“THE FINAL AUCKLAND BLUES 45 NATAL 21
At Eden Park, Auckland, 25 May
Auckland Blues coach Graham Henry pinpointed the planning and execution of events against Natal in the round-robin fixture at Durban a fortnight earlier as the key to his team’s triumph in the inaugural Super 12 final.
‘If we hadn’t won at Durban,’ said Henry, ‘we would have been playing our sem-final back there seven days later, and I don’t believe we would have won the title in those circumstances.’ The 30-23 win in Durban was a masterpiece of strategic planning, which carried over into the final at Eden Park.
Henry had identified line-out specialists Mark Andrews and Steve Atherton, running fly half Henry Honiball and multi-talented fullback André Joubert as the greatest threats to his team. So he devised special tactics to neutralise them. The Blues forwards didn’t jump on Natal’s line-out throws (commonplace now, but revolutionary in 1996), stopping Natal’s powerful forward drives. And Michael Jones was deployed to close down Honiball.
The tactics worked stunningly in Durban and, while modified for Eden Park, ensured Ian McIntosh’s high-flying Natalians, a team chock-full of Springboks, never got a sniff of victory. Only late in the first spell, when Natal bounded back from 3-20 to a half-time score of 16-20, were the Natalians genuinely competitive. But two Blues tries immediately after half-time soon had Henry’s men in charge again.
An analysis of the statistics would never lead one to believe the Blues won this game by six tries to two. Through the mighty leaping of Andrews and Atherton, Natal claimed the line-outs 18-7, while the penalty count favoured the visitors 18-10.
So how did the Natalians finish so far adrift? Answer: because of the attacking genius of players like Jonah Lomu and Carlos Spencer, the ferocious defence of “Iceman” Jones the inventiveness of Henry’s side and the alarming number of turnovers made by Natal.
The Blues’ originality was never better exemplified than in the creation of their first try, one sweetly finished off by Andrew Blowers. When Lomu was moved into the line-out, it was obvious where the ball would be thrown. Well, that’s what the Natalians thought. But Sean Fitzpatrick caught them napping by throwing short to halfback Junior Tonu’u. He flicked the ball back to Fitzpatrick, who burst along the sideline and set up the try for Blowers.
The Blues’ aggressive defence stung Natal. Jones, Blowers and Zinzan Brooke, regularly working in pairs, halted many of Natal’s budding attacks. It was vintage Jones, a performance to rank with some of his mightiest displays of the 1980s, and it won him the man of the match award.
The superstar of the backline was Lomu, who blitzed Joubert in scoring his try and caused the visitors endless problems throughout.
FOR AUCKLAND BLUES: Tries by Andrew Blowers 2, Jonah Lomu, Eroni Clarke, Carlos Spencer and Charles Riechelmann; 3 conversions and 3 penalty goals by Adrian Cashmore.
FOR NATAL: Tries by André Joubert and James Small; conversion and 3 penalty goals by Henry Honiball.
AUCKLAND BLUES: Adrian Cashmore, Joeli Vidiri, Eroni Clarke, John Ngauamo, Jonah Lomu, Carlos Spencer, Junior Tonu’u, Zinzan Brooke (captain), Andrew Blowers, Michael Jones, Charles Riechelmann (replaced by Jason Chandler), Robin Brooke, Olo Brown, Sean Fitzpatrick, Craig Dowd.
NATAL: André Joubert, James Small (replaced by Joost Joubert), Jeremy Thomson, Dick Muir, Cabous van der Westhuizen, Henry Honiball, Kevin Putt (replaced by Robert du Preez), Gary Teichmann (captain), Wickus van Heerden (replaced by Dieter Kriese), Wayne Fyvie, Steve Atherton, Mark Andrews, Adrian Garvey, John Allan, Ollie le Roux.
REFEREE: Wayne Erickson (Australia) CROWD: 46,000
Twentv-four of the 29 players who made appearances for the Auckland Blues in 1996 scored points for their team.
Three South African teams, Western Province, Transvaal and Northern Transvaal, had the dubious distinction of landing more penalty goals than they managed tries in the first season of Super 12. The only other team to finish in the negative was bottom-placed Canterbury Crusaders.”
From: “SANZAR SAGA TEN YEARS of SUPER 12 and TRI_NATIONS RUGBY” by Bob Howitt. Published 2005 by HarperCollinsPublishers (New Zealnd) Ltd. Pp 32-3.