The Blues' worst enemies in their Super 15 game at Eden Park on Friday evening were, in order:
1. The Blues. If they managed to muster some confidence before they took the field, that was flushed away by the time they had handed two intercept tries to a mediocre Sharks side -- and bombed a couple of their own with hapless handling errors. If the forward pack sometimes looked dynamic, especially at set-piece, the backs looked scared to run from depth all night. Time and again, players caught the ball (or didn't) at a virtual standstill. They looked crushed.
2. Steve Walsh. Jesus, that was an awful refereeing performance. Walsh watched Sharks players flop over the ball all night. He dismissed the chance to go to the video referee after the crucial Sharks try when something -- it was evident 100 metres away in the stand -- was clearly amiss. Had he done so, the video replay would have clearly shown a knock on and the try would not have been awarded. And he let the Sharks' trainers amble on for a cup of tea while the players caught their breath FIVE times in the first half alone. On at least one occasion he forgot to blow time-off, so the clock ran down while they did it.
3. The Sharks. Who turned up and accepted enough of the opportunities their opposition offered to win the game. They were actually pretty awful.
But it goes further than that. There's a sense that the entire Blues organisation is defective. And that that reflects not only in what goes on on the field, but in the whole experience of going to see the team play at Eden Park. It's a shambles.
There have been three home games. At the first one, my season-ticket-holding buddies and I were denied entry by the man at a gate at the back of the ASB stand, near our seats. We walked down to the far end of the stand. Second time, there was a marshall at the gate prepared to admit us, but that was a bit of an ordeal, as the bar-code scanner was repeatedly defeated by the plastic sleeve in which season tickets have been issued. On Friday, arriving independently, I walked up to the ASB gate (helpfully removing my ticket from the plastic sleeve) to discover it was locked and there was no one there at all. I walked back.
As has been the case at every home game this season, the ground announcing was hopeless on Friday. Again, players came and went from the field without announcement -- sometimes because the mostly dreadful music was filling every second that the ball was not in play and apparently could not be interrupted. Even scoring announcements had to be delayed until play had started and the music had stopped. We are not children.
What we did hear were repeated, wearying exhortations for each side's supporters to cheer.
The half time break began with the ultimate offence against a home crowd: TV commercials played on the big screens while their nasty, compressed soundtracks blared over the PA system. That gave way to unfathomable half-time competitions. Or something. Nobody cared, really.
Auckland rugby used to do better than this years ago. Remember the Say Cheese Cheerleaders entering the ground on the backs of a fleet of Harley Davidsons, the whole stadium reverberating with the single-cyclinder throb of the bikes? (For that matter, remember the cheerleaders?) The parachutists? The Exponents playing?
If there's little sense of creativity, sophistication or innovation about the way the team is playing, there's no sense of it in what happens at the ground. It's as if they've messed up everything about a great venue that wasn't actually nailed down. But as Tim Murphy noted during the game, there is still time to crack down on dissenting fans:
That bad taste in your mouth isn't just the bloody awful beer they're serving.