It’s hard to know what was worse for Hurricanes fans on Saturday night. The sight of their co-captains losing the plot completely, or the quotes from their rookie head coach afterwards?
Let’s deal with referee Mike Fraser quickly and then move on to the relevant part of the Blues’ 24-15 win over the Hurricanes at Sky Stadium.
I don’t care whether Fraser was right to brandish cards at Tyrel Lomax, Vaea Fifita and Jordie Barrett and I especially don’t care that New Zealand Rugby referees’ boss Bryce Lawrence later endorsed the sin bins and send-off. Lawrence single-handedly butchered more games of rugby than just about any referee in recent memory and is always going to side with officiousness.
What was actually interesting about the cards Fraser showed was how poorly the Hurricanes copped them. Captains TJ Perenara and Dane Coles quickly became incensed at the referee and the Blues and ceased to have any control over themselves or their team.
Number 8 Gareth Evans effectively took over, chaperoning Perenara during his conversations with Fraser and trying to convince the referee that the team remained of sound mind.
It’s just that as one card followed another, that became a harder and harder point to argue.
Coles is Coles. He exists on the edge and needs to, both for his sake and the team’s.
He’s also a man who’s been driven mad by the many injuries that have blighted the last three or four years of his career. When fit, Coles remains a quality contributor, but there is an element of him raging against the dying of the light.
Perenara, as we know, is an admirable man. A man whose greatest contribution to New Zealand will probably come when his playing days are over.
What that looks like, and exactly how he leads change in this country, remains to be seen, but you feel relatively confident Perenara will develop into a figure of real social significance.
In the meantime, though, he can be niggled on a rugby field and he can be distracted and can be consumed by settling scores and that’s what happened on Saturday.
But that’s not why the Hurricanes lost the game and nor was it the fault of Fraser’s cards.
The Hurricanes beat themselves because of their lazy gameplan and lack of thought. They assumed (wrongly) that, having run rings around the Sunwolves, they could be similarly careless against the Blues.
The Hurricanes showed no respect for possession, nor their opponents, and will lose plenty more Super Rugby games this season if they continue in that vein. Worryingly, there’s every indication that frivolous footy is their preferred method in 2020.
“The reality is, if we played 15 on 15, I think we win the game,’’ Holland said after the 24-15 defeat.
Again, I didn’t love seeing Fraser reduce the Hurricanes to 12 players, but I don’t quibble with his decision-making. My disappointment would be with the laws and the power that referees possess.
If I were to criticise Fraser, it would be for the shepherds he let the Blues get away with, the forward passes and the instances when chasers were in front of a kicker. Even if they’re not why the Hurricanes lost the game.
No, they did that all on their own because of their insistence on doing things easy.
There’s ambition and then there’s arrogance and complacency and the Hurricanes were definitely guilty of those. Of throwing the ball away without care for the repercussions and of assuming the Blues would be as bad as the Sunwolves had been the week before.
Worse, at a time when the team needed its leaders to take stock and find a less hazardous, more methodical way of accumulating points, the Hurricanes’ co-captains were at war with the referee and a variety of Blues.
But, hey, little wonder the players didn’t seek to change anything, when the head coach insists it was only the cards that cost the team victory.
Hurricanes’ coach Jason Holland answers questions from RugbyPass fans:
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