30 Sep

All Blacks v Romania, Toulouse, 29 September 2007
by Tracey Nelson
30 Sep 2007

The All Blacks put Romania to the sword, beating them 85-8 in their final pool game played in Toulouse, although Romania managed to do what Scotland couldn’t last week- and that was to put points on the board against the All Blacks. This they did in emphatic style, on their sole foray anywhere near the All Blacks’ line, a driving maul splitting the All Blacks for the Romanian hooker, Marius Tincu, to crash over for their only try of the game. If there is any weakness in the All Blacks’ game, it is probably defending against a rolling maul and no doubt this will be not only on their minds but the minds of the French as they head to Cardiff to face off in the quarter final next weekend.

This was yet another emphatic win for the men in black, despite being punctuated by some stutters at the back of the scrum and at times a lack of fluidity in the sweeping moves attempted by both backs and forwards. There were times, especially in the first half, when the All Blacks were hassled into mistakes by a very committed Romanian pack, and a Romanian halfback who must surely have been testing the offside line to its very limit at scrum time. However, you were left feeling that the All Blacks only tried out a couple of moves and then for the most part simply used space and pace to submerge a gallant but totally outclassed Romanian side, preferring to keep their secrets firmly hidden until the knock-out stages of the quarter finals.

it was the first appearance at the RWC for Keith Robinson, and he performed well for the 60 or so minutes he was on the field. His soaring, two-handed lineout takes were at his trademark best, and it was pleasing to see he still had gas left in the tank when he jogged off the field, seemingly none the worse for wear in his first full contact game for some months.

Joe Rokocoko was in sizzling form scoring a hat-trick of tries, whilst on the other wing Sitiveni Sivivatu was brutally unstoppable close to the line. Doug Howlett chimed in when he came on as a replacement, showing impressive speed on attack and bagging another try to add to his record tally. With three world class wingers all in good form, the All Black selectors have some hard decisions to make when they pick their side for the Cardiff quarter final – but I’m sure it’s a dilemma other sides could only dream of having.

Nick Evans once again proved his versatility, playing at fullback for three quarters of the game before shifting into 1st 5 for the final 20 minutes. Indeed, his move into the pivot position was instrumental in the backline finally gaining some rythym, no better illustrated than by his break of the line and threading of his arms through in the tackle to offload the ball to Aaron Mauger. The ball was then fed through various hands in a perfect sequence of draw and pass for Toeava, having shifted from centre out to the wing in the final part of the game, to score the try that had begun in the All Blacks’ own 22. Evans also managed to kick the now revealed lemon of a ball between the sticks, seemingly with ease. With concerns over the fitness of Dan Carter it was a calming thought to know that Evans is ready and waiting in the wings should he be required.

There will be plenty for the selectors to ponder as they start to plan for the quarter final game against France in Cardiff. There were signs from the French today that they are slowly coming into form, but equally there are large dashes of ineptitude and squandering of chances that must be pounced on if the host country is to be knocked out of the competition and the All Blacks are to truly begin their march towards the final. Only time will tell if the weak pool games have hampered the All Blacks’ preparation for the big games, and this coming weekend will be the first true test of that.

24 Sep

Scotland v All Blacks, Edinburgh, 24 September 2007
by Tracey Nelson
24 Sep 2007

OK, so who was the halfwit from the RWC organising committee who gave the go-ahead for all the team jerseys and alternate strips for this tournament? Is he blind, or just did it in the dark? The moment the two teams ran onto the field for this third pool game the entire crowd at Murrayfield all started gaping in disbelief at the close resemblence of the two strips.

The All Blacks, having lost the coin toss that decided who had to wear their alternate strip (given that our normal jersey is black and Scotland’s is navy blue) were decked out in the silver/grey panelled shirts with black shorts and sock. But Scotland ran out in grey and navy panelled jerseys, with the white cross of St Andrew across their chests, navy shorts and navy socks on. Essentially both teams were wearing grey jerseys. Which begs the questions, why didn’t we just wear our normal black jerseys because it would have made life a hell of a lot easier not just for the spectators but I’ve no doubt the players themselves.

Given the Scots weren’t playing their strongest XV for this match, having rested 13 of their top line up, there was huge expectation that something resembling a cricket score would be mounted by the All Blacks. But despite denying Scotland any points during the 80 minutes, the All Blacks failed to produce the consumate drubbing many of their supporters were hoping for. Indeed, many fans walked away from the stadium feeling somewhat deflated if conversations in bars afterwards were anything to go by.

Kudos to Scotland, they defended ferociously for most of the game, although quite how thier fullback Hugo Southwell managed to keep getting up from some of the bone-crunchihg collisions he was involved in (particularly when Tony Woodcock went head on into his ribs for a try disallowed due to a prior forward pass) is nothing short of miraculous.

The All Blacks started well enough with a very slickly performed set-piece move from a 5m attacking scrum putting McCaw over for a try after 5 minutes. Shortly after that Doug Howlett crossed over in the corner to take his place as New Zealand’s greatest ever try scorer, just reward for one of our best finishers. However, the persistence and tenacity of the Scottish defence meant the remainder of the game was punctuated by numerous handling errors by the All Blacks, including a large tally of foward passes that continued to mount throughout. There were also some lineout wobbles, although it must be conceded that the Scots do have a very good lineout. Which is more than can be said for their scrum, which struggled throughout the game until South African referee, Marius Jonkers, lost patience with Scotland and started dishing out penalties as a result of their inability to maintain the binds in the front row.

The most notable thing about this game, in contrast to the two previous pool games, was the apparent failure of the All Blacks to be able to put the man into the gap and let the passes go. Initially there was a degree of frustration about this, but as the game wore on it became apparent that like the spectators the players were having problems sighting their team mates when the two backlines met. While this could be taken as a negative, there were some positive outcomes too – the All Blacks have conceded quite a few intercept passes in the last two games, one of which led to a try, but in this game they did not offer up the same chances to Scotland and overall against a fast defensive line, there were very few 50/50 passes thrown.

Defensively the All Blacks would have to feel pretty pleased about their efforts, particularly during the first half when Scotland mounted one very strong attack that was eventually repelled. They did enough on attack to win the game by 40 points without having to show too much of their hand heading into the quarter finals. The only real cloud was a calf injury early on in the game to fullback Leon MacDonald that eventually saw him leave the field to be replaced by Nick Evans. That, and an uncharacteristically bad day at the office for Dan Carter with the boot missing no less than 5 place kicks at goal.

21 Sep

Sidelines from the RWC
by Tracey Nelson
21 Sep 2007

Reuben Thorne looks set to make his first appearance at the tournament when the team to play Scotland is named on Tuesday evening, France time. However, the clock remains ticking for lock Keith Robinson and if he cannot recover from his calf injury it looks likely that a replacement will be called up for him – the front runners being Otago’s Tom Donnelly, a specialist lock who showed good form with the Junior All Blacks this season, or Auckland’s Troy Flavell who was part of the All Black squad during the Iveco series and the Tri Nations this season.

What are the chances of the 2007 RWC semi finals being an all Southern Hemisphere derby? On current form it seems more than likely that South Africa, Australia and New Zealand will be first place getters in Pools A, B and C respectively. Pool D looks to be a fight between France and Argentina, unless Ireland can pull themselves out of the mire and produce something miraculous to beat both those sides in the final two weeks of pool play. If Argentina beat Ireland, then they will top Pool D which would see France as the runner up having to play New Zealand in Cardiff – a prospect they and the tournament organisers surely wouldn’t have been hoping for so early in the piece.

It’s official – England are the worst defending champion of the Rugby World Cup crown. Not only have they slipped to 7th in the world rankings but their win/loss ratio over the past four years has now dipped below the 50% mark. They are also the first title holders to be held to nil in a World Cup pool game.

Best newspaper quote of the week (and there have been some good ones after the Springboks’ demolition of England) was from the Weekend Argus based out of Capetown: "Before the match they (England) went through a warm-up routine that looked like a ‘handbags at 10 paces’ routine rather than a team gearing up for a match against one of the most physical teams in the world’.

Funniest advertisment – Nike ran a full page spread before the England-Springbok game of the English players standing staunchly with arms folded on the Dover cliffs with the caption reading "Not without a fight". In hindsight perhaps a better caption may have been "Just like lemmings…"

The powerful French loose forward, Eric Chabal, has been quoted as saying that despite his wild looks and brutal running on the field "in my mind I am tranquil". Well thank heavens for that, because the mind boggles as to what he might produce if he was feeling a little riled!!

Who would ever have imagined an All Black pack containing five front rowers? With the current locking crisis in the All Black camp Saturday’s game against Portugal saw TH prop Carl Hayman replacing Chris Jack at lock and and hooker Keven Mealamu coming on at blindside flanker for Jerry Collins to form surely one of the most unusual forward packs in New Zealand’s rugby history.

21 Sep

Old Blighty
by Tracey Nelson
21 Sep 2007

nz_memorialsIt’s been a bit of a comedown being in autumnal London after the balmy, late summer weather in the South of France. Bu there are always things to do and see in London, one of which was to visit the New Zealand War Memorial at Hyde Park Corner – quite a neat piece of Kiwi-ness in the heart of London City. I must say it was an almighty achievement to get that position for a piece of NZ too. Among the many plinths that make up the memorial is one sporting a rugby ball, commemorating CJ Munro who introduced the game to New Zealand upon his return after completing his schooling at Christ’s College in Finchely for two years. Bless the man.

British newspapers are always an amusing read during a Rugby World Cup, and by and by they haven’t disappointed – though the English team are probably quite relieved that the Northern Rock Bank financial crisis and the “sacking” of Jose Mourinho from the manager’s job at the Chelsea Football Club have overshadowed their appalling loss to South Africa in Paris the other week. The All Blacks did manage to get some praise from Stephen Jones though, for their on-field attitude against Portugal in Lyon. Crikey, what is the world coming to?!

This last weekend gone I got first hand experience of that wonder known as British Rail and can now see why people whinge about it so much. We had 1st class tickets, but may as well have been in cattle class both ways as on the way up they had no power in the kitchen so there was no hot food nor

complimentary tea and coffee for those in 1st class. On the way back we were supposed to be able to use the dining car but within minutes of it opening (it was 5 carriages back from the 1st class carriages)

it was full and they wouldn’t take any more seatings so most people travelling in 1st class missed out on a meal. How does that work?

The train trip up was great fun though. The carriages were mostly full of Kiwi supporters on their way up to Edinburgh for the game so there was plenty of banter and lively discussion for the first half of the journey. The second half of the trip saw most of our carriage gathered around one set of seats where one of the guys had a small, portable TV set to view the England-Samoa game. Unfortunately, every time the game got exciting we would round a bend in the track and lose coverage so it became a combination of someone on a mobile getting updates from a mate watching the game on TV back in London combined with brief glimpses of play between the snow storms on the screen. Possibly the best moment of all though was pulling out of the station at Newcastle where some fully fledged train spotters were out en masse doing their Saturday morning surveillance of the trains going in and out of the town. You have to see it to believe it, but they fully live up to the stereotype.

Edinburgh itself was an interesting experience. Chocka with an influx of All Black supporters the restaurants were bulging at the seams and you were hard pressed not to have anything shorter than an hour wait for a table even as late as 9.30pm. Breakfast the next morning wasn’t any easier, as nothing opened for on the Sunday morning (day of the game) until midday. We went to four cafes and were told that they weren’t doing breakfast until noon before we found somewhere that was. Then this morning (Monday) when we went to get breakfast, the places advertising “All Day Breakfasts” stopped serving them at 10am. How does that work again? Since when did All Day only include the hours that are single digit? Not to mention two places had run out of bacon. How gormless are these people when they knew there was a World Cup game and a huge influx of tourists to their city? There were countless numbers of Kiwis roaming the streets with slighty bemused expressions on the faces looking in vain for something, anything to eat. (Hmmm, maybe that’s why Fat Bastard ate babies…. it was all he could find!)

And cold! It’s only the beginning of their autumn and the wind in Edinburgh could cut you to the bone. Yet while I was wrapped up in coats and scarves (and keep in mind Christchurch where I’m from isn’t exactly the Riviera itself), there were local folk walking about in t-shirts. They’re either tough as boots or lunatics. On the plus side, they do have fantastic black pudding in Scotland. And the

people are friendly even if you can’t understand a word they’re saying when they get excited – or with some even when they were talking normally.

This week I’m looking foward to getting back to southern France and the warm climes of Toulouse, known as the Pink City, to watch the All Blacks take on Romania in the last round of pool games. The main mission is going to be making sure I get there in time to watch the England-Tonga game on the Friday night, which will determine the runner up of Pool A behind South Africa. The English are pretty worried about this game, and the way Tonga have been playing and the fact this game is being played on French soil they are probably right to be worried. There are a couple of other must-watch games too, those being the Scotland-Italy match that will decide who comes second in our pool, and most importantly the clash between Ireland and Argentina that will not only decide which of the two teams goes through but also determine who the All Blacks will be playing in the quarter final game in Cardiff.

So much rugby, and thankfully this coming weekend so much time to watch it all!

 

17 Sep

Lyon to London
by Tracey Nelson
17 Sep 2007

le_grill_de_bellecourUnfortunately my brief time in the beautiful city of Lyon is at an end, and I don’t mind saying that despite France being a desperately frustrating country to be in at times, I was very reluctant to leave Lyon.  Other than the trumpets, that is.  I’m not sure how well the small brass bands complete with drummer come across on TV, but they are a regular fixture at French grounds – and if you’re really “lucky”, sometimes you’ll get two of them at either end of the field.

Now I am not a fan of brass at the best of times, and frankly despite it all being very Latin and with loud yells of “Ole” coming from the locals at the appropriate moment following a blast from the trumpets, I will enjoy being in Edinburgh this weekend well away from anything brass.  Not to mention the elusive sole trumpeter who would appear frrom seemingly nowhere at the traffic lights outside my Lyon hotel and blast out a frenetic volley before disappearing again.  As far as I’m aware, this went on pretty much throughout the whole day for the three days we were in Lyon and for the life of me I still don’t know whether he was busking or just a random lunatic, but I am done with the trumpets for the time being!

I dined out with some new friends in the well known Brasserie George in Lyon, a large and bustling restaurant with a staggeringly big menu that made choosing your food quite a hard mission. The brasserie features a live jazz band and one of the specialities of the house is Baked Alaska (although you need to order it at the start of your meals if you want it for dessert).  If it’s your birthday they put sparklers on top of it and when the waiter whisks it out to your table they dim the lights and the band launches into Happy Birthday.  The first time it happened that evening all the French patrons started clapping loudly in time to the music and a huge cheer went up when the dessert reached the intended table.  We were quite amused by this, and lo and behold when a few minutes later another one came out, once again the lights dimmed, the band played and the people clapped.

By the time the third one came out we had got with the programme and joined in with the clapping and whistling.  But then everyone started getting Baked Alaska with sparkler candles (I cannot believe that so many people could possibly have had a birthday on the same day in the one restaurant) so the fun began to wear off – the band started getting bored with the same birthday ditty and started doing variations on the Happy Birthday tune and the clapping got very half hearted.  Of course, that didn’t stop us from nominating one of our table as being “the birthday boy” and we did manage to get a sparkler on top of his gateau – and although there was no dimming of the lights or the band playing Happy Birthday it still didn’t ruin the fun.

It’s not really until you are away from home that you realise how globally recognisable the All Blacks brand is. I have been constantly amazed at how many other nationalities are supporting the All Blacks at this tournament -  we had touring American backpackers turned up at our hotel complete with All Blacks face paint and flags last weekend.  I’ve already mentioned the numerous French who are decked out in black, but there are Irish, English, Norweigans and many other nationalities also turning up especially to watch the All Blacks play.  When you get into a taxi or you’re in a restaurant, cafe or bar in France, as soon as people find out you’re from New Zealand the first thing they say is “ahh, ze All Blacks!”.

Now I’m in London for the week leading up to the game against Scotland in Edinburgh, and it’s been very amusing reading the British press slamming the England team following their drubbing by South Africa on Friday.  There are even calls from the likes of Stephen Jones for a Southern Hemisphere coach to be found.  I never thought I’d see the day!

Au revoir for now.

16 Sep

Minnows vs. The Mighty
by Paul Waite
16 Sep 2007

max_minnowThe 2007 Rugby World Cup media coverage is going through its usual bout of hand-wringing over the “minnow” teams. There are basically only two camps – those who think these lesser teams shouldn’t be at a World Cup at all, and those who think they should.

The “kick ‘em out” crowd argue that tests involving minnow teams against the big boys, where the likes of the Springboks pile on 100+ points are (ahem) “pointless”, and lessen the credibility of the World Cup. They say the games have nothing of the true test-match about them for the rugby purist, and benefit neither the team being hammered, nor the team doing the hammering.

The “bring ‘em in” brigade insist that including these teams at the World Cup fosters the game as a world-wide sport, and adds colour and variety to the event. They argue that most spectators enjoy and enter into the spirit of these test matches, and are not rugby purists. They add that the matches do benefit the minnow teams, giving them a taste of the top-flight version of the sport, and enabling them to promote it back in their home countries.

Watching events unfold in France over the past few weeks, there is a strong argument that inclusion is definitely better than exclusion. Across the board the minnows have been challenging the more established teams, if not for the full 80 minutes, for a good part of it before amateur legs grow tired in the face of the physical onslaught of a professionally trained foe. From that first upset where Argentina set the tone by earning themselves a French scalp, we have seen Tonga frightening mighty South Africa to lose only 25-30, Georgia pushing the Irish to lose by 10-14, and Romania going down 24-18 against Italy.

Those were the close score-lines, but they don’t tell the full stories of how some minnow teams managed to find a way to put together a single great move against a top nation, or how they managed to snuff out one ferocious attack. These moments are absolutely epic for the minnow players involved in the heat of the action, but they tend to be mostly ignored by high-flying rugby pundits and journalists, plying their trade from some lofty media eyrie.

Excluding these teams will simply act to reinforce the status-quo, and maintain the traditional power bases of rugby. The gain-sayers argue that a World Cup is no place to “educate” minnow nations in the arts of the sport, and that it should be simply the pinnacle tournament – a joust to the bitter end by the best of the best, with every test match a true test in the traditional mold.

I’m sorry, but this is simply head-in-the-sand thinking. The reality is, rugby world-wide is very much a minority sport, and if that approach were taken to its logical extreme the IRB would only invite six countries along. Let’s take a close look at world-wide rugby. The rugby officialdom often talk in terms of “tiers” of rugby nations. You have your tier 1 group, which are nominally these ten: New Zealand, Australia, England, South Africa, France, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Argentina, and Italy. The tier 2 nations are nominally these: Canada, Fiji, Japan, Romania, Samoa, Tonga, United States. The rest (approx 80 countries) are lumped into tier 3.

Cutting to the chase, the argument is generally one of “should there be 16 or should there be 20 teams” for the Rugby World Cup. The current 20-team format has 4 pools of 5, instead of 4 pools of 4.

Clearly, with a 16-team rugby world cup the chances are that no team from tier 3 would ever get to the tournament, since there are 17 teams in tiers 1 & 2. This would be bad from a world rugby perspective, since all the tier 3 nations would see that there were, realistically, no slots at the World Cup for them, and would therefore have less motivation available for their amateur players to put in the hard yards of training and practice for qualification.

It’s one of those chicken or the egg problems. If the Rugby World Cup itself makes a significantly positive difference in bringing tier 3 nations along, then inclusion will only increase the standard, and it will foster the game world-wide. If, on the other hand, it has no effect either technically, or in promoting the game in those countries, then it is indeed a waste of time.

I do believe that this tournament has answered the above questions for anyone who can interpret all of the close results, and passionate play from the minnow teams thus far. And for those who can read the faces of the Portugese players in their recent 108-13 “hammering” by the All Blacks in Lyon.

True the 108-13 result, at face value, is a valueless exercise, and not worthy of the title “test match”. But if you believe what the Portugese were saying, that single game will sustain the whole of Portugese rugby for the next four years, and act as a spur to greater things for them.

The try Os Lobos scored against the team they idolise was worth much more than the 7-points it put onto the scoreboard. They now know they can dare to run out onto the field against the very best in the World and dare to score tries against them. Back down at their current level of development, that knowledge is pure gold, and they could only have acquired it at a World Cup.

So I’m definitely in favour of including the so-called minnow nations at the World Cup, and would love to see them involved in the latter stages of the event as well, rather than being shipped off home after the pool-play phase.

Various options for changing the World Cup format have been mooted, but my preferred option would be to keep the current pool format, which still allows minnows to play the big guns, and add in a Plate competition in the playoff stages to run alongside the main Rugby World Cup itself.

This would follow the format of the Sevens Series, where the non-qualified teams go on to contest a separate knockout competition for the Rugby World Plate. As well as giving them more rugby, it would fill out an otherwise fairly empty and flat part of the tournament, which suffers from a drastic thinning out of teams as the quarter-finals, semi and final are played. So instead of empty weeks, waiting for teams to recover for the next stage, we could interleave the mid-week Plate playoffs. This scheme would also have the effect of generating more incentive in the pools, since the 3rd and 4th placings become significant.

 

Whether this kind of option is even a possibility for the 2011 Rugby World Cup being held here in New Zealand is an interesting point, as such a change in format would require quite a lot of extra planning for venues and logistics.

But whether or not that step is taken , I hope that the IRB doesn’t listen to the calls for the tournament to be reduced back to 16 teams.

The only way to spread the gospel of rugby to the World, is to encourage as many players as possible out there to play it.

Providing them with an achievable goal of playing the likes of the All Blacks at the Rugby World Cup is a powerful way of doing just that.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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16 Sep

It's not a gap, it's a chasm
by Tracey Nelson
16 Sep 2007

What we’ve been suspecting for the last 18 months now seems to be pretty clear – the gap between the home unions and their southern hemisphere counterparts has widened to the point where you could almost split the current Rugby World Cup pool teams into three divisions.

The total demolition of the reigning World Champions, England, by a rampant South African team that still managed to play within themselves to keep England scoreless throughout the 80 minutes was best summed up by Stephen Jones in the Sunday Times when he wrote "England obviously never expected to win, and they did not know how to play".

What has become glaringly obvious in the opening 10 days of the 2007 RWC is that the Southern Hemisphere teams are quite simply bigger, better and faster than their northern counterparts, with the possible exception of France should they decide to turn up at this tournament.

The few attempts at attacking play by the northern unions are simply read and immediately nullified by the southern teams. Everything the northern sides do can be done better and faster by the southern sides. Tactical nous, ability to see and use space, put players into the gap, produce quick ball at the breakdown, offload the ball, kick for territory, organise the line both on attack and defence – all are executed more efficiently and ruthlessly by New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and even Argentina (as they showed by toppling the host nation France in the opening game of the tournament).

Watching England fumble their way through their opening game against the minnow USA team did not bode well for their chances against South Africa, and so it proved as they failed to score any points at all at Stade de France. There did not appear to be any sort of gameplan, they were sluggish, their attack was impotent, and most of the players didn’t even really look like they wanted to be there.

For all the snorting and derision aimed at the Super 14 competition, and the continued vehemence from the UK press that the club game in Europe is the better and stronger competition, the proof of the pudding is here for all to see. It seems blindingly obvious the only reason the rugby is good in the northern club competition is because of the injection of southern hemisphere imports over the last 5 to 10 years. Take out the imports and suddenly you’re left with something decidedly less talented.

The problem being faced by the UK game is that by importing overseas players to play in key positions such as the loose forwards, halfback and 1st 5/fly half they are leaving themselves dangerously empty of their own player development and this has come back to bite. It is desperately awful if not tragic at times to watch teams like England and Wales get the ball out to their backline only to see a potential scoring opportunity botched because their backs can not use the width of the field to put players into space, or to see a tight forward spill the ball in a counter attack because he simply doesn’t have the ball skills.

Despite the growing number of top players heading to the UK and Europe from New Zealand and South Africa, we continue to churn out top players because our governing unions had the foresight to keep control of the game and the players. Sure, we may not have the money to prevent players from heading to the northern hemisphere, but at least we are continuing to nuture the game and the developing talent in our own back yards via the player academies, and as one generation leaves the next generation is there to fill the gap. Someone suggested the other night that both New Zealand and South Africa could gather a second WC squad beyond the one they already have here and end up with two teams each in the quarter finals, and I’m inclined to agree given what we’ve seen so far.

There are now calls from many over here that it’s time for England to have a Southern Hemisphere coach, some are even suggesting Graham Henry – but the truth is that it will take more than a Great Redeemer to remedy the cancer that has spread into English and UK rugby. It’s not so much a coaching dilemma but a lack of understanding and feeling for the game that has made it’s way into rugby on this side of the world. Until they get their heads around this, even the best coaches in the world are not going to be able to change it.

15 Sep

All Blacks v Portugal – 15th Sept 2007
by Tracey Nelson
15 Sep 2007

jerryvportA less polished performance from the second stringer All Black side
this week, with a string of handling errors marring the opening 20
minutes of the game.

Kudos to Portugal though, because while they may
only be ranked 25th in the world they put in a far better effort than
Italy the week before and won a huge round of applause from the Kiwi
contingent for their try in the first half.

As expected, the All Blacks cracked the ton in this game and at times
it did look like an unopposed training run. The shortage of fit locks
did bring about the marvellous sight of tight-head prop Carl Hayman subbing on
for Chris Jack early in the second half – although I’m sure the
lineout lifters must have been openly relieved there weren’t too many
lineouts thrown his way.

There was a brief moment of heart in mouth when Ali
Williams went down injured but it appeared to just be winding and
nothing more serious we hope.

Once again the whole bench got a run, and it was pleasing to see Greg
Somerville play a good 60 minutes before he was subbed off. The only
slightly vexing thing at the moment is the form of both 2nd 5s -
McAlister had moments of madness with the boot last weekend and this
week Mauger showed lapses on both passing and catching.

But the
reality is that despite some dazzling tries, so far the All Blacks
have had no serious opposition and it remains to be seen if Scotland
can provide that. One would have to doubt it, given the rollings
handed out to England and Wales by SA and Australia respectively this
weekend.

With the injury cloud hanging over lock Keith Robinson the word is
that he has until the last pool game to prove his fitness else a
replacement lock will be called over; at this stage it’s looking to be
either Tom Donnelly or Troy Flavell.

15 Sep

In Love with Lyon
by Tracey Nelson
15 Sep 2007

Finally, a city in France where it is apparent there is a Rugby World Cup in progress. We’ve had a marvellous time in this city where the main town area is partitioned by the Rhone and the Saone Rivers either side. The residents are friendly, the area of Bellecour is full of vibrant bars and cafés, and best of all they all show the rugby – and on big screens to boot.

Lyon also has excellent public transport so getting around has been relatively easy even though we’re not staying right in the heart of town. It does, however, still suffer from the obligatory "Eau de France" aroma that wafts up from the drains later in the evenings and even after a week in France still takes you by surprise (and disgust) at times.

The influx of Kiwis didn’t really happen until late Friday but today the city was full of black shirts, although once again a startling number of French residents are turning out in black regalia to the games. We have been wondering what the support would be like had France won the opening game against Argentina – would there be more of Les Bleu on display? Certainly it would appear that should France be knocked out of the tournament the French people will be well and truly behind the All Blacks.

Of course, Lyon is still French and there have still been the odd moments of frustration such as trying to find signage at the stadium to tell you which entrance to go into – we stood infront of a big map at the stadium showing all the entrances, but it ommitted to tell you where you were currently standing in order to work out where you should go. But once inside the ground it was smooth sailing and thankfully this time our stand had a roof on it so we could sit in the shade instead of frying in the sun as we did in Marseille.

Then there’s that whole thing about what side of the footpath you should be walking on. The general rule around the world is that it’s the same side as the side of the road you drive on, and that usually works well and has done until Lyon. Likewise, this is the city gastronomique and there is some great food to be had here – but also some stuff you wouldn’t like to order, as we discovered at a restaurant the other night when a French friend translated the menu for us and there were things like calves hooves, sheep tongue, cow nose (at least that’s how he translated it) and various other things offally. When the waiter went back inside we all took one look at one another, grabbed our gear and bolted up the street to somewhere else, much to the embarrassment of our French companion.

But offal and odours aside, Lyon has been marvellous and I shall be sad to leave here and head back to London for the week leading up to the Scotland game in Edinburgh. Although I shan’t miss the French keyboards!

15 Sep

Bulldog Eaten by Lion
by Paul Waite
15 Sep 2007

That is probably the worst performance I’ve seen from the English in
the last two decades. They were like a toothless, arthritic old bulldog, stolidly defending it’s territory with nothing but ugliness left to fight with. Against them, the Boks looked like a huge lion, prowling the field with impunity, and tearing off lumps of flesh when it pleased.

This English team was utterly bereft of any collective creative spark, Jason Robinson’s lone-star
performance being the only bright point. They bumbled and stumbled
through this test as if they were each auditioning for a starring role as
The Mummy and can consider themselves bloody lucky to get nil.

South Africa were not a surprise. The package they bring to the game is
well known, and they executed it to perfection. They remain a big threat
in this World Cup to everybody.

Having said that, the English played the perfect support role to the Springboks, setting them up beautifully with their turgid, predictable attack.

Apart from the brilliant solo performance from Jason Robinson, the most
interesting part of this game was the way the English played in the
final 10-15 minutes. The "nil" on the scoreboard must have been searing
itself deep into their brains, like a hot knife, by this point and it
goaded them into a kind of "hyper-drive" (for the English rugby team at
least) where they launched everything at South Africa to force an
opening, and the try that might bring them a smidgen of solace.

But it was awful to watch. Rather like watching a dog walking on its hind
legs, it appeared to be very much an unnatural act, and one you knew was doomed to end unhappily, and too soon. Although it represented an increase in pace by at least
10-fold over the prior 70 minutes, it still looked so slow and
predictable. It’s plain that English minds just can’t think in "rugby"
that fast.

So the final 10-15 minutes ended up being a kind of headless chook routine, so
much so that it was almost embarassing to watch, like watching a
handicapped person struggling mightily to achieve something a normal one can do
quite easily. The inclination was to avert the eyes, and leave them to
labour at it in private.

You have to wonder where Ashton and his squad go from here. There were so many basic
flaws in their game. Ball-carriers in the forwards flopping to ground
too easily and quickly, lack of support in general (exacerbated by the
former issue), awful passing skills, poor kicking from hand (who
convinced Ashton that RL convert Farrell was a test No.10??), a
talentless midfield, poorly executed lineout options, seemingly no
coherent gameplan whatsoever, no set-piece moves, the list goes on.

More than can be explained by saying they are still just getting into
the World Cup. There was seemingly no improvement from the awful game against the USA last week.

And it puts those French victories in the warm-ups into
stark perspective, bearing in mind the French loss to Argentina.

Here’s hoping that Michael Jones’ Samoa can put together a great
performance against them, and grab a win. I’d love to see England not
making the quarters.

On this abysmal performance they certainly don’t deserve to.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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