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.

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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.

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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.

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