27 Aug

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!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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27 Aug

The Eden Park Gobstopper
by Rick Boyd
27 Aug 2001

The muted mutterings of the Great Aussie Boasting Machine after the lame 14 all draw here in distant Perth vanished beneath a blanket of silence this weekend, as something vaguely resembling an All Black team decked the Japie robots 26-15.

It may be slowly sinking into the vainglorious Aussie consciousness that the limited, one-gear team from the Republic beaten 2-0 by the All Blacks is the same wooden line-up of plodders to which the Greatest Team in History (that’s the Wallabies to you heathen Aotearoans) has just conceded a losing series, one loss one draw.

Maybe John Eales and his Golden Boys who have dominated the All Blacks so completely (that’s two years of retaining the Bledisloe Cup through enormously fortunate drawn series, in case you were wondering) are about to lose their jewel-studded crown and slip into the obscurity they so richly deserve.

Rugby Heaven (run by the Fairfax family’s Sydney Morning Herald) reported the story almost objectively, although the main slant was building up expectation for the big match at the modestly-named Stadium Australia against the World Champion Wallabies — which is apparently what you become if you’re Australian and hold the World Cup. Less fortunate nations have to be content with being World Cup Holders.

Wallaby pom-pom girl Greg Growden opted for a different angle in an unusually restrained Monday report. The return of Christian Cullen was the main focus of Growder’s ravings, although a moment of insanity prompted him to admit that the All Blacks result was “…a victory far more lopsided than the 26-15 scoreline suggests.”

Completely losing his grip on Wallaby-mania, Growden even went so far as to say, “It must irritate the Wallabies that they could only draw with an opposition that is often one-dimensional and uninspiring in attack.” Although he did go on to say that the fabulous Wallabies will undoubtedly improve dramatically for next weekend.

The Sydney Morning Herald also ran a story saying the Boks had been food poisoned, probably explaining the real reason the All Blacks looked moderately competent.

While former test lock and shameless self-promoter Peter Fitzsimons had nothing to say, and Mr Blobby lookalike John Connolly was notably silent, it was left to some hack called John Geddes to sum up the game in The Australian. John obligingly called the All Black performance “ominous”. He quoted Eddie Jones description of the match as “…the most dominant of the Tri Nations.” High praise indeed.

The South African press set about disembowelling the Boks as you might expect, but the New Zealand press was cautiously optimistic, with nobody prematurely forecasting victory in Sydney.

And no wonder. The All Blacks played a vastly improved game at Eden Park, but not without significant room for improvement. And anyone who thinks one reasonably good performance equates with consistency should fling themselves on the nearest shrink’s couch without delay.

All Black teams of the last decade have been up and down more often than a Kings Cross whore’s knickers, and as I heard one mobile phone-brandishing Aussie salesman proclaim loudly to his fellow suits in a Perth restaurant recently, one sparrow does not make a summer.

The Eden Park win was a worthy game which for me had six things going for it that the Carisbrook test lacked in spades, listed in order of importance:
1. Attitude – the All Blacks looked passionate and aggressive
2. Mistakes – there were lots less of them, even though it was wet
3. Forwards – they played like an All Black eight and not Queen Street trans-sexuals
4. Halves – Kellaher and Merhtens were incisive, quick and accurate, a quantum leap forward even given the better quality ball they received
5. Kicking – intelligently directed instead of straight back to the opposition
6. Kick offs – the All Blacks won some, although this was not that important as both teams used a lot of long kick offs.

As far as shortcomings are concerned, these are the things that need to be improved from where I’m sitting:
1. Mistakes – there’s still too many of them
2. Lineouts – winning our own is a minimum, winning the opposition’s would be a bonus
3. Attack – it would be nice to have some — let’s give the glory boys some room to move and some positive possession to use in it.

The All Blacks have shown a glimpse of what they are capable of. Whether they can reproduce it, or hopefully improve on it, is anyone’s guess. I don’t have a molecule of sympathy for John Eales in his farewell test. He used up several lifetimes of good fortune with that unbelievably jammy kick to escape a whitewash in last year’s Tri-Nations, and as far as I’m concerned a farewell of something in the region of a 50-0 loss would be entirely fitting.

So as you can see, 20 years in Australia has not made me at all bitter.

27 Aug

NPC Round 3 – The Waikato Rollercoaster ride continues…
by Euan Kilgour
27 Aug 2001

After the satisfaction of watching vintage AB rugby as they stuffed the Boks at Eden Park, my warm fuzzy feeling was replaced by that deja vu when Wellington shot out to a 12 nil lead in the blink of an eye against the home side Waikato. Some great opportunistic play lead to excellent tries to Steinmetz and Fa’atau.

After that set back the Waikato forward finally pulled finger and started albeit slowly, to take over the game up front. Wellingtons top notch loose forward trio were sucked into the tight and the gaps started to open up. After conceding a penalty converted by Waikato first five David Hill, a ruck just inside the Wellington 22 saw Hill pop a beauty of a short ball to a charging Scott McLeod who went through unscathed to score.

Wellington struck back again a penaly of their own, and individual skills from Steinmetz saw him land a 49 metre drop goal and later a slightly less convincing but none the less effective drop goal from blindside flanker Filo Tiatia!!

Halftime saw Wellington in the lead 18 points to 16, Waikato captain Deon Muir off the field with brusing to his ribs, and stand in captain Rhys Duggan taking some own souvenirs of his own getting trapped after Wellington blew over a ruck and the ball got stuck up his jersey.

The second half saw rain, the introduction of Glen ‘Psycho’ Remnant for Deon Muir at Number 8, more ill tempered cheap shots (especially from Waikato tight head Deacon Manu, who deserves some pine time for a stomp on Jason Spice’s head), the sunny afternoon turn to cloud and rain, and a finishing off of Wellington as they were kept scoreless. David Hill scored all the second half points with a try, the subsequent conversion, a drop goal and two penalties to end the game with a 22 point haul and the man of the match award.

Special mention must be made of Scott McLeod, who made a lot of good breaks and handoffs, and gave the Wellington backs another player to keep an eye on, as Lowen was carefully looked after by the Wellington defense.

The tight five kept things tight until they took over, when they started getting a little loose again, much to my consternation. Wellington have only themselves to blame as they watched their lead evapourate and could not come up with an answer to the rampaging Waikato tight five.

From Wellington there were good individual performances from Christian Cullen, who looked to be back to about 90% pace, but 100% of his body swerve. Also the loose forward trio of Tiatia (replaced eventually by So’oialo due to a shoulder injury), Collins and Vanisi were everywhere doing everything that was expected of them and more. I think you’ll see them get better as the season progresses.

Overall the game was an uncompromising, bruising encounter full of confrontation and spite up front, but with silky individual skills and finesse out wide. All it needed was the referee to exert a tighter grip on the game and I would have given it 10 out of 10.

Next week sees the Mighty Mooloo men take on the other Hurricanes franchise first division union Taranaki again at Seddon Park in Hamilton. Taranaki after three straight home losses have it all ahead of them and will be desperate to get themselves off the bottom of the table and avoid relegation. Waikato will have no time to rest on their laurels, and they’ll be sorely tested with Deacon Manu almost certain to sit out the game.

23 Aug

Two out of three aint bad
by Paul Waite
23 Aug 2001

Well congrats to Smith and Gilbert. They got two changes out of three right at least and that took courage.

Unfortunately the gloss on this selection turn-around was tarnished somewhat by the ‘spin’ which the pair put on it all, but more of that later.

The team is:
Backs: MacDonald, Wilson, Umaga, Alatini, Lomu, Mehrtens, Kelleher
Forwards: Cribb, Randell, Flavell, Jack, Maxwell, Somerville, Oliver(c), Hoeft

The key areas which were so obviously wrong before were: (1) the locks, (2) the loosies, and (3) the halves.

Playing Flavell out of position at lock was a bad idea, especially with very good options in Cooksley and Jack to hand. This has been rectified.

The loose forward trio has been unbalanced and plain lacking in talent for a while. Playing Taine Randell out of position at openside is another doomed experiment, and this hasn’t been fixed. Cribb remains a liability, and Jerry Collins should be developed there instead. Moving Flavell from lock to blindside is at least a good choice, since he gives us impact in the loose, and options in the lineout.

The delivery of Justin Marshall has been a problem for some seasons, not just this one. It’s time to give Byron Kelleher a good chance to make the position his. Outside him Mehrtens is the best play-making first-five eighth we have ever produced, and replaces the stilted Tony Brown. This is therefore another area where the selectors have made the right decision.

Other changes were also made. Wilson goes back to the wing from fullback, his place taken by MacDonald. Howlett is dropped from the starting fifteen. Wilson is undoubtedly better in the No.14 jersey, and MacDonald, although a tad slow seems to be reliable enough at the back.

Back to the issue of ‘spin’. At their media conference announcing the team Smith and Gilbert were at pains to put forward the view that this wasn’t a climb-down and was all part of the big picture.

Trouble is these changes represent a completely different direction for the team (and one the public have been advising them to take for five weeks I might add).

I know it’s natural for people to try and cover up mistakes, but basically that’s what we’ve got here in our opinion: Smith and Gilbert have tried some combinations and they’ve turned out to be shit. End of story.

So, it was a case of back to the drawing board, picking players in position and having another crack. What’s so hard about admitting that?

Of course Smith and Gilbert have held on to part of their mad plan – keeping Randell on the openside. Oh well, when poor old Taine is discarded from an All Black position for the second time, I expect we’ll be hearing that it was “all part of our plan” once again.

In the meantime, we’ve at least got a team which looks like it can compete well in set-pieces, and which has some creative options likely to get Lomu and Wilson the ball, given a half-chance.

Go Black!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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20 Aug

The Luck of the Draw
by Rick Boyd
20 Aug 2001

The Greatest Rugby Team of All Time is finding life tough at the top. I’m talking about the current Wallaby team here, you realise. In the mind of Australian rugby writers, anyway.

Bad enough that Australia’s “domination” of the All Blacks, much touted in the Australian press, consists of two years of draws, but now they have successfully compiled a losing series against the Springboks, one loss one draw. The same Springboks that lost to Argentina earlier in the year, the same Springboks that were widely regarded as a mere formality for the glorious Wallaby machine in its victorious march to retain the Tri Nations Trophy. Tsk tsk tsk. How the mighty have fallen.

Self-appointed Wallaby bugle Greg Growden was a bit down in the dumps with his game report, his blowhardiness clearly hampered by the dead weight draw. Still, it didn’t stop him getting a few well-placed Australianisms in.

“South Africa were last night claiming a moral victory over Australia,” growled Growders, offering the opinion that Australia is so wonderful, other sides see a draw with Australia as being pretty much the equivalent of a win over lesser sides.

Apparently, the referee was the chief villain in Australia’s unfortunate failure to record another glorious win.

South Africa scored “…a dubious try when second-rower Mark Andrews appeared to hit the corner flag just before placing the ball,” complained Grumpy Greg, going on to explain that there should have been more and earlier send-offs to stop those naughty Japies cheating at every opportunity.

This is not something any Wallaby would ever stoop to, not to mention running obstruction or convenient injuries when the team is really stretched.

On the other hand, former Queensland coach John Connolly, the man who shops at “Fat Bastard Menswear”, thought the Wallabies were pretty bloody fantastic despite their uninspiring draw.

“A lesser side would have crumbled under the intense pressure that was applied by the Boks and lost the game,” enthused Thunderguts Connolly, “But, as the Wallabies showed against the All Blacks, they can tough their way through situations.”

A bit surprising that they couldn’t tough their way to a win then, eh Mr Connolly?

Stand-up comedian Peter Fitzsimons did not agree, and thought the Wallabies were off their golden game.

“…they were unrecognisable from the team that took the field at Carisbrook a fortnight ago,” lamented Fitzy.

That’s funny, I had no trouble recognising the Wallabies. The same b-grade effort, the same mistakes, the same stilted, wooden attack. The only difference I could see was this time they were up against a team whose game did not consist entirely of every mistake in the book and one or two invented solely for the occasion. And for a quarter of the game, a 14 man team at that.

But it wasn’t all bad news, according to Glitzy Fitzy.

“Generally, the Wallabies had far the better of the attacking raids and constantly threatened the Springbok line,” he noted with pride.

Threatened to bore it to death, perhaps he meant. One try in two games isn’t a threat I’d be losing too much sleep over.

But enough whining from the Wallaby cheering section. Back on planet earth here’s the state of play as I see it. All three teams have rock solid defence. South Africa has the lowest mistake rate but also the poorest attacking game. They aim to play it hard and hope for penalty kicks.

Australia is well off its game and to all appearances on a downward slide. They are average at best in the forwards with the exception of Maori flanker George Smith, and their backs seem to have had a couple of cogs removed from their gearbox.

And the All Blacks? They badly need some changes and they must, must, must lower that mistake rate. There’s really only one team stopping the All Blacks from blowing this tournament wide open, and that, unfortunately, is the All Blacks.

I’d bring in Cooksley for some solidity in the tight five and for Christ’s sake let’s have a real openside flanker. Retaining Cribb is a toss up. Kellaher must come in at halfback although I’d be inclined to stick with Brown against South Africa and switch to Merhtens against Australia. I hope Cullen is ready soon but either way get Wilson out of fullback. Howlett hasn’t done anything wrong either, so Wilson might have to take a seat on the bench.

And how will the formerly feared All Blacks go in their next two games?, Hell, that’s anyone’s guess. Will they spend the game running into each other like the Village Idiots XV? Or will they lower their mistake rate and play reasonably competent professional rugby? Or will they put it all together and unleash the world’s best three quarters in a try scoring frenzy?

Don’t ask me, I’ve given up making predictions about the All Blacks. The only things I know for sure is they’ll be wearing black and I’ll be as nervous as all buggery.

20 Aug

NPC Round 2: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous
by Euan Kilgour
20 Aug 2001

Oh how the mighty have fallen. It was with great trepidation that I made my way north on Saturday, heading to Albany to watch Waikato’s match against North Harbour. Everyone around me were telling of a crushing victory to the red, yellow and black but I wasn’t buying a bean of it. I’ve seen Waikato get stung by inconsistent performances in the last two seasons, and as it turned out my fear were justified.

After a relatively controlled start, Waikato went and lost all cohesion and organisation. Even thought they were down 3-0 to Harbour, they were playing catchup rugby like there was only 3 minutes remaining in the game. The forwards failed to protect the ball at the breakdowns, leading to a stirling performance from Matua Parkinson who snaffled the ball right out from under All Black benchwarmer Marty Holah’s nose on a couple of occasions.

All too often the forwards were not delivering the ball fast enough, so the backs struggled to get the ball on the front foot and were knocked over behind the advantage line time after time. Set piece play was also very scrappy, as Harbour did well to disrupt Waikato’s possession.

The only good thing I can say about Waikato’s performance was that they secured the ball well from restarts, something which the All Blacks could take note of.

Things went from bad to worse when veteran first five Frano Botica injected some life into the rather flat Harbour backline and they ran in two late tries to win comfortably by 25 – 6.

13 Aug

Don't bloody House-of-Pain me!
by Rick Boyd
13 Aug 2001

The House of Pain? Yes it certainly was.

The only real question we have left is — what was most painful? The crappy refereeing of yet another fool from the British Isles; the crappier play of the “world champions”, who looked about ten per cent of the team that lost to the All Blacks in the first test last year; or the crappiest performance of 15 hopeless, aimless, worthless plonkers in black who are an embarrassment and shame to great (or even mediocre) All Black teams of the past.

A 0-0 draw would have been outrageous flattery for both teams.

But enough about reality. I have to live in Australia and put up with the endless squawking and crowing of a country where shit is wonderful as long as it’s Australian shit.

The silence was deafening last week after the Wobblies lost to a very pedestrian Springbok side. Even Greg Growden, the ARU publicist who pretends to be a journo for the Sydney Morning Herald, mentioned the game only as a side issue to a riveting story about somebody’s injury. As you might expect, things are just slightly differently this week.

In full flight, Growden was virtually in orgasm over the breaking of the Dunedin hoodoo. Those wonderful Australians “…realised it was more bad luck than poor play which had given away five early points…”, frothed Growders. How different when Australia got their try. Burke’s five-pointer was a “…a courageous and clever solo try”. Naturally. He’s Australian. How could it be anything else?

Former Queensland coach John Connolly eased his gut behind the computer keyboard to dribble “…that was the best performance by a Wallaby side this year…”. Jeez, are they in trouble.

Digging deep into his happy pills, Connolly burbled on, “Australia also made very few mistakes and pressed their opposition into blunder after blunder.”

Very few mistakes? What planet was this on? And the Wallabies must have telekinetic powers. How they pressed the All Blacks into 22 largely unforced errors is beyond me. But then it wouldn’t be as glorious an Australian win if the opposition blew it themselves, would it? It’s all down to the brilliant Australians and their awesome talents. It goes without saying.

Give my regards to the Tooth Fairy, Mr Connolly. If ever you ever come back to planet Earth I hope you go on to coach the Wallabies. With delusions like yours they’d be lucky to get the wooden spoon.

And of course, some anonymous halfwit on the Rugby Heaven site just had to repeat the frequent Australian claim that, “The Wallabies have now won the last four Bledisloe Cup series.”

No matter how they try, the sons of convicts just can’t get it through their parochial, biased, mad-dog patriotic brains that they have DRAWN the last two Bledisloe Cup series, and RETAINED the cup for that reason. If Australia hadn’t won it outright in 1998 the All Blacks would still have it in the trophy case in Wellington.

Such low expectations are the measure of this “greatest ever” Wallaby team, where a draw makes them “the best in the world”. Right now, for my money, they are on the way out.

It takes a special sort of crap to lose to a team on the way out. And the All Blacks have that special sort of crap, and lots of it. Even so, I find it hard to believe they’ll play that badly again and lose the next test against Australia.

After all, they have achieved the impossible. They have made the French look consistent, the South Africans innovative and the Australians world champions. And that’s some feat.

13 Aug

Letter to Wayne Smith
by Tracey Nelson
13 Aug 2001

Dear Wayne

Given your “horses for courses” theories on team selections this season,have you now realised you took the wrong horse to Carisbrook this weekend? Or do you still not see that the Clydesdale you used in South Africa was never going to be able to compete with the Australian thoroughbred on Saturday?

As an ex All Black 1st 5 yourself, you seem to have little appreciation of how pivotal this role is in running a game and a backline. Or perhaps you can’t remember how important it is to get good, swift delivery from your halfback and that the whole idea of having a player like Jonah Lomu is to put him into space so he can mow down the opposition – as opposed to having to take on the entire Australian defensive line from a standing start.

Is it really such a good idea to play a defensive halfback/1st 5 combination to make up for the limitations of a converted opensider, who through no fault of his own has been consistently shafted by All Black coaches and made to play out of position for the better part of his career? Aren’t loose forwards supposed to support the ball runner instead of having to play in the tight? Or do you find it amusing to have your locks cavorting in the midfield while your centres set up the ruck?

Do you find it strange that Australia play specialists instead of convertees in key positions and look to attack as well as defend? Goodness knows what they must have been thinking to play someone with the vision of Stephen Larkham at 1st 5, and fancy persevering with a halfback as fast as Gregan for all this time. And I guess we’ll never know why they replaced their retired opensider with someone as specialised and skillful as George Smith – their locks must be really pissed off at having to do all the tight work.

Finally, do you think you could find time to fit in a little maths homework between now and Auckland? I’m sure that even my cat could figure out that 15 + 7 was never going to beat 23. So much for not winning the battle – guess we’re not looking to win the war either.

13 Aug

NPC Round 1: What a start for the Mighty Mooloo Men!
by Euan Kilgour
13 Aug 2001

I’d like to start off by giving some hearty congratulations to two underdog sides who showed what it takes to win. Take a bow Bay of Plenty and Otago.

Otago proved the depth of NZ rugby by fielding a side lacking 14 first choice players due to injury and All Black commitments against a strong North Harbour side at Carisbrook. The overall standard of rugby by both sides was top notch stuff, and in spite of a bit of rain the error rate was suprisingly low for a first up game played at S12 pace.

I didn’t get to see the Wellington BOP game, but my impressions from feedback from those who did say Wellington only have themselves to blame for the loss.

I went to WestpacTrust Park (hereafter called it’s proper name Seddon Park) with more than a bit of trepidation. There were a lot of unanswered questions in my head pertaining to Waikato and their ability to carry on the outstanding S12 form the Chiefs showed, whether or not they would adapt to playing at Seddon Park, and the fact that they had lost (quite heavily) in the preseason to Counties Manukau.

It was a gloriously fine afternoon in Hamilton, but overnight rain had made the ground greasy underfoot, especially on the cricket block. I spied Loki Crighton standing a few metres away from me with some of his friends watching the game. He had a rather large bandage on his left ankle, which meant that Counties were denied one of their most dynamic, experienced and talented players. I took that to be a good omen, and I was proved right.

After an unsteady beginning Waikato took control up front and let aguably one of the best backlines in the NPC show their stuff, running in 9 tries to 2 in a solid first up performance that exceeded my expectations. Generally Waikato competed well at all phases of the game, and didn’t look as disjointed as they have in previous seasons, although there was still that traditional ‘patch’ that they have during the game where they go off the boil and let the opposition back into the game.

My standout players for both sides were:

Waikato:

Keith Lowen – carried on his S12 form nicely and runs such good lines he looks like an Aussie (dare I say it). Busted the first tackles and created ample space for his wingers – what more can you ask for?

Scott Couch – took his opportunity for some sustained gametime and ran with it. Very much a specialist opensider in the vein of Holah and Monkley, he was always there at the breakdown to won good ball for his tight forwards, and then backed up the midfield backs on attack.

Deacon Manu/David Briggs – I give them both the same mention because they performed similarly. After winning the tight game they then showed their mobility in backing up the loose trio, scoring a try apiece.

David Hill – Controlled the backs well, only missed 1 attempt at goal and was a strong runner. However needs to work on his tactical kicking and finding touch.

Counties-Manukau:

Casey Laulala – Played a fairly solid game at the back. Showed a little inexperience on a couple of occasions, but generally pulled off the big tackles and saved his team two certain tries.

Ramon Lindsay – Gutsy performance in the tight, and was the money man for his sides lineout.

11 Aug

Will this be The Team?
by Paul Waite
11 Aug 2001

I’m sorry but I’m going to have to get strict. Enough is enough!

Wayne Smith, write out one hundred times: “I Must Pick Players to Play In Their Positions”.

The theory: “People get better at things with practice. Players who say, play at openside, and have played there for some years, have learned the position and honed their skills and physique in it. Changing position requires a similar time to adapt.”

Rule 1: It is permitted to pick a player out of position if they are going down a grade, say from Super 12 level to NPC level.

Rule 2: It is NEVER permitted to pick a player out of position if they are going up a grade, say from Super 12 level to test level. That’s because you come up against the very best players in these games; players who (I have it on very good authority) have spent many years honing their skills in that position…

Why is this so hard to understand? You’d think it would be a given for people who are supposedly the best coaches we have in The Land.

But no.

Instead we had a blindside flanker playing at lock (Troy Flavell), and a blindside flanker playing openside.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I too saw that we did much better than expected in the lineouts. It’s just that, when Cooksley came on it was patently obvious to me that he was better, that’s all.

As for the loose forwards plodding around out there today, I think my old mum could have beaten them to the breakdown and had a nice cup of tea and a muffin waiting for them as they arrived, most of the time.

So, for the Nth time this season Mr. Smith. Can we please have a real pair of locks starting the game, and a real openside flanker? Go on. You know it makes sense.

With the lineout working so unexpectedly well, we of course had possession. Unfortunately, with Marshall and Brown occupying the halves, and no genuine openside we also had absolutely no chance of putting it to anything remotely resembling good use.

I really like Tony Brown. He’s a bloody gutsy tough customer and deserves everyone’s respect. It’s just that he quite straightforwardly isn’t a test class first five-eighth. He hasn’t got the vision or the creative spark to give the All Blacks any chance of breaking down defences such as that of The Wallabies.

As for Justin Marshall, he is another player I respect immensely, but I think it’s time we all recognized that he simply is not the player he was before he ruptured his Achilles in 1998. His laboured delivery and dithering is costing time which we can’t afford if we are to keep opposition defences guessing and to set up moves likely to beat them.

In both cases when Kelleher and Merhtens hit the park the difference was like a breath of fresh air. It was like when you put your head under the bed-clothes for five minutes and then come up for air. After the suffocating nonsense of Marshall and Brown it seemed so fresh and free.

Today the All Blacks never really looked like having the wherewithall to win against Australia. Despite a lucky break early on, they played most of the game in a bumbling stilted manner which gave the Wallabies no real headaches.

For us to turn all this around I put it to Wayne Smith and Tony Gilbert that the path is a simple one: pick all your players to play in their specialist positions, and put your best playmakers on the paddock!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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