TMO assistance helped Blues defy critics
February 28, 2013
Conrad Smith has been cleared for the Hurricanes, but Jeff Wilson thinks the Reds will have their measure. © Getty Images
By the letter of the law, Television Match Official (TMO) Vinny Munro got it right when Blues wing Frank Halai was sin-binned for tipping the ball over the dead-ball line against the Hurricanes in Wellington. But that tells me there is something wrong with the law.
If it is an act of foul play, or a professional foul, it is an automatic yellow card. But the laws say you have to take the player out of the equation in making the decision about awarding a penalty try. And if you take Halai out completely then Hurricanes wing Julian Savea probably would have scored.
However, they were both running back at full speed and they both played at the ball with one hand. So the question to be asked is if Savea played at the ball and knocked it forward, as happens in the field of play so often resulting in yellow cards, would he have been sin-binned in the same incident?
I don't think Frank Halai was deliberately pushing the ball dead. I think it was the contact that caused that to happen. That was actually a turning point in the game because it worked in reverse and they got better.
It's clear the Blues are a different team this year after their win over the Hurricanes, and some pre-season critics will be rethinking their stance. The grit and steel they showed after losing Halai to the sin-bin was impressive. That usually comes down to the quality people they have in their environment, and there are some quality guys in the management team and two rugby knights - Sir John Kirwan and Sir Graham Henry - on the mentoring front to help instil belief.
The Crusaders will go to Auckland with an imposing forward pack, but a week behind in match fitness after the bye and they will find a Blues team with extra belief. With the strength the Blues have in their backline with Francis Saili, Rene Ranger and Charles Piutau, there is the need for the Crusaders to contain them or they will be exposed.
This is a great opportunity for Blues captain Ali Williams to show exactly where he is at as a rugby player given he is up against two All Blacks locks in Sam Whitelock and Luke Romano.
The Highlanders are left with plenty to ponder over the bye weekend after the defending champions, the Chiefs, proved to everyone they were right on top of their game and they have the depth and necessary talent to give it a good nudge again this year.
What their success proved, with Tim Nanai-Williams moving to centre and fielding a rookie hooker in Rhys Marshall - who hadn't even played ITM Cup rugby - is their coaches have an unbelievable ability to get the players to do what is required from whatever position. The coaching staff and the organisation itself have a real clarity about what they need to do.
It's quite evident the Chiefs are well prepared, in good condition, and ready for a big year and that is what the Cheetahs, who are the most un-South African-like team with their ability to run the ball from anywhere, will find this weekend.
It's great for the Hurricanes that their captain Conrad Smith has recovered as they will face a real challenge against Queensland Reds. The Reds are back to their winning ways and playing good footy, and the Hurricanes need to bounce back from a disappointing performance against the Blues. I'm picking the Reds to take it.
In other major news from New Zealand rugby this week, it seems the Northern Hemisphere scouts aren't just satisfied with denying Richard Kahui to the All Blacks, with Rene Ranger now in sight of at least one French Top14 club and open to a move overseas. New Zealand rugby continues to be challenged by the loss of experienced players, and so far the depth has been able to replace these players, but how long can it continue before there is nothing left in the barrel?
Hurricanes upset by the Blues in round one (Australia only).
© ESPN Australia/New Zealand
Following the passing of Jack Kyle, Huw Richards pays tribute to arguably the finest player Ireland has produced
"When Mike Burton was sent off I thought the world had gone crazy - just Pommy bashing, hitting anyone." Behind the Rose heads back to 1975
The time for tinkering is over - England must nail their colours to the mast in key positions, writes Phil Vickery
"New Zealand-born Joe Schmidt has forged the Irish into a street-smart, well- prepared side," John Mitchell on the Irish renaissance