11 Jul

Over and out for the Lions
by Rick Boyd
11 Jul 2005

A bit of a damp squib to end the series as was always likely with the rubber already decided.

A few good signs for the Lions with an improved lineout performance and better competition in the loose but with only three tries scored in the entire series, they really have nothing to take home but bitter defeat.

But it wasn’t the Lions that did the most damage to the All Blacks in the third test, but two first class idiots, one with a whistle and one with a flag. Japie “ref” Kraplan did his best to threaten Dickheadson’s superglue hold on the World Heavyweight Joke Referee title, but Dickheadson’s superb supporting performance from the sidelines kept him safely in front.

An utter joke of a yellow card by Kraplan on Umaga in the opening stages of the game before any warnings could be issed, and the exact same offence by Moody later in the game allowed the pom to stay on the field. Kraplan, you are as shite as McHugh. Some of Kraplan’s other calls were just plain mystifying. Held in the tackle? How many nano-seconds could it have been? He penalised Collins when the All Blacks wheeled the scrum. Why? Silly, pedantic little Krap decisions all night that had nothing to do with the game. And the late charge call on Collins that disallowed Sivivatu’s excellent try — what a complete joke. Very, very marginal and absolutely nothing to do with the play. What about the Lions lock penalised for jersey pulling? He held the player without the ball later in the game and was penalsied but was there any card? Yet Umaga got one without any prior offence. What a farce.

Back to the All Blacks — great run by Conrad Smith for an excellent solo try. We’ll be seeing lots more of this boy in the future.

Hey poms, remember how you crowed about that wonderful England team that didn’t concede points despite losing two players from the field? (With generous help from Dickheadson). Guess which team scored 14 points while a player down? Hint: it wasn’t the Lions.

But all round, not a very encouraging game for the All Blacks. Silly errors creeping in, knock ons, turnovers, a few lineouts botched. Probably not the same level of motivation as in the two previous games but we don’t want to go the way of 2004 and crush the early season opposition only to paddle gaily up Shit Creek in the Tri-Nations.

Despite the dominance New Zealand displayed over the Lions, only the lightweights will 100% confident with the Tri-Nations coming up.

No one who understands rugby and has seen the All Blacks play for the last ten years could currently possess one grain of confidence in their winning the Tri Nations games.

They have diplayed zero consistency in recent years and are quite capable of playing hard, mistake-free dominant rugby one month (v England 2004 for instance) and collapsing in a spectacular shower of shit directionless headless chicken orgy of errors a month later (v Australia in Australia and South Africa in South Africa 2004).

Having seen the All Blacks defeat the Lions this year, I am absolutely confident they have the ability to beat any other team on the planet. But I have not the tiniest shred of confidence that they will actually produce that ability on the paddock and turn it into points, reliably, in every game, or even most games, in the remainder of the year.

But I digress.

The fact is the Lions weren’t as bad as some might think. There will be a danger from gloating, overconfident New Zealand lightweights and vindictive, bitter British Isles lightweights alike; to bag the 2005 Lions as being complete failures.

Certainly they had their shortcomings but to base an analysis of the series solely on the test scores is very short sighted.

International tours have changed and Woodward is right in at least one regard — a much fairer judgement would be held in a neutral setting with neutral season timing. Not at the world cup, as Sir Clive suggests though. That tournament doesn’t produce much but a winner based on a knockout lottery. But sending a team exhausted from a marathon NH season south into foreign conditions against a fresh local team puts the tourists at a huge disadvantage before they kick off the first game. I doubt anyone in the British Isles has sufficient vison to realise that the lesson to be learned from this tour is that the national unions need to buy up the players contracts, cut the clubs out of the picture and send a Lions team that is actually “the best prepared Lions in history” by having carefully developed and rested players peaking for the ultimate rugby challenge, rather than just a cast of thousands and an army of hangers-on completly fagged by playing an all-sorts selection of club competitions and the Six Nations B Division.

And then there was the injury count. Not surprising after a long NH season, and it didn’t help the cause at all.

It should also be remembered that the modern game favours attack and small margins of dominance can result in magnified scores that don’t necessarily reflect the play.

The first test was played in the wet and the Lions were a horribly disjointed combination. In that game the score probably flattered the Lions. It should have been played by a settled Lions test combination of form six nations players playing in about their fourth match together as a team.

The second and third tests were closer in play but not in scores. The All Blacks played very well in the first two tests and it is doubtful if the Lions could have beaten them even in good form.

I’m not about to write the Lions off. The tour was not a fair reflection on their ability and while I certainly rejoice in the good, solid, consistent efforts of the All Blacks and their 3-0 series win; I gain little satisfaction from seeing them heavily defeat a Lions team put at such a disadvantage.

10 Jul

Just A Minute
by Paul Waite
10 Jul 2005

Q. When is a minute not a minute.
A. When there’s a “minutes silence” at a rugby game.

Of course, the TV companies would all clamour to point out my silly-billy error – they now call it “a moments silence” to stop them being sued in court or whatever. Wankers.

Sadly, there is no such thing as “a moments silence” in this context.

When respect for a tragedy is to be observed, it is “a minutes silence”, not some spin-doctor, marketing shithead’s concept for a quicker, more efficient way of paying respect “in keeping with the pace at which you live today”.

I’ve noticed this trend materialize out of thin air over the past few years. Initially the time was brought down to something like 45 seconds, then it was around 30. On saturday we had what seemed like about 20 seconds – enough time to just clear your thoughts and begin remembering the tragedy and thinking of the dead and their poor families, before Radio Dickhead on the PA bursts back into life with a kind of “well that’s about enough of that, thanks..” and on with the show. I know, maybe it was the shortest I can remember on Saturday because “only” 50-odd folks got killed. Hey, it wasn’t a sunami, was it? No, your sunamis, now they get the full 9 yards mate – for those we’re talking a massive 35 seconds. Nah, for 50 deaths we can only go 18-20 secs max I’m afraid. That’s it – it’s all pro-rata.

What I want desperately to know is WHO decided that we should start observing less than a whole 60 seconds for our minutes silences, and what the fuck they thought they were doing, and why they imagined that they had the mandate to take such a decision.

After that I want to know WHY they thought it was best to truncate them. What – do they think the stupid ol’ public couldn’t hack being quiet for that long? Did they worry that we’d get bored and soil our rep by calling out rude jokes, or starting a mexican wave? Or is it that the TV and Advertising Lobby just couldn’t bear so much dead time?

I’ve no idea who decided this was The Thing To Do, or why. All I want is for a minutes silence to last fucking 60 seconds.

It seems the very least thing we can do, given the tragedy back in London, and for any future such sad occasion.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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10 Jul

Three-Nil, But It Was A Blast!
by Paul Waite
10 Jul 2005

Yep, we cleaned the Lions up in a 3-0 white-wash (or Blackwash as some are calling it) but this Lions Tour was every bit as good as we’d hoped it would be.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the magic of The Lions isn’t simply in the bald test stats at the end, it’s about the coming together of four nations and a coaching staff, and seeing how they can be welded together to give something very special. It doesn’t happen often (some previous tours have been far worse than this), but when it does, it’s just amazing to behold. It’s also about the touring of the provinces, the hospital and school visits, the sea of red flowing across the land in campervans, and the many meetings in pubs and clubs pre- and post-match between New Zealanders and these most wonderful of rugby fans.

The idea that The Lions should be thrown on the scrapheap simply because of the 3-0 this time is a one-dimensional ‘bean-counter’ view of the world, and should be scorned by anyone with the slightest appreciation of, or regard for, rugby’s traditions.

However it is true that this particular tour has been a piss-poor example of how it should be done, and in fact it should probably be written up into a How To Fuck A Lions Tour Up manual for future reference. Clive Woodward was effectively handed the legendary Blank Cheque on the basis of his exploits in guiding England to winning the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Success is a very bankable commodity we’re told. So it ended up with too many players, too many ‘consultants’, separate rooms for everyone, and every little detail all nailed down apart from the one thing that can’t be bought with money – the heart of a test team with a belief in itself.

But the magic of it is, the next time the Lions assemble it will be with a different set of players and it will be under a different leadership. I’m confident that sense will prevail, and a smaller squad of players plus ‘ancilliary staff’ will tour. A couple of pre-tour trials and a warm-up game should then suffice to get them started with the basic ‘test side’ / ‘midweek side’ split, and from there they should be able to build their combinations.

Looking back on it all as it has unfolded, there were other issues that this Lions team had to contend with. Successful teams always have one or two key players that are the foundation, one of whom is inevitably the captain. In New Zealand rugby one thinks of Wilson Whinneray, Colin Meads, Ian Kirkpatrick, Buck Shelford, Sean Fitzpatrick. In 2003 England had Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio. Looking at this present Lions team, the loss of Dallaglio at the outset was the cruelest of blows, since he really stood alone as their one charismatic leader. Nobody else could come near to filling the role, not even the talented Brian O’Driscoll, and this was painfully apparent in all of the test matches. Hopefully future Lions teams will be able to call on players of this ilk.

Sir Clive is correct in one statement, or at least partially correct. He was at pains to lecture us, at the end of the third test, to be circumspect in drawing conclusions about the gulf between Southern and Northern Hemisphere rugby on this series. In so doing, he was obviously busy, as usual, in feeding his own hobby-horse, but there is quite obviously the ring of truth in it.

The Lions are a special entity, in that they differ from a single nation touring team, made up from players who, for the most part, are familiar with one another. What with other Woordward-induced problems with selection policy, and their own injury issues, the Lions were not representative of a full strength England for example.

New Zealanders are well aware of how to judge this series thankyou very much Clive. The All Blacks have just played their first three tests of the year, and this has been a very useful warm-up. We aren’t anywhere near to full throttle yet, and have a Tri-Nations to navigate, before we will be nice and honed for our Grand Slam tour up North.

So, we’ll see what happens when we journey to same Four Nations who made up the Lions, and take them on in their own back yards.

Now _that_ will be a good pointer for the gap, if any, between Northern and Southern hemisphere rugby.

And another thing, whilst we’re on Clive’s Expressions of Wisdom. He was keen to remind us that we haven’t won a Rugby World Cup since 1987 (thanks Clive, it’s so long ago we’d forgotten about that), and that the World Cup was the true measure of how good a team is.

Wrong.

In a Rugby World Cup ANY side is vulnerable to a one-off miracle performance (eg. France vs. New Zealand, 1999 semi-final) against a team they only meet that one time, whereas in a test series the winner would not necessarily turn out to be the stronger in the long run.

The only true measure of dominance between two rugby teams is over a test series of at least three tests.

World Cups are won by an ad-hoc combination of rugby strength, and good fortune. They necessarily sacrifice rugby credibility (in terms of the result) for entertainment value.

But enough of that. Instead let’s reflect on what was a tremendously successful Lions Tour, and look forward to having them back down this way again in 10-12 years!

To all you Lions Fans out there – you were absolutely fantastic. Have a safe journey home, and we’ll see you at the end of the year for the Grand Slam!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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9 Jul

Not So Fond Farewell
by Colin Johnston
9 Jul 2005

Win, lose or draw tomorrow’s Test Clive Woodward leaves rugby behind and heads for soccer management. Good ridance.

Prior to, during and since RWC 03 he has been arrogant and unapproachable with an air of conceit about him that makes you want him to lose. His legacy to rugby is minimal. What he has proven on this tour with the 2005 Lions is that no matter how much money or how big a squad he is given he cannot coach a squad of rugby players even when they are desperate to deliver.

What does this say of the man. He is a crap man manager, he has coached the rugby out of some of the England “stars”, he only trusts those that he picks and knows: everyone else’s opinion is wrong. If you are new to the squad, even if you are English, forget about having a fair chance. More than anything else this tour has told me one thing:

Martin Johnson and a squad of like minded men won on the pitch RWC ’03. Woodward did not. With this in mind perhaps he should give back the knighthood and quitely slope of, after a fullsome apology to rugby players and followers everywhere and join Southampton FC. Afterall, he has already told us he doesn’t really love rugby, football is his real passion.

No surprises there then, having watched the way his teams have played!

Watch out for his next book “Losing” which will hit the shelves just before Christmas. Everyone except him will be expected to shoulder the blame.

8 Jul

Episode 9: The World's Best No.10
by Paul Waite
8 Jul 2005

[Where is Episode 10? - A brief dose of the lurgi kept me from penning one - but never fear there will be an Episode 11 - Ed.]

Daniel Carter staked a strong claim to be crowned the World’s Best No.10 at The Caketin here in Wellington last night.

His virtuoso 33-point performance dazzled and bewitched the crowd, as he scored two tries, and kicked five penalites and four conversions. When he wasn’t scoring points, his running and kicking game also tested the Lions defence, and basically he simply didn’t put a foot wrong all night. In short, it was a stunning effort.

Not that he was alone in playing well. The previous week had obviously had an effect on the team, and one that Sir Clive Woodward might not have appreciated – it brought the team together, and looked like it had provided them with the motivation to reply to all the media spin and bullshit surrounding “The O’Discoll Incident” in the best way possible – on the field, and on the scoreboard.

Tana Umaga, playing on his home track and having born the brunt of most of the aforementioned essay in bovine scatology, must have been very pleased indeed to open the All Blacks scoring with a nicely taken try in the 18th minute.

Some All Black fans may have been worrying that it was all going to be very different when new Lions skipper Gareth Thomas waltzed too easily through a gap a mile wide to score a try for the visitors in only the 2nd minute of play.

However, the more seasoned officianados amongst us recognized that it resulted from a spurious mis-communication in defence for the All Blacks, and one which was not to be repeated. Such proved to be the case, and the men in Black built momentum, applied pressure and kicked the penalties resulting from it, before Tana went over for the first try of five.

By half-time it was only 21-13, but the ink of the legendary Writing On The Wall was already dry. The Lions simply didn’t have the wood on the All Blacks in the tight-five, as was amply demonstrated at scrum time. In general play they never threatened, there was no pick-and-go, and no effective mauling. The All Blacks tight five were totally dominant, and this platform gave the backs room to create scoring opportunities out wide.

Even so, the Lions defence was often very well organised, and covered well, foiling a lot of attempts in the 22m.

Looking ahead to the Eden Park test, Clive ought to play Stephen Jones in the starting XV, and replace Jason Robinson who was less than useless, perhaps with an up-and-comer like Cueto. Otherwise the backs played reasonably well, in the circumstances, especially when Jones replaced WIlkinson.

In the forwards, Thompson had a solid game at hooker, and the lineouts went quite well, but the problems in the scrum and lack of physical presence needs to be addressed. One player who could help to do this is Sheridan, who is frighteningly strong in the scrum and hard to put down running with the ball. If the Lions coaches concentrate on the pack with an eye to really taking it up the guts of the All Blacks with pick-and-go, and some strong mauling, then they could get much more momentum, and put more pressure on the All Blacks.

So we now move on to the third and final test at Eden Park with the series decided already in favour of the All Blacks. Everyone is betting on a 3-0 white-wash, but this is not at all a certainty. The Lions will be hungry to avoid the clean-sweep, and will be as keen as mustard to salvage pride and take a scalp. The All Blacks go into the game in the knowledge that they have secured the series, and will have to battle the inevitable mental relaxation that the “job already done” feeling brings to them, in the coming week.

In-between these, we also have the Lions mid-weekers taking on Auckland.

So the series still has some great rugby left in it.

See you all in Auckland!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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4 Jul

The Sins of Spin
by Colin Johnston
4 Jul 2005

A quick digression before my collected thoughts regarding Woodward, Campbell, truth, justice and the Lions way.

Firstly congratualtions must go to Messrs Kelleher and Carter for their joint brilliance. I have previously stated Kelleher wasn’t up to filling Marshall’s boots when Marshall heads for these shores in 10 days time. Having seen the performance Kelleher put in on Saturday, epitomised by the accuracy and speed of service that allowed Daniel Carter to do pretty much whatever he liked, when he liked, I shall not scribe such nonsense again. The fact is, over and above the Rolls Royce service, Kelleher made breaks and put in strong defense when he had to and generally would easily have been man of the match if Carter hadn’t put in the performance of the year!

Carter’s own performance was sublime. He ran, passed, tackled, kick, scored and generally played his way into the history. Thirty three points against the Lions in a series is good, in one Test match it is a phenomenal feat. His ascendency was in stark contrast to Wilco who made a poor showing. Jonny then got hurt again and probably should recognise that it is time to hang up his international aspirations and settle for 5 years of club rugby, make a few more quid then retire into sporting history. It isn’t because Wilco isn’t good enough, he is still a fine player, he is just too brittle having taken a pasting for 8 years on the International scene. Carter’s style of play is the future, Jonny’s game ended in 2003 with a drop goal.

So, well played to Carter and Kelleher plus all of the NZ squad for their great displays of rugby in the last two weeks. Series secure, job done and a fifty point drubbing looming in Auckland.

Okay, digression over. Onto Clive and the Sins of Spin. It sounds like a title for a kids book and frankly that is where it should reside in the library referenced “Fantasy”. Mad Emperor Nero fiddled whilst Rome burnt, mad coach Woodward spins sol called news stories. History will show that neither ploy was in any way succesful and neither individual will be fondly remembered. Rather than having the whole press corps of the rugby World constantly re-examining the footage of Umaga and Meallamu up ending BOD they should have been concentrating on the reason they are in NZ in the first place: to play rugby and win a Test series. Watch the rest of the video not just the first minute, pick up the opposition’s strengths, work hard on your own weaknesses and then go out and give it one hell of a shot.

Unfortunately for the Lions followers in NZ and throughout the World we have seen precious little of the playing rugby and the Lions have lost the Test series – irrespective of the way SCW talks it up. Alaistair and Clive are the new Derek and Clyde. They are the newest “alternative” comedy double act to take to the small screen. Answers such as “I don’t think we got a hammering” and “I don’t think the gulf between the teams is anything like the score line suggests..” are complete lunacy sound lke the deluded fantasy of a deranged megalomaniac. Interestingly, both answers included “I don’t think”. Perhaps that is the problem? Has Sir Clive stopped thinking now he has the arch puppeteer with him? No need to think, Clive, Alaistair will merely shove his hand up your backside and work your mouth whenever a few lines of utter nonsense are required.

It would be almost comprehensible if Campbell was an expert or even interested in rugby. He isn’t. He supports Burnley FC a mickey mouse soccer team from the arse-end of Lancashire. SCW has clearly taken leave of his senses and is now merely spewing up everything that Campbell says. I had severe doubts about the necessity, worth or wisdom of Campbell being on this tour. Having listened to the pish that has spouted forth since the first Test I am now convinced that taking Campbell is the second biggest blunder SCW has made. The biggest cock up to date still being the selection of the first Test team prior to April 2005.

Perhaps SCW was watching a different Test Series? Perhaps he is on medication or is merely so close to a breakdown that nobody dare remind him of the Emperor and his New Clothes. Well if that is the case let’s push him over the edge. Clive, you have failed, you have let the British Isles down. You are an embarrassment to rugby and have turned into parody of a sporting coach. The sooner you clear off to Southampton FC the better it will be for rugby.

Contrary to what Clive and Alaistair say here is how it was in Test 2: The Lions were out thought by Kelleher and Carter – fact. The All Blacks were quicker, slicker and more cohesive in everything thing they did – fact. The passing that was strung together for Umaga’s and Sivivatu’s tries was brilliant. The pace at which it was executed, astonishing. The back play in NZ is years ahead of what we have seen in the UK and frankly, the system that England played from 1999 to date, and unfortunately the Lions have tried to adopt on this tour, looks so old fashioned the games should be in black and white and run at x2 speed. All facts.

I have a feeling that this week we shall here about the one scrum the Lions took against the head. The positive side of learning from new cultures and new playing methods and how much it means to the plyers. Oh yes and of course making new friends (that’ll be Campbell again) and saying that the third test victory is within our grasp….

It is now time for SCW to pay for the Sins of Spin. Phone the looney bin, prepare the padded cell and send for the nice men with the sedatives, needles and strait jackets: Sir Clive Woodward is on his way!