2 Dec

The Fumbling Houdinis
by Paul Waite
2 Dec 2001

It was one of the greatest escapes ever by the Men In Black. It is a good bet that they’ll never put in a performance as bad as that, and still win.

The backs played like they had all taken double the recommended dose of the legendary “clumsy” pills. The effects seemed pretty widespread, with Blair and Mehrtens dropping easy catches under little pressure, and Robinson and Howlett having a game they’d prefer to forget, both of them costing their side unnecessary tries by some silly-bollocks in their own in-goal.

For his part Tana Umaga looks like the proverbial square peg trying to jam itself into the equally proverbial round hole. The worked moves in midfield, presumably being developed by Robbie Deans, have all the freshness and charm of a two week old piece of cod.

The players weren’t the only people having an off day. Referee Scott Young put in a display which, in the kindest terms might be described as “inconsistent”, but which could well be entered for the “Refereeing Bollocks 2001 Award”. The nadir of his performance was when he was heard to shout “it’s a ruck”, when all the while the Argentine halfback Pichot had his hands on the ball.

However the factor which might well lose Scott the Award was that he didn’t really affect the outcome. This was entirely dictated by the performance of the All Blacks, one moment playing around like a bunch of circus clowns in the in-goal, and the next like professional rugby players winning a game with a lovely attacking move in the final minute.

As a team, the All Blacks have probably learned plenty on this tour about how they don’t have the ability to confront the opposition as a set of units. Instead they tend to fragment into individuals, especially as the pressure comes on.

Mitchell has his work cut out now. There is not as much time to prepare for RWC 2003 as everyone supposes, since the 2003 season itself will necessarily be the usual jousting between teams looking toward the “real” event coming up. Just look at how the French treated their tour downunder before the 1999 RWC, and how they went on to beat us at Twickenham later on.

That leaves next season for him to put all his personnel in place and, more importantly, to weld them into the best team that he can.

Leaving aside the difficult problem of getting the players to gel as a team and units within the team, the tour has been a real success with bringing forth new talents to the international stage.

Chief of these has been Canterbury opensider Richie McCaw. Throughout the tour, and especially in the tests against Ireland and Argentina, he has been absolutely outstanding. Not only does he get around the park as well, if not better, than any other openside in New Zealand, he seems to have that priceless vision which makes him doubly effective. New Zealand hasn’t had a No.7 of this quality emerge since 1995 when Josh Kronfeld made the jersey his own.

Looking around the backs, we come to that oft-troubled area of the All Blacks since the loss of the famous Bunce/Little combination – the midfield. Aaron Mauger looks to be a real find at second five-eighth, and Umaga is his usual self at centre, but something isn’t gelling there. Without any kind of insider info, there’s no chance of knowing what it is, but although combinations don’t come easily, this one looks like it has some basic problems.

Another speculation is that Robbie Deans still has to really settle on what he wants his backs to do and how he wants them to develop their game. The flat backline moves reminiscent of Australian rugby under Bob Dwyer look a bit ugly and predictable enough for Argentina to read them with no problems and knock us over, so it may be a case of back to the drawing board.

Up front the advent of David Hewett, the Canterbury loosehead prop, was good to see. Although, on form, Carl Hoeft is still thought to be the best Hewett will push him hard if the All Blacks continue to address the basics of tight forward play. At age 30, Hewett is in his prime and may well come through to be our first choice.

Congratulations to the All Blacks and John Mitchell for grinding out an unbeaten tour, albeit only just, and hopefully they can now all enjoy a bit of well-deserved R&R over the summer.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebook

18 Nov

Shaken But Not Stirred
by Paul Waite
18 Nov 2001

Beginnings are always important. With the All Blacks, it was essential to kick off the Mitchell Era with a win, and a good foundation in terms of the way the team played, to build on for the next World Cup in 2003.

This was achieved in spades last Saturday when the All Blacks beat a fired-up Irish side at Lansdowne Road in the first test of their short end-of-season tour.

Blow by blow details are available elsewhere, but the test delivered several important things. First of all the lineout was flawless with Oliver delivering ball on the button all game, and four Irish throws stolen. Secondly the team showed a composure it lacked in Sydney against Australia, despite being under intense pressure. Those were the main points to stand out, but there were other aspects which were in many ways equally pleasing.

Mitchell has shown us the rare talent of being able to select relatively immature talent for the top level, and making those selections work. In Richard McCaw, the 20-year-old openside flanker we had the undisputed Man of the Match against the Irish, and he looks set to follow in the footsteps of Josh Kronfeld and Michael Jones as one of our best in the No.7 jersey. In Aaron Mauger we also saw a player emerging from NPC level football to show us his abilities at test level. We also got a sneak preview of David Hewett at loosehead prop; another player with huge potential.

In short, the way the All Blacks withstood the Irish passion and, despite being hampered by rustiness in the first forty minutes, asserted themselves to win by a compfortable margin is a very good sign that what you see and hear with John Mitchell is what you get.

Some will try to talk down the win by rubbishing the ability of the Irish side. But under Warren Gatland the improvement in that team is quite marked, and their recent victory over England could not be written off as just a case of the English “having a bad one” that day. The Irish are a totally different prospect from the teams of 1995 and 1997, to be sure.

As well as the basic ability of the team, the home ground factor at Lansdowne Road is also a huge hurdle for any visitor, especially one with several players on debut as was the case with the All Blacks. The way they combined and stayed steady under fire was impressive, and speaks volumes for the way Mitchell motivates his teams.

The Irish test was only one game, but it was an important one. The victory there has provided a platform for Mitchell and his men to move forward and develop. We’ve seen what he can do in a short time, and in a single test. By the end of this tour we will know a little more, but of course the real work begins next year.

In the meantime well done to John Mitchell and the All Blacks, and good luck next week in Scotland.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebook

10 Nov

Rugby Rules!
by Paul Waite
10 Nov 2001

Hooray!

Good sense has prevailed, and it’s not often you can say that about something which comes from the IRB!

As part of a few clarifications or addenda to the Rugby Laws, the IRB has addressed the issue of players jumping under the crossbar to prevent penalty kicks from being scored.

With effect from 1 January 2002 any player who voluntarily touches the ball in an attempt to prevent a penalty goal from being scored is doing so illegally.

The Laws Committee has upheld the self-evident point that the team taking the penalty attempt is entitled to three points if it can kick the ball from a place-kick or a drop-kick between the uprights and over the crossbar. It was deemed not to be in the spirit of the penalty award for this to be prevented.

The only question I’d ask is why has it taken so long for this foul practice to be stamped on.

Oh, and if memory serves me it was Mr. Bloody Perfect Himself – John Eales who started this practice in the first instance. How does that sit with the popular conception of Ealesy as one of The Great Sportsmen in the game?

Pah! it’s no surprise to us. Well we remember over-hearing him on the referee’s microphone whining to the said official and actually suggesting that perhaps an All Black ought to be sent to the sin-bin for some incident. This was way back sometime in 1997, when that kind of behaviour was ground-breaking unsportsmanship of monumental proportions.

Anyway, good on the IRB for stamping the disgusting practice out, even it it is a little tardy.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebook

5 Nov

Mitchell Picks His Squad
by Paul Waite
5 Nov 2001

So the first squad is picked. For those of you who don’t know who is in it you can find it on the Haka site.

The bolters in this squad are Simon Maling (lock), and Roger Randle (wing). Initially the biggest bolter was ex-RL international Brad Thorn, but he has withdrawn himself from the squad citing uncertainty with his playing future. We’d paraphrase that statement from him as being “I’m certain about my future and it isn’t with rugby union”, to be frank. A pity, but his stepping down has resulted in Dion Waller being called up and that is great news.

Other newbies who were less of a surprise were: Richard McCaw (openside), David Hewett (loose-head), Paul Miller (No.8), Tom Willis (hooker), Aaron and Nathan Mauger (midfield), Ben Blair (fullback), and David Hill (first-five).

Other news was that Jerry Collins gets another chance to kick his All Black career off properly, covering No.6 and No.8, Greg Feek is recalled to cover loosehead prop, an area we are pretty thin in especially with incumbent Carl Hoeft injured, and Scott Robertson is also recalled, apparently as the first-choice No.8.

The choice of Roger Randle to play the mid-week games is interesting. The Waikato wing three-quarter has blistering speed mixed with power, and wonderful finishing ability. The chance is there for him to step up further in other aspects of his game and press for a test spot.

Looking at the other new players, we see an eye to the future. Richard McCaw has deservedly won rave reviews for his NPC performances and looks to be the goods at openside flanker. This is a great chance for him to sample top flight rugby early on in his career. Ben Blair also gets a just reward for his performances over the past two seasons. He should be the mid-week fullback. With David Hill at first five-eighth it will be interesting to see who does the goal-kicking.

Paul Miller was a widely predicted choice at No.8. The hard-driving behemoth is deceptively fast in a sprint, and is a specialist No.8. He will take a lot of stopping and if used as an impact sub in the final quarter of the tests will sap the strength of the opposition defence.

In the midfield the Mauger brothers have had a superb season at Canterbury and look set to continue that in the Super 12 next year. Aaron Mauger has especially shone, having moved out one position to the second five-eighth spot, and will keep Pita Alatini honest.

At loose-head prop Dave Hewett comes in joining Greg Feek in covering that specialist position in the absence of Carl Hoeft due to injury. Otago’s Tom Willis also gets a chance which is reward for his fine play this season.



So what can we expect. Well the style of play will be different from that Smith and Gilbert promoted that’s for sure. There will be much more emphasis on doing the basics of the game right, especially in the forwards, and a concentration on the hard-nosed aspects of rugby.

With an avowed intention to build the All Blacks game up around possession, we can expect the set-pieces to be the first focus of attention, and the lineout as the first of those. For two seasons now the lineout has been a disgrace, and Mitchell will move to put that one to bed, removing a huge Achilles heel in the All Black game in the process. With locks like Maxwell, Jack, Waller and Maling we have enough aerial power to match the best.

At the same time we can expect to see hard-hitting defence and rugged driving of the ball in maul and ruck, but beyond that it would be unwise to speculate.

It’s important to realise that Mitchell doesn’t posess a magic wand. He can only bring the players he has picked along at a certain pace, gradually getting across how he wants them to play, and concentrating on things as he sees the way the tests and midweek games unfold.

This tour of Scotland, Ireland, and Argentina is very much a shake-down tour. Rules and boundaries will be set, as will expectations. Basics will be practiced, such as the lineout, and put into practice in the tests. Beyond that, and the hard-nosed attitude he obviously carries with him in all he does, we wouldn’t expect more.

But it will be more than enough.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebook

5 Oct

Why Mitchell is the man for the job.
by Rick Boyd
5 Oct 2001

It’s simple.

Mitchell is a man who can make 15 players into a team. He has the quality, like Grizz Wylie or Buck Shelford, to inspire a group of individuals to move like a unit.

I’ve always liked Mitchell, when he was with Waikato, when he was captain of the dirt-trackers, even when he went to help the poms out. He’s not a technical wizard, he’s not a corporate spin doctor, he’s a man who can get players to believe in themselves so that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

And this is exactly what the All Blacks need. They have most of the personnel they need, and most of them have bags of talent. They are professionals, they have all the time, money and infrastructure in the world. They don’t need any more computer programs or statistical analyses. They need to believe that they are the All Blacks and everyone else is further down the food chain, end of story.

It’s not like they have to beat the 1974 Lions or the 1936 Springboks. The Wallabies are only just hanging in there, the Springboks are totally devoid of attacking options (no, I retract that, there’s Paulse, if they play him). The All Blacks only need to lower their mistake rate, get some of the basics right, rediscover some consistency and start being All Blacks in their hearts as well as in their wardrobes; and the world is their oyster.

If they should truly develop a winning attitude and open up the world’s premium attacking back three — watch out!

I didn’t think Mitchell had a snowball’s chance in hell, to be honest. I’m amazed the NZRFU has done something so blindingly sensible. I’m overjoyed they have given him the job for the 2003 world cup. Now we’re in with a chance. Let’s hope they give him a proper backs coach and not let a plodder like Gilbert mess things up.

Obviously Oliver is not a captain’s arse and he can’t throw straight either. I have no idea who to pick for captain. Cooksley will probably get a better look in at lock. Let’s give Randell a chance back at blindside where he was once so good, but Flavell has to be a shot there as well. Cribb’s days are numbered. Who to have for number eight and openside? Beats me. I still have high hopes for Alatini, but God what we wouldn’t do for a real centre. Will Jonah go overseas for big bucks? To be honest, that is right down the bottom of my list of concerns. He’s a cruise missile with the ball in hand, but on defence he’s 18 stone of scenery. I’d be just as happy with a player who wasn’t quite such a big asset but a whole lot less of a liability.

Former Australian double-gold medal-winning hockey coach and Federal MP Rick Charlesworth was on the telly last night promoting his new book, and he said he lived by the creed that you always attack a lead. This is exactly what the All Blacks need to do.

He also said his job as coach was to comfort the troubled, and trouble the comfortable, which is all very corny but Mitchell could do worse than adding that to his aims.

Next season is looking better already.

4 Oct

Mitchell and Who?
by Paul Waite
4 Oct 2001

For those of you coming along late in the piece, John Mitchell was appointed yesterday as All Black Coach through to the next World Cup in 2003.

At age 37 Mitchell is the youngest coach of the All Blacks ever, and interestingly he is also the first never to have coached an NPC team.

His perceived strengths are discipline, emphasis on the basic techniques especially in the forwards, and an ability to get his players’ respect and to motivate them. In essence, Mitchell is seen as a strong coach who has a very clear vision of where his team should be going, and who will not let anything get in the way of the attainment of that goal.

In interviews yesterday several interesting tidbits of information emerged, some directly from Mitchell’s statements and some which may or may not be inferred from them.

Firstly, he made a direct comment about requiring players who are top performers in their positions on the field and that he is not a fan of “utilities”. This can be viewed as a direct reference to the experiment of converting Taine Randell to openside flanker by the previous coaches in preference to form openside in the Super 12 Marty Holah, something we at Haka campaigned against from the outset. If we’ve seen the last of that then we presumably have also seen the last of Troy Flavell playing at lock; something that fans of tight forwards playing in the tight will applaud.

Another clear statement was made in reply to a question about what Mitchell thought when he watched the lineouts in the final test in Sydney against Australia this season. Mitchell obviously avoided bagging anyone, but did say that he viewed it as important for the team to develop what he called “flexibility” on the field. For those of us who were frustrated by the way the All Blacks kept booting penalties to touch for ill-fated lineouts in the closing minutes when a moment’s thought from the skipper might have brought better results this is good news.

Following on from that Mitchell was asked about the All Black captaincy. Naturally it was an unfair question at this stage and it brought the predictable “all positions are up for grabs” response, and another general statement to the effect “there will be casualties” in selections. But considering his position regarding on-field thinking and leadership, Oliver’s tenure as skipper might well be a short-lived thing. Certainly on his lineout throwing alone Oliver is on shaky ground. The $64,000 question is therefore: who else? All we can do on that is come out with another cliche: watch this space.

Looking around the squad which Smith and Gilbert assembled the country’s best players are largely already picked, but there are some which might well be looking back on 2001 as the season they were dropped.

As a hard No.8 himself Mitchell might well be looking at Ron Cribb with a view to drawing a line through his name on the squad list for the tour to Ireland, Scotland and Argentina. After coming to prominence in 2000, Cribb has largely faded and apart from a reasonable showing in the last two tests has been ineffective. Other candidates here are: Jerry Collins, Paul Miller, and maybe even Scott Robertson.

At lock Mark Cooksley is definitely still in the frame, although the potential and performances of Chris Jack are hard to ignore and Norm Maxwell is still as committed as ever.

Speculation will be at an end soon, with Mitchell naming the squad to tour at the end of this season to Ireland, Scotland and Argentina. Although initial reports had it that Mitchell would only play a part in these selections, it now transpires that he will head a selection panel which includes former coaches Smith, Gilbert and co-selector Peter Thorburn, and will have absolute control over the process. We expect the squad will be announced sometime after the NPC finishes around the end of October.

Aside from the issues of playing personnel, the public have been wondering who Mitchell will choose for his assistant. Nobody has any idea as to who this might be at present, though some rumours have been circulated that Kevin Greene might join him since he and Mitchell worked well together in the Super 12 for The Chiefs this year.

For the time being we have the honeymoon period where everyone is optimistic over the new coach and what he might achieve.

However good Mitchell is, he nevertheless does not poesses a magic wand. He has the same player base as Smith and Gilbert had, with the same abilities and deficiencies of technique. He has one end-of-season tour and then some warm-ups next year to weld a team together. After that he will be judged, as Smith and Gilbert were, on how the All Blacks perform against Australia in the Tri-Nations.

Mitchell has to coach the All Blacks to beat Australia both in New Zealand and on their turf to win back the Bledisloe Cup in 2002.

Nothing else will do.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebook

30 Sep

The Difference
by Rick Boyd
30 Sep 2001

One of the most interesting things about current rugby is how New Zealanders and Australians evaluate their relative positions after the recent Tri Nations series, and more generally, rugby in the last five years — to choose an arbitrary figure.

The general consensus is fairly consistent in each country but remarkably divided between the two countries.

In New Zealand, the feeling is that the All Blacks have not been performing to standard. In Australia, they feel that the Wallaby team over this period is not only one of the most successful in the world, but arguably the best team in Australian rugby history. A quick look at the results will reveal a picture remarkably at variance with these attitudes. And thereby hangs the tale of The Difference.

In 1997, the All Blacks defeated the Wallabies three times, and the Wallabies never got closer than 12 points to the All Blacks in any test. At the same time, they went 1-1 with South Africa (although the loss was a 61-22 hiding) and with Argentina, and recorded a win and draw against England. Not a great year. By contrast the All Blacks won all their Tri Nations games and were looking pretty damn good, but only to the uninformed. The inconsistent nature of their play worried more experienced observers, but results like these were hard to argue against.

In 1998 the All Blacks lost a core of experienced players and experienced their annus (or anus, take your pick) horribilis, losing all three games to Australia, although two of these were by 5 points or less, and two against South Africa. Australians were understandably on a high even though they lost two games to South Africa, even if one was by one point, and squeaked home by one point against England. New Zealanders, on the other hand were deeply depressed, although the margins were close enough for informed observers to note that the results might not necessarily reflect the play to any great accuracy.

The world cup year, 1999, saw the Wallabies go 1-1 with the All Blacks, both by big scores and both where the losing team lost it rather than the winning team won it. The Wallabies also went 1-1 with the Springboks, with a good win in the first game but losing the second game by 1 point. They got their revenge in the world cup with a close, late win over South Africa and demolished France in the final. In balance, Australia had the world cup and a 2-1 margin over South Africa and could reasonably describe the year as a success despite a drawn series with New Zealand. Conversely, New Zealanders could only view the year as an abject failure particularly given the humiliating surrender to France in the world cup semi-final. But to look at it objectively, the All Blacks won the Tri-Nations, a competition arguably a better indicator of success than the knock-out world cup, and drew a series with the world cup holders.

The year 2000 started well for Australia with two solid wins over South Africa by a good margin. An astonishing opening game against New Zealand saw them haemorrhage three tries in 7 minutes but come back to play the better rugby and lose only to a late and fairly lucky try to big Jonah. The return game was less dramatic in play but not in conclusion, with a penalty kick in injury time retaining the Bledisloe Cup by the narrowest of margins and winning the Tri Nations for the first time into the bargain, and giving Australians plenty to celebrate. The All Blacks played some wildly inconsistent rugby and the general feeling in New Zealand was disappointment yet again, but in reality the All Blacks had again drawn a series with Australia and with such close results that it would be a brave man who would proclaim one side clearly superior to the other.

Stranger results were to follow in 2001, with the Wallabies winning a close series against the British Lions but losing a series against the Springboks with one close loss and one draw. On the credit side of the ledger they beat a woeful New Zealand in the first test but needed a fortunate late try in the return game to win a series against New Zealand for the first time in three years. The All Blacks won both their tests against the Springboks, the second by a good margin, but were their own worst enemies against Australia. As Australia won the Bledisloe Cup and the Tri-Nations they had much to celebrate while for New Zealanders there was only the by-now familiar bitter pill of defeat to swallow. The objective view, however, reveals that all three teams in the Tri Nations remained within a whisker of each other and there is much credibility to the theory that the Australian victory was technical more than actual.

What does the overall picture tell us? The All Blacks are inconsistent but so close to the Wallabies that finding the better side based on play, rather than results, would be a struggle. The Wallabies are more consistent, but the roll of the die has been in their favour at key times when it could just as easily not have been. And the Springboks are therebaouts as well.And here’s The Difference. Why do All Black supporters view this state of affairs as an unimagined horror, while Wallaby supporters celebrate with unbridled glee?

Firstly, there is undoubtedly the shallow end of the pool, where the results are on the scoreboard and the silverware is in the cabinet. Right now this looks better for Australia than New Zealand but it’s not by a lot, seven wins to five.

But for the better informed there is the matter of play, a subjective topic open to much debate. The All Blacks’ play has undoubtedly been less consistent than Australia’s and their error rate undeniably higher, especially this year, but at times they have been more potent in attack and arguably had the better of the forward exchanges, in the balance. No seasoned rugby observer should really be pleased with the standard of play in this year’s Tri Nations, quite apart from its value as a spectacle. New Zealand has been found seriously wanting in some basic areas of play and subject to a range of errors unacceptable in professional athletes. Australia has done little to capitalise on this and have been dragged down to New Zealand’s standard. The Springboks seem simply devoid of any serious attacking options.

And for everyone there is the matter of EXPECTATION. The All Blacks have a culture of winning, a tradition of success built on great teams of the past. The Invincibles early in the century, the great teams of the 60s who just won and won and won. Buck Shelford’s mighty All Blacks of the 80s, fifty games without loss, four years unbeaten. Rugby is New Zealand’s national sport, the yardstick for New Zealand sporting pride. Too many wins are barely enough.

No matter how objective you care to be about the recent results, being on a par with Australia is not seen as success in New Zealand, it is not even seen as a passing grade. Being on a par with Australia is seen as losing and it’s from this perspective that New Zealanders’ reactions must be judged. Australians, on the other hand, were once widely regarded as a rugby joke, burdened by tags such as The Woeful Wallabies and the Awful Aussies. Their rugby history resounds not with titanic battles on the high veldt but humiliating losses to the likes of Tonga or Scotland. Their meteoric rise to genuine rugby superpower status and current keeper of the silverware cannot be dimmed by allegations of lucky wins, close scores and undistinguished play. A win is a win is a win, and any win will do the job as long as it’s an Australian win.

Perhaps some of this relates to the unenviable rise of Australian urban youth culture best reflected in the underarm bowl and the parochial parodies of Roy and HG, where sportsmanship is an optional extra way down the list from winning. But most of it, it may be contended, stems from the lack of tradition in Australian rugby, the lack of expectation to always win, and always win well. The lack of pressure as the national sport to carry the nation’s psyche into battle and return with victory honours — any sort of win is great and a loss, well, it’s only rugby union after all, not anything really important like cricket.

And there’s the bottom line. We’re pretty even in play, the results are slightly Australia’s way. Australians think this makes the Wallabies the best team in history, New Zealanders think it makes the All Blacks bloody pathetic.

Perspective is an amazing thing, isn’t it?

23 Sep

Smith Forces NZRFU Hand
by Paul Waite
23 Sep 2001

In a move which was totally unexpected by the NZRFU, who were in damage control mode last night, Wayne Smith has resigned his job as All Black Coach.

There has been a misguided school of thought, wafting around the country like a bad smell, which held that Smith and Gilbert should be allowed to carry on coaching the All Blacks to the next World Cup due to the absence of any other candidates.

Shit, if we took that braindead stance, then we’d waive General Elections every three years just because the opposition looked a bit pathetic. The truth of the matter is: you can’t tell until you see them in action.

No, the One True Path for the NZRFU was to look at the results of the incumbents as the only yardstick applicable, see that it showed a 55% win ratio against the top teams, and then politely sack the both of them. After that all coaches in the country should have then been invited to apply for the job and the best candidates picked.

Not only would that have sent the message to everyone in rugby that results are what they will be judged on, it would have allowed our other coaches a chance to say how they would tackle the job.

According to an article by Wynne Gray of the NZ Herald yesterday, the review committee appointed by the NZRFU to evaluate the performance of Smith and Gilbert recommended that their jobs be advertised. Apparently the NZRFU “baulked” at this. The question has to be asked why they bothered appointing the panel in the first place then. It’s not as if the people on it were lightweights. With names like John Graham, Sir Brian Lochore, Richie Guy, Andy Dalton and Tane Norton there’s ample reason to take their suggestions very seriously indeed.

Reading between the lines, it would seem that the Lily-Livered Old Farts System would have probably liked to just invite Smith to carry on via a rubber-stamped reappointment, and we’d have been left with a country divided on the decision. How much of this attitude is part and parcel of “professionalism”, and the pressure to appear to have everything under control for the benefit of the big sponsors we wonder?

The upshot of all this palaver was that the NZRFU asked the panel to re-assess Smith a second time. The catch phrase “keep going until you get it right” comes to mind.

All of this nonsense was chopped off at the knees, thank goodness, when Wayne Smith stood up and said that he was resigning. Talk about putting the cat amongst the pigeons. I’ll bet there were a few rugby officials running around the boardroom in little circles flapping their arms up and down wondering which way home was.

Wayne Smith’s mana has risen ten-fold as a result of his decision. I don’t think anyone, least of all us here at Haka, has questioned his passion for the Black Jersey, or his ethics. This decision says it all, and will do the game a lot of good. The NZRFU board also ought to take a hard look at their handling of the affair.

Smith has said he will re-apply for the job along with the other candidates, and stand or fall as the best judged in that arena. Good on him, and good luck to him. If he is awarded the top job again then so be it.

In the meantime, we’d like to see some strong candidates put their hands up and contest the position. Here are a few who might throw their hats into the ring:

  • John Mitchell
  • Gordon Tietjens
  • Wayne Shelford
  • Graham Mourie
  • Graham Henry
  • Laurie Mains
  • Peter Sloane
  • Grant Fox
  • Robbie Deans
  • Frank Oliver
  • John Boe

Obviously a couple of these have other contractual obligations, but who knows – contracts can be re-negotiated.

Haka would love to see the Mitchell/Tietjens combination as we’ve previously said, but obviously that’s a remote possibility. For the main job of All Black Coach we would certainly choose Mitchell, at least. He would then presumably have some say in who his assistant, if any, would be.

Laurie Mains has said recently that he would not consider coaching the All Blacks again. But with more encouragement he might change his mind; he is not too old for the job, and is a better coach now than he was in 1995.

If we had to make a prediction, we would probably go with Smith being re-appointed in the job. Whether he would then be forced to take an assistant of the NZRFU’s choice is unclear. That would be a bad decision since it’s important that the coach chooses someone he’s comfortable working with. We would suggest that the piss-poor development of our forwards over the past two years would ensure that Gilbert is not an option for re-appointment.

In that case, the smart money would probably be on an assistant coach with solid credentials coaching the forwards. That puts Peter Sloane back in the frame, especially since he and Smith worked together very successfully at Canterbury. Mitchell is a distant option in this scenario, since he has indicated that it’s too early for him, and he obviously has his goal set on being All Black Coach, or nothing.

Other options for Smith’s assistant might be Buck Shelford, or Graham Mourie. Of these Shelford probably won’t apply, preferring to coach NPC and maybe moving on to Super 12 in the future. Mourie is a strong prospect, with his deep analytical thinking, however his performance at the Hurricanes hasn’t been outstanding.

Whoever gets the job I hope that the panel of All Black Greats (Brian Lochore et al) who submitted their recommendations to the NZRFU last week have made two important observations which will drive how the new coaches go about their job:

  1. We must pick the best specialist players in their positions.
  2. We must continue to recover our knowledge of the basics of the game, especially in the forwards.

Whatever the end result, at least we have an honest contest and may the best man win.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebook

6 Sep

Some headaches are good to have
by Tracey Nelson
6 Sep 2001

Canterbury have a little problem on their hands at the moment. Actually, it’s probably slightly on the larger side of little, but having said that – it’s a very nice problem to have.

With over half the pack away on All Black duty, and missing their lynch pins of Marshall and Mehrtens from the backline, the Canterbury boys have kept the home fires burning brightly and have sucessfully clocked up maximum points in their three NPC games to date – playing some pretty impressive rugby in doing so.

While the old stalwarts of the team such as Toddy, Greg Feek and Daryl Gibson have helped guide the team along the way, it’s been the young up and comers such as NZ Colts captain Richard McCaw (openside flanker) and past colts Nathan and Aaron Mauger, and Ben Blair that have really been sizzling in the red and black jersey.

Also looking hot to trot has been Scott Robertson, playing at No 8 this season and definitely looking the goods in this position. Combined with Sam Broomhall and McCaw, the Canterbury loose trio really took it Bay of Plenty in last weekend’s Ranfurly Shield defence and were instrumental in the 72-3 drubbing that was handed out to the luckless Bay.

Now with the finish of the Tri-Nations the All Blacks will return from duty to join their provincial sides, and what a headache this is going to be for coach Steve Hansen.

While his front row of Feek, Sexton and Hewitt demolished the BOP front row last week, he will have an All Black hooker and TH prop to add to the mix.

Toddy and league-convert Brad Thorn have done a stirling job winning lineout ball and locking the scrum, but now he has two All Black locks to choose from as well.

Sam Broomhall has been outstanding on the blindside, but Reuben Thorne is now returning to the fold.

And in the backline the youthful pairing of Ben Hurst and Aaron Mauger are going to be competing with the duo of Marshall and Mehrts.

It’s going to be very hard for Hansen to drop his galant provincial troops to the bench or beyond to make way for the returning All Blacks. But certainly, if you’re going to have selection headaches this is the sort of headache you’d want!

6 Sep

NPC Round 4 – Oh the pain!!
by Euan Kilgour
6 Sep 2001

This week I actually felt confident walking in through the gates at Rugby Park. Waikato after a belligerent encounter with 2000 Champs Wellington were finally looking as though they had enough nouse to win the close games and put teams away. Taranaki were coming in on the bottom of the table and after three home games were without a win. Surely Waikato could hold them out.

After a strong first quarter Waikato had been first to score and got in a wonderfully worked try to Scott McLeod. Then another try to Bruce Reihana put Waikato 10 points in the lead, but by this time the cracks were starting to show in Waikato’s tight five, and pressure on them finally lead them to collapse, Taranaki crashing over the line from an attacking lineout. The conversion coupled with a penalty earlier on gave Waikato a slim2 point lead heading into the break.

The second half was all Taranaki who dominated up front and scored two tries to take a 5 point lead. Waikato started to come back, but it was too late, and Taranaki got themselves out of the relegation zone with a 5 point win.

This pretty much sinks Waikato’s chances of a semi berth, as they now must win away again a strong Northland side, and an Auckland side who up until Saturday were looking ominous.

My feeling at the end of the game was one of disgust. Waikato are capable of a much more composed effort than the side that decided it had to play catch up football 10 minutes into the second half. They desperately missed the experience and calming influence of captain Deon Muir, and Rhys Duggans game imploded under the pressure of the captaincy. The backs did well with what ball they got, as Waikato were keeping level with their opponents in loose play. But the 50/50 balls were not going to hand and the last passes were forced, giving Taranaki a surfeit on unforced turnover ball which they calmly converted into territory.

Waikato lack that clinical performance of putting teams away when they’re on top, often going through patches of indifferent form when they should be pressing the foot down on the throat hard. The problem is definitely not in their ability, as Waikato have one of the strongest sides on paper with a ton of skill and potential. No, the answer lies up in that grey matter – they must acquire the mental toughness that Australian teams have.