15 Dec

John Drake: The passing of a true legend
by Tracey Nelson
15 Dec 2008

John Drake, LegendIt was with great sorrow New Zealand rugby circles learnt of the news that John Drake had passed away at his Mt Maunganui home on Saturday evening, at the age of just 49. Drake was part of the 1987 World Cup winning side, and played 12 matches (including 8 tests) for New Zealand at tight head prop.

Much of Drake’s scrummaging ability was honed playing off-season club rugby in France, and it was from France that he was first called into the All Blacks as a replacement prop during their tour to Argentina in 1985. He went on to play his first test match in France the following year, before being named in the World Cup side in 1987. Drake played in all but the opening game of that tournament, and later stated that the most memorable try in his career was the one that John Kirwan scored in the final against France “because that was when I knew we had the game won“.

Drake retired from playing the year after the RWC, and soon after shifted from Auckland to Mt Maunganui where he went on to have a very successful business career running Cotton Traders. But his links with rugby remained, and he continuedscrum coaching for the next few years.

He first entered media circles as radio comments man alongside Peter Montgomery for games at Eden Park, and then in 1998 began writing a column for the Auckland Herald. But it was his foray into rugby analysis for SKY Television’s rugby commentaries where he really found his niche.

Not only was Drake balanced and intelligent in the comments he made, he also had the ability to remain calm and articulate when the pressure was on. He chose his words well, and those of us listening would nod in agreement or be given cause to think further and deeper on what we had just seen on the screen. While his knowledge of all things scrum-wise was a given, his ability to analyse backline moves and plays was something that set him aside from other comments-people. Drake also had a long-time slot on Brendan Telfer’s Radio Sport show on Monday mornings,analysing the weekend’s rugby action.

New Zealand rugby analysis and comment will be muchthe poorer with his loss, especially SKY’s commentaries where his combination with game-caller Grant Nisbett was without peer. While we mourn the loss of a great rugby man our thoughts go out to his wife Cathy and three daughters, who have lost something even greater.

John Drake’s first class record:

Auckland: 1981-87 (University Club)
NZ Universities: 1980-82
NZ Trials: 1984 & 1987
North Zone: 1987
All Blacks: 1985-1988 (12 games, 8 tests)
Test tries: 1

5 Dec

All Blacks' Report Card 2008
by Tracey Nelson
5 Dec 2008

On paper you can’t really argue with the success of the All Blacks in 2008. With 14 wins from 16 games, and the Iveco Series, the Tri-Nations, the Bledisloe Cup and a Grand Salm all to their name, this has been a satisfactory year after the disaster of 2007. So how did the coaches and players measure up this year?

COACHES:

Thank goodness we seem to have seen the end of rotation and rest, despite claims from Graham Henry that All Blacks couldn’t be expected to play test matches over three consecutive weekends. The end of year tour (comprising the Bledisloe test in Hong Kong and the Grand Slam) put paid to that theory, with Ali Williams and Keven Mealamu playing in all five tests, Joe Rokocoko playing six games over four weeks, Ma’a Nonu playing four consecutive tests and the bulk of team playing three in a row. I suspect that a large part of this shift in mantra came from the players themselves, with Ali Williams being one in particular who has always been keen to start in every test. With continuity in team selection on the Grand Slam, we finally started to see combinations forming and a real understanding within the team emerged – this was no better demonstrated than by their exceptional defensive record during the Grand Slam test matches.

Despite the trophy cabinet being full and all titles claimed this year, there are three key points that I’m not happy about:

Inability of the team to win without Richie McCaw

It was no coincidence that the two test matches the All Blacks lost this year were the two that Richie McCaw didn’t play during the Tri-Nations due to injury. The test match in Sydney against the Wallabies was without a doubt the All Blacks’ worst game in 2008, and there were questions asked over selections, lack of a specialist opensider and in particular our defence

Admission of being out-coached and not up to speed on the ELVs

How they could not be up to speed on the ELVs given they’d had an entire S14 to watch teams play under the trial laws, not to mention players in key positions who had performed under the ELVs, will forever remain a mystery. The admission was not only a major lapse in judgement at a time when they still needed to get the public back on board, but was symptomatic of the trio’s inability to adapt and change with the modern game. Thankfully that seemed to come right as the year wore on, but the reality is that the home unions were cannon fodder so it remains to be seen how they fare tactically against South Africa and Australia next year.

Continuing to play players out of position

Having selected Rudi Wulf and Anthony Tuitavake as wingers, we then had to watch Richard Kahui (a specialist midfielder) being played on the wing instead. After limited chances, Wulf was discarded for the end of year tour. There were experiments with So’oialo at openside and blindside, using Adam Thomson at openside, Jerome Kaino at No 8, and moving Carter to 2nd 5 to accommodate Stephen Donald at 1st 5. Hopefully the lesson has been learnt that So’oialo is a No 8, Kahui is best at centre despite performing admirably on the wing, Donald is limited as an international 1st 5, Thomson is not up to the role of openside at top level, and Kaino’s best position is at blindside.

I would have added a fourth point over Sione Lauaki had they not finally seen the light and dropped him from the sqaud after the Tri-Nations (though I question his selection in the first instance). Player loyalty is admirable, but blinkered loyalty in the light of continual poor performance is another. Enough said.

PLAYERS:

Some stand-out perfomances by key senior All Blacks this year. Those who deserve special mention are Richie McCaw, Ali Williams, Tony Woodcock, Brad Thorn, Mils Muliaina, Ma’a Nonu, and Dan Carter.

First accolades must go to captain McCaw. While continuing to perform as the world’s best openside flanker, his captaincy skills finally reached maturity and we now see a captain of true international standing. I am frankly incredulous that he failed to win Player of the Year both at the IRB and the NZRU Steinlager Awards – perhaps the fact that our own NZ judges couldn’trecognise the significance of McCaw’s playing abilities mirrors that of the IRB judging panel. If ever there was a leader who fell in the vein of “follow my example”, then it’s McCaw. I could wax lyrical about his work rate on attack and defence, his ability to read the game, his ball carrying skills, his lineout work – the list is endless. What I will say though, is that without McCaw this All Black side, even with the mercurial Dan Carter, becomes disjointed and vulnerable.

Ali Williams played in all 16 tests this year. His lineout work with nearly faultless, his overall game has stepped up to a new level, and to me he embodies the passion for the jersey. Ali Williams would never say he was too tired to play, or turn down the chance to start in a test. Most importantly, he proved the point that the modern professional player isn’t too precious to front up week to week in test matches.

Tony Woodcock is one of the un-sung troopers, but continued to do his hard work both in the scrums and at ruck time. This year he was rewarded with tries, the standout one being against Australia in Auckland worked from a set move at a lineout. With the departure of Carl Hayman he has taken on the mantle of senior front rower, and will only continue to make his mark as a senior player in this All Black side.

Brad Thorn, despite having a few head-rushes on the field this year, has proven to be the workhorse of the pack. His ability to gain ground as a ball carrier and flatten attackers with his tackles have been a pleasure to watch. However, it is his efforts in the scrum that should be heralded. There is no doubt that his presence as tighthead lock in the scrum has made the job easier for the new TH props taking over from Carl Hayman, and the All Black scrum was seldom bettered when Thorn was packing down in it.

Mils Muliaina was back to his best form on the end of year tour, but more importantly showed an assuredness and calmness that marked him out as something special in this team. His organisation from the back has been a standout, and it was his calming presence off the bench and wide pass to Joe Rokocoko that saved the All Blacks from defeat against Munster. Two tries to his name against England were just reward for the try-saving ankle tap he’d managed at the start of the second half.

Ma’a Nonu has had his doubters, and I put my hand up as one of them. But it’s always great to be proven wrong, and Nonu has done that in style. His game has come on in leaps and bounds, and his ability to straighten the line proved invaluable in the UK. He has increased his workrate around the field, and his defence has improved immensely – especially from set piece where he was prone to rushing the line earlier in the season. His hard, strong running has seen him score a bag of tries this year. One can only imagine what a nightmare it must be for the opposition to front up on defence againstour five-eighth pairing of Carter and Nonu.

Dan Carter, even when his kicking boots failed him, remains the consumate all-round player. While his attacking game remains as sharp as ever, his defence in combination with McCaw has become a formidable weapon for the All Blacks. There is absolutely no chance of getting through the inside channel against this All Black side with Carter and McCaw lying in wait for you. Even with some ordinary goal kicking by his usual high standards, Carter clocked up 203 points for the test season.

OVERALL:

Pleasing improvement in our lineout, which is now a consistent source of ball on our throw. Gone are the days of ducking and diving around before the ball was thrown in, there is a calmness that has improved our accuracy no end. Better yet, we contest the opposition thro
w to good success. The scrum is the All Blacks dominant set piece, and should continue to be so.

The loose trio, now that they’ve had a chance to gel without rotation, is a lethal and complimentary combination. Jimmy Cowan and Piri Weepu both came back from the wilderness and proved themselves at this level. We have depth in the midfield, and talent emerging at lower levels both in the forwards and three quarters.

However, we still lack international-class replacements for our two key players – McCaw and Carter. While it is impossible to replace perfection, this is one area that needs to be focussed on next year as without one or both of these players our game falters. It is the collective responsibility of the coaches and the team that we attempt to wean ourselves from relying on these two. There are glimpses that this is beginning, so I can only hope that we don’t see more key players heading offshore in the next year or so.

5 Dec

2008 Steinlager Awards
by Tracey Nelson
5 Dec 2008

The 2008 Steinlager Awards were announced last night in Auckland. The supreme winner, taking out the Kelvin R. Tremain Memorial Player of the Year, was Andrew Hore. Hore also won the Rebel Sport Super 14 Player of the Year award, reflecting his form at hooker for the Hurricanes. The All Blacks won Team of the Year, whilst Graham Henry took out the Coach of the Year on the back of the All Blacks’ 14 from 16 wins this season in securing the Iveco Series, the Tri Nations, the Bledisloe Cup and the Grand Slam.

Other winners were:

NZRU Age Grade Player of the Year: Zac Guildford (New Zealand Under-20, Hurricanes, Hawke’s Bay)

Richard Crawshaw Memorial Sevens Player of the Year: DJ Forbes (Counties Manukau)

NZRU Referee of the Year: Bryce Lawrence (Bay of Plenty)

Women’s Player of the Year: Victoria Grant (nee Blackledge) (Auckland)

New Zealand Rugby Volunteer of the Year: Ken Swain (Horowhenua Kapiti)

Rebel Sport Super 14 Player of the Year: Andrew Hore (Hurricanes)

Tom French Memorial Maori Player of the Year: Piri Weepu (Wellington)

AA Rewards Heartland Championship Player of the Year: Cameron Crowley (Wanganui)

Air New Zealand Cup Player of the Year: Jamie Mackintosh (Southland)

adidas Team of the Year: All Blacks

New Zealand Rugby Coach of the Year: Graham Henry (All Blacks)

Steinlager Salver for an Outstanding Contribution to New Zealand: Rugby Tane Norton

Kelvin R. Tremain Memorial Player of the Year: Andrew Hore

Six of New Zealand’s most decorated All Blacks were also awarded long-overdue Test caps in recognition of their first Test match and to symbolically recognise more than 400 former players who will now be presented their caps in a series of events to be held over the next two years.

The six players represented the six decades of All Blacks who did not receive their Test caps when the tradition lapsed in the decades following the Second World War. Capping was re-introduced by the New Zealand Rugby Union in 1997. The former players honoured this evening were: Fred Allen (representing the 1940s); Sir Wilson Whineray (1950s); Sir Brian Lochore (1960s); Andy Dalton (1970s); Wayne Buck Shelford (1980s); and Olo Brown (1990s).

5 Dec

2008 Steinlager Awards
by Tracey Nelson
5 Dec 2008

The 2008 Steinlager Awards were announced last night in Auckland. The supreme winner, taking out the Kelvin R. Tremain Memorial Player of the Year, was Andrew Hore. Hore also won the Rebel Sport Super 14 Player of the Year award, reflecting his form at hooker for the Hurricanes. The All Blacks won Team of the Year, whilst Graham Henry took out the Coach of the Year on the back of the All Blacks’ 14 from 16 wins this season in securing the Iveco Series, the Tri Nations, the Bledisloe Cup and the Grand Slam.

Other winners were:

NZRU Age Grade Player of the Year: Zac Guildford (New Zealand Under-20, Hurricanes, Hawke’s Bay)

Richard Crawshaw Memorial Sevens Player of the Year: DJ Forbes (Counties Manukau)

NZRU Referee of the Year: Bryce Lawrence (Bay of Plenty)

Women’s Player of the Year: Victoria Grant (nee Blackledge) (Auckland)

New Zealand Rugby Volunteer of the Year: Ken Swain (Horowhenua Kapiti)

Rebel Sport Super 14 Player of the Year: Andrew Hore (Hurricanes)

Tom French Memorial Maori Player of the Year: Piri Weepu (Wellington)

AA Rewards Heartland Championship Player of the Year: Cameron Crowley (Wanganui)

Air New Zealand Cup Player of the Year: Jamie Mackintosh (Southland)

adidas Team of the Year: All Blacks

New Zealand Rugby Coach of the Year: Graham Henry (All Blacks)

Steinlager Salver for an Outstanding Contribution to New Zealand: Rugby Tane Norton

Kelvin R. Tremain Memorial Player of the Year: Andrew Hore

Six of New Zealand’s most decorated All Blacks werealso awarded long-overdue Test caps in recognition of their first Test match and to symbolically recognise more than 400 former players who will now be presented their caps in a series of events to be held over the next two years.

The six players represented the six decades of All Blacks who did not receive their Test caps when the tradition lapsed in the decades following the Second World War. Capping was re-introduced by the New Zealand Rugby Union in 1997. The former players honoured this evening were: Fred Allen (representing the 1940s); Sir Wilson Whineray (1950s); Sir Brian Lochore (1960s); Andy Dalton (1970s); Wayne Buck Shelford (1980s); and Olo Brown (1990s).

1 Dec

Game Stats: England v All Blacks, London, 29 November 2008
by Tracey Nelson
1 Dec 2008

The usual analysis of the All Blacks game, being the First 3 to the Breakdown, tackle stats, penalties conceded, turnovers, the lineouts, and scrums. This win over England completed the Grand Slam for the 2008 All Blacks and was the seventh consecutive win against England since 2004. During this Grand Slam the All Blacks have not conceded a try in any of the four test matches and the most points scored against them was 9 (v Ireland). Despite having an ordinary day at the office with his goal kicking (60%), Daniel Carter brought up 203 test points for 2008.

Some notes on these stats:

First Three to the Breakdown stats are looking for those players who are getting to the tackle/breakdown quickly and are also being useful by either cleaning out opposition players or setting up ruck ball. Anyone arriving and just leaning on the ruck isn’t included, so there are times when I will only tally one or two players. Likewise, if four players arrive simultaneously and perform a clean-out and setting up of a ruck, I will include all four in the stat.

Completed Tackles means that player actually brought the ball carrier to ground (ie. as the Laws of the Game actually described the tackler), not assists in the tackle situation which are tallied separately.

Missed tackles also includes slipped tackles where the ball runner gets away. Most importantly, I do NOT included slipped tackles in the Tackles Made stats, it gets noted as a missed tackle. Either you’re nailing the ball carrier or you’ve stuffed it up!

Numbers in brackets are the first half/second half breakdown for each total. An asterisk denotes a player that came on as a substitute. This week: Aofa for Tialata and Read for Kaino at 55 min, Boric for Thorn and Toeava for Smith at 68 min, and Weepu for Cowan at 70 min.

Team: Muliaina, Rokocoko, Smith, Nonu, Sivivatu,, Carter, Cowan, So’oialo, Kaino, McCaw (c), Williams, Thorn, Tialata, Mealamu, Woodcock
Reserves: Toeava, Donald, Weepu, Read, Boric, Afoa, Elliot

Points Scored NZ England
Tries 3 (Muliaina (2), Nonu) 0
Conversions 1 0
Penalties 5 2
Total 32 6

Penalties/Free Kicks Conceded Pen FKs
NZ 8 2
England 16 2
Total 18 6

NZ Penalty Offences
Tackle So’oialo, Williams, McCaw 3
Ruck Thorn, Tialata 2
Scrum McCaw, Woodcock, Tialata 3
Total   8

NZ Free Kick Offences
Scrum 1
Lineout 1
Total 2

England Penalty Offences
Tackle 7
Ruck 6 (+ 2 yellow cards)
Scrum 1
Foul Play 2 (+ 2 yellow cards)
Total 16

England Free Kick Offences
Scrum 1
Lineout 1
Total 2

Turnovers Conceded by NZ
Knock-ons 11
Forward pass 2
Pass to opposition 2
Tackle 1
Lineout 2
Total 18

Turnovers Conceded by England
Knock-ons 2
Tackle 5
Ruck 1
Spilled pass 1
Scrum 1
Man infront of kick off 1
Missed touch from penalty 1
Lineout 1
Total 13

First 3 to Breakdown Total Per half
McCaw 26 12+14
So’oialo 21 13+9
Woodcock 20 12+8
Thorn 19 10+9
Williams 17 11+6
Mealamu 17 8+9
Tialata 14 9+5
Kaino 12 9+3
Muliaina 10 5+5
Rokocoko 10 4+6
Nonu 8 4+4
Read* 7  
Carter 7 5+2
Afoa* 6  
Smith 5 2+3
Sivivatu 3 2+1
Cowan 2 (0+2)
Toeava* 1  

Ball Carries
Williams 7
Woodcock 4
Mealamu 3
Thorn 3
Kaino 3
McCaw 2
Tialata 2
Read* 2
So’oialo 0
Afoa* 0
Total 26

Completed Tackles and Assists Tackles Assists
McCaw 15 (5+10) 7 (4+3)
So’oialo 10 (5+5) 3 (1+2)
Kaino 8 (7+1) 3 (1+2)
Thorn 7 (4+3) 3 (2+1)
Tialata 7(4+3) 1 (1+0)
Carter 6 (4+2) 2 (0+2)
Williams 6 (2+4) 2 (0+2)
Smith 6 (5+1)1 (1+0)
Mealamu 6 (4+2) 0
Nonu 5 (3+2) 3 (2+1)
Read* 4 0
Cowan 3 (2+1) 0
Muliaina 3 (0+3) 0
Woodcock 2 (0+2) 2 (2+0)
Rokocoko 2 (1+1) 0
Sivivatu 2 (0+2) 0
Boric* 1 0
Afoa* 0 1
Total 93 28

Missed and Slipped Tackles
Woodcock 1
Tialata 1
Williams 1
Carter 1
Rokocoko 1
Total 5

NZ Line-outs Won From
First half 8 10
Second half 2 2
Total 8 10

NZ Line-out Jumpers Won From
Williams 5 5
Kaino 2 2
Thorn 1 1
So’oialo 2 2
McCaw 0 1

England Line-outs Won From
First half 4 4
Second half 5 6
Total 9 10

NZ Scrums Won From
First half 0 0
Second half 5 6
Total 5 6

England Scrums Won From
First half 3 4
Second half 5 7
Total 8 11

30 Nov

Slam Dunk
by Paul Waite
30 Nov 2008

New Zealand won the inaugural Hillary Shield and completed their third Grand Slam as expected by beating England 32 – 6, and 3 tries to none at Twickenham, in what was a niggly encounter further polluted by the over-officious rulings of the referee.

The aforementioned individual, Alain Rolland, seemed to be on a one-man crusade to change the face of World Rugby as we know it, and to prove to everyone that he was born in a little town on Mars.

There was no doubt that England had come to the party to poop. They knew they had to slow down the All Blacks ball, or suffer the consequences. So what they were doing was no different to every other test match they’ve ever played in this modern era where good old-fashioned rucking is forbidden. Except this time Alain ‘Hang ‘em high, and out to dry’ Rolland was in town, and he set about England like a rabid Doberman. The flashing of yellow at the end of his upright arm was so frequent that we were almost tricked into believing the Sun had come out, and the path worn between field and bench by England players either going off for 10 or coming back needed some care and attention from the ground staff.

England spent a whole half of the test, 40 minutes, playing with only 14 men, and at one brief stage when Rolland got his timing wrong, they were a rugby league side. It was testament to the utterly confusing and disruptive influence that this parade of refereeing Blitzkrieg had on the game that the All Blacks couldn’t take advantage of it. Like England they didn’t know what Rolland was going to rule on next, so they didn’t do too much, just in case. For all they knew, he was going to start in on cleaning up that whole problematic area of skippers agreeing with the referee ‘Yer binned t’be sure fer feckin agreein’ wit me – anyone who thinks I know what I’m doin must be a feckin eejit..’.

The end result was Rolland basically made the whole first half of this test into a meaningless farce for everyone watching it, or trying to. It was a complete waste of time. I’m not sure who was the most stupid, Rolland for trying to do a King Canute job on Rugby infringements, or England who brainlessly kept repeating the same blatant infringements at the ruck. Either way it resulted in about 60 minutes of utterly scrambled rugby.

In the second half things loosened up a bit, as they do. England went the way of other All Black opponents on this tour, and got ragged and tired. The All Blacks played for territory a bit more. But it was an early bust up the middle from England in the form of burly Nick Easter which nearly brought the first try. Only a despairing ankle tap, and the thinnest at that from Mils Muliaina, brought him down when he was clear for the line and only 10m out. The All Blacks re-grouped, turned the ball over and Cowan broke up-field only to be tackled high by Toby Flood for which he was of course marched for his turn in the England-bin.

The first try came at about the 60 minute mark when the New Zealand scrum pushed the English off their own ball 15m out for their line. Cowan reverse-passed out to the backs and it went through two sets of hands before Mils ran onto it and in at the right hand corner for a fine try.

Later on another All Black attacking wave saw Carter put in a lovely chip out to the same wing for Mils to catch and force for his second. Although Dan Carter had been having a bad day with the boot, missing a number of penalties and the previous conversion, he nailed this one.

The final try went to Ma’a Nonu after a lovely break out from the 22m by Keven Mealamu. The hooker, who had a fine game, found Nonu approaching halfway, and got a great pass away. Nonu then showed a clean pair of heels to the chasing English defence to go in under the sticks.

Ignoring the gross pollution dumped into the clean waters of this test match by the referee (impossible but let’s try) the ineffectual English attack, as toothless as a 16 year old bulldog from the get-go, was never going to get them a win on this day. If Rolland had not been there, and a decent official had control, they would probably have lost by a good deal more. On the ball the English looked busy busy, but it was predictable activity which was easy to defend as compared with, for example, Australia, who actually do have a clue what to do when in possession of a rugby ball. Judging by this opening series of test matches, Martin Johnson has a massive problem on his hands. It isn’t so much the way they are playing, as the skill levels of most of the players he has in his squad. The only player to catch the eye was fullback Delon Armitage, who’s vision and all-round abilities mark him out as top grade. The rest of them would probably have to fight hard to get picked for a New Zealand Super-14 team.

It’s been said before but obviously the people in charge are not getting the message. If British clubs continue to pack their teams with foreign players, there is no chance for the National teams in the future. Read the writing on the wall.

For now though congratulations to the All Blacks for winning the Hillary Shield on its first outing, and for completing another Grand Slam, this time without conceding a try.

A few last words to the All Blacks and coaching team. Well done lads, for coming back from the utterly disappointing 2007 World Cup season, and delivering a very special series of tests in 2008. The silverware is all-important of course, but more important than even that is the heart that you have all shown, and the re-gaining of respect for that All Black jersey.

Kia kaha from everyone at Haka, and have a great Christmas and New Year!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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28 Nov

Match Preview: England v All Blacks
by Tracey Nelson
28 Nov 2008

The All Blacks are just one win away from attaining only their third ever Grand Slam on this end of year tour to Hong Kong and the UK. While achieving a Grand Slam is perhaps not the same accomplishment it was in 1978 , nonetheless this current tour is perhaps more noteworthy than the Grand Slam achieved in 2005. This time round the end of year tour has involved five consecutive test matches (thanks to the fourth Bledisloe test in Hong Kong) along with a slug-fest mid-week game against Irish side Munster – and this time round we have seen an end to the contentious rotation of the test side.

Before this tour started, Graham Henry stated that there was no way an All Black could play five consecutive test matches on ‘what will be the most demanding Test match tour schedule faced by an All Blacks team in the professional era. Yet this weekend we will see Ali Williams and Keven Mealamu front up to play their fifth consecutive test (Mealamu didn’t start in Hong Kong but came on within the first 10 minutes of the game to replace Andrew Hore), while Joe Rokocoko backs up for his fourth test but fifth game in the space of four weeks, and Ma’a Nonu plays his fourth test in a row.

Meanwhile the likes of Muliaina, Sivivatu, Carter, Cown, So’oialo, Kaino, McCaw, Thorn, Tialata and Woodcock will all be starting in their third consecutive test match. I see this as both testimont to the passion these players have for the black jersey and recognition by the coaching staff that not only can these players front up to the demands of test rugby week in and week out but their game has actually improved by doing so.

By fielding the same side (with the exception of centre) against Ireland and Wales, and with the make-up of the first choice forward pack pretty much settled since the latter games of the Tri-Nations, we have seen this All Black side gel in a way that was never evident during the doomed campaign for the RWC in 2007. But the litmus test will be this weekend, when the All Blacks take on a wounded England side at Twickenham, and we find out whether five consecutive test matches is indeed one too many in the new professional era.

England will be out to regain some pride after the humiliating record defeat they suffered on their home turf last week to the World Cup Champions South Africa. A loss in this test will see them slip below fourth in the IRB world rankings which in turn will see them lose seeding status for the draw for the 2011 World Cup on December 1st. The odds of this happening look slim, with the All Blacks going into this match as firm favourites on the back of seven consecutive test wins (the last six of which were all on the road) whilst England have fallen to Australia and South Africa on home turf in the last fortnight.

The luckless Danny Cipriani has been dropped to the bench and Toby Flood will be in the number 10 jersey marking up against Dan Carter who has scored an astounding 120 points against England in six test he’s played against them. Ricky Flutey, an ex Wellingtonian now playing for England will be matching up against the in-form Ma’a Nonu, while Michael Lipman has the dubious honour of taking over at openside flanker to mark Richie McCaw.

Chances are that England manager Martin Johnson will get his side to return to it’s 10-man rugby roots, a style of game more suited to the players they currently have available. England have looked good employing the pick and go with their pack but have run into problems when they have attempted to play the running/offload game, turning over possession regularly and not scrambling well enough in defence against the counter attack. One can only imagine the carnage that may result should such a scenario unfold against the All Blacks.

However, even in defeat there could be a small victory for England. So far on this end of year tour, the All Blacks have not conceded any points in the second half of their tests nor have they conceded any tries against Scotland, Wales or Ireland. To score a try against New Zealand would certainly be a small ray of light in what has so far been an abject season for England. And for the All Blacks, one can only imagine that to concede a try to England even while beating them would almost make a Grand Slam a failure.

ALL BLACKS: Mils Muliaina, Joe Rokocoko, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Dan Carter, Jimmy Cowan, Rodney So’oialo, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Ali Williams, Brad Thorn, Neemia Tialata, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock.
Reserves: Hikawera Elliot, John Afoa, Anthony Boric, Kieran Read, Piri Weepu, Stephen Donald, Isaia Toeava.

ENGLAND: Delon Armitage, Paul Sackey, Jamie Noon, Riki Flutey, Ugo Monye, Toby Flood, Danny Care, Tim Payne, Lee Mears, Phil Vickery, Steve Borthwick, Nick Kennedy, James Haskell, Michael Lipman, Nick Easter.
Reserves: Dylan Hartley, Matt Stevens, Tom Croft, Tom Rees, Harry Ellis, Danny Cipriani, Dan Hipkiss.

24 Nov

Game Stats: Wales v All Blacks, Cardiff, 22 November 2008
by Tracey Nelson
24 Nov 2008

The usual analysis of the All Blacks game, being the First 3 to the Breakdown, tackle stats, penalties conceded, turnovers, the lineouts, and scrums. This was the third test match in this UK tour that the All Blacks have not conceded a try and also held the opposition scoreless in the second half. It was also one of the few times the All Blacks have not bought on most of their subs, just making two (tighthead prop and halfback) this test match.

Some notes on these stats:

First Three to the Breakdown stats are looking for those players who are getting to the tackle/breakdown quickly and are also being useful by either cleaning out opposition players or setting up ruck ball. Anyone arriving and just leaning on the ruck isn’t included, so there are times when I will only tally one or two players. Likewise, if four players arrive simultaneously and perform a clean-out and setting up of a ruck, I will include all four in the stat.

Completed Tackles means that player actually brought the ball carrier to ground (ie. as the Laws of the Game actually described the tackler), not assists in the tackle situation which are tallied separately.

Missed tackles also includes slipped tackles where the ball runner gets away. Most importantly, I do NOT included slipped tackles in the Tackles Made stats, it gets noted as a missed tackle. Either you’re nailing the ball carrier or you’ve stuffed it up!

Numbers in brackets are the first half/second half breakdown for each total. An asterisk denotes a player that came on as a substitute. This week: Aofa for Tialata at48 minand Weepu for Cowan at55 min.

Team: Muliaina, Rokocoko, Kahui, Nonu, Sivivatu,, Carter, Cowan, So’oialo, Kaino, McCaw (c), Williams, Thorn, Tialata,
Reserves: Toeava, Donald, Weepu, Read, Boric, Afoa, Elliot

Points Scored NZ Wales
Tries 2 (Nonu, Kaino) 0
Conversions 2 0
Penalties 5 3
Total 29 9

Penalties/Free Kicks Conceded Pen FKs
NZ 9 4
Wales 9 2
Total 18 6

NZ Penalty Offences
Tackle Nonu, Kahui, Woodcock, Muliaina, McCaw, Carter 6
Ruck McCaw (2) 2
Lineout ? 1
Total   9

NZ Free Kick Offences
Scrum 4
Total 4

Wales Penalty Offences
Tackle 3
Ruck 2
Offside 1
Scrum 3
Total 9

Wales Free Kick Offences
Scrum 1
Total 1

Turnovers Conceded by NZ
Knock-ons 9
Forward pass 1
Pass to opposition 2
Total 12

Turnovers Conceded by Wales
Knock-ons 8
Spilled 1
Lineout 2
Breakdown 2
Total 13

First 3 to Breakdown Total Per half
McCaw 33 15+18
Williams 28 10+18
Thorn 23 10+13
Mealamu 21 10+11
So’oialo 19 9+10
Kaino 19 9+10
Woodcock 17 8+9
Sivivatu 15 5+10
Nonu 12 8+4
Tialata 10 8+2
Muliaina 10 5+5
Rokocoko 10 4+6
Afoa* 9  
Kahui 8 3+5
Carter 5 1+4
Weepu* 1  
Cowan 1 (0+1)

Ball Carries
So’oialo 9
Thorn 7
Kaino 5
McCaw 5
Williams 5
Woodcock 4
Mealamu 3
Tialata 2
Afoa* 1
Total 41

Completed Tackles and Assists Tackles Assists
McCaw 16 (10+6) 5 (2+3)
So’oialo 7 (3+4) 5 (2+3)
Mealamu 7 (3+4) 2 (2+0)
Carter 7 (5+2) 1 (0+1)
Kaino 7 (4+3) 0
Williams 6 (5+1) 1 (1+0)
Kahui 6 (3+3) 0
Woodcock 5 (3+2) 2 (2+0)
Thorn 5 (3+2) 2 (1+1)
Rokocoko 5 (4+1) 0
Nonu 4 (2+2) 3 (3+0)
Weepu* 3 0
Sivivatu 3 (1+2) 0
Tialata 2(2+0) 0
Cowan 2 (2+0) 0
Muliaina 2 (1+1) 0
Afoa* 1 0
Total 88 21

Missed and Slipped Tackles
McCaw 4
Nonu 3
Woodcock 2
Mealamu 2
So’oialo 2
Muliaina 2
Thorn 1
Williams 1
Kaino 1
Cowan 1
Carter 1
Kahui 1
Sivivatu 1
Rokocoko 1
Total 23

NZ Line-outs Won From
First half 5 5
Second half 5 5
Total 10 10

NZ Line-out Jumpers Won From
Williams 6 6
Kaino 1 1
Thorn 1 1
Woodcock 1 1
Cowan 1 1

Wales Line-outs Won From
First half 3 4
Second half 1 2
Total 4 6

NZ Scrums Won From
First half 4 5
Second half 6 7
Total 10 12

Wales Scrums Won From
First half 3 5
Second half 2 3
Total 5 8

23 Nov

Who Stares Wins
by Paul Waite
23 Nov 2008

staring_contestI swear there must be something to that business of thought transference promoted by psychics. How else do you explain the fact that I was musing, as is my wont, during this past week on the best way that a team could react to The Haka, and came to the conclusion that linking arms and staring back at it with implacable stony countenance was the best answer? And then Wales went and did it right there in the middle of Millenium Stadium, and did it so bloody well!

The tension at the end with both teams refusing to be the first to break away fairly crackled through the air, as if a mad scientist had cranked his Van Der Graaf generator up to the max somewhere close by. Fantastic stuff! Even a touch of the comedic, with Jonathan Kaplan flitting from one faced-off team to the other like a worried mother hen clucking at them not to be silly, and urging them to get on with the game couldn’t dispel the fiery atmosphere.

The opening stanza of the test lived up to that promise, with Wales throwing everything into it, but doing it with a great deal of control and skill. Attacks through the backs mounted by the All Blacks were largely kept in check by an effective rush defence reminiscent of the one the South Africans have been so successful with in recent years, and for the rest a good scrambling defence in behind kept the men in Black out for the first half of the game.

Running the ball the Welsh were also creative, and quick. Stephen Jones ran his back-line beautifully, and the likes of Shane Williams despite their size, were like quick-silver on their feet. Then at fullback they had Lee Byrne who showed off his world-class talent in that spot putting in a performance which would see him considered for anyones World XV.

But it was as a team that Wales greatly impressed. The touches that Warren Gatland has brought could be seen everywhere. Firstly on defence, as mentioned, but also in the way that the team supported the ball-carrier. The first half was essentially won by Wales on their greater physical presence and organisation at the collision areas, which is quite definitely a marker of the Southern Hemisphere rugby style. When you add the belief that Gatland has managed to imbue his players with, the resulting mixture is a potent rugby force once again. That said, Wales plainly faded in the final quarter as their efforts in the first 50-60 minutes caught up with them. Clearly Gatland still has some improvement in player conditioning to do before they can really foot it at the very top for the full 80.

With the spirited start from Wales it took the All Blacks a bit of re-focussing and until the second half before they started to get on top. At half-time the score was 9-6 to Wales, but the final score of 9-29 says it all. It’s one thing staying with an opponent for 60 minutes at a given level of effort, but quite another to close out the final 20 minutes and actually step it up. That is the gap that Wales face if they really want the chance to win against New Zealand in the future.

Standout areas for New Zealand were the scrum and line-out. At scrum time the Welsh were always under pressure, and moreso as the test progressed. The line-out was just a well-oiled machine for once, and never missed a beat giving the All Blacks secure possession.

With the type of game that it was, it was never going to be a great game out wide. The Welsh rush defence saw to that. But that said, the Nonu/Kahui midfield pairing worked well in its first real outing, and Nonu especially impressed with his solidity in defence and in support, earning himself a well-deserved try in the process.

Another to get a deserved try was Kaino, who scored in the final minute after the Welsh opted to play Baabaas rugby in their own 22m rather than meekly surrender to the 80 minutes on the clock. Although the Welsh were the architects of their own downfall with this try, an earlier TMO decision had seen a legitimate Kaino try ruled out, so it was good to see that injustice rectified.

Three down and one to go for the Grand Slam.

Looking over at hapless England, it would seem to be a foregone conclusion that New Zealand will complete their third Slam at Twickers next week. I don’t know, the English now probably have some powerful motivation to turn things around after the last two miserable outings, and they love to tip the All Blacks over, so it aint over ’til the Fat Lady sings. Having said that, you’d have to be pretty silly to put money on the Poms for this one.

One final comment on Australia, and in particular one Cheating Bastard named George Smith. Having watched this artful dodger in action once again against France this weekend, he has been bumped back up to the top of my shit list of Most Loathed Rugby Players. It’s a list reserved mainly for the thugs and out-and-out cheats in the game, and he’s been on top of it before most notably when he deliberately went out to KO Justin Marshall in the 2003 World Cup semi, and did just that.

So foul play and cheating is no stranger to Smith’s brain; it’s more of a live-in lodger. In fact it probably owns the bloody deeds. Watch the replay of the test against France this weekend and the way he dived head-first into the French side of a push-over scrum to knock the ball away with his hand.

In this game there is cheating and there is cheating. There are professional fouls and there are professional fouls. To watch a player looking and watching and then coming to the decision to do something so utterly, blatantly against the rules and the spirit of the game is to my mind a disgrace. If I was in Robbie Deans shoes I’d drop him for that act alone.

Wales 9: Stephen Jones 3 pen.
New Zealand 29: Ma’a Nonu, Jerome Kaino tries; Dan Carter 5 pen, 2 con.
Haftime: 9-6

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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21 Nov

Wales v All Blacks – Game Preview
by Tracey Nelson
21 Nov 2008

It has been 12 months since the All Blacks last played at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff, where they bowed out in the RWC quarter final to France last year. Despite claims to the contrary, you would have to imagine there will still be a few lingering ghosts in the minds of the players who played in that game – ghosts they will be looking to exorcise as they take on Wales this weekend in the third test of their Grand Slam tour.

After watching the mistake-ridden game by the mid-week All Black side against Munster on Wednesday, the test side will be under no doubts as to the in-your-face greeting they are likely to receive from the Welsh side. Munster showed that if you can get up on the All Blacks and hassle them around the fringes (not unlike the way France did in that infamous quarter final game) they can be pressured into mistakes and making play behind the gain-line. Regardless of whether or not Munster (and France, it must be said) were pushing the offside line at times around the rucks, it was apparent that the mid-week side had not learnt the lessons of how to counter this, and instead allowed halfback Piri Weepu to be battered and pressured. This had a flow-on effect to the backline, where Stephen Donald had a wretched game and put his backs under no end of strain with passes going anywhere but to hand and a series of miserable chip kicks that were easily read by the opposition.

Any side worth its salt will have noted that this current All Black side does not cope well against rush defence, something the Springboks have employed successfully at times over the past couple of years. Wales, under Kiwi coach Warren Gatland – himself a strong proponent of rush defence when he coached Waikato – will no doubt look to use this tactic against the All Blacks. Indeed, the All Blacks are so wary of this that assistant coach Wayne Smith has been sounding out Ian Foster and Shane Howarth back in New Zealand to get tips as to the weaknesses around a rush defence and the ways to counter it.

But it’s not just the Welsh defence that the All Blacks will have to combat. Gatland has named his strongest side for this test, with his captain Ryan Jones shifting to blindside to allow the impressive Andy Powell to start at No 8. In Powell the Welsh have a No 8 who plays very much in the southern hemisphere style with his powerful running and ability to offload making him a key weapon for his side. Wales also boast the try scoring pocket-rocket winger Shane Williams who has made many a defending side look like chumps, and given this Welsh side aren’t afrraid to chance their arm on attack (much in the way of the All Blacks) there is potential that this game could be a feast of running play.

The All Blacks have made two changes to the team that started against Ireland, both of them injury-enforced although one does wonder if Richard Kahui would have made the side this week regardless. Kahui comes in at centre for Conrad Smith, while on the bench Hikawera Elliot comes in to cover hooker after Corey Flynn’s departure from the tour with a broken arm. However, this is still the strongest side that New Zealand can field and is acknowledgement of the likely danger this Welsh side could be to completing the Grand Slam.

What the All Blacks will need to do this weekend is three-fold:

  • They will need to counter the Welsh rush-defence by ensuring that their backline is operating on the front foot – this will require the All Black pack to maintain good support to the ball carrier, hit rucks in numbers and provide pillars to protect halfback Jimmy Cowan.
  • They will need to be accurate, something that has been lacking at times on this tour both when it comes to passing infront of the player, running straight instead of laterally, and giving the pass when it’s on to do so. Too many times on this tour the All Blacks have taken the ball into contact and turned possession over, when a simple pass to the man outside would have resulted in a try. There have also been far too many knock-ons for a side of this experience and quality.
  • Finally, they will need to be disciplined. The All Blacks have been coming out on the wrong side of the penalty ledger in recent test matches, so it’s a case of not allowing rushes of blood to the head and listening to the referee when he calls that a tackle has turned into a ruck.

If they can do these three things then shutting down the Welsh crowd in the impressive Millenium Stadium will be straightforward. However, give the Welsh a sniff of victory then we may well see Cardiff remain a stumbling block in yet another All Black campaign.

ALL BLACKS: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Jimmy Cowan; 8 Rodney So’oialo, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock. Reserves: 16 Hikawera Elliot, 17 John Afoa, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Kieran Read, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Stephen Donald, 22 Isaia Toeava.

WALES: Lee Byrne, Leigh Halfpenny, Tom Shanklin, Jamie Roberts, Shane Williams, Stephen Jones, Gareth Cooper; Andy Powell, Martyn Williams, Ryan Jones (captain), Ian Evans, Alun Wyn Jones, Adam Jones, Matthew Rees, Gethin Jenkins. Reserves: Richard Hibbard, John Yapp, Luke Charteris, Dafydd Jones, Dwayne Peel, James Hook/Dan Biggar, Andrew Bishop.

REFEREE: Jonathan Kaplan, South Africa