In the opening round of this years Super 14 it was two centres that really stood out.
Firstly to Stirling Mortlock’s match winning performance for the Brumbies against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday night. Down 19-0 after as many minutes, and the Brumbies were in trouble. Up steps Mortlock. After 25 minutes with a nicely angled run Mortlock scores and by half time they are back in it. After the break he scores again, then later sets up Gerard with a perfectly timed pass who also dots down. Sure the Highlanders came back and very nearly snatched it but Mortlock was the games dominant figure.
Okay, he is probably best known here for scoring THAT intercept try against the All Blacks in the World Cup Semi Final of 2003 (thanks Carlos) but its high time we gave the guy some credit. If you have ever seen Mortlock play live you will know what I’m talking about. Fast, powerful, a great tackler and an incredibly hard runner,he is as good a centre as you’ll get and how the All Blacks could have down with someone like him over the past few seasons.
SinceTana Umaga retired at the end of the 2005 season we have
really struggled to fill the number 13 shirt successfully. Richard Kahui looks the goods but has had injury problems, as has Conrad Smith, which brings me neatly to the weekend’s other stand out performer, one Casey Laulala.
If Mortlock was the dominant figure in Friday’s game then Laulala was equally valuable in the Crusaders win over the Chiefs. He beat Dwayne Sweeney almost at will and has managed to eliminate simple errors from his game. For example he was prone to losing the ball in the tackle and for cutting back in when he had unmarked players outside him. His defence was a also a little shaky. He seems to have improved greatly in all these areas.
Laulala was also involved in the games best move that didn’t result in a try. The ball was moved to midfield where Laulala, with players around him, shapes to set the ball up, however he neatly slips a pass to McCaw who gallops 30 metres up field only for the move to break down. No matter, in this one movement you could see that he is now a senior member of the Crusaders back line and like Stanley and Bunce getting better with age. Let’s not forget he is only 27.
If he can show this form during the remainder of the Super 14 season he must be in line for an All Black recall and hopefully this time Henry and co. will give him more than one test to prove himself. It would be a novel idea to have at least two specialist centres in our squad for the 2011 Rugby World Cup and I’m saying Laulala should be one of them.
Either that or we can put a fullback there as has become our habit.
– Al Cain