Getting Closer

Jason Little | Monday, 2 June 2008 6:00 AM |

With the Super 14 semi finals drawing upon us, it is again another tight finish for three of the four spots.

As usual, the Crusaders have dominated the number one spot for the year, in some circumstances even fielding a second or third string side! Strangely this is a positive for Australian rugby, the Crusaders coach and new Wallabies coach, Robbie Deans who is continuing his strong record, not that he needs to justify his Australian appointment.

Other coaches have not been so lucky. With the Waratah’s second on the table, the axing of Ewen Mackenzie earlier in the season stumps me.

However the predictability of the appointment of his replacement being played out in the press is no surprise and is not a good reflection on the NSW Rugby Union. If the next coach does not receive more support, will we start resembling the NRL with their revolving door coaching circus?

Leaving town

The trend of players from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa who continue to take up large overseas contracts in the UK, France and also Japan is a major concern, with a record number of top line players set to depart when the Super 14 concludes.

There is talk of Daniel Carter taking up a contract for a figure of €1.5 million (A$2.5 million) per season to play in France. With the incumbent All Black five-eight Nick Evans already signed to play in the UK, these must be worrying signs for New Zealand rugby. After taking huge strides this year under new coach Phil Mooney, the Reds will also lose their fair share of players.

Queensland will again need to rebuild from scratch which is a sad reflection for a team that was once a dominant and feared rugby institution. How can one team lose at least five world class players including the great Chris Latham? The Australian Rugby Union and the State Unions need to work together and address this issue sooner rather than later or we could be back to where we were in 2007.

The younger the better

On a positive note, it is exciting to see the depth of young talent which is on offer this year; all teams are continuing to roll out younger and younger players who all can play an exciting and fearless style of rugby.

The inside backs for Australia will have some strong talent and competition for the years ahead with both the Tahs and the Force unleashing their school boy stars in Rob Horne and James O’Conner being 18 and 17 years old respectively.

O’Conner, who debuted for the Force, has played with the maturity, vision, talent and aggression of a player many years his senior, not bad for the youngest ever Super 14 debutant.

Add his name to Beale, Horne, Cooper and Barnes all coming through, and we are well positioned to go through to the next world cup with lots of talent and by then with the key ingredient: experience.

It is also fantastic to see the performance of Lote Tuqiri this year. It is amazing the inverse correlation between Lote’s media exposure and his rugby performance. Let’s hope we don’t see him in any papers for the rest of the year.

Jason Little is general manager – Australia at Goodman International

Jason Little | Monday, 2 June 2008 6:00 AM |