Friday, 8 July 2011

Super Rugby


Carter, the old master               Cooper, the pretender

Battle of the fly-halves.

Dan Carter, aged 29, heads and shoulders above his peers at the No. 10 position for the best part of 5 years now. In world rugby, he’s been there, done that and got the t-shirt. He has the highest points total in Super Rugby and the highest average points per Test match in the world.

Quade Cooper, 22, is the young gun, trying to take the master’s throne. He has an embarrassing amount of confidence to go with his sumptuous talent. One moment in last weekend’s semifinal against the Blues is apt to summarize the phenomenon that is Quade Cooper: he picked up an aimless Blues kick from his own half, swatted Blues back Lachie Turner like a fly; ever so gingerly, stepped round ‘Smoking Joe’ Rockokoko, engaged one more Blues defender before beautifully offloading to a teammate for the easy score. His play was so brilliant; he was a Twitter top trend for the entire weekend. There’s also the small matter that he is the leading points scorer in this year’s competition.

Both players are supremely talented playmakers with the ability to change the course of a game with a stroke of magic. Cooper, like most brash young men, has his moments of over-confidence. On occasion, he can take on all comers, or throw some audacious passes. They’re brilliant when they come off but could lead to disaster at the highest level. Carter may have the edge here, with a more experienced head on his shoulders. From the talent standpoint, there seems to be little to split these two.

The one thing that could make a difference in this battle is the goal kicking statistics. Carter has goal kicking down to a tee – literally. This partly explains his points stats. Cooper is somewhat erratic in this department. One fine Saturday, he kick 9 of 10, another weekend, his radar will completely be off and he’ll miss penalties which he would normally make in his sleep. This is, of course, offset by his other-worldly ability on many a night. The result could hinge on whether the radar is on or off.

That Cooper will dethrone Carter is as inevitable as Nadal dethroning Federer was. No one cheats Father Time. The question is; will this be the game in which Carter passes the torch; or will he hold on for year or so. This could also be instructive as to which team between the Wallabies and the All-Blacks gets the edge at the World Cup later in the year.

Other factors.

This being a team sport, the final can’t possibly hinge on the fly-half battle, other factors have to come into play. There are key tactical battles all over the park: The Crusaders experienced and wily pack has the edge over the younger Queensland side.  Will Genia will fancy his chances at scrumhalf against the Crusaders’ Andy Ellis/ Kahn Fotuali’i.

Sonny Bill Williams could also have a say on which way this final swings. The All Black centre is an absolute beast. He is 6ft 3in and 110kg.  He tackles hard, runs hard into contact and creates line breaks galore. Most impressive, is his knack for offloading perfectly in the tackle. The Reds backs have to be wary of him at all times.

Lost in all this fanfare is the fact that the man considered the best open side flanker, and by some as the best player in the world- ‘Chuck Norris’ Richie McCaw is back. After being plagued by injury for the last months of the competition, he finally logged  a full 80 minutes in the semifinals against the Stormers. He should be raring to go for this one.

Who wins this one?

The Reds will be at home and it will be a tough ask for the Crusaders. The New Zealanders have played all their games ‘away’ from home this season due to the earthquake that hit their Christchurch hometown earlier in the year so being the away team shouldn’t intimidate them too much. The Reds, on the other hand, will be looking to grab the trophy for their long suffering fans who saw them through some lean times.

I see the Crusaders winning this one by the skin of their teeth. A combination of experience, pedigree and the emotion of winning for the people of Christchurch should be enough to see them through. It will be close though     

Fun facts.

Quade Cooper was arrested and charged with one count of the buglary of a residence in Australia. The charges were later dropped amid insinuations of being high on sleeping pills.

Sonny B. Williams moonlights as a heavyweight boxer.

This is Sonny Bill, relaxing!

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