23 Jul

Dan Carter Show: Episode 2
by Paul Waite
23 Jul 2006

Dan the Man did it again with another imperious display at The Caketin. First the Lions last year, now the Boks have had points piled up against them by the Carter Machine.

Apart from amassing 25 points from his boot, the coup de grace was a brilliant chip and regather down the left touchline before in-passing to set up Richie McCaw’s fine try which sealed the test.

But it wasn’t all tea and biccies, oh no. The performance was what could be termed “flawed” or “scratchy”. There were several aspects to the test from the All Black point of view which will be concerning them.

First of all the lineout was a poor effort all-round. Throws were mis-directed, or challenged and lost, and those lineouts which were secured were mostly by the skin of the teeth in the face of very tough challenges from Matfield & Co.

Conversely on the Springbok lineout the All Blacks lined up like a bunch of shop-window dummies, seemingly transfixed by the aerial majesty of their opponents’ work. Nary a challenge went in, and the odd one that did came nowhere near being noticed by the soaring men in green. It was a pathetic, embarassing spectacle.

The second blight on the game from the All Blacks standpoint was their defence of the maul, even when not contesting the lineout prior to it. Body positioning, numbering up and general nouse and application in this area was a shambles on all but one occasion, when the Boks shaped to drive from a 5m lineout. On this occasion they got it right and drove the enemy back – so what’s the Big Deal with doing it on all occasions. Pass, as they say.

Other negatives were generally attributable to either poor form, in the shape of a less than useless Doug Howlett who couldn’t do a thing right, or lack of combination due to the mix ‘n match selection policy. One try was effectively ‘blown’ by Mils Muliaina down the left when he threw a forward pass to an overlap of two when under no pressure. Obviously a slip and nothing more, but uncharacteristic of him.

Actually, on reflection, most of the negatives mentioned can probably be put down to lack of time together for whatever combination Henry & Co. have picked for this week. Although the depth this approach is building is impressive, a better idea from now on might be to stabilize selections in certain areas, such as the tight-five, so that set-pieces like the lineout can be given the kind of practice they need. If not the whole T5, then maybe just hooker/locks combinations or something.

Positives came from the test as well. A number of players had very good outings aside from the already-lauded Carter. At halfback Weepu was his usual combative self, giving much more than he got, and scoring a great scoop-up and dive-over try when it looked like we’d blown it at the last 5m of a sweeping attack down the left in the first half. Late in the game when he went off, Cowan came on and performed very well too, his quicker delivery giving the All Blacks more time out wide against the rush defence.

In the centres, Tuitupou had a shaky start, making some defensive blunders, but came back strongly and looks like a great back-up to Aaron Mauger. Mils Muliaina had another strong game at centre and was a constant threat on attack.

Finally in the backs Hamilton had a good outing on the left wing and didn’t really put a foot wrong, his vision in reading the game making sure that he was always positioned well on defence, and working in well with the attack.

In the forwards Richie McCaw led by example, and was well supported by Rueben Thorne who was prominent on both attack and defence and got through a power of work. So’oialo was his usual busy and bruising dynamo self. In the front row Tialata proved he can foot it at the top at loose-head and was part of an impressive scrummaging effort which had the advantage of the heavier Bok pack.

Finally, a prize of a tea-cosy, (hand-knitted in merino wool by Mrs. Edna Previous of Eketahuna) is awarded for Worst Hairstyle Of The Week to the Springboks’ own Breyton Paulse, who has contrived to make himself look like a Michael Jackson in his Jackson Five years.

Congratulations Breyton!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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9 Jul

Rusty Is Good Enough
by Paul Waite
9 Jul 2006

This test was pretty frustrating to watch. The All Blacks were poor for the first half, and conceded a 7-pointer care of some individual brilliance from the quicksilver Latham. But they were helped out of that hole by some braindead play from Rocky Elsom (thank god for the brainlessness of youth), who gave the home team the benefit of 15 v 14 by getting himself sin-binned for 10 minutes, and providing the window for two resulting tries to slip through.

Graham Henry opined that the Men in Black were ‘rusty’ for 20 minutes. I think that’s very flattering, but they did improve as they got into it more. Essentially it wasn’t a big surprise anyway, given the revolving door selection policy in the lead-up tests against Ireland and Argentina.

One worrying area was the way Australia shaded the All Blacks completely in the maul. Admittedly this was helped in no small part by the blindness of the officials to some blatant Wallaby cheating. They worked that well-known Wallaby trick at maul/drive setup, where they deliberately position two or more blockers up ahead to obstruct the defence for critical seconds, then these offside players join in right at the front to further obstruct defensive effort. They did this very nicely from a lineout. The other one was forcing a collapse by grabbing the legs of opposing players (McCaw was caught like this) and tipping them under the feet of the maul. Illegal, but got away with, and it gained them a penalty.

Aside from that the try Fava scored in the drive from 5m was extremely suspect. The ball was in a ruck at that time, and he seemed to pick it off the ground whilst off his feet and fall forward on his knees to place it.

However that aside (our own “try” to McCaw was a very fortunate decision to say the least) Australia definitely shaded New Zealand driving the ball in the maul, and defending it.

The New Zealand scrum demolished their opposites initially, pulverizing them and dispatching young Tai McIsaac through injury after folding them all in half with one immense shove. But when Woodcock left, and Keven Mealamu was replaced by Hore the difference was marked. They were still on top but the scrum was no longer the weapon it was.

At lineout Henry must have been pretty pleased with the effort given the disruptive preparation the team had. Australia challenged the NZ ball more than the other way around, but it functioned well nonetheless, and that cock-up which gifted Mealamu his first try tasted sweet to All Black supporters. Eaton was ok, but as expected shone around the park more than in the air.

Dan Carter had yet another mixed performance. He looks like someone carrying a burden that’s distracting him from getting to 100%. The place-kicks were erratic, and his kicking from hand not well timed. Around the field he is still a shadow of what he can be. Even so, his class allows him to produce plays other No.10′s only aspire to. In defence he produced some thunderous tackling too.

Looking at the loose forwards, So’oialo did a few silly things, got isolated, turned over the ball. Not a good one. Collins did ok, but wasn’t enough of a danger apart from to health of the pitch, when he felt compelled to urinate on it pre-kickoff. McCaw was his usual inspirational self, and outplayed Smith completely.

Kelleher was pretty average, with some bad or delayed passes putting pressure on his backline. Mauger had a good one, capped off with that awesome break leading to a questionable McCaw try.

Mils Muliaina at centre contained the powerful Mortlock well, and managed one or two nice runs which made the excellent Aussie defence work overtime. A very good start against probably one of the best test backlines he’ll face. For his part MacDonald had a good run at fullback too – rock solid and some lovely running of the ball at times.

Although Rokocoko was fairly hot and cold getting himself isolated, turning over the odd ball and generally not enough of a threat with ball in hand. Gear on the other wing looked as sharp as a tack by contrast, and had a super test. It was a great pity that a cross-kick from Carter, batted down by Williams out on the right touchline didn’t end up in his hands because that would have been the try of the season.

In summary, New Zealand were very rusty, as expected, and that affected combinations. The interplay between halfback and runners, between the backs, and players just generally
not being 100% sure of where they should be or where everyone else resulted in a stuttering performance. The upside is that the team will be knocked off a lot of the rust with this win.

With that said, let’s look at some major positives. The lineout was the main set-piece that would have been worrying All Black fans before this test kicked off, but they showed that they have worked well on it, and that’s a big plus. The defence all-round was excellent except in patches, and that was as much due to Aussie attacking guile as to rusty/untried combinations. The scrum remains, by far the top dog in international rugby, when it fields one of its top combinations in the T5 (Woodcock, Kev/Oliver, Hayman, Jack, Williams) and even with replacements is the match of any. Mils Muliaina looks like he’ll fit in as expected at centre, and MacDonald is a more than adequate replacement at fullback. Aaron Mauger is also coming back to some of the best form that he has ever produced. In addition to all that, New Zealand now have impressive depth to select from.

The negatives. Mauling technique has fallen away both on attack and defence – more so on defence. Dan Carter is still not even near his 100%, and the All Blacks will at least need his kicking to improve in the short term.

So, although it was a frustrating game to watch at times due to the mistakes and rustiness, All Black fans will be more than happy with the final scoreline.

The Wallabies might reflect on the fact that the ‘new regime boost factor’ which you get with any new coach goes only so far. In the end they still have the same weaknesses up front that they had last season, and history has shown that it takes years, not months, to fix that.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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7 Jul

Precious Haka
by Paul Waite
7 Jul 2006

Sound the civil defence sirens – we’ve had another insult aimed at the haka!!

For those who didn’t see it, some Aussie ad-men used the infamous ‘handbag incident’ (where Tana Umaga belted a tired and emotional Chris Masoe with a handbag in a bar to discipline him) to take the piss out of the All Blacks.

The ad begins with a sinister-sounding voice: “Australia is about to play the toughest team on the planet. The fearsome All Blacks”. The scene then cuts to the guys doing Ka Mate, with the CGI addition of colourful ladies handbags swinging from their arms.

I have to admit it – I was laughing pretty hard. It was bloody funny.

It should have ended there. After all, it’s all good fodder to help focus All Black minds if anything. But no, we had to have the “insult to Maori” card played.

Interviewed at a press conference, Wayne Smith sounded like a whining PC tosspot as he said “I know it’s a piss-take… but it’s disrespectful and insensitive to Maori culture”.

Give us all a break Wayne. Maori and All Black culture is not so brittle that it has to be wrapped in this kind of PC cotton wool. That “precious” stance invites real disrespect, as opposed to the perceived disrespect the ad represents.

The haka stands on its own, and can never be affected by this kind of thing. Let people do and say what they like about it, or to the performers of it. That’s the essence of haka – to lay down an in-your-face challenge, and to stand there with it no matter what gets thrown back.

Querulous demands for respect simply provide a nice solid platform for derision and disrespect.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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