Wilson: Competition is Super tight this year

JEFF WILSON
Last updated 05:00 30/03/2014

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OPINION: If we were looking for a game to ignite the Super Rugby season, the Hurricanes' upset of the Crusaders in Christchurch has well and truly lit the fuse.

Not only did it answer some major questions in regards to the Hurricanes, but the Crusaders, in their biggest test to date, came up well short. They have a lot to do now to continue their remarkable run of playoff appearances.

I've always believed in the Crusaders juggernaut, but it's now clear you simply can't underestimate the effect of two of the game's greats, Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, being absent.

Is this the equivalent of the Chicago Bulls running out without Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen? It certainly looks so.

It's important to look at the pressure the Hurricanes were under. This was a fantastic performance in a game of the highest quality. It was notable we didn't finish this game talking about scrums or referees. We were talking about end-to-end action, about drama, and about brilliant pieces of individual play.

This game showcased not just the intensity of an all-Kiwi conference "derby", but also a level of rugby absent for much of this competition's early stages.

The result reflects just where this competition is at. Has it ever been so competitive, so even across the board? It's no stretch to say that any number of teams, if they get the right amount of momentum, can make the playoffs.

Isn't this what we want in a competition? The Canes relegating the seven-time champs to the bottom of the New Zealand conference; the Rebels running down the Brumbies in Melbourne . . . are they even upsets?

It's going to be interesting to see where these two vastly different franchises go from here. The Crusaders would have headed to South Africa yesterday with a long list of concerns; the Hurricanes will look to use this confidence-boosting victory to turn their season around.

There has been a fair bit of frustration about New Zealand's teams' form this year - so much negativity that I wonder whether we expect them to be better than they really are.

We're coming off one of the great years in 2013, and how quickly we seem to have forgotten that. Yet, after little more than a month of Super Rugby, there's so much doom and gloom, and everyone seems to be asking what's going so wrong?

Maybe we need to understand how difficult it is tokeep being successful every year.

The Breakers basketball team are a great example of that. Some personnel changes, a coaching switch, and suddenly the chemistry is not quite right and everything gets turned on its head.

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It happens in sport.

I also wonder if we don't get too carried away with the pursuit of entertainment, and a beautiful fast, free-flowing game with plenty of tries. Sometimes in rugby that just doesn't eventuate.

At the moment we seem to be blaming scrums and referees.

But we're in the middle of an incredibly tight competition, and maybe we're going to see contests that aren't so free-flowing,; intense, physical battles in which each team cancels the other out.

It's time to take a breath. Yes, some people are under pressure; yes, we're not seeing a level of accuracy from New Zealand sides we're accustomed to.

But I refuse to believe there's a lack of intensity. This is professional sport. The opposition are of a high quality. And you have to factor in it's bloody hard to win on the road. There are no easy games any more ,and you only have to be 10 percent off and you are going to struggle.

All this talk about the scrum is interesting. Talking to people who know their stuff, they believe it's not that far away. The halfback controlling the put-in is part of the solution, but it won't stop one team dominating another if they're better at scrummaging.

Also, if we believed everything we read, you'd think every coach was about to be sacked. We're on very dangerous ground here if we start being so results-driven that a coach's future is determined only by wins and losses.

Coaches can go through difficult times but it's important not to over-react. This is not a competition where you have a lot of success. Sometimes, coaches, like players, learn more from losing than winning.

- Sunday Star Times

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