27 Jun

Dan Carter set for sabbatical
by Tracey Nelson
27 Jun 2008

Dan Carter is to leave New Zealand at the end of the year to take up a six month sabbatical with French club Perpignan in the 2008/09 French Top 14 competition.

Assuming Carter is selected for the end of year Northern Hemisphere tour, he will carry on to France to take up a position with Perpignan. He will then return to New Zealand in June 2009 with the aim of re-securing his All Black jersey through until at least 2011, when New Zealand hosts the Rugby World Cup.

This announcement confirms the uptake of the “Carter Clause”, the NZRU’s offer of a six month sabbatical. Carter had been strongly linked with French club Toulon (currently coached by Tana Umaga) and confirmed he had been in discussions with them. However, Perpignan’s involvement in next year’s European Cup competition was the clincher.

In a statement released this afternoon Carter said I have done plenty of research on both Toulon and Perpignan and whilst I have no doubt that I would have enjoyed Toulon, in the end, Perpignan’s qualification for next year’s European Cup swayed my decision.”

I would like to thank the NZRU for offering me this unique opportunity. The All Black jersey is no one’s by right and I fully appreciate that I will have to continue to play well and prove myself if I am to be involved with the All Blacks next year and beyond. The 2011 Rugby World Cup is going to be a phenomenal event and my priority has always been to be available to take part in that.”

Carter also went on to say that there was a level of disappointment at not being able to be part of the Crusaders next year, and that it had probably been the hardest part of his decision to go offshore. He hopes to continue his association with the franchise on his return to New Zealand.

23 Jun

Game Stats: All Blacks v England, Christchurch, 21 June 2008
by Tracey Nelson
23 Jun 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.

Please note Completed Tackles means that player actually brought the ball carrier to ground (ie. snuffing out the movement), 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 call a slipped tackle a tackle, 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. (Boric 15 min, Lauaki 27 min, Mealamu 32 min for blood bin and permanently at 50 min, Woodcock at 40 min, Cowan at 67 min and Donald at 74 min).

Team: Muliaina, Sivivatu, Kahui, Wulf, Nonu, Carter, Ellis, So’oialo, McCaw (c), Thomson, Williams, Thorn, Somerville, Hore, Tialata
Reserves: MacDonald, Donald, Cowan, Lauaki, Boric, Woodcock, Mealamu

Points Scored NZ ENG
Tries 5 2
Conversions 5 1
Penalties 3 0
Total 44 12

Overall NZ ENG
Possession 43% 57%
Territory 52% 48%
Time in opposition 22 21 min 13 min

Penalties/Free Kicks Conceded Pen FKs
NZ 9 6
ENG 16 3
Total 25 9

NZ Penalty Offences
Tackle Thorn, MacDonald, Thomson(x2), So’oialo 5
Ruck Boric, MacDonald 2
Offside Carter/Nonu 1
Scrum Front row not setting 1
Total   9

England Penalty Offences
Tackle 3
Ruck 6
Lineout 1
Scrum 2
Offside 4
Total 16
Yellow cards 1

Turnovers Conceded by NZ
Knock-ons 6
Forward pass 2
Spilled 6
Missing touch from penalty 1
In the tackle 5
At the ruck 5
Total 25

First 3 to Breakdown Total Per half
Thomson 27 12+15
Somerville 22 14+8
Boric* 21 9+12
Thorn 21 13+8
So’oialo 16 10+6
McCaw 14  
Hore 14 12+2
Woodcock* 11 11
Nonu 10 5+5
Kahui 9 4+5
Wulf 8 4+4
MacDonald 7 3+4
Mealamu* 6 2+4
Ellis 5 5+0
Tialata 4  
Sivivatu 4 2+2
Williams 3  
Lauaki* 1  
Carter 1 0+1
Cowan* 1  
Donald* 1  

Ball Carries
Hore 3
Thomson 2
So’oialo 2
Lauaki* 2
Boric* 2
Thorn 2
McCaw 1
Tialata 1
Woodcock* 1
Nonu 1
Ellis 1
Total 18

Completed Tackles and Assists Tackles Assists
Carter 11 (5+6) 0
Thorn 10 (7+3) 4 (3+1)
Thomson 10 (7+3) 0
So’oialo 9 (3+6) 0
Kahui 8 (3+5) 1 (1+0)
Boric* 7 (2+5) 0
Ellis 6 (5+1) 4 (4+0)
Lauaki* 6 (1+5) 3 (0+3)
Somerville 5 (3+2) 5 (4+1)
Tialata 4 1
Mealamu* 3 (1+2) 1 (0+1)
Woodcock* 3 1
Cowan* 3 1
Hore 3 (2+1) 3 (3+0)
Nonu 3 (2+1) 2 (2+0)
Sivivatu 3 (3+0) 0
MacDonald 3 (3+0) 0
McCaw 2 6
Donald* 1 1
Williams 1 1
Wulf 1 (1+0) 1 (1+0)
Total 102 35

Missed and Slipped Tackles
Thorn 2
Thomson 2
So’oialo 2
Ellis 2
Nonu 2
Mealamu* 1
Total 11

NZ Line-outs Won From
First half 8 10
Second half 3 6
Total 11 16

NZ Line-out Jumpers Won From
Thorn 4 5
Boric 3 4
Williams 1 1
So’oialo 0 1
Thomson 0 1
Quick throws 3 4

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

NZ Scrums Won From
First half 4 4
Second half 8 8
Total 12 12

England Scrums Won From
First half 4 4
Second half 8 9
Total 12 13

22 Jun

All Blacks See Off The English
by Paul Waite
22 Jun 2008

Any thoughts that England might be able to take the lessons of the last test on board, and come out for this one to mount a serious challenge were dashed in Christchurch as the All Blacks made a clean sweep of the Iveco Series, winning by a greater margin than last week 44-12.

The English were their own worst enemies once again, as they chucked away try-scoring chances through shear poor finishing ability. Winger Tom Varndell should have scored in the left corner, and would have if he had seen the incoming tackle of Leon MacDonald and gone in lower. Inexperience.

Just before the halftime whistle fullback Tait also had a good chance, after doing all the hard work with a lovely chip and chase, he coughed the ball in the in-goal instead of forcing it. Ok, there were a couple of All Black defenders in attendance, but that was no excuse.

So the score of 20-0 at half-time flattered the All Blacks who, against a more clinical opposition, would have either been going in the odd 10 points down, or at best on a par. That’s why it’s important not to get too carried away with the two-test series win, and view it just as a good blow-out and a trial chance for some newbies.

But one thing we should get carried away about is the form and play-making of Dan Carter. I thought that, after his virtuoso performances in 2005 against the Lions, we’d maybe seen a peak given his fall-off in form leading up to the World Cup. But the way he is playing right now I think we have yet to see the very best from him, so thank goodness that the NZRU have signed him up until 2011, sabbatical clause or not.

It was a dream of a debut for Waikato’s Richard Kahui, who took to test rugby like the proverbial duck to the wet stuff. After 11 minutes, Carter burst through the English midfield and raced toward the 22m with Kahui in support on the right touch-line. They both executed a lovely switch with Kahui cutting across behind Carter to dot down under the sticks.

Carter went near again 20 minutes later as he jumped to regather his own chip-kick, but was held up in-goal. During this attacking skirmish, All Black skipper Richie McCaw had his left foot caught from behind by the legs of an English player tackling Carter, and rolled his ankle badly. He was helped from the field, and will have scans this week to ascertain the damage. But from the ensuing 5m scrum the All Blacks showed the English set-piece defence up, as they were sucked in by a few dummy cross field runs and left a gaping hole for Carter to run through without a hand laid on him to score.

England grabbed a couple of tries through halfback Danny Care who took advantage of a scrum penalty 5m out to scamper over before anyone reacted, and Tom Varndell who received a lovely pass from the pick of the English backs, Tait. But both of those tries came from somewhat chaotic phases of play, and were opportunistic. They were not really created by England, and although they were a welcome addition to their side of the score-board, it never looked like they would act as a platform for a serious challenge.

Ma’a Nonu got in on the scoring act, grabbing his fifth try in Black after some great interplay between Carter and Sivivatu, and Lauaki, who had come on when McCaw left the field, lumbered over the line under the posts more or less unopposed after the All Blacks had a scrum 5m out.

The final try came to replacement All Black halfback Cowan after the hooter had sounded, in a frenetic sequence of play where repeated free-kick infringements on both sides kept the game going. If the English had simply kicked the ball out on one of theirs, then they would have left the field 7 points better off.

The Man of the Match for me was Dan Carter. The No.10 is in superlative form, and is an absolute joy to watch.

Debutants Kahui, Thomson and Wulf all played very well. Kahui grabbed the spotlight with his ability to read the game, crunching defence, and clinical finishing. But it was perhaps Thomson who was the most impressive of them. His work-rate, and strength at the breakdown was phenomenal, and he matched McCaw in making himself a pest at the ruck against the English ball. He also seems to have that un-teachable ability to read the way play is going, and to be in the right place, doing the right things.

Rudi Wulf looked very sharp and keen, however it was one of those nights when the ball didn’t really come his way, so he will have to wait for his next chance and hope for better opportunities. For now he showed enough on attack and defence to show he has what it takes at this level.

There were some good points and bad from this test, some of which Henry touched on at the press conference afterwards. I’ve listed both sets of my own in no particular order here:

Good points:

  • Adam Thomson’s general work-rate, vision, and effect at the ruck.
  • Kahui’s debut at 13 showed all the skills and vision, and defensive ability required.
  • Rudi Wulf was sharp and quick.
  • Woodcock’s return showing it is no ‘myth’ he is the best there is.
  • The team still functioned well despite losing Ali Williams and Richie McCaw.
  • Nonu continues his good run of form.
  • The Carter Magic. Absolute joy to watch him in this form.
  • Thorn taking responsibility in the lineouts.
  • Rodney So’oialo’s calm, steady captaincy in the absence of McCaw.

The not so good:

  • Kicks being watched by everyone, allowing the ball to bounce.
  • Too much 50-50 ball on the ground not being claimed by anyone.
  • Not enough support of players coming in behind.
  • Silly antics from the front-row giving away a free-kick 5m out from our line.
  • Lineouts – our perennial problem (even allowing for Williams going off).
  • A drop in intensity on defence compared with last week.
  • Delivery from halfback often too slow or dithery.

So plenty to work on (as they say) for the opening Tri-Nations test against South Africa in a fortnight’s time.

Although McCaw has to have a scan this week, from the look of it as he limped off, he will be out of action for that test at the very least and possibly a few more. It will be very interesting to see how we re-organise the loose-trio to cope with that.

Thomson’s quality performance out there tonight could be a very timely one indeed.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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18 Jun

The Mana Of The Black Jersey
by Paul Waite
18 Jun 2008

cemeadsOver the past few years there have been numerous articles in the press and statements, many from former All Blacks, complaining bitterly about the cheapening of the Jersey by the so-called rotation policy brought in by Graham Henry to build depth. This has had a direct effect on the mana of the jersey, and it’s time that this was put right.

For those readers unfamiliar with the term, ‘rotation policy’ refers to the playing of a wide squad of players in tests to build experience at that level. The proponents of it argue that this is now essential because of the demise of the long tour where once upon a distant time, mid-week games provided this opportunity.

The resulting modus operandum had a different All Black team, sometimes with over 10 changes, taking the field in consequtive tests, such as those in the Grand Slam series in 2005. When you add in other selection determinants such as form, fitness and injuries, the end result is an All Blacks squad with no recognisable Top XV, and arguably no recognisable top combinations in key areas such as midfield, front row, loose-trio halves etc.

The resulting effect of three seasons of this methodology was a complex one involving player psychology, on-field moves and calls, form, team rhythm, combinations, and fitness at test level. Unfortunately, in World Cup year, 2007, the picture was further muddied by the implementation of a reconditioning program which saw core All Blacks missing the first half of the Super 14.

Ignoring the reconditioning issue, which it turned out had adverse effects on match fitness for the World Cup, the end-result of the rotational policy can, in my opinion, be summed up in fairly simple terms. It did indeed have the intended beneficial effect of widening the group of players who were ‘test-ready’ from the usual 22 or so. However it had several negative effects as well. Firstly, the constant switching of players in and out prevented the formation of key partnerships and combinations on the field, partnerships which take seasons of playing together to produce and maintain. Secondly, it was evident from statements which slipped out from the camp, that the players were unhappy with the situation.

And of course the third casualty of rotation was the tarnishing of mana, the undermining of 100 years of tradition and passion for the All Black Jersey itself. More on this, and what it means later.

So to sum it up, rotation produced an enlarged squad of test-ready players but one which, as a team (or combination of many teams in fact) was mediocre by All Black standards. I use that word advisedly. Sure a given All Black team could hit some heights on a given night, and it was good enough to win most of its tests, but the lack of honed combinations in key areas meant that it could never produce rugby at the absolute peak of its potential – how could it?

In 2006 the All Blacks went on a tour of France and Wales at the end of the year. It was meant to be a dress-rehearsal for the World Cup, and represented a great opportunity to drop rotation, and start refining the test XV. Between then and the World Cup the extended squad built up previously would not wither and die. Henry, however, decided against this and continued rotating players through. This then went on into 2007 and the 3N, so by the time the World Cup came along there was still no set top XV which had solid game time together to build on.

Alright, that’s enough about the perils and pox of the rotation policy. Let’s consider a new direction, which is actually a very old one.

Stepping to the side of this issue for a moment, I think that the NZRU ought to enshrine a Charter For The All Black Jersey, which every All Black coach must sign up to, and which states that the coach must do everything to keep and cherish the mana of that Jersey, and never do anything which lessens it. This goes to the core of what ‘All Black’ means, and it should never, ever, be consigned to the scrapheap of progress no matter what the demands of the modern game are.

The new (old) direction I believe we should take is to go back to the notion of an All Black team which consists of XV players, the best in their positions, plus a set of substitutes for the bench, equally the best for their seats there.

Members of the wider All Black squad would not expect to play in a test match at all, unless a genuine chance presented itself, such as an incumbent becoming injured, or banned, or drastically losing form. This would have several huge benefits over rotation.

First of all, the mana of that Black Jersey would return. A player wearing it would have to earn it, not just have it gifted as part of some kind of ‘work experience’ junket. This single factor would engage players (once more) in an extremely powerful way. Players ‘owning’ the jersey, as the incumbent, would ride that incomparable wave of pride which is driven by the knowledge that they are the best in that position. Fans would know them as such – ‘there goes Conrad Smith The All Black Centre’. Simple as it sounds, this goes right to the very heart of All Blackdom, and All Black Fandom. Extending it to the team, there is also a recognisable All Black XV. And finally, much as I despise the very ground they walk on, this would be a huge advantage to marketers of the game too.

The second benefit is that the team can develop and hone combinations. The all-important areas such as midfield, halves, loosies, front row, locks, locks and lifters, locks and throwers, the back three and how they all get familiar with each other and inter-play simply cannot ever, ever be honed to perfection in a rotation policy environment. If you want a large number of test-ready players who are mediocre as a team, then do rotation. If you want a team to fulfil its potential, then don’t.

There is one disadvantage of course. If an All Black gets injured, then the replacement will not have played tests recently, and will not have much combination with the players around him.

However I believe that this disadvantage is simply not as serious as the supporters of rotation would have us believe.

In the first place there is some combination, because the squad player will have been training with the All Blacks and will also know all the moves and calls. Secondly, although we no longer have mid-week tour games to allow players to progress between provincial level rugby to tests, we do have the Super 14. Top players chosen from this competition can make that transisition, whereas in the old days the jump from the provinces was too large. Finally, and most tellingly, the player coming in will know that his is a genuine chance to make the jersey his. It won’t be a ‘rotation cap’, to be snatched back come the next test, but a real opportunity to show he is now the best. That makes all the difference in the World.

If you take all of the facts into consideration, the benefits of stopping rotation and returning to the fielding of a Real All Black Team far outweigh the single disadvantage, in my humble opinion.

But even if you can’t accept all the arguments regarding combinations and test-readiness, the issue of The Mana Of The Black Jersey is not negotiable. It should be restored, and protected, and it should be done now.

The Haka Team
Worshippers Of The Black Jersey and the Silver Fern

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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16 Jun

GAME STATS: All Blacks v England, Auckland, June 14 2008
by Tracey Nelson
16 Jun 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. (NB. Daniel Carter brought up 700 test points with his try in this game, and overtook Andrew Mehrtens as New Zealand’s top points scorer against England).

Please note Completed Tackles means that player actually brought the ball carrier to ground (ie. snuffing out the movement), 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 call a slipped tackle a tackle, 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.

Team: Muliaina, Tuitavake, Smith, Sivivatu, Nonu, Carter, Ellis, Kaino, McCaw (c), So’oialo, Williams, Thorn, Somerville, Hore, Tialata
Reserves: MacDonald, Donald, Cowan, Lauaki, Boric, Schwalger, Mealamu

Points Scored NZ ENG
Tries 4 2
Conversions 4 2
Penalties 3 2
Total 37 20

Penalties/Free Kicks Conceded Pen FKs
NZ 6 4
ENG 14 1
Total 20 5

NZ Penalty Offences
Tackle Somerville(x2), Ellis, Lauaki 4
Ruck Somerville, McCaw 2
Total   6

England Penalty Offences
Tackle 8
Ruck 5
Lineout 1
Total 8
Yellow cards 2

Turnovers Conceded by NZ
Knock-ons 12
Forward pass 1
Spilled 1
Intercepted pass 1
Missing touch from penalty 1
In the tackle 1
At the ruck 2
Total 19

First 3 to Breakdown Total Per half
McCaw 26 14+12
Somerville 22 14+8
Hore 19 18+1
So’oialo 19 12+7
Williams 17 12+5
Thorn 15 12+3
Kaino 14 11+3
Boric* 13  
Tialata 13 11+2
Smith 11 4+7
Sivivatu 9 5+4
Nonu 8 4+4
Lauaki* 7  
Mealamu* 6  
Ellis 5 4+1
Tuitavake 5 3+2
MacDonal* 3  
Muliaina 3 2+1
Carter 2 0+2
Cowan* 1  

Ball Carries
McCaw 6
Thorn 4
Williams 4
Hore 4
Kainio 3
So’oialo 2
Lauaki* 2
Somerville 2
Tialata 2
Mealamu* 1
Total 30

Completed Tackles and Assists Tackles Assists
McCaw 11 (4+7) 3 (0+3)
Mealamu* 10 0
Carter 9 (4+5) 1 (1+0)
Nonu 8 (3+5) 1 (1+0)
So’oialo 8 (3+5) 0
Lauaki* 7 2
Boric* 6 0
Smith 6 (1+5) 3 (1+2)
Tialata 6 (2+4) 1 (0+1)
Somerville 6 (1+5) 3 (1+2)
Tuitavake 4 (2+2) 2 (1+1)
Williams 4 (3+1) 1 (0+1)
Cowan* 3 1
Donald* 3 0
Kaino 3 (3+0) 0
MacDonald* 2 0
Thorn 2 (2+0) 0
Ellis 2 (0+2) 0
Hore 1 (1+0) 1 (1+0)
Sivivatu 1 (1+1) 1 (1+0)
Total 102 20

Missed and Slipped Tackles
So’oialo 2
Mealamu* 2
Williams 1
Carter 1
Nonu 1
Cowan* 1
Total 8

NZ Line-outs Won From
First half 6 8
Second half 8 12
Total 14 20

NZ Line-out Jumpers Won From
Williams 4 6
Kaino 3 3
So’oialo 2 2
Thorn 1 4
McCaw 0 1
Quick throws 4 4

England Line-outs Won From
First half 1 1
Second half 4 4
Total 5 5

NZ Scrums Won From
First half 2 2
Second half 4 5
Total 6 7
Tightheads conceded   1

England Scrums Won From
First half 3 3
Second half 5 5
Total 8 8

15 Jun

Time to cut the crap!
by Paul Waite
15 Jun 2008

Can all New Zealanders please now get behind the All Blacks and their coach? I’m sick of hearing all this nonsense about supporting Deans and the Wallabies over the All Blacks. I’m tired of hearing people whining about the 2007 World Cup and our exit in Cardiff, and the why’s and wherefores thereof. Time to cut the crap, and be an All Black fan.

The All Blacks and their skipper are all one-hundred percent behind Graham Henry, Wayne Smith, and Steve Hansen. A team simply WILL NOT perform with the kind of heart and passion that we have seen from them in the opening two tests of this season otherwise. It just doesn’t happen unless there is a sense of unity and purpose and belief in the whole squad.

So it looks like the mindless denizens of that refuge for the mentally challenged and whiny, Talkback Radio, and others, some in the Media, are all on their own. On the one side we have the coaches, the All Blacks and the true fans. On the other a bunch of feckless whinging tossers who just can’t accept that Graham Henry is still the coach despite committing the heinous crime of being in charge of a team which lost a World Cup quarter-final test match against the insuperable odds mounted against them by The Referee From Hell.

I would agree that the All Blacks were underdone. I would agree that the ‘experiment’ with reconditioning was largely responsible and that it, in part, caused this. I would agree that because of that the All Blacks were one hard test short of being good enough to surmount the freakish officiating performance we faced in Cardiff.

But even a cursory analysis of the facts shows anyone capable of logical reasoning that the coaches are not to blame for this result in any black and white sense.

Of course if you are into Radio Talkback, then analysis isn’t your thing. Resolving complex issues down to the unrealistic black and white is the grist for your mill, and you won’t accept any other option. To you the idea of analysing the whys is not acceptable, and it’s simply Henry was in charge, we got kicked out in the quarters, therefore he gets sacked, end of story, job done.

There is also another issue I believe is at work here. I suspect that some fans of the lower IQ variety have become used to having their rugby seasons spiced up with a new All Black coach every 2 to 4 years. You can’t deny that there is a great deal of excitement generated by the wheeling in of a new coach. Who is he going to pick? How will he play them? Will he be The One To Win The World Cup? Enough to get the cretins of fandom positively wetting themselves in anticipation. Well they were denied all that with Henry’s re-appointment.

I suspect that this insidious feeling is responsible for the doom and gloom depressive attitudes which were sweeping the country just before the Irish test at the caketin. A realisation amongst some that they were just going to see the same old faces on the news, and much the same old lines being trotted out after-match.

There is one thing that people are forgetting. Granham Henry is possibly one of the most analytical coaches that we have ever had. He is, as has been emphasised on this site several times before, well capable of learning from the mistakes leading up to the quarter-final in Cardiff.

If you take that on board what are you left with?

The most successful coach in terms of results in recent times is what. A coach that the All Blacks all believe in and want to lay their bodies on the line for is what.

A coaching team and an All Blacks team which deserves the support of ALL New Zealanders is what.

So let’s get behind them and cut out all the crap.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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15 Jun

All Blacks Quell The Poms
by Paul Waite
15 Jun 2008

smith_scoreEngland are the second Northern Hemisphere team in as many weeks, who have breezed into the country proclaiming how vulnerable they thought the All Blacks might be, having stolen yet another crop of top players off them last year, and how good their chances were of beating them. They were yet another team to come up short.

However if you listen to the players, rather than the managers, coaches or even worse, the PR men, then you hear how difficult it is to come to New Zealand and win. Clive Woodward did it in 2003, but he had a bloody good team led by the legendary Martin Johnson in its prime, and which went on to deservedly take the World Cup that same year.

There is nowhere to hide, and all of the PR hype of the previous week means nothing when you run onto that field. The All Blacks played with hunger, passion and verve at Eden park last night, and England simply couldn’t stay with the pace or intensity.

There was no facet of the game that the All Blacks did not dominate, save for the lineout. In particular both the scrum and the breakdown were fascinating contests. In the first quarter of the test, the English outplayed the All Blacks at the breakdown. Their cheating methods of diving in and sealing off and coming in blatantly from the side were not policed by Welsh referee Nigel Owens, and since they play like that normally up North, they were able to hit the ground running, so to speak. The All Blacks, coming from the more strict Super 14 rulings at the breakdown, took a while to adapt, but once they did, the situation was dramatically reversed, and it was England who lost the breakdown battle, even to the tune of having a player sin-binned (Sheridan) for nefarious activities at the tackle, driven by desperation no doubt.

Speaking of which, in the scrum poor old Andy Sheridan, the one-man wrecking machine that the Northern Hemisphere scribes love to write about as if he is the Incredible Hulk and Superman rolled into one, had yet another dismal outing against the men in black.

Last time it was the redoubtable Carl Hayman who was his nemesis, this time it was Greg Sommerville who saw him off. In fairness Sheridan held up pretty well in general, however he failed to dominate, got folded up once, and popped once – not the signs of a good propping performance you have to admit. Add to that his sin-binning, and having to leave the field bloodied and it wasn’t a good day at the office for him. On the other side Neemia Tialata had a mixed performance. He continually put his hand on the deck to brace himself – something he needs to stop doing or else he will get penalised – and at times seemed to collapse too easily. It’s hard to work out the scrum ‘politics’ sometimes, so that stuff is difficult to read, but at other times he ‘did a Woodcock’ and bore in on his opposite to such an extent it just had to hurt. Overall the All Blacks had the better of the scumming exchanges, until later in the second half when substitutions change everything. I have the feeling that the replacement of Brad Thorn took a lot of grunt from the scum for example, and Hore seemed to hold the front row together better than Mealamu did. Even so the English didn’t dominate.

The line-out was a different story. The All Blacks did eventually get some kind of rhythm going there, but were hampered by some very poor throwing, and the fact the English were allowed to close the gap much too soon by Owens. Later on in the Press Conference, Hansen admitted that line-outs had not really been focussed on during the week, so at a guess they will be next.

In the backs there were a lot of things to celebrate if you were supporting black.

First of all Dan Carter is returning to that zesty, creative form backed with a steely defence that we saw from him in 2005 against the Lions. He basically ran the test, and the English had no answer, least of all in the form of good ol’ Charlie Farley Hodgson. Out wider the midfield combination of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith continues to develop apace. Smith is looking sharper with each game, and Nonu is belying his critics by remaining solid on defence, incisive on attack and delivering some beautiful passes out to the wing, one of which brought a try to Siviatu.

Finally, this was a game which Tuitavake managed to get involved in. After the freeze-a-thon at the Caketin, where he hardly touched the ball, he obviously thought he’d introduce himself early on to the English backs, and did so with a thunderous tackle on Strettle as England tried to run the ball. The tackle put the hallmark on the All Blacks defence throughout the test. There were a number of heavy hits, and every one was felt and counted. It was a weary and bruised group of English players which trudged off at the end, knowing that they’d been both battered and beaten.

A brief summary of how the test ebbed and flowed would split it into three parts. The first 20 minutes England shaded play, by dint of dominating the breakdown and contact areas. The middle 40 minutes were totally owned by the All Blacks who sorted out the breakdown issue, and constructed some very nice tries, two in each half. The first was a lovely chip though the defensive line inside the English 22m by Carter which Smith read perfectly to beat the defence to gather a lovely bounce and score. The second came from a worked move where Sivivatu carved up the English before passing to Carter on the cut who dotted down under the sticks. Just before halftime, the All Blacks should have had a third, but a fortuitous intercept gave England Topsy Ojo a try against the run of play.

The second half carried on the way the first left off, and Nonu slipped a powder-puff Hodgson tackle to break through up the middle. He then showed good vision to find support out wide, and threw a beautiful long pass out to Mils Muliaina who slid over for the try. The last one went to Sivivatu after some clever interplay from Carter and Nonu.

After that the test was essentially dead and buried, with only pride on the line. The All Blacks made a lot fo key substitutions which, to be perfectly honest, wreaked havoc. Taking off Thorn and bringing on young Boric at lock was good, and although the scrum was noticeably de-powered, he played well in his debut test appearance. However when Lauaki replaced Kaino, and So’oialo went to No.8 it all went pear-shaped. Lauaki is a behemoth of a man, but simply doesn’t have the basics of test rugby under control. He runs at defences too upright, as he always has, and this is meat and drink to a test defence. Added to that his hands are well below the standard required, and his technique going into contact is very poor. All this resulted in no ground being gained by his so-called ball-carrying forte, and a turnover to the English just about every time he got tackled. Poor. The selectors would be best dropping Lauaki and calling up Keiran Read.

When Carter went off to be replaced by Donald, we lost our play-maker. Donald’s appearance was useful in getting him up to speed in the longer term, but of course for this test that and all the other replacements opened the door for an England burning with the understandable desire to garner whatever vestiges of pride they could from the game. So the final 20 minutes were a messy affair where neither team really got much going, but where, by keeping the All Blacks from scoring further tries, the English could claim some kind of improvement occurred. That and the fact that Topsy Ojo ran in another against-play try after a speculative kick was chased and Sivivatu was too slow in realising what to do about it.

In summary the English challenge foundered on the rocks of a hard and hungry All Blacks team, and they were well beaten on the night.

We look forward to seeing how the next test goes down in Christchurch.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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10 Jun

Game Stats: All Blacks v Ireland, Wellington
by Tracey Nelson
10 Jun 2008

Back by popular demand, the numbers on the All Blacks – including First 3 to the Breakdown where we find out just who is getting around the paddock and securing ruck ball at the tackle. Read on to find out who did what in the All Blacks’ opening test for 2008.

Here is the usual analysis of the All Blacks game, being the First 3 to the Breakdown, tackle stats, penalties conceded, turnovers, the lineouts, and scrums. Please note Completed Tackles means that player actually brought the ball carrier to ground (ie. snuffing out the movement), not assists in the tackle situation which are tallied separately. Missed tackles also includes slipped tackles where the ball carrier gets away. Most importantly, I do NOT call a slipped tackle a tackle, 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.

Team: Muliaina, Tuitavake, Smith, Sivivatu, Nonu, Carter, Ellis, Kaino, McCaw (c), So’oialo, Williams, Thorn, Afoa, Hore, Tialata

Reserves: MacDonald, Donald, Cowan, Thomson, Boric, Schwalger, Mealamu

Points Scored NZ Ireland
Tries 2 1
Conversions 1 0
Penalties 3 2
Total 21 11

Penalties/Free Kicks Conceded Pen FKs
NZ 9 2
Ire 8 0
Total 17 2

NZ Penalty Offences Player
Tackle Hore, Tialata 2
Ruck Thorn, Hore, McCaw/So’oialo 4
Maul Tialata(2), Thomson 2
Total   5

Ireland Penalty Offences
Tackle 2
Ruck 4
Maul 1
Foul play 1
Total 8

Turnovers Conceded by NZ
Knock-ons 3
Kicks out on full 2
Missing touch from penalty 1
In the tackle 1
At the ruck 1
Total 8

First 3 to Breakdown Total Per half
Thorn 34 17+17
McCaw 25 11+14
Kaino 20 8+12
Williams 19 7+12
Hore 18 13+5
Tialata 16 9+7
Schwalger 14 2+12
So’oialo 11 6+5
Afoa 8  
Mealamu 7  
Carter 5 3+2
Smith 5 2+3
Muliaina 4 2+2
Nonu 3 1+2
Sivivatu 3 2+1
Thomson 1 0+1
Ellis 1 1+0
Tuitavake 1 1+0

Completed Tackles and Assists Tackles Assists
McCaw 9 (3+6) 1 (1+0)
Kaino 9 (1+8) 1 (1+0)
Thorn 8 (1+7 3 (0+3)
Williams 7 (1+6) 2 (2+0)
So’oialo 7 (0+7) 1 (1+0)
Ellis 7 (2+5) 0
Schwalger* 6 (1+5) 0
Mealamu* 5 1
Thomson* 4 (0+4) 1 (0+1)
Hore 4 (0+4) 1 (1+0)
Nonu 3 (1+2) 0
Muliaina 2 (1+1) 0
Simth 2 (0+2) 0
Tuitavake 1 (1+0) 1 (1+0)
Carter 1 (0+1) 1 (1+0)
Tialata 1 (0+1) 0
Afoa 1 0
Total 77 13

Missed and Slipped Tackles
McCaw 2
Tialata 2
Mealamu* 2
Williams 1
Sivivatu 1
Tuitavake 1
Total 9

NZ Line-outs Won From
First half 6 8
Second half 5 5
Total 11 13

NZ Line-out Jumpers Won From
So’oialo 5 5
Thorn 4 4
Williams 2 3

Ireland Line-outs Won From
First half 4 7
Second half 7 10
Total 11 17

NZ Scrums Won From
First half 5 5
Second half 6 6
Total 11 11

Ireland Scrums Won From
First half 2 3
Second half 3 3
Total 5 6

8 Jun

Cold, Wet, Won
by Paul Waite
8 Jun 2008

caketin-spectatorsIt was a cold, wet one alright. The All Blacks brought home a win in their first test of the year, played in rugged conditions at the Caketin.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the result on such a night was nicely set up for one of those ‘a win is a win and we’ll take it’ clich├ęs. But you would be wrong.

This test threw up a couple of glorious moments, even given the raw weather, and it also showed us that it isn’t all doom and gloom following the departure of such rocks in the Black jersey as Carl Hayman and Jerry Collins.

But before we get onto the game, let’s first debunk some of the nonsense surrounding those aforementioned conditions. Certain people who should probably know better have been going a bit too far in describing them as ‘awful’, ‘terrible’, and with raised eyes, thanking various deities that we don’t suffer the horror of them very often.

Sure it wasn’t a pleasant evening to be playing footy, but it was nothing unusual for a New Zealand winter providing as it did a good dose of rain, wind and cold (well above freezing I might add). I can remember tests at Athletic Park, played in daylight mark you, where a southerly blast would rake the ground from end-to-end like the wrath of God, instantaneously turning sausage sizzles into silent white ornaments, and have the ground ringing to the sound of spherical brass objects dropping onto the concrete. Players wore no extra layers (apart from Allan Hewson of the infamous tights of course) and didn’t retire for a quarter of an hour thaw-out and massage at half-time.

Despite the wet weather the game was notable for two lovely pieces of skill from the New Zealand backs. The first involved a break down the left 15 minutes into the first half. Conrad Smith received the ball, and stepped inside and past Brian O’Driscoll, straightening the attack as he is so good at doing, before delivering a pin-point pass out to the wing and to Sivivatu, who made no mistake in diving and sliding over. The finishing was as crisp and clinical as anything you would see on a dry track, which made it all the more impressive on the night.

The second moment was in the second half with both teams still locked together on the score-board, and the result therefore still very much in the balance. Dan Carter received the ball, and with the Irish defensive line densely packed in front of him contrived to weave some kind of magic spell as he stepped off his left then right foot to find his way through and make a telling break down the centre of the field. He was tackled but the damage was done. The ball came quickly from the ruck, was taken on then flicked to Ma’a Nonu who charged as only he knows how, and slithered over the line in the tackles of two Irishmen.

Aside from those two tries, there were other encouraging aspects to this All Blacks performance.

The forwards toiled well together as a unit. Despite suffering an injured knee Afoa looks to be a very solid prospect at prop, and did well at scrum time and around the field. The pack made some very good ground with the pick and go, and defended the Irish maul well, despite some cock-eyed rulings on ‘collapses’ from referee White.

The lineout was pretty solid on All Black ball, considering the combativeness of O’Connell, and competed enough on Irish ball. The throwing from Hore was good. Check out Tracey’s stats, which may be published here on Haka later on.

As to the loose-forward mix, well, what can you say about Richie McCaw when it’s all been said before? The man plays like he’s bloody Superman, Batman and all the X-Men rolled into a single bloke. I’m not sure how he manages it because there isn’t anything to parallel him with. Man of the Match, definitely. Rodney So’oialo was playing the blindside in this test, with Jerome Kaino at No.8. Kaino played well there, I thought, though was obviously (and predictably) feeling his way. He had several classic drives off the back and although he didn’t make much ground he made some, and most importantly was secure with the ball. His presence at No.8 gave the loose forwards a bit more of a classical structure I thought, with Rodders running more in support of McCaw, though how he kept up I’ll never know. All-in-all a good outing, in that weather, and we look forward to seeing more of it in the dry.

In the backs we had a wee bit of a mixed performance from Ellis, who looked to be taking that extra step too long to deliver the ball. With the well-known Irish pushing of the offside line when on defence, this often meant that he denied the receiver enough time to do something constructive. In fact on a couple of occasions he delivered what is known as a ‘hospital pass’, which I’m sure he’ll have been reminded about in the changing shed afterwards. Mind you Ellis isn’t known for slow delivery – quite the opposite, so it’s probably a case of getting things settled down in the team, knowing who is likely to be where etc.

At first-five Dan Carter was his usual awesome self on defence – he tackles well above his weight and always has done – and then there was that moment of Dan Magic which effectively tucked the test match safely up in bed for us. Apart from that he kicked well, both from tee and hand, and was all class.

The midfield pairing of Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu didn’t have that much to do, but in the restricted conditions did what they had to well. They maintained their defensive line, and the break that Smith put Sivivatu in for the try was the icing on that cake. Nonu’s try was a fairly standard finish to the piece of Carter genius mentioned before. However as far as I’m concerned the jury is still out on Nonu as first-choice No.12, and we await sterner tests to come to prove or disprove that.

On the wings Sivivatu stood up and was counted when he was needed, scoring the try. Other than that he was not called on to do much. The Irish try was due to a breakdown in communication resulting in too few defenders on his side and he was left covering two players – not his fault. Tuitavake I felt a bit sorry for as he had no real involvement and spent the whole time he was getting frozen stiff. In the end he was subbed for Macca.

Overall then a very good first-up test for the All Blacks, and something to build on for the English up at Eden Park next week.

I hope it doesn’t rain up there, or else somebody will be calling the weather ‘awful’ again, and suggesting we need roofed, air-conditioned stadia, or something. Harden up people!

All the best – The Haka Team


Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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6 Jun

NZ v Ireland Preview
by WAJ
6 Jun 2008

Whilst Dingo Deans goes quietly about his business whipping the Awestruckenfailians into shape on and around Manly Beach in Sydney, back in Aotearoa sections of the rugby public and media are whipping themselves into an awful frenzy now that that awful Henry has the spotlight again with the first All Black test of the year.

That it is all about Henry and Deans to me is very disappointing, this furore can’t be helped due to that horrific World Cup failure and Henry’s subsequent re-appointment. But re-appointed he was and shouldn’t we now get on with following the All Blacks – too simplistic by far I know!

So what can we expect on Saturday night?

By all accounts this is the biggest Irish challenge for many a year. They are full of confidence and are going to give us a real fright if not beat us. The pack is 7/8 Munster who held all before them in the European Cup just completed and beat the mighty Toulouse in the final.

Then they have O’Hara at flyhalf, of whom many pundits declare is one of the very best going around, and then there is the peerless BOD etc etc. But hold a minute – is this not the same team who couldn’t even make the World Cup playoffs, in fact barely raised a whimper all tournament, and then went on to finish a lacklustre fourth in the Six Nations.

And whilst Munster should rightly be proud of their achievement, they are basically a club side who would probably be competitive at best in the S14. They have a real weakness at scrum time with a less than solid front row, off set it must be said by a very good lineout. But all in all carry a reputation far bigger than it should be.

And what about the All Blacks. You don’t think they haven’t got something to play for – new caps desperate to make an impression, reselected players desperate to cement their spot, World Cup failures desperate to make amends, a captain desperate to show his credentials. Looking at the team there is a solid look about the front row and expect to see a lot of pressure on Irish ball from the Afoa/Hore axis, Thorn is just the type of player to revel in the tight against the stubborn Irish, a loose trio with size and mobility and some outside backs that will be wanting to put some inconsistent and unflattering S14 form behind them.

The key to a good performance could well be the enigma that is Ma’a Nonu – coming into the test with some of his most consistent rugby behind him over the latter stages of the S14, and outside the genius that is Dan Carter, he will be aimed at the less than robust O’Hara and out of position Wallace to cut a merry caper.

I expect a typical All Blacks v Irish game and result. The All Blacks need to absorb the early pressure and then use their more gifted loosies and backs to score a comfortable win.

All Blacks 15+