Critics clash: All Black basher Stephen Jones’ bizarre claim is crushed

Arch All Black critic Stephen Jones has trouble finding much good in New Zealand rugby.

And now the Sunday Times rugby writer has put the boot into the mighty Crusaders by declaring a couple of British club teams as the best non-test sides in the sport.

Putting his hyperbole into overdrive, Jones has compared this weekend’s Champions Cup final between Leinster and Saracens to “Ali-Foreman, Federer-Nadal in their career pomp, it is Messi v Ronaldo”.

“Has there ever been a bigger club rugby match staged anywhere at any time than the Leinster-Saracens Heineken Champions Cup final in Newcastle on Saturday?”, he asks.

To take his rhetorical question seriously, the answer must surely be yes. For starters, the 1998 Super Rugby final between the Crusaders and Blues was pretty good.

Jones, the man who loves to wind New Zealand rugby up, has spun himself in knots, declaring: “Leinster and Saracens are the two best non-international teams in the sport.

“No team in Super Rugby comes close.”

Ali v Foreman, Federer v Nadal, Messi v Ronaldo, Stephen Jones v Reality…these certainly are some of sport’s most famous contests.

A match between the Crusaders and one of the European heavyweights would be a great tussle, and it is hard to predict a winner.

But to suggest that the double Super Rugby champions — with a test tight five and plenty of others from the world champion All Blacks — aren’t close to Leinster or Saracens is pure Stephen Jones.

Jones’s alleged views are in stark contrast to those of former England back Stuart Barnes, a long time admirer of New Zealand rugby who was wowed by the Super Rugby encounter between the Highlanders and Chiefs.

Barnes, another Times writer, sees the beauty of New Zealand rugby, and also ways to beat it.

“At its best, Saturday morning in Dunedin, the speed of the game is light years ahead of European intensity,” wrote Barnes, also a Sky Sports commentator.

“Leinster and Saracens are fine teams but neither would relish the overdrive element of last Saturday.

“…examine New Zealand’s win-loss ratio since the format of Super Rugby was introduced…look at the destination of World Cup winners.

“To win the World Cup, the yardstick for every team is to possess a side capable of beating the All Blacks.

“You either match them at their game or confront them with an alien style of rugby. When the Rebels from Australia tightened their game and drove aggressively around the fringes, they threatened to blow away Hurricanes.

“Admittedly this was not test rugby but there were vague echoes to the “one-out” way — with players offering themselves to carry the ball straight from the scrum half — England created chaos against New Zealand for 25 minutes at Twickenham last November before losing by a point.

“South Africa, who beat the All Blacks 36-34 in Wellington, also played it tighter, narrowed the channels of attack and shrunk the width of the pitch. Wide pitches work in favour of wizardry and none possess wizards like Beauden Barrett and his boys.”

Barnes’ evaluation of veteran England prop Dan Cole — who has dropped behind the impressive Kyle Sinckler in the front row pecking order — is priceless.

“Yes, the 31-year-old Leicester tight-head prop is a decent set-piece technician but New Zealand are not going to fall because Cole drives their loose-head into the ground,” Barnes writes.

“Imagine trying to beat New Zealand with the equivalent of only 14 players around the field. That is what Cole offers: a negative impact as a ball-carrier and a proven penalty threat — to his own side — at the breakdown.

“I haven’t seen an England tight-five forward so ill-equipped for carrying since Steve Borthwick, his international forwards coach, was the captain.

“Cole probably watches Super Rugby from behind his sofa. The concept could petrify. Sinckler would be a Super Rugby sensation. He plays with the pace and dynamism needed to win a World Cup.”

Barnes questioned where the “psychologically influential but physically limited” Kiwi Dylan Hartley should fit in England coach Eddie Jones’ plans.


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Publish date : 2019-05-06 20:53:11

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