By The Spotter
The Hurricanes-Chiefs quarter-final last night had a myriad of interesting story-lines, not least Beauden Barrett (how many times have I typed his name? I’m losing count), continuing his Roy of the Rovers exploits through the recent history of Rugby Union. (from the old ‘Tiger’ comics- they were popular here, also).
The match highlight was the compelling battle between the respective second five-eighths, Ngani Laumape and Charlie Ngatai. In boxing parlance, Laumape took the spoils by way of a unanimous decision. That aside, Ngatai was extremely immense within his own team. Witness how many times he tried everything to find a way through, over and around that insanely-talented back division the Canes possess. Ngatai is a clever ball player, there’s no doubt- he often puts others through gaps or shimmies through them himself, but there was nothing doing out there at Westpac. It definitely wasn’t for a lack of trying on his behalf though.
Damian McKenzie’s natural instinct is to take on the line, which he did do, maybe too injudiciously at times when he held on for a bit too long or tried the miracle off-load. The result was that Ngatai was less effective; usually when he received the ball he was surrounded by a crowd of hungry Canes defenders. Such was the intensity of the match that when the tackles were made, they were frequently full and very final. So Ngatai effectively faced a roadblock every time.
I see Charlie Ngatai as uncommonly good. He will be a sad loss to the Chiefs and NZ Rugby. Do not forget just how versatile he was, too. French Rugby will be better for having him. Hopefully he can avoid any more terrible concussions. That’s the worrying thing.
Then there was Laumape. What to say? Powerful, smart and devastating. Palmerston North torpedo sinks Hamilton craft. Amazing to think he only came over to Union a few seasons ago.
SBW’s grip on that All Blacks’ number twelve jersey just got a bit tenuous. If Laumape continues that form next week, he could just be the front runner for the internationals. An All Blacks midfield of Laumape and Crotty does sound pretty inviting. In this age of style over substance and intrinsic marketing values however, Laumape will find it hard to unseat the one of NZR’s golden eggs in SBW. That may be drawing a slightly long bow, but it could be closer to the truth than we care to think.
Laumape is certainly no one-trick battering ram. He is very smart at choosing the right option (and that is extra impressive considering his short history). He also has quite the genial kicking game when he chooses to use it.
The first-half play when Ngatai charged full-on into Laumape in the shadows of the Chiefs’ posts, only for Laumape to cart him back and all the while hold him upright to win the maul penalty, was scary. In fact, in the course of the match I counted at least five defenders he steamrolled straight over a la Jonah-Mike Catt- without quite that carnage, but close to. Including Allardice, the rugged lock.
it was a case of farewell to Charlie, welcome back Ngani.
email@example.com (Paul M)