Brumbies both looked promising before falling into a hole. God forbid but the way that this competition is going the Waratahs are due for a few glorious wins and The Rolling Maul will have to revert to blue. Actually that's just being ridiculous.

8) ELVs dead and buried and with them go the tap and run. It wasn't working anyway. Rod Kafer on The Rugby Club (funny sort of Club - where are the pokies?) pointed out that not one Waratahs scrum this season has seen the ball travel from half back to winger (it was getting dropped or kicked before it got that far). Clearly the ELVs are to blame as in past years the Waratahs had no trouble spinning the ball out to Lote or Lachie and then it getting dropped or kicked.

9) Manly Sea Eagles Rugby League team really are a one man team full of drunks and dickheads (what did happen to Scott Fava's Waratahs career?). It's not looking good for the Force in 2010.

10) Australia and New Zealand threaten to leave SANZAR and form a trans-tasman provincial competition. And the bad news is?