20 Nov

They came, they saw, they fell flat on their faces….
by Rick Boyd
20 Nov 2000

Here we go again.

Another end-of-season tour to Europe. Another close loss at the hands of the much-maligned “second division” nations. Another round of “new dawn” claims by the northern hemisphere rugby touts, another raft of excuses from the south.

And what does it all mean? Bugger all. Sorry, but there you go.

We can fully expect the predictable proclamations of greatness from the NH. European rugby finally come of age. The SH giants exposed as vulnerable. New dawn.

We can equally expect the tired old litany of excuses from the south. End-of-season tour. Not really taken seriously. Jaded players at the end of a long hard season. Many injuries. Best players left at home. Hearts not really in it. Focusing on next year.

Well, they can both get stuffed. A win is a win is a win is a win. The SH can take their lumps and sod off back home as beaten sides, never mind the whining. And those NH punters who expect to be on even footing next year — not forgetting an eye on a “real chance this time” for the next world cup — check out the last few seasons when NH sides won over SH teams in November. Remember what happened in the following SH winter when you came down to our little neck of the woods? So don’t get cocky.

The luck finally ran out for the Lucky Country in Australia’s last-minute, controversial loss to England at Twickers. England played a total rugby game in this match, hogging possession and territory, and but for a continuing lack of finish would have been all over the “world champions”, particularly in the first half. Australia made do with what ball they could get and relied on the talents of class performers like Roff and Burke to stay in touch, and then go ahead.

With Australia leading 19-15 six minutes into injury time and with the English still not getting a handle on backline penetration, and with Aussie fullback Latham sin-binned for an innocuous high tackle, a chip ahead by pommy new boy Balshaw was seized by wing Dan Luger for a try just inside the touch-in-goal line. Ref Andre Watson of South Africa called for the video ref. The slow motion revealed that Luger dropped the ball before grounding it but the ref was clearly heard to say into his mike he was concerned only whether or not that constituted a knock forward or a knock down. The latter was obviously the decision as Watson then awarded the try.

Jonny Wilkinson added the conversion from the side line. Australian captain Eales commented, with that graciousness essential to being Australian, that England “got away with it at the end”.

Over the channel in France, the All Blacks failed in their bid to restore some tatters of pride to the battered black jersey. Coach Wayne Smith said he expected the All Blacks’ season to be judged by this final game, and if that is the case then the season was a failure (although the record books will show the All Blacks winning 3-2 over France for the season).

In losing 42-33 the All Blacks scored three tries, as did the French, the difference being the boot of Froggy flyhalf Lamaison. The All Blacks led at one time in the second half but the French scored a try to halfback Galthie and the All Blacks were left trying to score the winning try in injury time. Then Lamaison settled the issue with a last-gasp drop goal, sending the All Blancmanges off to play Italy next week with their tail between their legs.

It was a great game, apparently. I say apparently because of course I write to you from the lost wastes of Western Australia where rugby is as important as nude underwater skateboarding. But full marks though to the pro-active group of towering intellects in the Australian Rugby Union who fulfilled their obligation to promote rugby nationwide by selling the TV rights for rugby to Channel Seven Australia. Even fuller marks to the chimps in three piece suits who run Channel Seven who have come to the very reasonable conclusion that promoting rugby in Western Australia means showing only Australian games, when they absolutely cannot avoid it, squeezed in between much more important programs like Aussie Rules club games or late night movies. And did I follow the game on www.rugbylive.com? Damn right bucko. Bless you Paul Waite, you saint among men.

All that aside, as far as I can see from my one working eye nothing much has changed. England and France remain worthy members of the big five but I for one won’t be elevating them into the top three until they can chalk up a win or two down under. Good luck to them, well played and all that but let’s not get carried away.

And by the way, for all the mathematically challenged, next weekend’s game against Italy is the REAL last test of the millennium for the All Blacks. You know the millennium, don’t you? The one with a thousand years, not the one with 999 years?

Let’s hope it ushers in one of those New Dawn thingies. We could all use one.

19 Nov

Bzzzt.. Failed.
by Paul Waite
19 Nov 2000

Wayne Smith was quoted as saying that the All Blacks’ season would be judged on this last test against the French in Marseilles. He’s right, it will.

Within that framework then, this season has been a failure.

Let’s recap. After some rather meaningless warm-up victories against Tonga and Scotland (with all due respect to those esteemed eaters of haggis), we were greatly encouraged by a last-gasp victory 39-35 across the ditch against the Wallabies in the Tri-Nations opener.

We ground out an ugly win by 25-12 over the Boks at Christchurch after that, but the test was littered with mistakes and misunderstandings between the players.

Then came the disappointing performance in Wellington where soft defence and crucial errors of judgement under pressure lost us the test to Australia by 24-23 despite making most of the running.

With the bitter taste of losing the Bledisloe in their mouths the All Blacks then travelled to South Africa where they put in a defensive effort which was, to rugby, as a collander is to holding water. The performance was awful.

Having lost the Bledisloe and the chance of regaining the Tri-Nations trophy we then regrouped a few months later and took on the French in their own territory. Once again it was an up-and-down story with a win last week 39-26 (actually 39-19 since the last try wasn’t) with a much improved performance, and then a deserved loss this week by 42-33.

Looking at the big picture we can nevertheless see definite improvement from last year at the 1999 Rugby World Cup.

Also, if we take into account the blooding of new players to the squad such as the likes of Somerville, Feek, Slater, Reihana, Flavell, Blackadder, Cribb, and Howlett as well as important changes in role such as the move of Tana Umaga from Wing to Centre, we can also see that a lot of work has been put in.

So although Smith won’t really be expecting many pats on the back for the results his side have achieved this season, the reality of the situation is that he is wrestling with a mammoth job; that of shaping a brand new All Black squad into a team which can don the winning mantle expected of it.

We’re no apologists here at Rugbylive. If the All Blacks play badly we’ll call it as we see it, and so should everyone.

This season they’ve played badly, there’s no doubt about that. But although we’re officially (by the results) a pretty bloody poor team by All Black standards, the job Smith has to do can’t be done in a season.

Let’s give both he and his team the space to develop. At the very least they’ve shown, in patches, that they have the raw material to become a very good side.

The season may be deemed a failure, but next season is what we make it.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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12 Nov

All Blacks Earn Reprieve
by Paul Waite
12 Nov 2000

Rumours of All Black rugby’s demise have been greatly exagerated.

The victory today of New Zealand over France has given coach Wayne Smith and his team a reprieve. The sound of knife-blade on wetstone has gone away – for the present at least.

The All Blacks put together a committed and well-disciplined performance, out-cooling the French side in the face of some pretty frustrating refereeing by Wayne Erickson of Australia who handed out around 30 penalties.

They also showed they had improved in the area of most concern this season, the lineout and augmented this with a good display of snaffling restart ball.

A nervy start saw them hesitant on the ball, but that’s to be expected given the pressure they were under. The new front row are a vast improvement over the lazy and under-performing all-Otago unit featuring props Meeuws and Hoeft. Feek and Somerville bring a balanced combination of set-piece hardness and general play mobility as well as committedness on defence.

The moving of Tana Umaga to centre also looks set to be a good one, as expected from his displays in the NPC. Teams facing him know the danger he represents on attack, and his 100Kg+ frame is a daunting proposition on defence.

The result is a good one, and it gives the team a breathing space to build. The main commodity New Zealand is short of at present is simply experience. The team is a very young one and this showed at times, but it looks to have the nucleus of a good test side, given time.

Congratulations to Wayne Smith and the All Blacks on winning the Dave Gallagher Trophy today. Enjoy the victory, but remember that the French will be out for your blood in Marseilles next week!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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12 Nov

Lip-service to Heroism
by Paul Waite
12 Nov 2000

My basking in the reflected glory of the All Black victory this morning (our time here in New Zealand) over France has been tempered somewhat by the cynical treatment given by the NZ media of The Dave Gallagher Trophy.

They’ve been making great press mileage out of pictures of Jonah Lomu paying homage at World War I graves, and waxing respectfully on about how Dave Gallagher had died at Paschendale and the All Blacks were (rightly) inspired by this, so how come nobody at Sky Television thought it might be nice for us to see the trophy being presented?

Maybe I’m wrong, and the trophy was not presented at the stadium. Obviously I’m not sure, all I know is that it wasn’t screened. It would seem a little strange though, if the game was ostensibly being played for this new trophy and at its end it wasn’t given to the captain of the winning team. If anyone can e-mail me and confirm whether or not local TV showed the presentation, I would be grateful.

In the meantime, I’ll just be plain cynical and go on believing that basically, apart from the opportunity to get a bit of “hype-mileage” in the promotion of its coverage, the people concerned couldn’t really care less about Dave Gallagher, or the trophy bearing his name.

Correct me if I’m wrong why don’t you..

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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12 Nov

These tests are crucial
by Paul Waite
12 Nov 2000

Just a couple of end-of-year tests? A short tour with the added spice of avenging a Rugby World Cup defeat?

These two tests are much more important than that.

Consider the recent record. The much-vaunted All Black tradition of excellence has taken a definite beating as of 1998 with that unprecedented 4-test losing streak under John Hart.

All excuses aside, that disastrous run of defeats was effectively carried over into 1999 with a Rugby World Cup loss to France when the real heat came on in the semi-finals. On into the new Millenium and ealier this season we saw much the same story with a poor Tri-Nations and, once again, multiple defeats.

Even as far back as 1998 there was talk of the All Blacks having lost their aura of invincibility, however it was mainly whispered, and only by a few. Post 1999 Rugby World Cup, and those whisperings had become much louder and more widespread.

Should the All Blacks perform poorly in this test series against France it will, I believe, mark a watershed in All Black rugby history. From thenceforth, the All Blacks will be measured as just another international Rugby team. The legendary All Blacks of yesterday will be effectively consigned to a separate history from those currently wearing the black jersey.

So Wayne Smith has a lot more pressure than it might appear at first sight, and only a wam-bam-thankyou-mam two-test tour in which to do it.

The best of luck to both him and the All Blacks in Paris today; they’ll need it!

Paul Waite

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