As I'm sure you all know the Canes are entering season 2005 without a recognised 1st 5/8. Just when we look like we've finally got our tight fowards in some sort of reasonable shape, I can really see this being our downfall.
1st 5/8 is the most important position on the field. Yes, as a group the forwards are more important, but the most important single position is #10. That's why some call it "pivot".
When was the last time any team won anything without a really good first five? Super 12 titles have been shared between the Crusaders, Blues and Brumbies... that's Mehrtens, Spencer and Larkham. Who had the best first five at the last world cup? England. Who won the world cup? Don't remind us...
The problem isn't that there aren't any first fives around the place - there are plenty. The Crusaders have three wonderful players stashed away - Aaron Mauger, Dan Carter and Andrew Merhtens, while the Blues have Spencer and McAlistair in the keep.
What does that leave the Hurricanes with? Riki Flutey who has a party trick of doing Greg Norman impersonations & generally making a prat of himself and Jimmy Goperth who has hardly played anything above club footy.
Now it could be that Goperth is the next big thing, but I'm not holding my breath.
I've got no idea how he plays, but I am guessing that initially at least he'll be below Flutey in the pecking order. The Hurricanes start off with 3 away games against the Reds, Sharks and Cats. Unless the rest of the team can somehow play out of their skin, I fear that Flutey will find a way to stuff it up and the season could be over before it's begun.
I'm sorry if it sounds like I have no faith in Flutey, but he's like Carlos Spencer without the flashes of brilliance. How he's stuck around for so long eludes me.
But why has it come to this? In a year where we're playing the Lions in a 3 test series, as well as a Tri-Nations and Bledisloe campaign to win, why have two of our Super 12 teams got the 5 best #10s?
The trouble with New Zealand rugby is we're too provincial. We put too much importance on the Super 12. For some reason we have come to see it as the be-all and end-all of rugby - and consequently we've got a fantastic record in it. We've won it 7 out of 9 times and usually have 2 or more teams in the top 4 - but 20 years from now, who will really care? Why can't we view it as the money-spinning festival that it is and use it to develop our players for the All Blacks which must be the ultimate goal.
We don't need to be silly about it - no need to reshuffle the lists every year. But we should see that the best 5 in every position are given the chance to start in 5 teams instead of the hoarding that goes on now.
In practical terms this means that instead of each team naming a list of 26 "protected" players, it should be more like 15. Every Super 12 team gets to name their best player in every position at the start of the year and everyone else goes to the draft, and from there the others are divvied up to make a more even spread of talent and at the same time prevents our best players from getting splinters in the bum.
Is there a touch of Hurricanes self-interest here? Absolutely! But I'm not asking you Cantabs to give us McCaw or Jack or Carter... just lend us Merhts or Mauger for a season or two. Spare us all from seeing the gumbies we've got at the moment running the Hurricanes backline...