Craig Dowd
Referees are ruining the game …
Craig Dowd
February 25, 2015
The ball is not coming out of the scrum quickly enough, Craig Dowd says © Getty Images

The scrummaging was a major disappointment for me last weekend, and the same view has been shared among close friends. Even my father turned off the Highlanders-Crusaders game because it was 20 minutes before the first complete scrum was achieved. That is for the ball to go in and come out so that some rugby could be played off it.

The scrums were diabolical in that game. The referees are ruining the game with what they are doing to the scrums. There's no contest going on anymore and it is just about looking for someone to infringe. It is only going to get worse and it is turning a lot of people off the game.

Travesty that Owen Franks did not see red

The Crusaders can count themselves lucky that the referee decided not to go upstairs and look at the Owen Franks incident in Dunedin because there is no way the prop should have stayed on the field. The Blues showed in South Africa how you are always going to struggle when you are reduced to 14 men, and the Crusaders should have faced similar difficult against the Highlanders. Whenever you target someone's head, regardless of whether it is forearm or fist, you have got to go. Getting off with one week's suspension amazed me.

When Franks had two cracks at it, he would have got six weeks had he used a closed fist; but he used a forearm which can do just as much damage to a guy's head.

We have all this talk and debate in the game about concussion, and I think it is a travesty that the judiciary let slide the opportunity to make an example of a frontline All Blacks player after he had targeted someone's head.

Franks got off lightly with two weeks so no message can be taken from his sentence. We are treating the situation too lightly. I would reiterate that we had a young player die of concussion not 12 months ago. We've got top-line All Blacks who are suffering from concussion and head injuries. So whenever you target someone's head, regardless of whatever body part you use, it has to be treated seriously.

Julian Savea makes space for himself © Getty Images

Hurricanes force: funny how the colour of the jersey can alter perceptions

Perhaps it says something about being a Hurricanes supporter, but to see comment in New Zealand this week that they would be 0-2 if the Lions had a decent goal-kicker and the Bulls had been helped by a TMO is negative in the extreme. Surely it is what is on the scoreboard at the end that matters; goodness knows the Hurricanes have been on the receiving end often enough.

To go to South Africa and come away with two wins is a great start to their season. When you look at the Hurricanes jersey and think about the team from previous seasons, you realise they are All Blacks from nine to 14: TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Julian Savea, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith and Cory Jane; that's an All Blacks backline. And Savea proved what absolute class he is by scoring that winning try against the Bulls: you don't even have to give him space these days; he will create it for you.

If you were in that Hurricanes forward pack, you would want to give the backs as much ball as possible because they are going to create stuff. Arguably, it is one of the best backlines in world rugby, certainly at non-international level, and it's funny how the colour of the jersey can alter perceptions; you don't expect that success of the Hurricanes yet you do of the All Blacks.

And looking at the Hurricanes' forward pack, there are no slouches there. They are good, hard-arsed toiling forwards. You can ask them to lay down a platform and give that backline some good ball, and there's no reason why the Hurricanes can't be there towards the end.

The Hurricanes pack are "good, hard-arsed toiling forwards" who lay down a platform © Getty Images

Just why the Hurricanes have been so inconsistent over the years is a difficult one to put your finger on; it is not something new. But for whatever reason in their past two games, they have gone away to South Africa and come away with two wins; they're doing something right this year.

I've said before that I think Chris Boyd had too much on his plate with last year in the ITM Cup. He's a good coach who just needs to concentrate on the one team he is dealing with, and I think we are seeing what he can do. And John Plumtree will get that forward pack cracking; he's a very good forwards coach so it is looking good for the Hurricanes especially having got their head start in South Africa. They are only going to improve, and winning is the best way of forming any culture.

It is easy to pull a team together when you are winning because everyone is feeling good about each other; if they can maintain the momentum they have got then it could be a big year for them.

That said, they have a potential banana skin when they play Western Force in Perth on Friday. To get this sort of a head start and not come away with a win there would put a bit of a dampener on things. But there're too many class players with good heads on them, and good leadership, and they will have targeted this game as one that could undo what they have done in the first two weeks.

The Hurricanes will return home with a fair chunk of their away games already done for the year, and with away games at home, it is not so hard to win against New Zealand sides; In New Zealand, we are all used to playing in each other's back yard, and most current All Blacks treat the major stadiums as their own stadiums anyway. Home games against other New Zealand teams are never a given but possibly you have to win those against the Australian and South African teams.

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