It wasn’t pretty but NZ teams come up trumps   28 Feb 2006

Ellie van Baaren

Round three was full of the unusual – Daniel Carter continued to make errors, Troy Flavell refrained from hitting anyone and John Mitchell publicly apologised. ELLIE VAN BAAREN looks at the latest on the Super 14 merry-go-round.

The new zealand teams ended last weekend with a clean sweep and though it may not have been pretty, or easy, even the Blues got points on the board.

The Blues ground out a 21-20 win over the Reds in Queensland, notable not only for the fact it was their first points on the Super 14 table this year, but also as they had never won in Queensland before.

The win means that coach David Nucifora can temporarily let his breath out, although not too far as this weekend they face the formidable challenge of the Crusaders at Jade Stadium.

The defending champions were not on particularly fine form themselves at the weekend as a Dan Carter dropped goal eventually shut out the Sharks at Timaru. Handling errors were once again in plentiful supply from the men in red, although this time they couldn’t blame Queensland’s humidity.

The Blues were boosted by the return of Troy Flavell at loose forward. The talented 29-year-old has been playing in Japan for the past three seasons after a career blighted by disciplinary and injury problems. Ahead of his third round start, Flavell had been talking up his change of attitude, insisting that although he is still a physical and aggressive player, he can stay within the rules.

Despite doubts, and Queensland players’ goading, Flavell avoided incident throughout the match, even when blatantly fouled in a lineout by Hugh McMenamin. But it’s going to take more than one clear match to re-cast him in the mind of the public and the opposition.

All Blacks coach Graham Henry will be keeping a close eye on Flavell. He’s always been a fan of Flavell, even trying to get him out of his Japanese contract early to be available for national selection. If he keeps his nose clean he will definitely be back in black for the mid-year internationals.

The Hurricanes continued their good start to the season, however they begin their mini-tour of South Africa this weekend minus captain Rodney So’oialo after he and Paul Tito were suspended for a week for stomping.

The loss of Tito is not to dramatic given the form of Jason Eaton and Luke Andrews but So’oialo is another matter. Thomas Waldrom is not yet up to par for this level and in the capacity of captain, the Wellington team are running a little light.

Former captain Tana Umaga would be the obvious choice however, he has made it quite clear he wants to take a back seat this season. Joe McDonnell, Jerry Collins and Andrew Hore have all captained the team during trial matches or at provincial level, but none of them can match Umaga.

And the Wellingtonians will need strong leadership if they are to win against current Currie Cup champions, the Cheetahs. They may be the new boys, but they are nowhere near as weak as the Western Force, and they didn’t go down to the Highlanders without a fight.

The Western Force are now the only team with no points beside their name. Coach John Mitchell publicly apologised for the team’s abysmal performance in front of their home crowd and so he should. We’re not just talking inexperience any more, the team on Saturday showed complete tactical ineptitude. They have a bye this weekend and Mitchell and his coaching team had better put some serious heads together if he is to avoid having another sacking on his résumé. There may be more room for a wobbly patch, but the Force will need to start winning now if they want to be anywhere near the final four in May.

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