ANZ Stadium, Sydney, Australia – Saturday 2nd August 2014 – a Super Rugby final from the gods as the NSW Waratahs beat the Crusaders 33-32 in an amazing game that now sits proudly in my top three of rugby matches I have ever watched. However that is not the main focus of this blog. In a match full of top quality performances, the lack of, from two of, lets be honest, the greatest players ever to grace a Rugby field stood out.
Richard Hugh ‘Richie’ McCaw and Daniel William ‘Dan’ Carter, will always be New Zealand Rugby Union legends (actually Rugby Union legends), World Cup Winners, both have represented their countries at least 100 times (227 caps in total between the two players). Players who in the past regularly influenced the most important of matches, usually to the benefit of their team, however in this game, both were peripheral figures.
Dan Carter the highest points scorer in Super Rugby, the highest points scorer in International Rugby, a national icon who was cruelly injured during the All Blacks last World Cup campaign so could only watch on as his colleagues won the final. No one can doubt his quality, but at the moment he is seemingly struggling in games of this intensity. Unfortunately his contribution (from the inside centre position) to this final tended to be missed tackles as well as being trampled over by the Waratahs centres and forwards. He did knock over a conversion before injury ended his game after 31 minutes, with the Crusaders somehow only 17-10 behind, in a match in which they were clinging on after being overrun throughout the first half. Admittedly Carter was playing out of position (Colin Slade was in the fly half position and has been all season as Carter took a sabbatical away from Rugby Union), but for a player of his calibre he knows himself he should be performing better in matches of this stature. Because of his time away from the game and the fact that Slade has performed admirably in his absence, Carter was shunted into the centre by coach Todd Blackadder. In my opinion Slade was man of the match for the New Zealand team and stepped up to the plate even more once Carter went off, actually the whole Crusaders performance improved without him.
Richie McCaw was also non-existent throughout the first half (well apart from giving away penalties that is). This is the man who is probably the most influential international captain in Rugby Union history – 90 as captain (80 wins) – a leader amongst men, although not the skipper of the Crusaders (Kieran Read is) – he leads by example both on and off the pitch whether he has the armband or not. Unfortunately in this game his influence was not what it should be or what he would expect from himself. To be fair to him, he did improve (as the whole team did) and helped the Crusaders get to a winning position in the game when they led with only three minutes to go – however it was McCaw himself who gave away a last minute penalty, infringing at a ruck, which led to the Waratahs winning kick. Its amazing how these things work, the New Zealand captain making the error in Australia, much to the delight of most of the crowd, that leads to his team losing. I noted a tweet on my twitter feed commenting on his demeanour after the final whistle which said “Richie McCaw looks like he could do with a hug”. Now McCaw is getting on (he will be 34 on the 31st December), he is more injury prone nowadays, which has shown by a season interrupted by various knocks. Coach Todd Blackadder brought him back into the team, but in the number six blindside flanker position as youngster Matt Todd has been touted as the top New Zealand openside flanker (number seven) in New Zealand this Super Rugby season. Todd had a superb game, scoring a try that gave the crusaders a foothold, when it seemed they were going to be overrun massively by the Waratahs. Overall a disappointing game for McCaw who always expects to perform to the highest standards.
As we stand – Dan certainly is NOT ‘the man’. Maybes he is still getting back into the swing of things after his sabbatical, though his increasing susceptibility to injury in recent years is not going to help. Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett have performed very well when he has been absence and with Colin Slade showing his worth throughout the Super Rugby season, he knows he needs to up his game markedly to ensure a 2015 swansong. As for McCaw, his place is not up for debate, but you can bet your bottom dollar he will not be happy with how he performed in the final – even during the three test series against England he was not at his best. This man is probably the most popular person in New Zealand, with the job he has done as the captain of their Rugby Union team and the upcoming Rugby Championship has now become even more of a significance for this legend of the game. For both Daniel William and Richard Hugh they will be striving for a successful 2015 with a push for Super Rugby and World Cup titles, in what may well be their last year playing rugby at the highest level. Now that would be a way to go out.
ps In two weeks time (Saturday 16th August) – the best of Australia and New Zealand will meet again in the same stadium, this time as nations. Both McCaw and Carter (injury permitting) will be hoping to perform much better, in Carter’s case (if selected) so as to avoid two defeats in a row on Australian soil in such a short space of time. Let me tell you – its one game you do not want to miss, if you have the opportunity to watch. If it is half as good as the Super Rugby final, you will not be disappointed #rugbymatchesfromthegods
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