25 Apr

The Carter Clause
by Tracey Nelson
25 Apr 2008

In the face of growing numbers of players exiting from New Zealand mid-career to take up lucrative offers with Northern Hemisphere clubs, and the looming threat of Dan Carter joining them, the NZRU has responded with a new initiative that stops just short of allowing players not participating in New Zealand competitons to still be eligible for All Black selection.

That the NZRU have stepped if not back then at least sideways from their policy of not recognising players plying their trade overseas is testament to the precipice they find themselves teetering on, as top All Black such asCarter and Jerry Collinssit poised to leave New Zealand at the end of this year. They have announced that, on a case by case basis, players will be allowed to go overseas for a season (5-6 months), miss a Super 14 season and still be eligible for selection in the All Blacks for the in-bound June internationals.

The fact that this will be on a “case by case”basis suggests that it is to prevent players of the calibre of Carter from being lost to All Black rugby for a couple of seasons if he does decide to take up one of the enormous financial offers that have reportedly been coming his way. Chances are that most Super 14 players will not be eligible for this Clause, unless they are a key player in terms of an All Black jersey.

Call methe devil’s advocatebut I’m not sure that this initiative from the NZRU, however well-intentioned, is going to be the panacea they hope to prevent the growing stampede of rugby boots to the Northern Hemisphere. Top players have already pointed out that it’s not on the money that makes the offers so appealing, but the chance to play with just one team, under one coach, in one season (split into two competitons), versus the three teams, three coaches and a four part season of Super 14, All Blacks, Air New Zealand Cup and an All Black end of year tour.

The additional bonuses of playing in the Northern Hemisphere include a clear off-season and limited time away from home with the shorter travelling distances within the UK and Europe. So just why anyone at NZRU headquarters thinks that players will want to spend their off-season coming back to play for the All Blacks when the whole idea in the first place is to get away from back to back rugby does puzzle me slightly.

The NZRU is never going to be able to compete with the Northern Hemisphere when it comes to money, so I can see why they are prepared to tweak their current policies as far as eligibility for All Black selection goes. But what they really need to face up to is the overcrowded New Zealand rugby calendar. Despite the fact it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, it appears the time has come that we no longer see All Blacks playing in the domestic Air New Zealand Cup competition. This needs to be their off-season if we want to remain seeing them participate in the Super 14, the home tests and end of year tours.

Given the present state of NZRU finances, the last thing they can afford is to lose yet more top All Blacks overseas as these are the drawcards for the public and where the coffers are filled from. As we saw only too evidently last year, no All Blacks in the Super 14 means smaller crowds at the games and less viewers on SKY – not exactly the way totop upthe NZRU bank balance. But until such time as a restructuring of the game can take place (not until next season at the earliest), the NZRU have taken the next best step with their Carter Clause. Let’s hope that even if it doesn’tstem the defection of top All Blacks to overseas offers, it will at least keep them in the black jersey in the interim.

17 Apr

Martin Crowe Is An Alien
by Paul Waite
17 Apr 2008

Alien BlokeOn the news tonight, we heard how Crowe thinks that the popularity of cricket is surfing a veritable Tsunami wave in this country, at the expense of rugby.

Apparently this ‘popularity’ has increased by 30% (whatever the fuck that means) whilst that of
rugby has decreased by the same amount.

Speaking to us from his home planet of Zod, in the Horses Arse Nebula, he further informed us that
all this is due to the rise of the IPL.

Well knock me down with a feather. It’s a good job we’ve got him there to let us in on these little tidbits of
information, because for the life of me I couldn’t detect any change myself in the usual attitude to our
losing Black Craps this summer, with tons of boringly shite cricket on offer punctuated with the
rare piece of good.

He’s got one thing right though. The news of various Black Caps and other players being auctioned
off to the IPL was a welcome and much more exciting respite from the actual cricket.

Methinks Crowe is being paid in rupees, and lots of ‘em.

And 20-20 is a game for morons – players who can’t play real cricket, and spectators who don’t
understand it. So obviously it will be very successful and a fantastic opportunity for a lot of our
players who wouldn’t know how to build an innings if it came in a flat-pack and they had step-by-step numbered instructions
written with big letters in crayon.­

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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17 Apr

THE REPORT – RWC 2007 Independent Review
by Tracey Nelson
17 Apr 2008

At long last the report on the All Blacks’ failed Rugby World Cup campaign is out, and not before time either. The report itself was completed some five weeks ago and in the interim has been passed around rugby circles for comment, where it has also been edited to maintain confidential material as identified by the NZRU.

SPARC’s Don Tricker and lawyer Mike Heron were commissioned to review the campaign, and have produced a 47 page missive that not only considers the 2007 RWC campaign as a whole but also reviews the disasterous quarterfinal exit by the All Blacks. So just what has the report revealed? Here is a summation of their findings.

The Campaign

The length of planning was appropriate. For an event of the significance of the RWC, considerable time is required to properly prepare.

We consider the emphasis which was placed on the RWC 2007 was too great, principally because of the conditioning programme and its very public nature. We suggest that whilst planning must occur, care should be taken to ensure that the RWC does not overwhelm all else.

The combination of conditioning, weak touring international sides and poor quality pool opposition meant there was insufficient top-level game time.

In hindsight the games arranged before the team departed for the RWC were no adequate preparation given the quality of the pool opposition in the lead up to the quarter final.

There were too many All Blacks management in full time attendance at the RWC 2007.

The expectations of the stakeholders and fans were not met.

The Conditioning Programme

The programme was based on sound premise but consultation and implementation were not optimal. In particular, there was a lack of proper consultation with Super 14 Franchises.

When developing the personalised programmes the Franchise lead conditioners and medical staff should have been consulted given their knowledge of the players.

Franchises were not given the opportunity to consider alternative options that may have resulted in a better solution.

At the conclusion of the programme it was recognised that the same performance gains could have been made over a shorter (10 week) period. Some players felt the programme could have been shortened even further.

While the programme delivered significant improvements in speed, power and strength the players lacked match hardness and suffered soft tissue injuries as a result of going too hard too early. Players essentially needed to be "conditioned" for the conditioning programme.

The programme underestimated the effectiveness of players returning to rugby and the dent in confidence that some experienced from not having played for a number of weeks.

Player Rotation

There was general support and understanding of the principles behind a "rotation policy" and selection generally, but not universal endorsement of the extent to which it was implemented.

The one criticism which emerged with a fair degree of consistency is that the selection did not become sufficiently consistent closer to the RWC to allow for combinations to properly develop.

We are not satisfied the selection criticism is correct. What does emerge from this, however, is consensus that there should be consistency of selection in the immediate lead-up to the finals.

The All Blacks coaches confirmed that the "top" team (subject to injuries), was selected for eight of the 11 tests leading up to quarter final. Of the 22 selected for the quarter final an average of 17 played in each of the eight tests.

The Quarter Final

Factors outside the control of the All Blacks contributed to the loss of the quarter final.

The performance of the referee and touch judges had a significant adverse impact on the All Blacks.

An unusual combination of injuries was also a critical contributor.

There was some selection doubts expressed about whether the best players were on the field when it counted. In particular, controversy centred on the selection of Keith Robinson to start (with Chris Jack on the bench), the non-selection of Aaron Mauger and Doug Howlett and the positioning of Mils Muliaina at centre as opposed to fullback.

The selectors and coaches were clear to us and in their reports as to the rationale behind each selection. In their considered view the best team started and we are in no position to doubt that.

Due to an unfortunate combination of circumstances, in particular the injuries to Carter, Evans, Collins and Masoe, the All Blacks lacked experience at the critical period. There was a lack of experience in the backline when it really mattered, and for the critical last minutes the inside back combination had not been tested at this level under this degree of pressure..

The injuries affected on-field leadership – at the critical period in the second half, six of the 10 leadership group were off the field. Mauger and Thorne were not selected. Mealamu was injured during the week. Carter and Collins were injured during the game. Oliver was substituted. As a result, in our view, leadership support to the captain was not optimal.

We recognise that in the last 10 minutes of the second half, the All Blacks faced a dilemma. Whether to go for a drop goal without Carter or Evans (injured), or whether to continue to attempt to score through a try or a penalty.

The drop goal had never been executed under pressure — something the coaches acknowledged could have been worked on more as a strategy. The coaches did, however, send a message out to the team with 10 minutes to go, to set up for a drop goal.

The on-field decision was made to continue with the tactic of attempting to score a try or to get a penalty. The rationale was that it had worked for the team before in games in similar situations. When making this decision the players were unaware of a vital piece of information – that the All Blacks had not been given a penalty in the entire second half and were therefore probably unlikely to get one, notwithstanding their pressure, possession and territory.

The combination of all these factors put enormous pressure on All Blacks leadership and decision making. We consider that on-field leadership and decision making was a factor in the loss in the quarter final. Arguably, the team and its leadership group has only occasionally been tested to the same degree over the last four years. The trend, as witnessed in Melbourne earlier in 2007, was for the leaders to revert to type and let McCaw make the calls.

The leadership model failed to deliver what was its most important objective – decisions which give the best chance of winning the game. The team failed to ensure that the right decisions were taken at critical moments.

The coaches agreed that more emphasis should have been given to execution of a drop goal to score the necessary points to win in a tight finals finish like at Cardiff.

There remained a sense to us that the All Blacks, coaches and management were looking past the quarter-final.

7 Apr

Halftime in the ELVs – analysis of the experimental laws
by Tracey Nelson
7 Apr 2008

AB_scrumIn the three years since the ELVs were first discussed at IRB headquarter in Ireland, we’ve seen them trialled in Scotland, South Africa and Australia, while here in New Zealand we saw them for the first time in the 2007 Provincial B competition. In 2008 we have seen them trialled at the highest level yet, in the Super 14 competition. Now that we’ve passed the halfway mark in the round robin part of the competition, it’s probably timely to take a look at the impact the ELVs have had on the game so far.

Keeping in mind that SANZAR wisely decided not to trial all the ELVsas they settled on the most obvious and, theoretically, the easiest of the ELVs to adapt to for both the players, referees and spectators. Thankfully they steered away from the more contentious ELVs such as being allowed to use hands in rucks, pulling down mauls and various lineout changes. So how have the ELVs we did adopt changed the game to date? I’ve used numbers from the ARU and some of my own stats from games I’ve watched over the past eight weeks to take a closer look.

For starters, despite some worries that the game would become a helter skelter running fest, it would appear that the time for ball in play has only increased marginally since last year (33 minutes in 2007 versus around 34 minutes in 2008), although it does depend on which teams are playing. Games between NZ and SA teams tend to see more ball in play (almost 37 minutes) than games between NZ and Australian sides. Perhaps something to do with NZ teams attempting to speed the game up against the bigger SA sides by electing to tap the ball from free kicks, but dominate the lesser scrummaging abilities of the Australian sides by taking the scrum option from free kicks.

Interestingly, there was more ball in play time (42 minutes) in the recent Six Nations test between Ireland and Wales, despite the staggering fact that 58% of points in this year’s Six Nations tournament came from kicks at goal. So even though southern hemisphere sides score more points via tries than kicks at goal, the ball isn’t in play for any greater length of time even under the ELVs. Therefore, that should dispel some of the myths that the ELVs will turn rugby into a running fest that only hybrid players will be able to cope with.

Additional concerns that the game might morph into something resembling league should also have been quashed, with the stats showing that there are more scrums per game under the ELVs. In fact, scrums (and good scrums at that) have become a very important feature of the ELV game. With both backlines now required to be 5m back from the scrum, we are seeing 25% of tries coming from scrums compared with just 19% in 2007. Any front rower worth his salt should be championing the ELVs, because if ever there was a need for good scrummagers it is under these conditions.

Locks may have some cause for complaint, because due to the ELV stating that when the ball is passed, put or taken back into the 22 a direct kick into touch will result in no gain in territory, there seems to be a bizarre phobia about kicking the ball into touch at most stages of the game. The number of lineouts per game has decreased as a result, down about 17% on 2007, and the number of tries scored from lineouts has shown an equivalent decrease. So whereas in 2007 the lineout was the set piece of choice to score tries from, this season it has become the scrum.

The number of turnovers has not changed significantly, there is a slight increase in ruck turnovers but only by a couple per game. There have been more tries scored from turnovers this year but that is probably less to do with the ELVs and more to do with the stark contrasts in the calibre of some sides to others given a few of the high scoring matches in the early rounds. The number of tries scored from quick taps after a free kick has been awarded has nearly doubled from around 8% to 15%, but the number of tries from general kicks in play hasn’t changed from the previous season. The number of passes and kicks per game has not dramatically increased either. Yes it’s true – despite what it seems there aren’t more kicks per game this year, just fewer kicks going out over the touchline.

Under the ELVs for all offences the sanction is now a Free Kick with the exceptions of offside, not entering through the gate, and Law 10 Foul Play. Accordingly there has been a decrease in the number of penalties and an increase in the number of free kicks awarded . Hardly rocket science to figure that would happen. But while things seemed to work quite well for the first couple of rounds under the free kick system, eventually teams cottoned on that you could slow the ball down at the tackle and only concede a free kick – and once again the breakdown turned into the same old disaster area of confusion it had been under the old laws. Somewhere along the way the concept that cynical and clearly obvious offending (i.e. Law 10) should be penalised was lost in ELV translation during the early rounds of the competition, but since Round 5 we have seen a harder line from most referees and thankfully we are now seeing penalties awarded for cynical play and yellow cards dished out for obvious and repeat offending.

The push to trial the ELVs started back with the IRB in 2005, the main driving force behind it being to make the game simpler and help the referees. Yes, you read that correctly. It was an IRB initiative and the whole idea was to make on-field ruling a simpler task for the referees. So it’s been disappointing to hear rumblings from the northern hemisphere about the ELVs, such as comments last month from Gareth Davies where he suggested “in adversity, the disappointing response from the southern hemisphere is a clamour to change the laws of the game – not to get to grips with the real problem. It is clear for all and sundry to see that Australia need to focus on a solid foundation from which their creative and talented backs can launch themselves, not a needless obssession with tinkering of the laws”. Well back the bus up, Boy-o. With all due respect, if the nothern hemisphere actually bothered to take a closer look at how the game is developing under the ELVs they might discover that a solid foundation in the form of a decent tight five anda strongscrum is exactly what you need under the ELVs – if not more so than under the old laws.

Where the IRB go from here is anyone’s guess. The one thing the ELVs have shown thus far is that they are not making rulings at the breakdown any more clear cut for referees than under the old laws, and once again it comes back not to the laws themselves but how well they are policed. Until the IRB can sort their referees out and get common consistency in rulings between the two hemispheres, they can probably tinker and change the laws until the cows come home, but equally coaches and players will forever be trying to find away around them. Some of the ELV changes are sensible, such as changes to the quick throw-in, and not kicking out on the full from a ball carried back into the 22. I personally like the backlines 5m back from the scrum, some people hate it. Other changes in the game still remain a grey area. So we shall continue to watch the ELVs for the duration of this Super 14, but something tells me that this may be the only time we will see them played at an international level.

4 Apr

The Moving Week – Round 8
by WAJ
4 Apr 2008

A chance for the sides 4th to 9th, those still in contention that is, to make up some ground on the top 3 in some crucial matchups – a loss for the Brumbies, Chiefs, Force, Hurricanes or Waratahs would put real pressure on a top 4 spot in what looks to be a tight battle for 4th at the moment.

You can see who has embraced the ELV’s and who hasn’t now the season is half way through. Of the 22 4 try bonus points 13 have gone to NZ sides, and only 5 to the SA sides (3 of which are to the Stormers), and only 4 to Aust. You can understand this from SA, but to see Aust sides with so few try’s from a country renowned for the back play is surprising and perhaps shows the work that Deans has in front of him.

To the games:

Highlanders v Lions: Can the Highlanders finally win one? Against another struggling side who have not won since round 1, this will be the game they break their 8 match losing streak. The Lions have it all in front of them having to overcome the travel factor but also the fact they have never won at Carisbrook in 5 attempts. Should be a good tussle in the forwards, I mean when has a SA team not been confrontational up front, but the Highlanders will have more penetration in the backline and win accordingly.

Highlanders 13+

Brumbies v Chiefs: Mmmm toughie this one, or is it? The Chiefs haven’t won in Canberra since 1999 but come into the game on the back of some improved and have been able to name an unchanged starting XV for the 1st time in a long time. Lauaki’s form improvement has been important on the back of an improved T5 and the best structured backline they can field, though the midfield defence is suspect. And this against a returning Mortlock and a tyro in Smith is a problem. The return of Shepherdson and Campbell up front allows them to field a very strong pack. The Brumbies don’t lose many at home (80% success rate) and that will continue here.

Brumbies 1 – 12

Force v Bulls: The Force were terribly disappointing last week hwen well beaten by the Stormers. They have a problem winning at home having only won 4 of 15. There previous area of dominance, the loose forwards, was targetted by a VG Stormers trio and they struggled to find a way out.You can guarantee Mitch(and doesn’t he remind you of one of those aliens from long ago TV shows with the big bald heads) will have cerebalised his way through last week and it will all be about execution this week.The Bulls showed up at last on Saturday, hugely competitive in the forwards, destructive in the backs with the Flash running around causing havoc. Fortunately they had an All Blacks moment, didn’t take the drop kick opportunity late and were unlucky losers. Can they back up with a similair effort? Consistency has been a problem!In a close one.

Force 1 – 12

Hurricanes v Sharks: 1st game of a good Saturday night double header.Hurricanes were awfully competitive last week scrapping it out all the way with the Crusaders. They have improved all through the season with some consistency of performance at last. Especially liked the look of the forwards last week and if Weepu and Gopperth can fire they will be very tough with their undoubted try scoring ability. The Sharks have had an unbeaten start to the season, but only one of their six wins has been by 13+, that of course against a 14 man Bulls team in the last 10 minutes. They are very good at applying presure to the opposition with a very good defence, and closing them down but then struggle to get the ball wide with any fluency, to use their undoubted pace in this area.They also use the Durban conditions well and on a more level playing field in that regard will come back to the field. If the Hurricanes can repeat last weeks intensity they should win, but in a close one.

Hurricanes 1 – 12

Waratahs v Blues: The try hard Waratahs v the try harder Blues. Both sputtering along on 2 cylinders with their attackes in particular out of sorts at the moment. Hard to see how the sacking of the Coach will affect the Waratahs, some say it will be good for them as they all know there will be change next year, but that in it itself may be a problem with ltoo much unknown, Don’t know whether it affects players too much when they get on the field anyway. I for one am hoping they recruit Nucifora. But to the actual game – the Waratahs have a strong defence, hard running loosies, and a good lineout. Can this offset an average scrum, and their inability to string an attack together through pooor passing or option taking. The Blues on the other hand have a strong scrum and use plenty of ball carriers in the forwards to try and wear sides down, before going wide. Don’t like this – they need to use their backs more and not get caught in this static ruck crap they insist on using. If they can get the ball wide and use the undoubted running talents of Toeava, Rokocoko and Tuitavake they can win convincingly. Ever the optimist I am picking this week as when that will happen

Blues 13+

Cheetahs v Reds: a who cares game if ever there was one. Both teams are pretty horrible, but the Reds have shown the most promise and will be desperate to get a win on the road. Cordingly back will help to get the backline going and with Latham returning to some sort of form, Cooper showing a glimpse or 2 of what he is capable of they will be in this all contest. Hard to know what to make of the Cheetahs, a poor tour with no wins and if fact are winless so far this season, though 5 of the 7 losses have been by 6 points or less, so competitive but not good enough to win – they just don’t have a real weapon. Will be pleased to be home but also have the travel factor to overcome.

Reds 1 – 12