Biggest Test Yet To Come
by Paul Waite
27 Aug 2001
What a lovely feeling it is for once eh? That win over the Boks on the weekend gave us a warm vibe which, as All Black supporters, we haven’t really had since the lead-up games to the 1999 Rugby World Cup.
Oops! That sobering thought ought to bring us all back down to Planet Earth with a bump. One win does not a season make, and we need to keep things in perspective. More on that later.
There are some important things which need to be said about last Saturday’s win over the Old Enemy. One of the most satisfying things about the test was the resurfacing of the old indomitable All Black attitude. To many the niggle which bubbled to the surface on one or two occasions was just irrelevent bad temper, but it represents much more than that. After the ‘PR Years’ under John Hart, we are now seeing the team re-establish some age-old boundaries and, taken together with the kind of performance we saw against The Bokke, a regaining of the mana which has been ebbing away since 1997.
On a more technical note, it was also satisfying to see that good honest common rugby sense on the part of the knowledgable New Zealand public was borne out by the way the team changes worked.
Smith and Gilbert have their own perspective on this no doubt, but from our point of view, having campaigned for weeks regarding playing players in their specialist positions, and on the need to get delivery speed and playmaking ability back in the halves, the end result on Saturday was vindication, pure and simple.
Sadly one aspect of the selectorial madness still remains: the playing of Taine Randell at openside. I studied the video post game and followed him for the whole time he played before he switched to No.8 when Marty Holah replaced Ron Cribb. Taine is a very useful player to have on the park, but he simply doesn’t do what a genuine No.7 does. He pops up here and there, sometimes in the tight work, sometimes hovering in the backs, but nearly always a tad late to the breakdown, if at all. He tackles well and reads the game well making him a very handy man to have on the team, but when Holah appeared the landscape changed radically. All of a sudden we had a man sniffing out the ball, diving on it with hunger and breathing down the necks of team-mates running with it. I put it to Smith and Gilbert that the game today requires a player like this just as it did when the legendary Iceman or the awesome Josh or any of the other kings of this position played. Do us all a favour – pick a real openside flanker. Pick Marty Holah to start against Australia – we desperately need him to take the battle to George Smith!
Looking around at the performance overall I have to say that the tight five were, for once, worthy of that name. The mauling is slowly getting better, in particular the ability to reform quickly and keep the pressure on when it is blocked. The scrum looks at last like it will soon be able to worry the best, and the committment and coordination at the ruck was much better. This platform was what enabled the rest of the team to function like it did.
But enough of that test match, as good as it was.
Like the title of the article says, the real test is still to come, this coming Saturday with the Tri-Nations decider in Sydney against the current holders and World Champions Australia.
The win against the Springboks can be ascribed, by the more cynical amongst us, to the backs-to-the-wall syndrome. An All Black side goaded by media and public alike into a one-off effort.
So the coming Tri-Series decider is shaping up as a different kind of test entirely: a test of character.
We know that the bodies are fit enough, and the skills are there now that most of the selection problems have been put right, but being able to back the last win up with another against a tricksy opponent requires more than just this.
For the most part we don’t like to predict results here at Haka. Who can know what’s in the minds of forty-four rugby players just before a big game? But we’ll make an exception this time.
We predict that the All Blacks will go out onto Stadium Australia, perform a spine-tingling haka, totally ignoring the silly stunt promised to drown it out, and then ruin Eales retirement party by destroying the Wallabies on their home turf.
The time has come.
The team is ready to do what should have been done two years previously. To show the World that Australian Rugby is quite definitely second best!