There was a great atmosphere at Eden Park for the latest Super Rugby final this year, and it was a fantastic result for Auckland rugby.
As for being a watershed moment though, one representing a changing of the rugby guard….not for my money, which remains firmly on the Crusaders.
But first things first after the Super Rugby (allegedly) Trans-Tasman competition reached a glorious conclusion.
It’s been a long time between silverware so Auckland (and Northland presumably) will gladly do a lap of honour, even if a street parade is hardly appropriate for a mock-up of a competition.
Leon MacDonald and his cohorts have got the Blues on track, so a mighty congratulations to MacDonald, Tom Coventry, the outstanding captain Patrick Tuipulotu, and everyone else involved.
The final was a nail biter as the Blues began to fluff their lines against the low-risk Highlanders.
As the Highlanders goal kicked their way into a lead which said more about rugby’s frailties than its ability to entertain, you had to think “here we go again” for a city soaked in football failures.
But the Blues hung on and got out of a giant scrape.
The final emphasised how rugby can work brilliantly on the big stage, where every moment counts, even if those moments aren’t exactly classy.
I’ll do a bit of code comparison here.
There’s a grandeur and range to rugby which league lacks. In contrast, league can provide everyday entertainment over a long season which stop-start, rules-crazy rugby union can’t match.
If the rugby final had been a mid-season game, the main talking point would have been how referee Mike Fraser was over-ruled by his fellow officials in a weird trifecta, and Ash Dixon escaped a red card for a horrible hit on Otere Black. The actual rugby was minimal.
But as a final, it was gripping as a potential nightmare loomed for Blues supporters who realised their team, superior on the night, was in severe danger of losing at home to a team which hadn’t scored a try.
In the end, we got a minor classic, an excellent climax to a competition so dodgy that some New Zealand players took to telling a disinterested public that the Australian teams weren’t nearly as bad as their measly two home victories indicated.
In spite of itself, Super Rugby Trans-Tasman produced an excellent finale, stirred by a large and vibrant crowd.
As one of many old Auckland footy supporters who has had to live through decades of embarrassing Blues and Warriors performances, I felt shivers up the spine as fulltime approached and the players celebrated with so much joy. Wonderful stuff.
Normal service will resume next year. The Crusaders will come back better than ever. It also has to be said they did win the premier prize this year because they had to beat the best teams to lift the Aotearoa trophy.
There are five major reasons why the Crusaders will continue to win.
The first is Richie Mo’unga. He’s too good in current company. The only balancing factor would be Beauden Barrett finding his best form at the Blues. But I suspect the great man is past his prime. We shall see.
The second is the Crusaders squad, which is still the best in the country by far, with rising talent and quality test stalwarts.
The third is the New Zealand Rugby central contract system, which helps the rich (the excellent Crusaders) get richer by safeguarding All Black prospects. The loss of Gerard Cowley-Tuioti to Japan is a devastating blow to the Blues, as is the departure of Lachlan Boshier from the Chiefs and Michael Collins from the Highlanders. NZR should open the books and reveal what they spend on player wages at each franchise. That would put the Super Rugby matchups into interesting terms.
The fourth reason is this. A warning shot has been fired across the Crusaders’ bow, but they’ll hardly be shaking in their boots after watching the Trans-Tasman finalists struggle to put any attacks together under pressure.
The fifth reason: a mighty Argentinian named Pablo Matera is on his way to Christchurch. Scary.
The big winner from the final is…
…Pari Pari Parkinson. The giant Highlanders forward produced a very physical performance which marked him as – potentially – a fine All Black lock. Dalton Papalii also had a terrific game – the Blues loose forward looks world class as a blindside or openside flanker option.
Is it just me?
I’ve long believed the All Blacks missed a trick with Michael Collins. He hasn’t always done himself justice, but there is a creative class to his game which is rare. The 27-year-old Highlanders centre/utility is off to Ospreys, and looks a safe bet to make the Welsh squad.
Ash Dixon should have been red carded for his shoulder hit to Otere Black’s head. It was disgraceful. His on-field claim that it wasn’t malicious was nonsense on two fronts. Firstly, how do we know what was going on in his head?Secondly, intent is not the issue anyway. The only thing possible to judge properly is the act itself.
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