Hurricanes blow other sides off the park with thrilling rugby
OPINION: Times have changed to such a degree the Hurricanes are now the best show in town.
Their Super Rugby win last season seems to have ignited them to a new level.
In 1997 after a dull start, they ignited themselves similarly and we would career down in droves to watch their try-scoring blitzes at the dear departed Athletic Park.
Just imagine how potent this version would be if Manawatu's own Nehe Milner-Skudder was twinkling with them.
And yet their coach, Chris Boyd, seldom receives his dues for turning the show around, while sitting on an 80 per cent win record.
The Canes have this year scored more points than anyone (287). Their defence has conceded a mere 13 tries while they have scored 44. That's 28 more than the Highlanders, 16 more than the Crusaders and 11 more than second-placed Stormers.
Two years ago almost everyone was trying to avoid watching early-season Super Rugby; too soon, too much. Now the Canes have lit it up, spurting out miss passes, using every inch of the width of the field.
We all know about Beauden Barrett's gas but big-little brother Jordie, our Ngani Laumape and Matt Proctor have been firecrackers. Taranaki must be wondering about the wisdom of shipping out of the Hurricanes four seasons back.
At worst we hear Laumape might wear black on the end-of-season tour. He is having the same impact at the Canes as he had when he and Jason Emery mesmerised opponents in the Palmerston North Boys' High School first XV.
Manawatu's Otere Black resides behind Beauden Barrett and that can no longer be prosperous for his career. Barrett's not going anywhere so Black, off contract, must shift.
Right now with injuries and through lack of form, he would be the starting No 10 at any of the Highlanders, Blues or Crusaders.
Meanwhile, although all praise was heaped on the Highlanders for their win last Saturday, the Blues would have bolted in but for a rogue offload by skipper James Parsons and prop Sam Prattley failing to spot unmarked mates.
Winx and Waller hot stuff
All right, we have had the golf Masters, but what about another master with strong Manawatu connections?
My master of the week was Chris Waller, the Foxton-bred racehorse trainer who, with 120 horses in work, now has the biggest stable in Sydney, including super-mare Winx.
He arrived there in 1998 with one horse and has since won six straight Sydney premierships.
The Manawatu links remain. His parents, John and Marilyn, former farmers, reside out Awapuni way, of course.
Winx is of such rare class she should have caught everyone's imagination, even those from outside racing circles.
She caught mine on Saturday in her 17th win in a row. Jockey Hugh Bowman gave her but two whacks and Winx blew away the best weight-for-agers in Australia by 5.3 lengths, again.
With superstars like Winx, you make sure to watch every one of their races.
She has been ranked as the world's top-ranked turf horse. An Auckland physicist, Dr Graeme Putt, has calculated she makes 14 strides in five seconds near the end of her races against her rivals' 12.
Putt said other super sprinters have huge strides, such as Usain Bolt and Black Caviar, who had 8.42 metres. Winx's stride is only 6.7m.
Bowman usually settles Winx back in the middle of the field and then his blue hat comes flying while the others appear to be wearing concrete gumboots.
Waller has rested her after the win over 2000m at Randwick, but she will be back in the spring chasing her third Cox Plate and Black Caviar's 25 wins in a row. While Black Caviar was unbeaten through her career, Winx has had 21 wins and three placings from her 27 starts.
It was the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (prizemoney $4 million) that she won on Saturday, after which a breathless and bemused Bowman was asked what the Queen might have thought of Winx. It was a bit like asking the caretaker of Queen Elizabeth Park at Paekakariki what the venerable dowager over there in London was thinking of his gardening.
When Waller was at Foxton he had a reputation for being unassuming, conscientious and always likely to succeed. His wife Stephanie, a former Miss Horowhenua, was the same. They were an item from when they were 16-year-olds in Foxton.
Heathens wonder why a horse such as Winx doesn't saddle up in the Melbourne Cup. Well, she doesn't run that distance and being a mare that gets a couple of kilograms' weight relief, there are tons of weight-for-age races from which to cash in.
As in $13.89m so far. Not bad for a yearling with long back legs that cost $344,000 in 2013. On Saturday, Waller was quoted as saying Winx makes him look like a genius.
Take it: They don't come along often.