29 Aug

Your number is up… (Match Review – SA v NZ)
by Tracey Nelson
29 Aug 2000

If there is one thing that really, REALLY annoys me about the modern game of rugby, it’s what I call Fatties in the Backline. Over the past three or four seasons it’s become endemic in New Zealand rugby, and on Sunday we saw a full display of it from the All Blacks as they totally humiliated themselves by letting in six tries in going down 40-46 against a rampaging Springbok team.

You all know what I mean by fatties in the backline – it’s those no-necked blokes (who are supposed to be getting stuck in to the hard grunt and securing good ball possession) that turn up in the middle of the field, or worse yet out on the wing, and drop the pass from the second five. Or they try to intercept and knock-on the long pass your 1st 5 is trying to get out to his winger.

I’m not going to mince my words. Carl Hoeft would be the laziest prop I’ve ever had the misfortune to see in the black jersey. Kees Meeuws isn’t much better. Anton Oliver I will cut a little slack to, because at least he puts his body on the line, but he’s still part of the front row unit and collectively they suck. Big time.

What was needed to beat the Boks in the weekend was a big effort from our tight five to secure some good possession, and ensure that our backs had clean, fast ball to play with. Instead, we hardly had any ball at all for the first 35 minutes of the game as the Boks rattled up four tries and made our defence look like bone china in an earthquake. Instead of having their heads down and bums up working hard to get the ball, we had two props standing off doing nothing except miss tackles as the Bok backs ran past them with glee.

I think it comes down to mindset, and Hoeft and Meeuws just don’t have it. They don’t have the aggressive, take-no-prisoners approach we’ve long held as synonymous with All Black props. They seem to think it’s not their role to do the hard work, and I actually saw them standing off and letting Mehrtens go in to fight for the ball in a maul at one stage of the game. To me that is the ultimate disgrace for a prop – to let a back do his job for him, particularly one the size of Mehrts.

When your front row isn’t doing the work, that means your locks end up doing it, which in-turn means the loosies end up having to peform as tight forwards too. It wouldn’t be so bad if Hoeft and Meeuws actually made their tackles when standing off, but they don’t. If it hadn’t been so tragic, I would have been laughing at the way Hoeft was slipping off players. Perhaps if he’d been in doing the tight work, the ball wouldn’t have come back so freely to the Boks, and even if it had we would have had a loosie there to make the tackle and stop the movement. But alas, Messrs Hoeft and Meeuws seem to think that it’s OK for them to be swanning about in the backline, admiring the work everyone else it doing.

I know the rest of the team didn’t perform overly well either, but it all stems from what happens up front. No ball = no win. No tackles = lots of tries. I am seriously considering not watching the next All Black game if those woofters from Dunedin are propping again. Certainly there will be a lot of interest in their form over the next few weeks of NPC rugby, and I am really hoping we see some NZ provincial teams show them up for what they are. This has been a serious setback for the All Blacks, and by god I’m going to point the finger!

28 Aug

The Lucky Country
by Rick Boyd
28 Aug 2000

Over here in Australia they refer to this big desert continent as the Lucky Country, and after the last couple of tests you can’t argue with that.

For the second time in the 2000 Tri-Nations Australia relied on a injury time penalty goal to win, this time with Mortlock kicking a dubious penalty to jag an undeserved 19-18 win.

The greatest team in Australian history with the big game-breaking backline we hear so much about could only manage one try and the rest came from Mortlock’s less than reliable boot. When the chips were down, however, the lucky country pulled out the sort of jammy good fortune which is the real hallmark of this otherwise not very remarkable team.

Their performance on the night ranks with some of the worst New Zealand games this year in terms of mistakes. Turnovers, knock ons, this game had them all. Sure, you can blame it on South African pressure but my idea of a knock on under pressure is when you get the ball half a second before a 95kg loose forward bowls you for the proverbial row of shitcans and you pop the ball forward. My idea of a knock on under pressure is not when you get clean ball from the base of steady ruck and bounce it off your fingertips while the nearest flanker has hardly crossed the advantage line. That’s just plain poor play, however much the flanker is scowling at you from a distance. Why the hell didn’t they do it against the All Blacks, that’s what I want to know?

The referee certainly didn’t aid the cause. Has Honniss taken up British citizenship? He was pedantic, erratic and in some cases just plain wrong. I would have given that try to Erasmus too. From the speed and angle he went over the line I can’t see how anyone could have stopped that ball from making contact with the ground. I have reservations about the held up rule anyway. If a bloke is good enough to get the ball over the line and crash to the ground with it, what should it matter if an opposition hand is preventing it making actual contact with the turf?

So while the Aussies are waxing lyrical about their prowess, as is their wont, and their over-stuffed trophy cabinet, we might pause to reflect that if master coach McQueen’s masterful strategy relies on the opposition granting injury time penalties, the Lucky Country might also be considered the Silly Country. We might also remember that the Bledisloe Cup is there only because Australia won it three years ago and in the two seasons since then have retained it purely due to drawn series. Some dominance.

Still, tradition is on the Australian side here. They have a long and proud history of jammy wins. The last Bledisloe Cup game foremost amongst them. Outplayed and out-thought it needed an undeserved Eales penalty in injury time to hang on to the silverware by the skin of their teeth.

Their effort in the 99 world cup against South Africa also deserves a mention. With the scores even at full time, a fortuitous drop goal from Larkham secured their passage to the final before a late penalty to Burke made it look even slightly respectable.

We could cite the ’98 12-11 win over England, the 16-15 and 19-17 wins over the All Blacks in ’92 or even the 13-12 win over the ’86 Baby Blacks, by why go on?

Yeah, sure I’m bitter. I have to live over here and listen to them babbling on and on about it. And I’m not saying that the All Blacks deserved to win the Tri-nations, they have only themselves to blame for going out with a whimper. I’m just getting heartily sick of hearing about how wonderful the Wallabies are when they were two penalty kicks away from finishing bottom of the Tri-nations tournament.

Golden Era my arse. Golden error more like.

24 Aug

Soft bastards
by Mike O'Connor
24 Aug 2000

So Wayne Smith is concerned that there may be a public backlash to the ALL Blacks loss in South Africa. Well there damn well should be a backlash.

I don’t have an expectation that the ABs should always win – but I do think that history justifies my having some minimum standards by which I can judge all AB displays.

My primary standard is: That the tight five shall lay their bodies on the line and shall compete manfully to dominate their opposition.

At Ellis Park, I was gutted at yet another display of ‘softness’ – haven’t this front row had enough chances – Dave Loveridge tells us they’ll be peaking when they’re all 30. Great. We’ll all wait for the birthday invites.

Todd – sorry mate – you remind me of the caretaker at my old primary school – dependable, grey and slow.

And is Norm a worldclass lock? – I have been trying to figure out how many of our tight forwards would feature in a World first 15 – the answer I rapidly came to was none – a world second 15 – maybe Norm on the bench.

So, really, I have a right to have an expectation that our tight five will do the job -they’re just not good or tough enough.

And the ABs will never dominate our main rivals until we have 5 forwards who are real All Blacks.

18 Aug

Any Old Park
by Don Christie
18 Aug 2000

“So what is happening to the Park?” It’s a question I get asked every now and again. I live in a house that had a view of the Millard Stand, the grand old dame of Athletic Park. Well, I can’t say I have kept up with events at ground level, the Stand disappeared from my horizons, if not my memories, a while ago.

On a sunny Saturday, a couple of weeks ago I took my 14 month old daughter for a walk down to the historic site to try and answer that question (ok, tell the truth, we were booted out of the house for a couple of hours). Across the pitches by Adelaide road (where the under 6 years teams were hammering each other to a pulp) we first visited the fence where the Millard stand used to be. A big brown mound is all that is left of that side of the ground, nothing much to see. So we wandered round passed Mel’s Diner, not even stopping for a mega-meal and a pint, passed the Satan’s Slaves HQ and on to the Rintoul street entrance.

Frankly I was amazed, the ground looks just like it does in some of those old turn of the 19th century photographs. A flat paddock, three sides bordered by mounds, and a green, bushy backdrop provided by the hill up to Vogeltown. There it is, back to its naked, original glory.

“Laalaa, laalaa”, my daughter interrupts my thoughts, pointing vigorously to the “Millard Mound”. Yes, that’s where I saw my first All Blacks game at the Park. June 1992, high up in the top tier. I missed most of the second half as some low cloud blocked out our view. Fortunately we had a bottle of Mekong Thai whisky to keep out the chill. Ireland lost 59 – 6. It was also there, on the very top row, that I saw my last game at the Park, a howling Southerly helped blast the French away. This time it was Royal Lochnagar that helped warm the cockles. If you’ve never sat at the top of the Millard Stand the best description I can give is that it was like being at the top of a high, steep cliff. Skiers liken it to a double black run. Thrilling.

“Daadaa, daadaa” accompanies an excited wave in the general direction of “Bernies Corner”. Oh sure, I remember that one, Lions tour of ’93. One of the Underwood boys scorching past the AB defence to touch down in that famous corner. The Lions won by 13 points, what a night we had after that one (sorry, I was on the opposition corner at that stage in my career).

Another loud exclamation turns my attention to the far touch. That’s the one Bill Cavubati, the “Fat Fijian”, scorched down, surely only metres away from scoring a winning try for Wellington against Otago. But wait, he slips a perfect pass to the Otago man behind him who scooted off in the opposite direction to touch down. Argh! Wellington.

Time is moving on, a small hand in my hand pulls me away. She’ll never see a game there but I’m sure I will be able to bore her to tears with Park tales for many a year to come.

So that’s the ex-Park not much to look at, but plenty still remaining in the mind’s eye.

13 Aug

by Paul Waite
13 Aug 2000

Well the dust has settled, and emotions have calmed somewhat. Time for some reflection.

The All Blacks lost the Bledisloe and with it the chance to clean up the Tri-Series, but positives can be taken from the game as well as negatives.

The positives are that the All Blacks are on the improve, and managed to outplay the World Champions decisively despite losing. This augures well for next season when the combinations will be that much stronger.

The negatives are of course all the technicalities and issues which lost us that very important test match. The lineout has been a big problem all season, and remains so. As for the rest, I’m tempted to dump them into a single large bucket labelled “lack of experience as a team”. The coolness under pressure which was required in that final 3 minutes or so was missing last week, but will grow with time. The basic elements of success are there: skill, growing combinations, and most important of all: desire.

This last element is the one which was lacking in 1998/9 and drives everything which can be achieved by a team of rugby players.

Finally, some doubts still remain over the front row. Meeuws scrummaged much better last week after the tutalage of Steve McDowell, however it isn’t over this phase of the game that the doubts are cast but in general play.

It’s a mistake to think that the game can be played with the degreee of tightness and control which was the hallmark of New Zealand teams in the late 1980′s and prior. The rules have changed and with them so has the style. However as with everything, there is a balance to be struck for optimal performance and I don’t believe the All Blacks are managing to do this.

The tight forwards, led by the front row still need to practice more of the old-fashioned tight work as a team. Too often we see them operating as individuals spread across the park, and therefore not as effective as a tight unit can be at breaking an opposition’s defensive resolve. Although its true that the pace and expansiveness of the game tends to leave players in disarray, this isn’t being offset by the tighties attempting to reform to a pattern. Instead they simply carry on playing as individuals.

The current front row do have time on their side, being relatively young. History has shown us that props and hookers play their best rugby from around 29-32 or so, and if this is born out then we can expect perfect timing for the next World Cup.

Here’s to that!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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6 Aug

Match Review – NZ v Australia
by Tracey Nelson
6 Aug 2000

I surprised myself after this game. While I’ll admit I had my head in my hands as John Eales lined up that kick (and I just knew it was going to go over!), ten minutes later I could sit calmly while others in the room were still bemoaning the loss and reflect that yet again we had seen a magnificent game between the All Blacks and the Wallabies.

Amazingly enough, this was another display of fast-paced, exciting rugby – wonderfully refereed by South African Jonathan Kaplan who played great advantage and allowed the game to flow. Top stuff! However, it is unfortunate that a small minority of the crowd found it necessary to vent their anger at our loss towards the referee by hurling missiles at him as he left the field. Sadly, such unsportsman-like behaviour from our crowds is on the increase and it detracted from what had been a glorious battle to death out on the park.

While this time Australia was the team to get off to a great start, scoring two tries in the first 15 minutes, the All Blacks quickly struck back with two tries to Christian Cullen; the second of which would rate amongst the finest of tries ever to be scored from a set move. It was superbly executed as the All Blacks swung the ball wide from a long throw to the back of the lineout, set up a midfield wall for a double switch-back using Lomu to feed Umaga who found the gap and put Cullen away to score untouched under the posts. Well set the world alight, why don’t you! was the apt call of delight from commentator Murray Mexted.

While this game didn’t quite manage to reach the giddy heights of the spectacle at Homebush, it was actually a better game and proved to be an edge of the seat affair as the score then see-sawed back and forth with a mere 1 to 2 point gap for the remainder of the match. Sadly, a foot injury to Andrew Mehrtens saw him leave the field in the second half, and one is left to wonder whether we might have seen the winning drop goal from him a couple of minutes from full time when the All Blacks had the feed to an attacking 5m scrum.

Instead, after a frenzied attack the ball was turned over and Australia kicked deep in to All Black territory. Our lineout nightmares resurfaced with two botched throws giving precious possession back to the Wallabies. Like the world champions they are, they forced the error from the All Blacks and captain John Eales took the pressure kick on full time to give them a one-point win.

The All Blacks probably didn’t deserve to lose this game, we outplayed Australia and there was great improvement to our ball retention and recycling – not to mention we definitely scored the best try of the day! I could lament that we didn’t manage to put together a better move to score from that scrum on their line in the dying moments, or that we are still struggling with our lineouts. But that would be to detract from a very good Australian side who showed why they are the world champions by withstanding the pressure and getting the ball back down the other end of the field to give themselves the opportunity to win the game. I certainly won’t be blaming the referee – he indicated that there were two minutes remaining and he played exactly that amount of time to the final whistle.

Congratulations Australia, you contributed to yet another marvellous game of rugby and this time you snuck out on top. And well done the All Blacks – the pain of such a loss will be intense, but you can hold your heads high because you outplayed this Australian team and put them under immense pressure to the end.

6 Aug

The All Blacks Through the Looking Glass
by Rick Boyd
6 Aug 2000

Was the second Bledisloe Cup test of 2000 a mirror image of the first?

Yes and no.

True, both games started with one side scoring early tries, as much through slack defence as through enterprise. In both games the other team staged a comeback to play better rugby for most of the game. And in both games the team that opened the scoring closed the scoring, winning a test they did not really deserve to.

That analysis won’t go down well in Australia because after all, what’s the point of being Australian if you can’t be better than everyone else all the time. I should know, I live there.

And how are the games not a mirror image of each other? After the first game, we had to say Australia were number one. Australians were already saying that of course, loudly and often, following their world cup win last year. Even though they drew with New Zealand one all in 1999 and couldn’t really claim supremacy, particularly since the winning of both those tests was based on who made the most mistakes, and lots of them. But winning world cups will do that to you, particularly if you’re Australian. Just wait until the olympics mate. Oh dear oh dear. But I digress.

No, Australia were clearly the better team after the first Bledisloe Cup test of 2000, even though they lost. Apart from early defensive complacency they played far better rugby than the All Blacks, they played better as a team, with a better game plan, and better execution. The All Blacks spent most of the match going backwards, and combine that with lousy lineouts, turnovers, knock ons and first tackles rare as modest Australians, and you had a test we were downright lucky to win.

And what do we say after the second game? Are Australia the better team? Not a bit of it. New Zealand dominated for most of this game. Their defensive play was so much better, the Australians deadly attacking pattern in close never had a chance to fire up. The lineouts were better, most of the time — although the couple at the end cost us the game. The attack was inventive and if not quite cracking the Wallaby defence wide open, it was clearly on the cards.

But the error rate was still unnacceptably high. Mehrts missed some vital kicks. Sometimes they tried too hard and looked rushed. It was almost great play, but not quite. The highlight of the game for me? Lomu made a tackle that looked like he weighed eighteen stone, not ten stone.

And Australia, Australia looked good but only good. Their error rate was low but apart from a couple of bursts by Herbert, their much vaunted attack looked well contained. They didn’t have anywhere near the impact they had in Sydney, but then that was probably as good as any team can expect to get. Real hard to reproduce week after week, specially with a much improved All Black defence.

Yes, there is a bottom line, and I’m getting to it. Australia didn’t deserve to win this test, but New Zealand made too many mistakes to deserve the win either. Win or loss aside, on the basis of play I now say Australia and New Zealand are on a par. We’ve had two games, one win apiece, both teams have played the better rugby against the other at home, and all in all, I think Australia and New Zealand are, for all intents and purposes, entitled to equal standing on the rugby world stage. Joint number one. With South Africa so far third they probably can’t even see the other two for dust. And that’s being kind to them.

Time for the mathematicians to start arguing about the Tri Nations. The points must now be equal. So we need Australia to beat South Africa without scoring four tries while the All Blacks defeat the Springboks and score four tries. I don’t even want to think about for and against.

Got a coin anyone?