28 Nov

Tall Poppies
by Paul Waite
28 Nov 2004

The All Blacks took the field at Stade de France wearing a special commemorative jersey with a single poppy emblazoned on the sleeve. The test match was fought for the Dave Gallagher Trophy, in memory of the great New Zealand rugby player, skipper of The Originals, and war hero who lost his life in Passchendaele in World War 1.

After the test some of what the players were saying in interviews gave us a sneak peek into the psyche of the test-week buildup. They talked of “starting a new legacy for The All Blacks”, and of honouring the New Zealanders who had fought in that massively wasteful war, and died there.

These are powerfully emotive thoughts, and it all came pouring out in a haka led for the very first time by Tana Umaga, of Samoan heritage, who nonetheless tore into it with a ferocity to quicken the heart of any Maori purist.

The post-haka expressions on the faces of the All Blacks, as they waited calmly for the French to kick off belied what lay beneath the surface. By the end of half an hour, the French front row was in disarray, requiring regular medical treatment for the battering they were taking, and looking like they had already played eighty minutes and would rather be anywhere else but on that battlefield in the Stade de France.

As with any genuine test match worthy of the title, it started with the front row, and that old campaigner Anton Oliver led the charge. In behind them the return of Norm Maxwell, with his take-no-prisoners attitude still on full throttle despite a worn body, and his partner Chris Jack were the engine room in a scrum which simply destroyed their opposites. By the end the French had run out of props, or at least said they had – perhaps none were willing to return from the safety of the touchline – and the referee had to visit the final indignity on them of calling for Golden Oldie (no pushing) scrums.

It was nothing less than a total and utter humiliation for a pack reckoned to be the strongest in the Northern Hemisphere.

Given this platform, the All Black loose forwards McCaw, Collins and So’oialo had the chance to outshine their illustrious opposites. Olivier Magne, that superlative No.7, was taken in a thunderous tackle by All Black winger Doug Howlett, and almost folded in half by it. He was never a force in the test after that. Betson was simply out-played by Collins who was tireless both on defence and attack, and never gave an inch.

Based on the soldly planted forward effort the rest of the team joined in with an across-the-board devotion to duty. Nobody missed a single critical tackle, and the French were forced into running sideways, backwards, and then finally to booting the ball downfield.

By the final quarter, the massive crowd were booing their own team as they assembled to watch yet another conversion attempt by the almost flawless Daniel Carter, who is showing he is a natural first-five eighth now that the All Black coaches have given him the chance to shine there [please take note Super-12 and NPC coaches].

It isn’t often these days that we get to watch the All Blacks deliver on the All Black Traditions in the same way that they did in the amateur era of the game. Today they did just that.

Here’s to the start of another All Black legacy.

Congratulations to the All Black coaching staff and all the team.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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13 Nov

Season report cards
by Zand Moloney
13 Nov 2004

Time for the boys to get their end of year reports, it makes pretty good reading but ‘must try harder’ comes to mind as falling at the final hurdle is difficult to stomach.

Shannon Paku – needed a big season and delivered, sound under the high ball and effective when he came into the backline. Should push Brent Ward this year for the Canes. 8.5

Lome Fa’atau – undoutably one of the stars of the season, whenever Wellington scored a great try he had something to do with it. Scared the life out of all defences with his speed and guile and his defence was much improved. 9

Sireli Bobo – strong and fast Bobo was effective whenever he was on attack. Not quite the complete package yet but very exciting to watch. 7

Roy Kinikinilau – This should have been the big man’s year, he showed great skill last year but it was missing this time. Looked disinterested and average and deservedly missed out on the Canes this year to former Chief draftee Fa’atau 3.5

Conrad Smith – Outstanding! Smith showed there is still a place for smaller men in the midfield, making up for in vision, agility and speed what he lacks in sheer size. His combination with Nonu was amazing and suggests that there is life after Umaga. 9.5

Ma’a Nonu – A great return to form for Nonu who reminded us all just what he can do. His ability to break the line and off load in tackles was in evidence every week. Not sure about the mascara though.. 9

Tana Umaga – With a self-emposed lay off he looked back to his old self, hitting the line hard and at speed, and he was absolutely everywhere on defence. He pace may have slowed but he is still one of the best midfielders in the world. 9

Tane Tui’pulotu – No rating for the sadly injury ravaged midfielder, hope to see him back to his best for the Super 12.

David Holwell – In his final season Holwell again showed that although he is not flashy he is still an outstanding pivot. Mr Reliable held this backline together for many years and this season was no different. A sad loss for Wellington and New Zealand rugby. 9

Riki Flutey – Is he a halfback or a five eighth? There is no doubt he has a good running game, and generally has good option taking but really he doesn’t have the kicking game required for a top level fly-half. 6.5

Jimmy Gopperth – No rating, didn’t get enough game time for a comment, hope to see more of him in the Super 12.

Piri Weepu – another good season by the former leaguie. His kicking game was much improved and his sniping runs were telling. Not sure if he is ready for an AB’s tour yet but certainly one for the future. 8

Rodney So’oailo – Like fellow former All Black Nonu he needed to step up to prove himself to be a contender and did so. The captaincy made him think more on the field and he grew into a good leader. Good to see him back to his best. 8.5

Kristian Ormsby – His power and strength was a highlight in the early rounds of the NPC and suggested he should have been given more chances to impress. Great with the ball in hand and good in the air, 8

Thomas Waldrom – Did nothing wrong, like Ormsby unlucky not to get more game time. Rarely used at his favoured no 8 position he did well whenever he played. 7.5

Jerry Collins – again was one of the standouts of the pack. Hit the line hard every time and drove players back in the tackle. Needs to think about his tackling technique, but you can never question his commitment. 8.5

Scott Waldrom – troubled by injuires early in the season Waldrom came back strongly and was a major reason for the demolition of Taranaki. Great pace and an eye for a gap he was a key link-man between backs and forwards. 8.5

Ben Herring – again and again had the dirtiest jersey on the park beause of his rummaging around in the rucks, Herring was a constant thorn in many teams sides. Played himself to a standstill sometimes with scant support (particularily against Otago), the Kronfeld to Waldrom’s Jones 8.5

Ross Filipo – needs to work on discipline, good with the ball in hand and in the air, 6

Ross Kennedy – continues to develop at a startling rate. Great with the ball in hand and dominating in the air he should continue to be the first choice for the Canes. A future All Black, 9

Luke Andrews – another good season for the former Southlander. A good man in the lineout and strong defender, forms a good combination with Kennedy, 8.5

Tim Fairbrother – sadly injury robbed him of a chance to continue on from a good season for the Canes. Very strong scrummager, 7.5

Neemia Tialata – showed just what a talent he is this season, never taking a backward step. Learnt some hard lessons in the scrums sometimes which will serve him well, 8

Joe McDonnell – the rock of the scrum, McDonnell’s experience proved a crucial new ingrediant for the Lions. Showed Fairbrother and Tialata what is required at this level, 9

Mahonri Schwalger – a good new addition to the Lions this season. Scrummaged well and threw in effectively. Unlucky to end up on the draft, 8.5

Luke Mahoney – outshone somewhat by Schwalger, Mahoney did little wrong (apart from the odd misthrow). Needs more time to develop, 6

3 Nov

Homo Lookatus
by Paul Waite
3 Nov 2004

In a Darwinesque turn of events, a new species of rugby player has been discovered this week by a team of intrepid scientists presently studying the Lions in Deepest Wellington.

“It was totally unexpected”, Dr. David Flubberthing announced at a hushed and expectant media briefing at Te Papa yesterday. “We’ve been studying The Lions for years, in an attempt to find a genetic or sociopathic reason for their inability to win anything, and to be honest, we never expected we’d discover a brand new species”.

Flubberthing then unveiled a shocking picture of a male Lion wearing human female eye makeup.

“Notice the poofy hairdo”, instructed Flubberthing, brandishing an alarmingly long pointer and waving it dangerously close to a cameraman unwise enough to be taking pictures of it.

“This is completely normal for this family of Lions, who sometimes spend hours on their hair in daily pre- and post-game grooming sessions in preference to any serious rugby training”.

“BUT!” he added, bringing the stick down on the desk with a loud thwack and inadvertently destroying three small mp3 recording devices, then swinging it with all the deft martial artistry of Jackie Chan to point at the picture, “What isn’t usual is all this fudgepacker eye-liner shit right here!!”

All eyes at the conference were drawn along the still-quivering stick to the Mata Hari-like appearance engendered by the pictured Lion, looking like a right bloody nancy-boy, it has to be said.

“We call it ‘Homo Lookatus’ !”, Flubberthing announced, spreading his arms wide as if for applause but only receiving a “fuck!” from the sound engineer whose eye he had just put out.

“Of course, in this particular case, the name is understandably often just shortened to ‘Homo’ but, as scientists, we would prefer the full name to be used since it conveys the nature of this animal’s primitive drives to be noticed no matter how talentless it is”, he droned.

“Using the full title also stops us from confusing them with Gays who, unlike Homo Lookatus rugby players who take the field in ladies gears thinking it’s a cool thing to do, are deserving of some measure of respect.”

Turning to a model of what looked like a miniscule walnut in a glass jar full of water or Lion Red (it’s hard to tell which, frankly) the good Doctor adopted a lecturing pose.

“This thing here is a model of the brain of a typical Lion, reconstructed from many many MRI, X-ray and stethoscope scans and a bit of yelling ‘hello is anyone at home’ in their ears”, he expounded.

“As you can see it’s about as big as that of a hydro-encephalic field-mouse”, he added, wiggling a finger in one ear and then carefully examining the tip of it.

“Naturally we have tested the Homo Lookatus to get a comparison, but unfortunately we couldn’t locate brain matter anywhere, leading us to the inevitable conclusion that this animal probably has its brains somewhere located up its rectum, which was the only place we couldn’t bring ourselves to look.”

At this point the Press Conference erupted into a barrage of questions, causing the Doctor to reel backwards, trip over his chair and look extremely silly.

“What kind of eyeliner was it and where can we get it?”, demanded a reporter from the Silly Teens Who WIll Buy Any Mag With Glossy Pics Of Richer But Equally Talentless Teens In It Magazine.

“Fuck knows”, replied Flubberthing, getting up with a grimace on his face. “Who’s grimace is this?” he asked, taking it off and handing it to an assistant.

“Will this Homo Lookatus be playing rugby for the All Blacks?” asked an aghast Phil Stifford of the Canterbury Rugby Collective (CRC), bathing everyone in front of him in a fine spray of spittle.

“Well he never played any rugby as such for the Lions, so I doubt it” retorted the injured Doctor, settling his sore behind gingerly onto the lap of a female reporter from Women’s Weakly.

“Aside from the eye makeup, this new species has all of the traits of a Lion of standard bloodstock”, he amplified. “He holds onto the ball too long, has the small and completely predictable repetoire of moves required by such a tiny cerebrum, and tends to lose all important games”.

“Henry Greyhame has picked him to go on tour – so what’s he going to be doing if not playing rugby?” asked Melody Moonstruck, as she helped herself to another large slice of Steve Walsh beefcake.

“Finding the soap in the showers I expect”, answered the huffy Doctor, who was growing visibly bored with the line of questioning.

At this point the news conference broke up, as a large ape-like creature ran in, leapt onto the table scattering microphones everywhere and proceeded to jump up and down grunting what sounded like “nonnoo-nonnoo”.

It’s all too much to deal with.

Here’s an idea for all you rugby players out there with this kind of outlook – let’s all concentrate on playing the game well, and not on how beautiful we look, eh? you poofy bloody self-absorbed bunch of chuckle-heads.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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14 Sep

The 'Mighty' Auks?
by Zand Moloney
14 Sep 2004

Now, I don’t want this to be an article where I gloat and revel in the misfortune of Auckland but must ask this, why is Pat Lam so confident of retaining his job with the ‘powerhouse of New Zealand rugby’ doing so badly. People often say ‘When Auckland rugby does well so does New Zealand rugby,’ if that’s the case we are in trouble because this Auckland side is pretty poor.

Wellington played very well, the only thing that continues to concern me is the great big hole that is going to be left when David Holwell leaves. I have had many debates about this particular player, with some people saying to me he is average and all he does is kick goals and for the line. Last Saturday he made a liar of all people who hold that opinion, his vision and Lome Fa’atau’s pace combining for the try of the season. Welllington again looked much more composed when he came on the field to replace poor Ma’a Nonu and I just can’t see that there is a ready-made replacement for him. For many season he has been the man who has held the creative players together and I worry about what will happens when he goes.

In terms of the rest of the backline, again Conrad Smith showed his class as did Nonu until he went off with a broken thumb. It is a tragedy for Nonu as has been the form second five this season and would have been a shoe-in for the All Blacks tour. One hopes his injury heals quickly. That said Wellington are very lucky to have the All Black captain to slot in at centre and move Smith in one.
Fa’atau played well, but Bobo was unconvincing, perhaps it is time to give Roy Kinikinilau a chance out wide to give a different sort of threat, the broadsword to Fa’atau’s rapier.

The forwards were outstanding, two pushover tries from a pack that has been much maligned over the years shows what a good job John Plumtree has done. Neemia Tialata had a hard time in the scrums, but did well around the field, McDonnell seemed to have the better of old mate Kees Meuwes, and Mahonri Schwalger again put his hand up for Hurricanes honours with another strong performance.
The loose trio was again brilliant and had the measure of Rush, Lauaki and Kaino.

I will refrain from commenting about the performance of the referee, I think enough has been said by others but those in charge should review the ‘injury time’ he allowed Auckland carefully, personally I thought it was extremely pedantic.
Bring on the Bay!!

7 Sep

Getting there..
by Zand Moloney
7 Sep 2004

Another good, but certainly not great performance by Wellington and one that suggests that they can win the important ones. After that dreadful start I was thinking ‘Here we go again..” but thankfully that new character came throught again.
The forwards dominated in the loose and the tight and despite two very soft tries to Bates and Kelleher a half time score of 17-13 must have looked pretty good to Wellington.
The second half was a revelation, the loose trio snaffling huge amounts of loose ball, Rodney So’oailo playing like a number 7. The pick and go worked well, and with the centre combination of Nonu and Smith again to the fore Wellington were rampant in the second half.
Problems? Well, although he didn’t play badly Riki Flutey is not the sort of player we need at first five eighth, his positional and tatical kicking is no existant but he does have a good running game. Sad to say I think he will be a perennial bench player, he is great to have coming off the bench as he covers first five and halfback well but is not specialised enough to start in either position. In my humble opinion Jimmy Gopperth is the man to take over from Holwell when he goes to Leinster with Flutey the perfect backup.
Other than that Wellington really just need to get it together in one game, that hasn’t happened yet, but they are still second on the table, it’s nice to think they still have more left in the tank for the end of the season.
I must also add, putting on my Hurricanes hat, how happy I am with the play of Taranaki. Not only is the forward pack doing the business, but they seemed to have unearthed some very talented backs. Someone should sign up Brock James and Shayne Austin needs to be brought into the ‘Canes for next year. Hopefully the Hurricanes will have two franchise members in the Semi’s!
As for this week, well it is the game I always dread, Wellington always struggle against Auckland, especially when they are playing badly. C’mon boys show a bit of character and composure and we should be alright..

7 Sep

SANZAR: Myopia As An Art-form
by Paul Waite
7 Sep 2004

We are in a small restaurant in central Sydney fetchingly named “Chez Sanzar”.

Restaurateur: “Cook! You’ve been serving this dish you call ‘Supreme á la Douzaine’ for nine years now, and the clientele are telling me they’re sick to death of it. It’s not spicy enough, it’s always the same year after year, and to put it bluntly, it looks like a pile of grey sludge. And to make matters worse, it’s the ONLY option on the fucking menu!”

Cook: “Ooer, right. Well let me get my sous-chefs together and we’ll come up with some whizz-bang ideas boss.”

[ Much, much later..]

Cook: “Ok boss, we’ve thrashed it out. It wasn’t easy, but we think we’ve got it cracked. It’s a corker.”

Restaurateur: “I’m positively dribbling down my tie here Cook. Spill the beans..”

Cook: “Well [pauses for imaginary fanfare] – we’ve decided to give them exactly the SAME DISH but with 40% more of it heaped on the plate! How’s that!!?”

Restaurateur: [head in hands]: “I’m ruined..”

Should we be shocked at the recent SANZAR statement, completely bereft as it is, of any vestige of vision or imagination to take Southern Hemisphere Rugby forward for the next half-decade?

Probably not. The people who are now in control of our game are “money types” and lawyers. They didn’t get where they are today by having touchy-feely empthy with the grass-roots of a game that whole countries full of folks created from scratch from a passion for rugby. No. These people inhabit boardrooms, study balance-sheets, and like to think in unimaginative linear modes, where predictability of revenue is the paramount driving force.

But the proposal as trumpeted in the media in the last day or so is a sad indictment of the way the game is headed, and marks yet another chance missed to really do something worthwhile to energise a game which is flagging.

But it isn’t flagging, some say. Look at attendances for example, and look at TV viewing figures.

The trouble with these statistics is they are misleading, as are all statistics used to actually prove a point, rather than just illustrate a conclusion arrived at by a separate logical proof or evidence.

There are many things wrong with them, but in summary the attendances are totally meaningless when you have a set of rugby fans faced with no choice but the only game in town. Of course they still go and see it. What other choice is there? As to TV viewing figures, where do those stats come from? From TV companies eager to keep control and the status quo, that’s who. In any event, what do they mean, and who did they canvas, and how many people. We hear these figures bandied about by people with their own axes to grind, and we’d be fools to take them at face value, much less attribute meaning to them and make important decisions based on them.

It’s plain enough to me, for instance, that the Tri-Nations was a dead duck after a couple of seasons for the very reason that the old adage familiarity breeds contempt is true. Playing South Africa and Australia so often, and in the very same format is a killer of passion. In fact I despise the Tri-Nations for effectively removing the massive excitement I used to feel for a test series against the Bokke, and making it into a mere “league game” every year. Same with the Bledisloe Cup. It used to be contested over a genuine series, but now it’s just a tack-on; a marketing adjunct not even played for in a real test series anymore.

As for the Super 12. What’s “super” about it these days? The first and second seasons were Ok, but after that it turned rapidly into a rugbython – something more to be endured than enjoyed. Turning the handle every week as battered players turned up and turned their mistake-ridden tricks for the cameras in the cold, wet shadowy twilight zone of the endless night-games we’re forced to put up with.

In short, the Super 12 is just “product”, like turning the handle on a sausage machine and watching little Super 12 games pop out the end all neatly sealed, bland and featureless. Ka-ching, there goes the SANZAR cash register for another happy sale of a round of Super-12 sausages. “Thankyou ma’am, come back next week – yes your diet is just fine if you consume these every week for the next decade. You’ll never get sick of these beauties!”

Well recently there may have been a worry that the punters were getting sick of the taste of bland Super-12 sausages, so SANZAR have come up with the perfect solution by making them each 40% longer. Brilliant minds at work.

The statement recently that All Blacks would be quite eligible to play in the NPC, and not separated off as previously touted in the media now comes into focus. With 94 Super 14 games instead of just 69 with the Super-12, plus an extended Tri-Nations, it means that no All Blacks will be able to even conceive of playing NPC rugby, unless they happened to be the Six Miilion Dollar Man. More subterfuge from the NZRFU.

SANZAR have quite obviously missed the bus. There was a chance to really look at rugby in the region and revitalize the landscape. It would also have provided an exciting package for News Corp. or whoever to look at, and provided a lifeline for Island Rugby.

Instead of paying lip-service to All Blacks playing NPC, when they quite obviously won’t be in practice, SANZAR should have gone for a complete separation of NPC from international programs, and run the test matches in parallel. This would have freed up time for a more expanded S12, to Super-NN including a Pacific Island team, an Argentinian franchise, and a Japanese Franchise. With an extra two teams one from Australia and one from South Africa this would make it a Super-17. And plans should already be on the drawing-board for including The Big One – the USA, in the next format after the 5 years of Super-17.

The tournament format could then have been looked at, taking into account travelling logistics and arranged around Pools and short tours. Extra interest could also have been provided by enhancing the playoffs, and making these into small tournaments rotated around each of the countries by turn, and involving all of the teams no matter where they finished in the pools, via provision of Cup, Bowl and Plate finals as in Sevens.

Hell, there are probably dozens of possibilities to revitalise and accomodate logistics, but SANZAR hasn’t even looked at basic ideas like changing the playoff format apparently.

No, good old linear accountant-think has raised its wizened, wrinked brow and in a cracked voice pronounced what it thinks is best for managing the dusty old ledgers of the SANZAR book-keepers and scribes.

These people have demonstrated that they have absolutely no feel for rugby at all, and the kind of unimaginative rubbish that they’ve recently come out with is just going to drive another nail into the coffin of the game, especially out in the Islands.

Of course there will still be those statistics produced by people with a vested interest in reporting success – TV and Unions, to inform us that what we’re seeing is actually fantastic, and a great privilege.

Anyone for tennis?

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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7 Sep

It's a Cracker!
by Paul Waite
7 Sep 2004

So, the Wallabies are now employing a full-time code-cracker to decode the opposition lineout calls during the first half of a test match so they can be briefed at half-time on them.

This bright idea is certainly supported by Eddie Jones, whether or not it’s his brainchild, since he’s just been defending it in the media today, with a “what’s the big deal?” tenor to the comments.

Now, we all appreciate there’s a lot of pressure to win at the top level of professional sport these days, but I have to draw the line at this.

I have this rather old-fashioned idea you see. I sort of cling to the notion that the best team playing the game on the paddock should win the game, allowing for the odd bounce of the ball.

So, if you’ll forgive the French, personally I find the very idea that the Wallabies should employ a third-party code-cracker sweating away in a dimly-lit bunker to decode the opposition lineout calls in the first half, and bring them a cheat-sheet at halftime an absolute fucking anathema!

What the hell does Eddie Jones imagine we, as fans want to see? I’ll tell you what I DON’T want to see. I don’t want to see test matches decided on who has the best friggin’ code-cracker. I want to see the teams fighting it out fair and square on the pitch.

All this self-justifying crap coming from Jones today is the kind of utter nonsense you hear from someone who has lost all perspective on what the hell we are all playing and watching this game for. It’s the kind of “end justifies the means” rubbish that will kill the sport in the long run.

The IRB should act immediately to outlaw this kind of nefarious activity. It undermines the whole game, and cheats the fans out of what they are watching it for in the first place.

If they don’t then we can look forward to watching in total puzzlement, as first one team then the other mysteriously wins lots of lineout ball as their respective egg-heads strive mightily with gigaflops of computing power to gain the mastery.

Teams will have to invent agile codes which can mutate every few minutes, live, on the pitch, with the complexity of the WWII Enigma code, just to keep the battle an even one.

You know what I think?

I think if it looks like shit, stinks like shit, and there’s a large lot of bull nearby, then it probably is what you think it is.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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30 Aug

Lucky, lucky Wellington
by Zand Moloney
30 Aug 2004

I don’t know what is going on this season. What one gets used to as a Wellington supporter is that the close games always go against you, and that heartbreaking losses, where wins are deserved are the norm.
This season Wellington have played well in patches but have yet to put a true 80 minute performance together. Despite this they lie third on the table with two wins and a draw, and to be honest they probably deserved to lose against Harbour. Taking nothing away from the Lions defensive effort, which for the second week in a row was superb, but if Harbour managed to cross the lie twice when the try line was begging Wellington would have got nothing from this game.
Rodney So’oailo seems to be growing into his leadership role, his decision to go for a try paid off and levelled the scores at 11 all, which was crucial. He also led the pack well, rucks and mauls were much improved, and again hard driving tackles from the loosies and tight five.
The centre combination of Nonu and Smith is working well, Smith particularly looks good with the ball in hand and puts his wingers into space with hard, straight runs. His run to set up Fa’atau was class, the Lions denied by a great tackle by a player who will join them next season Hosea Gear.
Nonu again broke the line well and seems to have recovered last seasons form after a poor Super 12, it will be interesting to see what happens when Tane Tuipulotu is fully recovered. Whoever sits on the bench will be unlucky as they are all class players and this is before Umaga is brought into the equation.
Shannon Paku had one of his best games in a Wellington jersey, composed at the back, and he timed his attacking runs well.
Overall a good game, but there is no doubt Wellington got a ‘get out of jail free’ card this time.Harbour and their fans must be feeling terribly unlucky and I feel for them. It reminds me of many heartbreaking games at Athletic Park, particularily against Auckland.
Wellington must realise their good fortune and plan for next week. There needs to be a step up in intensity next week considering the form of Waikato in thumping a classy Auckland side.
C’mon Wellington, pack the stadium and fire the boys up for a big one!

30 Aug

The house of bog
by Zand Moloney
30 Aug 2004

Poor, that’s all that can be said of the game against Otago. It describes the playing surface, the standard of play and of course the entertainment dished out to the fans.
To be honest it was always going to be hard to have a good game considering the state of Carisbrook, I think that Otago should have organised another (neutral) place for the game to take place, perhaps Canterbury because ‘The Brook’ was terrible.
The game itself had it’s moments but with the cold and the state of the ground it was always going to be hard to get the passes to stick. Wellington, as is there want, were constantly pushing the pass which led to far to many knock on’s and dropped balls. Someone (ie Mr So’oailo) should have said to the boys ‘Hold on to the pill, go to ground rather than throwing the pass’ but to be honest you can’t take that sort of game away from Wellington teams.
In many ways Wellington were lucky to get a draw, but did well to defend for so long without any possesion or field position. Ben Herring stood out for me, he was constantly on his feet trying to steal the ball, great to see him back from injury and fired up. Kristian Ormsby wasn’t really seen on attack but was great on defence, his work rate was outstanding. The scrum was solid throughout, the lineout was up and down, both teams seemed to be able to steal oppostion ball but struggled to hang onto their own.
David Holwell again showed how important he is to the Lions controlling the game, his kicking very important and his understanding with Piri Weepu seems to be getting better and better. Otherwise the backs had a quiet night, although Ma’a Nonu seems to be getting back into form.
Rodney So’oailo played alot better, hitting the ball up, offloading in the tackle well but there are major problems with his game which will preclude him getting back into the All Blacks. First of all he has to stop his aimless kicks which cause all sorts of problems, turning promising attacking situations into defensive nightmares. I have seen it work once during the Super 12 but otherwise it is diabolically bad. John Plumtree should fine him everytime he does it.
The other thing that worried me was his ill-discipline especially evident during Otago’s rolling mauls. Although the ref warned him that the next player caught doing it would be sent off he continued to try and pull down the Otago pack, not something one would expect from a potential All Black and NPC captain.
The most interesting thing though is the Mr Plumtree finds himself in that rarest of situations for a Wellington coach, having an embarrasment of riches. In almost every position there is competition for places and it will be interesting to see how he rotates the squad, especially in the loose forward and centre combinations. Bring on North Harbour!

25 Jul

Last Gasp Try Sinks Springboks!
by Paul Waite
25 Jul 2004

Over the past decade, as All Black fans, we’ve become so accustomed to watching the team lose important tests in the dying minutes or even seconds to Australia (various Bledisloes) and the Springboks (the ’95 World Cup drop-goal), that it’s a very strange feeling when Lady Luck swings back in our favour.

There’s a moment of fist-in-the-air, ferocious “suck on that, you losers” joy, followed by a vague feeling of guilt. It’s probably a kind of heart-felt empathy, with us all being so in tune with what they must be feeling. Anyway, it only lasted about 12 seconds, so it isn’t much of a worry.

As with any test, there are positives and negatives. The positives are firstly the win of course, closely followed by what the win was based on – our continued development of the set-pieces. Without these, we wouldn’t have had all the possesion to squander before finally nailing a try in the last 30 seconds.

The negatives were, however manifold, as evidenced by a very quiet, almost defensive performance from the coaches in the after-match press conference.

The forwards did not front up for the first half at all. They played like worried men, constantly looking at what the opposition were doing instead of getting stuck in and asking hard questions. Mauls were ponderously formed, and driven without belief, inevitably getting nowhere. Players driving the ball up were left stranded as tight-forwards ball-watched then, realising they should be helping, rushed in to rescue the pill just in the nick of time, and thereby nullifying the go-forward effort. The much talked-about flat-backline approach of Wayne Smith just resulted in the creation of a narrow war-zone of futility, where all the All Blacks’ attacking options were nullified. In short, during the first 40 minutes the team were flat as a pancake, playing the wrong tactics, and being soundly beaten.

Part and parcel of the diffident, almost apologetic approach to the game was the dopey defensive effort which saw us leak three tries, all of which were eminently preventable, resulting as they did from gross mistakes rather than Springbok pressure and/or out and out skill. With all due respect to a fired-up South African team, two out of those three tries had no business being scored against an All Black side worth it’s salt – they were genuinely “soft”.

All Black captain Tana Umaga confirmed after the game that the team had been given “the talking to” in the half-time interval, and the result was a much tighter and more concerted effort from the forwards.

The Springboks tactics were simple but effective. They had come with the idea of pushing the offside rules past the limit in order to quench the All Blacks’ wide game, and were prepared to commit professional fouls every time the All Blacks looked like getting in a scoring position inside their 22m. Not original tactics by any means, but implemented with superb effectiveness in this test.

The ONLY way to nullify these tactics when the referee, as in this case, is letting the opposition get away with offside tactics, is to smash the ball up the guts through the forwards and/or use your first-five eighth to support with a tactical kicking game. Since Carlos Spencer doesn’t have a tactical kicking game, and was keen on running sideways before shovelling a hospital pass into Dan Carter’s hands so he could be nicely creamed by the defence all night, the only option was the hard yakka.

History shows that it took until the last quarter of the match before the penny dropped loudly enough for the All Blacks to make a fist of it and drive well enough to create the try they needed.

Before that, the aforementioned Springbok professional infringements had kept the men in Black in the hunt via Dan Carter’s boot, and there were only three points between the teams with minutes to go. In the end the winning of this test came off the back of a mistake and a triumph.

The All Blacks drove the ball to within 5m, then made their (by now) usual mistake and knocked it on, conceding a scrum. This is where the set-piece development came to the fore, as the All Blacks scrum took the Springbok unit apart bulldozing it to rubble and going over the top of it to win a turnover put-in.

After that it took 15 phases to wear the desperate Bok defence down to the point where an overlap was created, and which Carlos Spencer, in his only good moment of the test threw a wobbly pass out to Mils Muliaina who handed off to Doug Howlett to score and win the test in the final 30 seconds of time.

New Zealand hospitals no doubt experienced a huge surge in Emergency Admissions just after the final whistle, and pacemaker manufacturers were probably rubbing their hands together with glee at the anticipated increased sales.

Despite the cliff-hanger result it definitely wasn’t one of rugby’s classics, this test, and the All Black coaches have plenty to work on before taking on Australia in Sydney in two weeks.

The old refrain “a win is a win, and we’ll take it” comes to mind.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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