18 Oct

A' Is For Awful
by Paul Waite
18 Oct 2003

There are two options.

Either the All Blacks are sandbagging, or they are really in strife at this Rugby World Cup.

The piss-poor performance visited upon us last night against Canada ‘B’ was probably the worst I’ve seen from the team since the dark days of 1998.

Try as I might I can’t blame it all on new combinations, and first-starts by players fizzing at the bung after eight weeks of camps. Does that explain 60-70 minutes of players dropping the ball, failing to support the ball-carrier, taking the wrong options and generally looking like a third rate bunch of woofters? It does not.

I’d love to know what happened in those training camps during August and September. Ostensibly it was to take what we had at the end of the Tri-Nations, and improve on it. The idea, presumably, was to end up with players who were fitter, and who were also more sure of the playing patterns, and combinations. Added to that I expected Carlos Spencer to have brushed up on his kicking accuracy, but that’s another story in itself.

Instead what are we seeing? Well it looks to me just exactly like a bunch of guys who are having the very first game in their lives together without the benefit of any coaching whatsoever (“Hello there, what’s your name? Daniel? Great, look, would you like to stand in at second-five and I’ll have a stab at centre eh?”), and who are trying too hard, and aren’t properly fit. The latter accusation seems ridiculous, but why was Kees Meeuws was puffing like a steam engine and sweating like a pig, and why did Mils Muliaina plod past the Cannuck fullback like a granny and suck in the big ones afterwards like it was the first game of the Super 12? Others looked significantly short of puff too – what’s going on?

So, is it all a ploy to fool the Big Guns and leave nothing worthwhile for video analysis? If so it’s a bloody superb performance – I’m certainly not storing any of this crap on video (once is enough thanks), and I can see Clive Woodward laughing his head off at it and filing it alongside his collection of The Two Ronnies for when he’s in need of some light relief.

From this you might be tempted to guess that I don’t think that the All Black 2003 Rugby World Cup Campaign is on track. You’d be dead right.

So far our number one goal-kicker has proved to have had a relapse with a sharp drop in form since his 50% kicking rate in the Tri-Nations. The only other kicker whom you could confidently slot into the test team against the likes of England, Ben Blair, is now being sent home injured. The third choice, Dan Carter, who has question-marks over him since he ‘choked’ at the job in the Super 12 finals, is not the first choice in his position – Aaron Mauger is. Added to this, we have had two Pool games featuring most of the 30-strong squad which have been a showcase for how not to perform the basics of rugby, and how the team is not gelling the way it should do if it is to win a Rugby World Cup.

So, no, I don’t think much of the All Blacks’ start to this tournament, and no, I currently don’t think they have a prayer of winning it.

The only gliimmer of hope that I have is if the team is indeed sandbagging it, and is going to suddenly turn it up to fuill noise and play with purpose, poise and excellence when (if) we meet England in the Semis, and Whoever in the Final.

The only trouble with keeping plays and ploys, and all the rest of it secret on the training paddocks, is that Real Life is usually completely different and has a way of showing you up.

So even if the All Blacks have kept a lot of cards up their sleeves, they’ll be no good if they drop them on the floor when trying to take them out.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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16 Oct

And They're Off!
by Paul Waite
16 Oct 2003

The All Blacks Rugby World Cup campaign kicked off last Saturday with a handy 70-pointer over Italy. The match was largely as you’d expect, with a lot of hesitancy and awkward play for the first 60 minutes.

There were two downsides to the game by the end. The first was the injury to Tana Umaga, who is now almost certainly out of the running for the rest of the tournament. His replacement is Maxwell, brought in actually to cover Ali Williams, who was already struggling with a stress fracture of the foot. Although the AB camp is currently being cagey, we’d expect some kind of announcement within a few days to the effect Maxwell is coming on board and Umaga is flying home. This might be left until after the next test, so that Umaga can stick around and support his replacement Ma’a Nonu through his first start, and debrief afterwards.

The other downer was the poxy form of Carlos Spencer with his goalkicking. Already in the spotlight after a less than distinguished domestic and Tri-Nations international season, where his kicking rate was generally about 50% in pressure games, Spencer looked to have made himself worse after 8 weeks of solid practice in World Cup camps.

Not only did he miss the easy ones, he missed the even easier ones – 35m kicks from more or less in front which my granny would have been hanging her head in shame over. With a windless and rainless and be-roofed Telstra Dome showing all the atmospheric turbulence of the insides of a Watties Baked Beans can, he couldn’t even blame the weather. Thankfully he managed to trip up Umaga and rip the latter’s knee to shreds, banging his own in the process. A theatrical limp after this incident gave him the perfect excuse to hand the kicking over to Dan Carter and save further acute embarassment.

The party line at All Black HQ is “kicking problem? what kicking problem?”. We New Zealand fans seem to be blighted with coaches who are very good at everything barring one thing for which they have a blind spot. For Wayne Smith and Tony Gilbert it was a failure to understand what the attributes of a good opensider are (“Taine Randell will be the World’s best No.7 within 12 months” – T. Gilbert). With John Hart it was a blindness to the fact that his charges were losing touch with the basics of the game. In the case of Laurie Mains it was a failure to realise that players perform badly if they are continually swapped in and out of the team and position, and for Grizz Wyllie it was underestimating what Buck Shelford meant to the team.

With this current pair, Mitchell and Deans, it appears to be a blindness to the old adage “kicks win tight tests”. The thing about old adages is that they are only old because they’ve lasted a long long time, which in turn means they have a bloody good chance of being fair dinkum.

With Umaga out of the picture, the coach and his aides de camp need to take another look at the backline, and in the process should consider this kicking problem before it comes back to bite them big time. Muliaina played centre for a good part of the Super 12, and is the kind of rangy, clever running back with good defence that would do well for us. Moving him from fullback would allow the Blair Version 2.0 package to be installed, and the team rebooted. Although Blair is smaller than the ideal, he punches above his weight, and would undoubtedly do the business.

Another option is to keep Mils at fullback where, let’s face it, he is a natural, and put Mauger at centre with Dan Carter at second five-eighth. Carter would then do the kicking. The drawback here is moving Mauger out would lose his good combination with Spencer, and Carter is also very young to be taking on the likes of England and Australia yet. Arguing for it is the fact that Mauger is an accomplished footballer and could make the change. Also Carter is so gifted nothing seems to faze him, and he could well turn out to be a success. In fact Carter will, I predict, become the de-facto All Black first five-eighth in years to come.

Which also brings us to another, more radical, option – replacing Spencer with Carter, and putting Nonu into centre alongside Mauger. This one is probably the least likely, since Spencer seems to be “it” for the duration.

Whatever the case, the mix simply HAS to involve a kicker other than Spencer, who is the worst thing since stale bread in this regard. Failure to fix this problem, standing out like the proverbial dog’s bollocks as it is, is tantamount to gross incompetence from an otherwise very perceptive and clever pair.

Stop Press: Tana has been given a breathing space to allow the swelling behind his jknee to come down. After that it will be assessed and there is a small hope that he will be able to play in the final stages of the tournament.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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14 Oct

The Cribb Incident
by Tracey Nelson
14 Oct 2003

There are some things in rugby that just annoy you (such as fatties in the backline, shoddy defensive efforts, botched lineouts etc) and then there are things that make your blood run cold. Ron Cribb’s stomping on Ryan Glover’s head in the NPC game against Canterbury on October 11th is one of those things.

Cribb has been suspended for 6 weeks by a NZRU judicial committee after they viewed a videotape of the incident and heard evidence from Cribb where he claimed the contact made with Glover’s head was accidental, that he had no intention of injuring the player and what he did was ‘entirely inadvertent’. His explanation was that he was endeavouring to secure possession of the football located beneath the body of the Canterbury player and that the contact made with his head was an accidental result of that rucking.

Amazingly, the committee was satisfied that Cribb had not deliberately brought his boot into contact with Glover’s head even though they viewed the videotape and must have seen Cribb run over to the ruck from where he was originally positioned to the right of it, cross around behind it, come in above where Glover’s head was on the ground and bring his boot down on it. How he could tell that the ball was ‘under the body of the Canterbury player’ (who was by this stage buried under bodies from both teams anyway) is nothing short of incredible, especially given that the ball was coming out on the other side of the ruck.

The judicial committee have made a statement that Cribb’s actions were “quite reckless and unnecessarily exposed those players (lying in the ruck) to risk of injury” and that it was a relatively bad case of its kind. Damn straight it was. But what I would like to know is why he wasn’t also cited for his earlier late elbow charge on another Canterbury player in the same game – perhaps if he had been the judicial committee may have been able to factor in that Cribb was in a reckless state of mind throughout most of that game and was in fact deliberately targeting opposition players.

But the crowning glory to this nasty incident has been statements from Harbour coach Russell Jones and CEO Doug Rollerson, where both have said that this sort of action is totally unlike Cribb and he is an exemplary player. Both also went on to suggest that he only ended up standing on Glover’s head because of confusion over how the referee was ruling things at the ruck and breakdown. Now I could probably pull out any NPC game this season where Cribb has played and show you an example of over-vigorous rucking, not to mention he’d already been suspended earlier in the season for brawling and throwing punches in a game. I would suggest that Messrs Jones and Rollerson take a closer look at their entire set-up at Harbour, which is rapidly gaining the reputation as a breeding ground for thuggery in the game, and instead of pointing a finger at the referees try putting their own house in order first.

4 Oct

Who created the monster?
by Rick Boyd
4 Oct 2003

The old die-hard dinosaurs on the IRB resisted the concept of a world cup when it was first raised, and in many ways they were dead right, if for all the wrong reasons.

The world cup should be a fine addition to international rugby, a great showcase of the noble game, a carnival of colour and spectacle. The winner of this knock-out tournament should win the handsome gold cup and bear the title “Rugby World Cup Holder” for four years.

But the whole thing has become a bloated, ugly monster. Although it was never deemed so officially, the tag “world champion” has been applied all too often to the winner, a ridiculous claim that cannot possibly last for four years. It would be different if there was a “world championship” every year or every two years, but four years? Foolish in the extreme. Only one team has ever lived up to the claim — the first world cup holders, New Zealand. And that had absolutely nothing to do with them winning the world cup, it had to do with them having a brilliant team for four years running.

And then there’s the organisation of the cup. That sad old pile of cross-dressing incontinent fossils, the IRB, have shamlessly abused the whole concept and turned it into a vast price-gouging exercise so that fat, gin-soaked pommy CEO’s can stuff themselves into corporate boxes and flush down crab meat and caviar with Moet and Chandon — meanwhile, the average rugby bloke has to mortgage his house and sell his children to Arab slave traders just to afford to perch on an apple crate behind a power pole during any game that does not feature Surinam v Andorra.

Now the entire rugby calendar has become almost irrelevant. Tours, test series, all manner of cups and competitions mean next to nothing — all of them just trial runs for the Big Event, that knock-out lottery in the quadrennial world cup. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic. Overseas tours are now just development exercises, traditional stadium-fillers have been rendered meaningless as England A plays France B or vice versa. The result is not really important, it’s all just preparation for The Cup.

Rugby fans the world over should be furious. We are being short-changed. We want porterhouse steak and we are being fed watered-down gruel, with only a promise of a possible overpriced smorgasbord in a few year’s time to keep our mouths watering.

The winner of this silly lottery will strut around like Jesus Christ Almighty for four years, while all the rest get flushed down the big rugby toilet until the next cup.

Let me serve notice that I for one am not giving this world cup more than its due in 2003. Hopefully it will be lots of fun, there will be some spectacular rugby, some tense clashes, and one or two streakers with really big tits.

I reserve the right to give a serve to any team not performing up to scratch, including the All Blacks, but I refuse to give the eventual winner more than a short round of applause and quite modest recognition for surviving the knock-out craps game, unless they have performed with exceptional brilliance (again, including the All Blacks).

There will of course be the predictable “getting your excuses in early, are you?” from the ignorant and the envious, and they’re welcome to what they optimistically consider an opinion.

Bring on the World Cup and may the best team win. Other than Australia, of course.