All Black fan Tim Cronin from RugbyShirts.net clicks into 2012 review mode…
As the end of the year draws near, and with little rugby being played in the Southern Hemisphere at the moment, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on some of the key moments from the year, from a one-eyed Kiwi perspective.
So here are the 5 moments which I found particularly significant this year –
#5 – Blues Hit All-Time Low : Despite the Crusaders’ unparalleled record, the Blues still hold a place in New Zealand Rugby fans’ minds as the real trail-blazers of Super Rugby; a team that for the first few years of the competition seemed unbeatable, and who were the first team, possibly anywhere in the world, to really embrace professionalism.
There have been ups and downs for them over the last couple of decades, but 2012 was a new low, with the Blues slumping to their worst finish in Super Rugby history. There have been years when they underperformed before, but this felt different – in previous years when they have struggled they’ve still had the personnel to suggest a change in fortunes is just around the corner. This year, regardless of the fact they represent New Zealand’s biggest city and have an enormous catchment area compared to any other Kiwi franchise, they had no depth, none of the remarkable young talent we’ve come to associate with Auckland Rugby, and, most significantly, very little resolve.
John Kirwan’s squad for 2013, selected on the back of a number of key players leaving the area in search of greener pastures, features a host of inexperienced players, and for the first time in their history the Blues are starring down the barrel of a challenge which doesn’t look to have an easy fix.
#4 – Crusaders Fall Short…Again : Sure, compared to almost every side in the Super XV we Crusaders fans have little to complain about, but for the 4th consecutive year Todd Blackadder’s men managed to qualify for the business-end of the season but fail to convert it in to another title.
Like a race driver that regularly qualifies on pole position but continually fails to win a race, the Crusaders have displayed a strange inability in recent years to get over the finishing line. It’s not as though they are grossly underperforming like the Blues, but the patience of the powers-that-be must be starting to wear pretty thin with Blackadder’s sides’ ‘so-near-but-so-far’ performances, and I can’t help but think heads will roll if the same occurs in 2013.
#3 – Wallabies Woes A Blessing in Disguise? : It was a tumultuous year for Australian Rugby, with Robbie Deans constantly eyeing up the unemployment queue as calls for his head grew louder and louder, fuelled by several senior members of his side. His cause wasn’t helped by an almost unprecedented string of injuries to critical members of his side.
But there was without doubt a silver lining to be had – Australian rugby is notorious for lacking depth, but this year Deans was forced to blood new talent and expose young, promising players to International rugby much earlier than he normally would have. The upshot will be a much more well-rounded squad in the future, and if the Wallabies can manage to finish second in the Rugby Championship and win 3 from 4 on a European tour when injury ravaged and with dissention in the camp, imagine what they can do when their stars return and the team actually gels. They will be a force to be reckoned with in 2015.
#2 – Canterbury Establish a Genuine Dynasty: The Canterbury ITM Cup side truly came out of the shadow of the great Auckland sides of the 80s and 90s this year by becoming the first side ever to claim 5 consecutive National Provincial Championships.
Despite the loss of Head Coach Rob Penney the introduction of new coaches Tabai Matson and Scott Robertson was a seamless one and the red and blacks continued to play a brand of rugby which was innovative, skilful, and simply too slick for anyone else in New Zealand rugby. Their record-making win in this year’s ITM Cup should erase any doubts whatsoever that Canterbury are doing something special, and the culture they’ve created is still the driving force behind New Zealand rugby.
#1 – England Come of Age! : Yes, it was only one game; yes, the English failed to beat South Africa and Australia in the weeks leading up to their clash with the All Blacks, and no, the world didn’t end in New Zealand with our loss at Twickenham.
But I can’t help but think that game was a huge turning point for the English, whose young side holds so much promise and potential. Single results can be all the catalyst that is needed to instil self-belief and confidence in a team, and those feelings will be over-flowing at English Rugby head-quarters at the moment.
In the history books it will be a match that means little, but in terms of momentum it could well spark something magnificent in English rugby in the next 2-3 years, and, should they prevail in the 2015 World Cup I wouldn’t be surprised if they credit that win against the ABs with creating the impetus they needed to conquer the world.
Tim Cronin is a Rugby fan and full time writer based in the rubble of the Canterbury Crusaders’ home town, Christchurch. Tim is a part of the Pukeko Sportsteam, where his role is watching, writing, and complaining about all things rugby.