French Fire Warning Shot Across The Bow of NZS All Blacks
by Paul Waite
29 Jun 2003
If anyone imagined that the good ship NZS All Blacks was steaming for the tropical Island World Cup Trophy through calm waters, they got a storm warning yesterday.
The lads got the boat into some choppy water, and looked decidely seasick by the end of the night after a pretty dodgy win against France ‘B’.
To carry on with the nautical theme, the lineout was de-masted, the scrum was rammed amidships, and the skipper got to walk the plank.
Apart from a ‘golden spell’ of fifteen minutes in the first half when Rokocoko ran in three tries, it was all a case of floundering out of their depth pitted against a bunch of althletic but inexperienced second-string Frogs who had just lost two tests in Argentina.
Even allowing for the inevitable raising of the French game to meet the All Blacks on their home turf, you had to wonder at the basic problems on show: a lineout that couldn’t win its own ball, a scrum (reckoned as our best) which was shunted backwards on its own ball, a defence which couldn’t cope with players offloading and running at it with more than three changes in the point of attack, and finally an inability to control its own posession at the breakdown.
The problem, from the viewpoint of a land-lubber who eschews all the nerdy rugby techno-babble, looked to be that the French were playing a style the All Blacks couldn’t cope with. Once again we are reminded of the nemesis of Super 12 rugby, with all its stereotypical plays, it’s over-emphasis on continuity for the sake of “entertainment”, and the end result of schooling players in a kind of game which isn’t played anywhere else and which is exposed as a complete nonsense in tests like this one.
The problem is becoming worse as each season comes around as well, probably because hitherto we had players still involved in the game who had not spent their entire careers playing Super 12. These days it seems to take the All Blacks at least 2-3 tests to get Super 12 out of their systems, and if the competition expands then it will presumably take more in future. Excuse the application of logic at a time like this, but why not get rid of the main problem – Super 12 rugby played in it’s present form – and avoid all this? Let’s play “real rugby” instead perhaps.
Back to the test, and looking around the park at various players there were some performances to note. After being shown up in two tests by the effervescent Mealamu, in this one Oliver did nothing to offer any other judgement than he should be sitting on the bench for the next. The All Black scrum was going backwards before Mealamu got on, gainsaying those who promote him as our best scrummaging hooker. He may well be, but isn’t much different from Mealamu there, quite obviously. The throwing at lineout time was a different issue again – Oliver had problems from the start, tossing the ball short and gifting the French with posession when the All Blacks were hot on attack; unforgiveable.
The referee, Andre Watson, I have a lot of time for, but in this test he made two very strange calls. The first was to call the All Blacks back from a certain try for a forward pass which was so un-forward as to be blatantly obvious even to the camera which was positioned so as to emphasise the forwardness (if you see what I mean).
The second was to penalise Steve Devine in a preposterous incident. After feeding the New Zealand scrum Devine managed to get the ball away, but was sacked by the eager Galthie. In being castled Devine fell on his hands and knees, semi-raised himself against Galthie and fell again. “I saw that!” said the eagle-eyed Watson, blowing a penalty in the face of the surprised Devine. Saw what? Saw him falling over? What next, penalties for tackling someone with the intent to stop them?
To wrap up, this test marked the end of any pretence that the All Blacks have it all laid out before them to win the World Crown in November. To do so they must beat at least one Northern hemisphere team. France showed last night that with no less than nine first-choice test players out of the team their top lineup could run rings around New Zealand on their day, which is more than England took away with them.
Who knows we might see a New Zealand vs France semi-final again. In that event, given this latest performance, would we be confident of winning?
Well, at least this time we can’t say we haven’t been warned.