by Paul Waite
27 Jul 2003
Just to take a divergent stance from what I imagine the papers will be saying about the 50-21 victory over Australia in Sydney, I’d give the All Blacks a 5/10 pass mark.
True the backline was in such blistering form that it almost set fire to my telly, but there were a number of warts on the otherwise beautiful face of All Black rugby, and if they don’t get fixed, then we won’t win the World Cup.
First of all there’s the major problem of the goal kicking. It’s all very well running champagne tries past the Aussies, but the truth of the matter is they are a disorganised shower this season, and not representative of what we will face in a tight World Cup final against the likes of England or France. Should it eventuate, that game will probably hinge on as little as a single conversion from the side-line, and basically Spencer hasn’t a prayer of knocking one of those over.
The BIG problem is what to do to remedy the situation. There are only a couple of proven World Class goal-kickers available – Ben Blair and Andrew Merhtens.
Putting Blair in for Mils Muliaina would be a great loss, since Mils has been playing with a power and panache which looks like it will evolve into a truly top class combination with Rokocoko, Howlett, Umaga and Co. His domination of the high ball and rangy running with the ability to stand in the heavy tackle and get the pass away can not be matched by the diminutive Blair.
With this in mind, and as well as Carlos is playing at the moment, I have to say Andrew Mehrtens needs to be brought back into the fold. We only have two Tri-Nations tests to go, and time is a-wasting.
Back to the game and those warts. What on Earth happened to the team when Wendell Sailor was sin-binned? It looked like the forwards all decided to make it up to the opposition and play like duffers. Knock-ons, turnovers, and worst of all the lineout went to hell in a hand-basket.
After this game I’ve come to the conclusion that Ali Williams needs to be dropped. He does very little around the field, except for knocking the ball on and turning it over, and his lineout jumping was fumblingly poor. In addition, his scrummaging is quite obviously well down in power as compared with Brad Thorn, so Thorn should get the starting jersey.
The front-row which started this test is also questionable. When it was replaced with a Meeuws, Mealamu, Hewett one, and with Thorn in at lock and Jack packing on his normal side we wasted them. This also happened in South Africa, so it is clearly the best combination by a mile. Let’s start it next time, and have the solidity of Thorn at lineout, and using Mealamu as an impact player off the bench once again.
Finally there was the tackling. There is far too much scragging going on and not enough tackling around the waist/legs to bring ball-carriers down. This contributed to most of the breaks the Wallabies made, and also to their points tally, which should never have been allowed to get near 21.
To wrap it up, this All Black performance had some brilliant tries scored, and some awesome play leading up to them, but there was a lot of poor play as well. This Wallaby side is vastly inferior to those of previous seasons, and the scoreline is reflected in that.
It’s a great stepping stone to better things (including regaining the Bledisloe Cup), but let’s keep it in perspective, and our feet firmly on the ground.