The end of week 8 and the Super 14 Table saw a bit of a shuffle with the Sharks losing their first match of the season to those never say die Brumbies – and the Crusaders edging their way into the top 4 with a convincing win over the Stormers at Jade Stadium. As far as the other New Zealand teams went (or didn’t go in the case of the hapless Hurricanes and Highlanders), the Blues continued to sparkle while the Chiefs managed to lift their rankings in a scrappy affair at Brisbane against the Queensland Reds.
The results from the eagerly anticipated return of the ‘chosen 22 All Blacks’ into their New Zealand franchises were mixed. The Crusaders found their rhythm eventually and toward the end of the game, they were purring in pure vintage Canterbury style. Daniel Carter to me looked like he had never been away. He set up two superb tires through his kicking in hand – and as usual, in the face of added pressure he predictably always attracts; looked as cool as a cucumber (thank god, he appears to have chucked those hair straighteners too).
The brilliant McCaw found himself bullied for the most part of the match from a number of borderline actions initiated by the talentless Stormers. Scaulk Burger (what an appropriate name for a meathead) was unfortunately not caught by the (myopic) ref and he managed to get away with all number of cheap shots on NZ's number one flanker. However, McCaw himself is probably not above the odd pot shot, and now an old, wizened campaigner, I think it will take more than a couple of attempted and botched spears by some inadequate rugby players to truly phase him.
The other game I viewed in the weekend were the Hurricanes Vs Lions in South Africa. Unfortunately Jerry, Rodney and co were well off the pace in their return match. Others that stood out for all the wrong reasons : Piri Weepu (although scoring a try and sporting a flash new haircut in the style of that other great mediocrity from the football code - Rio Ferdinand); didn't ignite anything special from the back of the pack. Along with his mate Jason Eaton (who was sent off for a blatent infringement due to his general lack of match fitness) and Andrew Hore (his record is forever tarnished to me over the seal incident - not to mention his crooked line out throwing), I can safely say that the Hapless Hurricanes would have done better if they had probably ignored including their returning All Blacks altogether.