28 Jul

Groundhog Day anyone?
by Tracey Nelson
28 Jul 2008

Ground_HogDespite a heavy defeat in Sydney and back to back losses in the TriNations, the All Black coaches are continuing to maintain that the Sydney selections were right and the players “would have learned a great deal from the defeat”. Forgive us if we don’t quite believe that anymore, because this “learning” mantra has been trotted out since October in Cardiff last year yet it seems the learning curve has become a bit too steep.

Both Henry and Hansen emphasised at the post-match interviews in Sydney that the All Blacks played most of the rugby and the Wallabies had simply kicked our turnovers back. Thankfully Wayne Smith showed a little more sense in conceding that we had tried to play most of our rugby behind the gain line (not to mention inside our own 22), but once again is this not a lesson that should already have been learned and the problems rectified from past losses?

Suggestions were trotted out that a mixture of youth and inexperience were causal factors in the All Blacks’ error-ridden performance. However, claims that the All Blacks are an inexperienced group just don’t wash because so are the Australians. They had eight players who had never fronted the All Blacks before, so pulling the inexperience card is a pretty lame excuse with the playing field was pretty much level on that count. And if experience is such an important factor, why bench Conrad Smith in favour of a one-test rookie?

A comment from Hansen was ‘We have fought hard to get back and lead in two tests matches we have been behind in and shown a lot of composure and a lot of heart and desire to get back in front, and then maybe when we have done that we might have mentally relaxed.’

Might I suggest that it’s not the players so much as the coaches who mentally relaxed. The reasoning behind subbing the key players who had got us back in front on Saturday night is a mystery even Sherlock Holmes would struggle to solve. Perhaps in the case of Ellis and Hore it was injury related, but the introduction of Lauaki for Braid – our only specialist flanker – was the beginning of the end. In his 32 minutes on the field, Lauaki single handedly turned the ball over seven times and missed four tackles; mistakes that directly cost the All Blacks 14 points.

Minus Braid, and then seven minutes later the hard toiling Somerville, the All Blacks’ struggles at the breakdown increased. Claims that So’oialo was a one man band in this area are wide of the mark, as he only hit a total of 16 rucks out of the 110 the All Blacks had during the game. So’oialo has never been a significant factor at the breakdown, he stands one wide and this week was targetted by the Aussie pick-and-go runners where they made headway over the advantage line all night.

As for composure, the only side showing composure on Saturday night was Australia. Never did they panic, and despite losing a 12 point lead at one stage they simply bided their time and played for territory. We may have had 60% possession, but they had 70% of the territory and rugby is all about playing at the right end of the field (which is not in your own 22, should more than three of you think that).

The frightening thing is, Australia did nothing amazing or out of the ordinary to beat the All Blacks. They just played simple, structured rugby and forced the All Blacks into making mistakes. Other than a couple of linebreaks by Tuqiri, they never threatened to cut us to pieces. But they definitely out-passioned us, it was obvious they were hungrier for the win, more aggressive in the tackle and collision zone, and most importantly had done their homework and targetted the breakdown as one of our weaknesses. They also had the luxury of two kickers in their inside back pairing of Giteau and Barnes, another weakness in the All Black game as Nonu does not kick therefore his only options are to run or pass.

Wholesale changes are not going to be made, that would be a confession the original squad selections were wrong. Instead the coaches must figure out how to work with what they’ve got. In some positions we are very limited, in others we have too much of the same – a sameness that has been shown up by our southern hemisphere opponents. Either way, it’s become obvious that the players they have selected are not wholly capable of playing the high risk running game these coaches are so enamoured of.

Of concern to me is that our coaches have confessed they are struggling to find a game plan to make the most of the new laws. Quite how this is a problem when you have one of the best scrums in the world, the ELVs requiring the opposition backs to stand 5m back from it on defence, and one D. Carter (who made four electric linebreaks on Saturday night) at 1st 5 is beyond my reckoning. Why not take a leaf out of Australia’s book (or should that be Robbie Deans’ book) and play for territory instead of the high-risk offload game that is plainly not the way to win high pressure test matches – or do we need another five losses to ‘learn’ that lesson?

With more major injuries (Hore, Ellis, Cowan), aggravations of existing injuries (Williams) and only a 50:50 chance of McCaw making a comeback this weekend, problems sit like a cloud over the All Blacks. To win at Eden Park they will need to show more composure and structure than in Sydney, or else they risk the Wallabies breaking their 22 year drought in Auckland – a spectre that at the start of the TriNations seemed as remote as the Springboks getting their first ever win in Dunedin.

28 Jul

Game Stats: All Blacks v Wallabies, Sydney, 26 July 2008
by Tracey Nelson
28 Jul 2008

magicianThis TriNations/Bledisloe Cup test match against Australia was Daniel Carter’s 50th test appearance.

The usual analysis of the All Blacks game, being the First 3 to the Breakdown, tackle stats, penalties conceded, turnovers, the lineouts, and scrums.

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: Cowan for Ellis at 45min, but off again shortly after with injury until the 69th minute when he came back on. Mealamu for Hore and Lauaki for Braid at 48 min, Afoa for Somerville at 55 min and Smith for Nonu at 61min.

Team: Muliaina, Sivivatu, Kahui, Nonu, Tuitavake, Carter, Ellis, Kaino, So’oialo (c), Braid,Williams, Thorn, Somerville, Hore,
Reserves: Smith, Donald, Cowan, Lauaki, Boric, Afoa, Mealamu

Points Scored NZ Aus
Tries 3 4
Conversions 2 4
Penalties 0 1
Drop Goals 0 1
Total 19 34

Penalties/Free Kicks Conceded Pen FKs
NZ 4 9
Aus 3 11
Total 7 20

NZ Penalty Offences
Tackle Thorn 1 + Yellow Card
General offside So’oialo 1
Ruck offside So’oialo, Hore 2
Total 4

NZ Free Kick Offences
Tackle (holding on) 4
Tackle (Not rolling) 3
Tackle (going off feet) 2
Total 8

Aus Penalty Offences
Ruck offside 3
Total 3

Aus Free Kick Offences
Tackle (holding on) 4
Tackle (not rolling) 3
Tackle (going off feet) 2
Ruck 1
Other 1
Total 9

Turnovers Conceded by NZ
Knock-ons 16
Breakdown 10
Spilled 1
Total 27

Turnovers Conceded by Aus
Knock-ons 8
Breakdown 4
Total 12

First 3 to Breakdown Total Per half
Thorn 38 18+20
Somerville 36 23+13
Braid 35 30+5
Williams 28 17+11
Woodcock 25 13+12
Kaino 22 12+10
Hore 21 19+2
Kahui 18 12+6
Muliaina 17 10+7
So’oialo 16 7+9
Tuitavake 9 6+3
Sivivatu 9 5+4
Mealamu* 7
Nonu 7 7+0
Carter 7 5+2
Ellis 5 4+1
Afoa* 4
Lauaki* 4
Cowan* 2

Ball Carries
Kaino 8
Woodcock 7
So’oialo 7
Lauaki* 6
Somerville 6
Thorn 5
Williams 4
Afoa* 4
Hore 3
Mealamu* 2
Braid 2
Total 54

Completed Tackles and Assists Tackles Assists
Carter 12 (4+8) 1 (0+1)
Kaino 10 (2+8) 0
Lauaki* 7 0
So’oialo 7 (2+5) 3 1+2)
Mealamu* 6 0
Smith* 6 0
Nonu 6 (2+4) 1 (0+1)
Braid 5 (3+2) 2 (1+1)
Thorn 5 (2+3) 2 (0+2)
Afoa* 4 0
Cowan* 4 0
Ellis 4 (4+0) 0
Kahui 4 (1+3) 1 (1+0)
Tuitavake 4 (1+3) 0
Woodcock 4 (1+3) 4 (0+4)
Williams 2 (1+1) 1 (0+1)
Hore 1 (1+0) 3 (1+2)
Somerville 1 (0+1) 0
Sivivatu 1 (0+1) 0
Total 93 19

Missed and Slipped Tackles
Lauaki* 4
Smith* 4
Williams 4
Woodcock 2
Ellis 2
Somerville 1
Carter 1
Nonu 1
Muliaina 1
Sivivatu 1
Tuitavake 1
Total 22

NZ Line-outs Won From
First half 4 5
Second half 4 5
Total 8 10

NZ Line-out Jumpers Won From
Thorn 3 4
Williams 1 1
Kaino 1 1
Quick throws 2 2

Aus Line-outs Won From
First half 3 3
Second half 2 2
Total 5 5

NZ Scrums Won From
First half 4 4
Second half 3 3
Total 7 7

Aus Scrums Won From
First half 5 6
Second half 5 7
Total 10 13

 

27 Jul

Rubbish
by Paul Waite
27 Jul 2008

Another load of refuse arrives at a sorting plant.After a decent four test-win start to the international season, with the Three Wise Men complaining they didn’t have much time to prepare the All Blacks, we finally see what effect their coaching has when they do have the time.

Thankfully it isn’t often that I’m in a position where I’m struck almost speechless by the ineptitude shown in a test by the All Blacks, but this is one of those times. Where do we begin?

Well the beginning perhaps. It’s quite astonishing to see how the team has metamorphosed from a group of players who piled numbers into supporting the ball carrier, held a good offensive-defensive line, and knew when to kick for touch and when not to, when to catch the ball and when to let it bounce (here’s a clue – never) into one which now leaves the ball-carrier isolated repeatedly, let’s the attacking players run to them, leaves gaping defensive holes, can’t kick for toffee, and regularly let’s the ball bounce instead of claiming it.

Of course a few piss-poor issues have been hanging around for ages. The lineout woes, and the halfback delivery being but two.

And can somebody explain to me why Henry brought Braid off in the 48th minute and replaced him with Lauaki, and also replaced Hore with Mealamu, just when the All Blacks looked like they might be steadying the ship somewhat and getting some ascendancy at last? For the life of me I can’t fathom it. Against a team where reading the game, ball-handling skill, and agility are paramount, you replace your speedy, clever opensider and bring on something with all the animation of a dead side of beef gently swinging from a hook in a butchers shop.

Sione Lauaki. Ah, bless his cotton socks. His endless muppetry during the time he bumbled about on the pitch was an embarassment to the Black Jersey, and his turn-overs cost his team any chance it might have had of regaining momentum. At times it was so bad I wanted to avert my eyes, but the horror show kept drawing them back. I was at once fascinated and apalled to watch him pick up the ball from the back of a dominant scrum, and then rumble his massive behemoth form up the side of it only to encounter halfback Burgess coming at him and … be driven backwards. Not only does Lauaki not know how to hold the ball securely, and not only does he fail to read the game, or make tackles, or know what his team-mates are doing – he doesn’t even know how to be heavy!

Then of course there was the ‘try’ Elsom scored. Good on Rocky, he had a fine game. But a speedy slicer and dicer of defenses he is not. Of course when faced by a player looking as large, dynamic and vital as a terracotta warrior, he does appear to be bloody quick and nimble. The replays which showed Lauaki’s half-hearted jog, vaguely in the direction of Elsom, or at least where he had been half an hour before, brought tears to my eyes.

But it isn’t Lauaki’s fault. He’s out there doing his best. The fact that he isn’t a player who is within 5 million parsecs (which is a very long way, trust me) of being of test quality has been painfully obvious to everyone who follows the game here apart, that is, from our esteemed coaches, who have loyally kept picking him, and loyally kept watching him fuck things up on a rugby field whilst wearing a black jersey.

Why is this being done, you might ask. I know I’m asking it. No answers so far. It’s similar to the question ‘why do we have an appendix?’. Nobody knows, but we have it, and it’s useless.

Let’s consider the test itself for a moment. Not for too long mind, because it’s a bit of an unpleasant prospect and I can’t really stomach that much of it. After the match the Aussie commentators were in awe. They were calling it a ‘spectacle’. I did too, but not the way they meant it. It all depends on the word that precedes it. An ‘embarassing spectacle’ would fit, for instance.

What we had was an awful game of rugby, in terms of the cold analysis of the purist. There were some 25-30 mistakes from both teams in terms of fumbles, and missed tackles, and that ignores all the silly decisions that were got away with. In short it was a black comedy of errors, and the result was a skittery, maelstrom of uncontrolled, shite rugby from both teams. The Wallabies definitely shaded it, being the less uncontrolled, and so deservedly took the test win on that alone.

I’m not even going to waste my time describing the tries that were scored in the game this time. To me they were more or less meaningless. None of them were either well-earned, or the result of special skill, strength or daring, and they simply capitalised on varying numbers of mistakes and stupidities from both teams. It was a shit-fest.

My fervent hope is that I never see another performance as utterly un-All Black-like as this again. The degree of disorganisation to which the team has sunk is profoundly disturbing, and to watch them running around largely like headless chooks both in defence and on attack is a sad thing to behold. The only times the All Blacks looked menacing was at scrum time, and on the odd break in broken play, and that is an indictment.

Unfortunately I’m fairly convinced that I’m about to witness more of the same. I have officially lost faith in this tri-umvirate of All Black coachingdom. Henry, Hansen and Smith, you are NOT doing the job required. Furthermore, you stand accused of the following crimes against the Black Jersey, to wit:

  • failing to coach the team to support the ball-carrier at all times, but especially at the breakdown
  • failing to rectify the problems with the line-out despite it being a problem for literally years
  • failing to coach the team to put pressure on their own kicks
  • failing to coach the team such that the half knows what everyone is going to do so as to deliver quick ball
  • failing to coach how to compete in the air for restarts, on defence, and in claiming the ball in general play
  • failing to coach the defence to the required standard
  • failing to see that Sione Lauaki is no test player, and never ever looked like being one either
  • failing to uphold the mana of the Black Jersey by always picking the best player for a given position

I am booked in for Eden Park next week, and we are expecting Richie McCaw back at last. He will make a definite difference to the team, however to imagine that his absence has caused the disintegration that we’ve witnessed over the past couple of tests is nonsense.

The coaches have to stand up and take this one on the nose. That performance over in Sydney was simply rubbish, and not excusable in any way shape or form by using the normal ‘well give them credit they were good..’ flannel.

The All Blacks were crap tonight, and the reason is the coaches haven’t managed to get them playing with the tactics, passion and gameplan that we know this team is capable of.

The buck stops at their collective desk.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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22 Jul

My Team versus My Coach
by Tracey Nelson
22 Jul 2008

So what happens when a dyed-in-the-wool Cantab suddenly has to watch her favourite coach take on her national side? Does she toss a coin, shut her eyes and pretend it’s not happening, or find something else to do that evening? Something else? Not watch the game?! Come on, are you mad???!

I’m a Cantab. I’ve never denied it and I’m proud to be one. Rugby is in our blood down this way, and it runs deep and rich thanks to the very proud history of our rugby sides. But I’m also a New Zealander, and the All Blacks are My Team. They are the team I will crawl out of bed at 4am in the morning to watch play live overseas, the team I stand in the wind and rain each year to support, the team that carries the on the legend of the black jersey. This is the way it’s always been. I support Canterbury, I support the Crusaders, and I support the All Blacks. The allegiance merely slides up the scale. Simple as breathing really. But with this weekend looming, there is a sudden imperceptible shift in my rugby universe. Because this weekend My Team is taking on My Coach.

Robbie Deans, one of Canterbury’s favourite sons, is undoubtedly the most successful professional rugby coach the game has seen to date. But that success can be measured not just from what has happened on the field, but alsofrom what has happened off the field. He has an uncanny knack of identifying talent and getting the right “mix” in his squad of players, and then empowers them to use those talents to play his game plan. For me personally, it’s watching those game plans unfold on the field and his players rising to meet the challenge that draws me like a moth to a flame.

Sometimes you can second guess him before kick off, have an idea what the gameplan is and enjoy watching the players implement it. Other times you’re not quite sure what the plan is going to be, or perhaps why a certain player has been selected, but then the game devlops and it all becomes clear. I like order, I like accuracy, and I like watching Deans’ teams play because I understand what they are trying to do. Some call it clinical rugby, I call it precision.

Meanwhile, I find myself struggling to understand what My Team is trying to do. At times there are glimpses, a flash of brilliance as the backline pulls off a move to perfection. At other times it’s like watching a drowning man floundering in the water as balls are allowed to bounce, restarts are fluffed and combinations are tried then discarded. Most of the time I can’tcomprehend what the team is trying to do, and other than the odd set piece move can’t see the team implementing any sort of obvious gameplan. There seems to be a myriad of layers to My Team – a head coach, a forwards coach, a backs coach, a scrum coach, a lineout coach, a kicking coach, a Senior Leadership group, a team to play England, a team to play the Springboks and a team to play Australia. Too many voices, too many plans, too much complexity.

Whereas across the Tasman there is now one voice. There is no micro-management, the players are given the plan and as long as they carry it out they can use whatever skills are in their arsenal to do so. Robbie Deans will have used every piece of video footage and personal knowledge at his disposal to work out his opposition’s weaknesses, and formatted a plan to use his team’s strengths to attack it. He will have a game plan (and a Plan B), and the players will be allowed to play it as they see fit.

Can I say the same of the All Blacks? I’m not too sure. While Deans states “experience counts”, My Team’s coaches roll out explanations about “picking the best team to suit this game” and vague references about players not starting because they’re “a bit battered and bruised”. Picking a specialist centre on the bench seems a strange thing to do, and for the life of me I cannot fathom why we have done that. Trying to get McCaw back as quickly as possible I do understand. Likewise picking a specialist opensider in Daniel Braid should McCaw not be fit to start.

Don’t get me wrong, I will be supporting My Team this weekend and wanting them to win. We need to win this game, not to mention there’s that little silver mug the Bledisloe Cup up for stakes. But I will also be waiting to see what My Coach comes up with, there will be a part of me that will want to see it work. So it’s going to be a funny old Saturday night, but one that promises to be full of intrigue and excitement, and no doubt a few twists and turns as the game unfolds.

Australia v New Zealand, 10pm NZ time, Sydney, Australia

14 Jul

GAME STATS: All Blacks v Springboks, Dunedin, 12 July 2008
by Tracey Nelson
14 Jul 2008

This test marked 100 years of test match rugby at Carisbrook. It was the first test win in New Zealand for South Africa since Wellington, 1998 and broke the All Blacks’ run of 30 consecutive home wins. Percy Montgomery brought up 100 test points against New Zealand with his first penalty goal of the evening.

The usual analysis of the All Blacks game, being the First 3 to the Breakdown, tackle stats, penalties conceded, turnovers, the lineouts, and scrums.

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. (O’Neill for Williams 23 min, MacDonald for Sivivatu 40 min, Lauaki for Kaino 53 min, Mealamu for Hore 55 min, Tialata for Afoa 69 min).

Team: Muliaina, Sivivatu, Smith, Nonu, Wulf, Carter, Ellis, Kaino, So’oialo (c), Thomson, Williams, Boric, Afoa, Hore, Woodcock
Reserves: MacDonald, Donald, Cowan, Lauaki, O’Neill, Tialata, Mealamu

Overall NZ SA
Possession 58% 42%
Territory 66% 34%
Half time 15 17
Full time 28 30

Points Scored NZ SA
Tries Lauaki Pietersen, Januarie
Conversions Carter (1) Steyn (1)
Penalties Carter (6) Montgomery (3) James (1)

Penalties/Free Kicks Conceded Pen FKs
NZ 8 8
SA 8 8
Total 16 16

NZ Penalty Offences
Tackle MacDonald 1
General offside Thomson 1
Ruck offside Thomson 1
Maul offside Williams 1
Foul play Thomson (x2), So’oialo, O’Neill 4
Total   8

NZ Free Kick Offences
Tackle 5
Linout 1
Scrum 1
Total 7

SA Penalty Offences
Tackle 2
Foul play 3
Offside 3
Total 8
Yellow card 1

SA Free Kick Offences
Tackle 6
Going off feet 1
Not 10m 1
Lineout 1
Total 9

Turnovers Conceded by NZ
Knock-ons 4
Breakdown 4
Spilled 1
Lineouts 4
Other 2
Total 15

Turnovers Conceded by SA
Knock-ons 11
Breakdown 2
Forward pass 1
Other 2
Total 16

First 3 to Breakdown Total Per half
Woodcock 39 14+25
Boric 35 16+19
O’Neill* 33 5+28
Thomson 29 10+19
So’oialo 25 11+14
Afoa 19 9+10
Smith 17 7+10
Hore 13 6+7
Kaino 12 7+5
Wulf 12 4+8
Mealamu* 9  
MacDonald* 7  
Nonu 7 2+5
Williams 6  
Lauaki* 6  
Carter 6 1+5
Muliaina 5 1+4
Tialata* 4  
Ellis 4 3+1
Sivivatu 2  

Ball Carries
Lauaki* 7
So’oialo 6
Woodcock 6
Boric 6
Thomson 6
Afoa 5
Tialata* 4
Mealamu* 3
Hore 3
Kaino 2
Williams 1
O’Neill 1
Total 50

Completed Tackles and Assists Tackles Assists
Thomson 10 (7+3) 2 (2+0)
Boric 7 (4+3) 4 (3+1)
Ellis 7 (3+4) 0
Afoa 5 (4+1) 2 (2+0)
So’oialo 5 (2+3) 0
O’Neill* 4 (2+2) 0
Woodcock 4 (3+1) 2 (1+1)
Hore 4 (2+2) 1 (1+0)
Muliaina 4 (3+1) 1 (0+1)
Nonu 4 (3+1) 0
Smith 4 (1+3) 0
Wulf 4 (2+2) 0
MacDonald* 3 0
Kaino 3 (2+1) 1 (0+1)
Carter 3 (0+3) 1 (0+1)
Mealamu* 1 0
Lauaki* 1 0
Williams 0 1
Total 73 15

Missed and Slipped Tackles
Hore 1
Afoa 1
Nonu 1
Muliaina 1
Mealamu 1
Total 5

NZ Line-outs Won From
First half 3 4
Second half 2 5
Total 5 9

NZ Line-out Jumpers Won From
Williams 1 1
Kaino 1 1
Boric 1 1
O’Neill 1 4
Long throw 0 1
Quick throws 1 1

SA Line-outs Won From
First half 9 9
Second half 4 4
Total 13 13

NZ Scrums Won From
First half 5 5
Second half 5 5
Total 10 10

SA Scrums Won From
First half 3 3
Second half 1 1
Total 4 4

12 Jul

Boks Tame Blacks
by Paul Waite
12 Jul 2008

two-large-muppetsCongratulations to the Springboks for snatching what looked to be an improbable win by 30-28, due to some awesomely inept defence from Tialata and Mealamu at a ruck when the match seemed to be safely sewn up for the home team.

The game was what one might term ‘odd’. In the first half the All Blacks looked flat, and clueless. All of the energy and drive shown last week was missing. The Springboks played with great vigour, but apart from some slightly better kicking, and a bit more accuracy they seemed to be very much the same kind of proposition.

Of course both teams appeared to be somewhat taken aback by the jittery, twittery little performance being put on by their referee for the night. Newbie Matt Goddard had a lot to say to both sides in this test, which was difficult, because he seemed to be so out of breath he could hardly talk at times. Perhaps that’s why he blew the whistle so often; to keep his heart-rate from getting dangerously high. Suffice to say both the teams and the game suffered because of the stop-start cadence imposed by the procession of infringements his eagle-eye spotted. The thing with rugby is, there is an infringement at each and every collision and really, a test referee should be doing a tad better than Goddard did, before he gets high enough to ruin my evening’s viewing. It’s just a sad indictment of the standard of refereeing World-wide at present.

Not that Goddard determined the result, unlike He Who Shall Not Be Named (ie. Wayne Barnes). He just screwed the game over, basically, which was a pity.

Speaking of which, that first half needs to be erased from the collective rugby memory of The World At Large. All copies of video-tape, digital media, and sundry photos and writing (including this probably!) should be destroyed forthwith. They were a blight on the game, and should be forgotten.

And how the All Blacks managed to scrape their way to 15-17 at half-time is something I’ll never quite understand. The Boks were about twice as good as they were, mainly because the All Blacks were so utterly crap. There was a real lack of energy in the tackles, and very little drive and enterprise on attack. They were only half the team which took the field last week. It says quite a lot about the toothless Springbok attack that it couldn’t turn this fortune into more points than it managed by half-time.

In the second half things got better for the All Black fan. The team had seemed to shake itself and wake from a slumber, and started piling into it’s work on defence and attack. Mils Muliaina shifting to wing in place of Sivivatu, and Macca coming on at fullback also helped.

Some good territorial gains got us thinking and trying stuff again, and Carter nearly sent Wulf in on the 53 minute mark with a nice kick to the corner.

At that point Lauaki replaced Kaino, who had had a very average game compared to last week. He had an immediate effect, scoring a nice try on the 55th minute after a series of rucks saw the ball come out to Smith who straightened, ducked under the obligatory Butch James coat-hanger, and off-loaded to Ellis who fed the charging Lauaki to go over and score. Carter converted to make it 22-17 to the All Blacks.

At this point we fans were happier, but not ecstatic. The disjointedness of the team was apparent throughout the whole test, with mis-communication causing such issues as the ball being left to bounce with nobody claiming it, and lack of support and anticipation in what they were doing. In short, with such a slim lead, it looked like an accident waiting to happen, and happen it did, but more of the game first.

After the Lauaki try, Mealamu came on for Hore, which is always a tactical mistake, because we know that good ‘ol Kev is going to throw all his lineout ball to the opposition. In a tight test, I’d have stuck with Hore, who only throws it to them sometimes.

Back to the play, and the next scoring moment was care of one of the ARSES (Assistant Referee So Everyone Suffers).

Having tried to get South Africa three points already 3 minutes earlier by penalising an All Black for ‘continuing to tackle a player after the ball has gone’ (he expects a lock in full tackle-flight to stop in mid-air, apparently), only to see Monty miss it, he had to make his Marks on the test (for it was he). So he penalised MacDonald for a high tackle which in replay was so minor as to be totally ignorable by any normal person. He told the referee it was ‘reckless’. Gosh, that describes the whole of rugby to a tee. Let’s stop playing it then. That made the scores 22-20.

Three minutes later Carter replied with a drop-kick to make it 25-20, and this was followed by some intense All Black pressure which saw them spend the next 6 minutes or so camped in or about the Springbok 22m. This pressure resulted in the wheels really coming off for the visitors when Matfield was yellow-carded for a high-tackle on Lauaki. Replays showed, like everything else in this test, the decision was just more of the prissy, pedantic bollocks that is polluting this game to the point I’m seriously questioning whether eventually there will be any point in watching it at all.

Anyway, there they were, this Springbok team, under the cosh from a stoked-up All Blacks team, with only 14 men on the field and, after Carter had nailed the penalty for Matfield’s infringment, 28-23 down on the score-board with 7 minutes left on the clock.

Dead and buried normally, but not tonight Josephine.

Next thing, we had a pretty ordinary ruck up just in the All Black 22m, with both sides squaring off like they’ve done thoughout the test. Januarie got the ball, looked up and saw two massive muppets standing motionless in front of him like a pair of large shop dummies. The little Bok halfback anxiously scanned both faces, noted the defocussed, glazed eyes of two of the stupidest players ever to wear The Black Jersey and quickly nipped in between them being careful not to disturb their sleep. Nice one.

A quick scamper, a lovely chip over the surprised fullback, who was not really expecting this turn of events, and we have a nice try with a conversion to follow.

The silly thing about Januarie’s burst through the middle was that he’d done it several times already. Hello All Blacks? Is Mr. Brain at home? Oh well, never mind, put it down to experience … we hope.

Of course there followed the obligatory panicky nonsense where the beaten All Blacks tried to produce a similar miracle try but unfortunately none of the Springboks saw fit to drop into a zombie-like state or indulge in a spot of Zen meditation to provide a gap, even though there were only 14 of them. They know a test win when it’s been served to them on a silver platter, and they weren’t going to be sending it back to the kitchen, thankyou very much!

Ok, so let’s hope this side learn something from the loss, which they should not have sustained. That is the worst kind of loss there is – one where you had the test won, and then lose it through a dumbass mistake.

Let’s hope they reflect on that over the coming two week break before taking on Australia, who will have seen all of the glaring weaknesses in this All Black team.

Basically one of the lessons to be learned is that this team does not have the cohesion, skills and confidence throughout to be able to take the field lacking the passion, commitment and shear physicality that they brought to their first four tests this season. Without that they are vulnerable, as tonight’s result showed.

The only way they will be able to expunge this defeat is to return the favour, with interest, on South African soil – and they know that.

South Africa 30
JP Pietersen, Ricky Januarie tries, Percy Montgomery 3 pen, Butch James 2 pen, drop goal, Francois Steyn con
New Zealand 28
Sione Lauaki try, Dan Carter 6 pen, con, drop goal

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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7 Jul

GAME STATS: All Blacks v Springboks, Wellington, 5 July 2008
by Tracey Nelson
7 Jul 2008

This was the 75th test match between New Zealand and South Africa. The last time South Africa won a test match in New Zealand was in Wellington, 1998. This win stretched the All Blacks’ home test winning streak to 30. It was Ali William’s 50th test, and Greg Somerville’s 60th.

The usual analysis of the All Blacks game, being the First 3 to the Breakdown, tackle stats, penalties conceded, turnovers, the lineouts, and scrums.

Some notes on these stats:

First Three to the Breakdown stats are looking for those players getting to the tackle/breakdown quickly and 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.

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

Points Scored NZ SA
Tries 1 1
Conversions 1 0
Penalties 4 1
Total 19 8

Penalties/Free Kicks Conceded Pen FKs
NZ 6 9
SA 7 8
Total 13 17

Overall NZ SA
Possession 59% 41%
Territory 44% 56%

NZ Penalty Offences
Tackle Thomson, Thorn 2
Offside Hore, Kaino 2
Scrum Woodcock 2
Obstruction Hore 1
Total   7

SA Penalty Offences
Tackle 4
Offside 4
Total 8

Turnovers Conceded by NZ
Knock-ons 8
Tackle 5
Ruck 2
Intercepted pass 1
Lineouts 6
Total 22

First 3 to Breakdown Total Per half
Hore 30 15+15
Thomson 28 18+10
Thorn 27 12+15
Somerville 25 12+13
Williams 23 15+8
Kaino 23 11+12
Woodcock 22 13+9
So’oialo 19 11+8
Smith 14 6+8
Muliaina 13 4+9
Wulf 10 2+8
Nonu 8 5+3
Sivivatu 6 1+5
MacDonald* 5  
Ellis 5 1+4
Lauaki* 4  
Carter 4 2+2
Mealamu* 1  

Ball Carries
Kaino 9
Lauaki* 6
So’oialo 6
Hore 6
Woodcock 6
Thorn 5
Williams 5
Somerville 3
Mealamu* 2
Thomson 1
Tialata 1
Total 50

Completed Tackles and Assists Tackles Assists
So’oialo 9 (4+5) 3 (1+2)
Thorn 8 (5+3) 4 (2+2)
Carter 8 (4+4) 2 (2+0)
Woodcock 7 (4+3) 5 (3+2)
Somerville 7 (3+4) 3 (2+1)
Smith 6 (3+3) 1 (0+1)
Ellis 6 (1+5) 0
Sivivatu 5 (2+3) 0
Kaino 4 (3+1) 2 (1+1)
Nonu 4 (3+1) 2 (0+2)
Muliaina 4 (2+2) 1 (0+1)
Thomson 3 (1+2) 5 (3+2)
Williams 3 (0+3) 1 (0+1)
Hore 2 (2+0) 6 (3+3)
Wulf 2 (2+0) 2 (1+1)
Lauaki* 1 1
Tialata* 1 0
Total 80 38

Missed and Slipped Tackles
Carter 5
So’oialo 2
Sivivatu 2
Ellis 1
Nonu 1
Kaino 1
Total 12

NZ Line-outs Won From
First half 8 9
Second half 5 10
Total 13 19

NZ Line-out Jumpers Won From
Williams 6 8
Kaino 3 6
Thorn 1 1
Long throw 0 1
Quick throws 3 3

SA Line-outs Won From
First half 2 3
Second half 3 4
Total 5 7

NZ Scrums Won From
First half 5 5
Second half 8 8
Total 13 13

SA Scrums Won From
First half 5 6
Second half 5 5
Total 10 11

5 Jul

Blacks Tame Boks
by Paul Waite
5 Jul 2008

The All Blacks bested the World Champion Springboks 19-8 at The Caketin after a titanic clash which brought back memories of some classic test matches between these two oldest of foes. Despite the inclement weather the game was amply spiced with large helpings of hunger, niggle, massive collisions up front, and cut and thrust out wide.

Looking at the test match as a whole, there was a feeling that this Springbok team was a little off the pace as a combination, and also a a tad behind the 8-ball with the ELV’s. They will surely be better in both areas next week.

Against that the Bok lineout was better than the All Blacks’, but that said, they weren’t allowed to capitalise too much on it due to the All Blacks’ tactics. The kicking for territory in particular was very good, and by keeping the ball in play the All Blacks minimised the number of times the Boks threw to their own lineout.

With the halftime whistle in the offing, and the All Blacks ahead 9-3 from penatlies, Sivivatu let them down somewhat by providing a handy gap on the short-side for Habana to make a break and score. With 3 on 3, the All Black winger drifted off his man, and was quite simply out-stepped by de Villiers who then fed the flying Habana for a clear run at the try-line. Butch James, who had a largely unhappy test, missed the conversion and the All Blacks took a narrow 9-8 lead into the changing sheds at half-time.

The second half saw the All Blacks start very strongly. Looking back on it, the first 15 minutes saw a large terrirorial and possession advantage accrue to the men in black, and if anything, they stepped up the intensity and speed at which they were playing the game. Every time the Boks got the ball they found themselves set upon by a pack of ravening black shirts, and when the All Blacks had the ball they made in-roads into the Bok defence which seemed to be getting more and more desperate and prone to making mistakes as the game wore on.

Dan Carter was playing superbly as usual, running the backline like a Swiss Watch. Halfway through the second half it all came right after a long series of phases. From the final ruck the ball came across to the left through Carter who delayed his pass beautifully to remove Matfield from the defensive equation before feeding Brad Thorn who in turn kept a nice straight line before offloading to Kaino. The big Number 8 then dummied a delivery to So’oialo before going over for a nice try, the best of the test.

Later on a lovely chip into the in-goal
on the right wing seemed to have brought a deserved second try to Jerome
Kaino, but the touch judge (sorry, Assistant Referee) flagged him for
being in front of the kicker. Replays showed otherwise, but that’s life
in the fast lane. A further penalty gave the All Blacks a bit more breathing room, but they didn’t really need it, and always looked the stronger and better of the two teams on the night. It was a very good start to the Tri-Nations campaign for the All Blacks, especially with the various injury issues which have arisen over the past weeks.

Despite the win the All Blacks undoubtedly have a lot of room to improve. Once again there were times when a ball in the air wasn’t claimed or covered properly, and the same with one or two on the ground. Indecision, lack of communication and practice together. They also looked very awkward at times trying to execute pick and go in the first half. That seemed to be remedied after halftime and some more fluency in the decision-making and execution came. Finally the All Blacks won’t be happy with the number of slipped tackles, despite the wet conditions.

But overall it would be wrong to gripe. This performance was full of guts and committment from the All Blacks. They out-passioned, out-thought and out-skilled the Springboks. They pushed and pressured the South Africans at every turn, and forced them to make errors. And despite the odd missed tackle mentioned above, the All Blacks effectively dominated their opponents right across the field with their defence.

Once again Dan Carter could be single out for some lovely touches. The way he made Kaino’s try has already been described, but over the whole game he was a threat, and mixed his running, passing and kicking game very well, keeping the Bok defence guessing at all times.

Whilst we are singling players out, Kaino himself had a great game. His hard, intelligent running at defences really asks all the right questions, and his work off the back of the scrum is coming on. Ali Williams also stood tall. Without him there the All Blacks would quite possibly have been caught short in the pack. Although the lineout didn’t fare that well overall, the All Black scrum destroyed their opponents, which must have pleased the coaches. Tony ‘The Myth ‘ Woodcock was in awesome form once again, just in case any Australians are reading this ;-)

Looking at the loose-forwards as a trio, there was a distinct impression that there wasn’t enough presence and not enough foraging strength at the breakdown. The McCaw factor just wasn’t there. Fixing this however will be difficult unless Daniel Braid is fit and it’s probable that the same trio will be given a chance in Dunedin, unless Chris Masoe gets a spot. Given the consistent disposition of Sione Lauaki to turn the ball over in every start he has made this season, including this test, Masoe would seem to be a very good option at this point.

But for now, the All Blacks can congratulate themselves on a fantastic performance, and a well-deserved win against the Old Foes, the Springboks.

Finally, a message to the Springbok management and hooker Smit.

There have been some rumblings that an official complaint may be made over Thorn’s ‘up-ending’ of Smit (which was NOT a spear tackle incidently). The assertion is that this up-ending caused the injury which Smit had to leave the field with.

In the first place Smit provoked Thorn, by deliberately mashing down on his head (and therefore his neck) when getting up from a ruck. In the second place, we only have Smit’s word that this caused his groin injury. More likely it was caused by his abrupt return to top test rugby against New Zealand, fresh from counting his money and relaxing for a season playing against French clubs which had something to do with that.

I would urge the South African management team to think very carefully about their response to this. It was a heat-of-the-moment exchange the likes of which have been common in all All Blacks v. Springbok tests in history, and nothing more. It was dealt with appropriately on the pitch.

And one final point. If the Springboks want to face an even more motivated team wearing Black in the frozen depths of Dunedin next week, then they should go right ahead and push for the citing.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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4 Jul

All Black Report Card
by Tracey Nelson
4 Jul 2008

How have the All Blacks performed in the opening three tests of 2008, as they sit poised to kick the 2008 TriNations off with a match against the reigning World Cup holders, South Africa?

SCRUMS 8/10
Pretty solid performance first up against Ireland, with Afoa and Tialata propping the scrum. Very good performances against England on our own feed, although a few question marks remain about the stability of the scrum on the English feed. Whether it was their loosehead sitting behind his hooker, the English front row pulling back or what – we’ll never know. But it will be imperative for the All Blacks to gain an edge in this department, and with Woodcock and Somerville back from injury and the scrummaging power of Thorn in the second row, this should be an area of dominance. Combine that with the ELV where both backline must be 5m back from the hindmost foot of the scrum, you can look for the All Blacks to use the scrum as their weapon of choice when launching set piece moves during the TriNations.

LINEOUTS 6/10
Still the perennial problem of far too much movement within the line combined with too much time taken to make the throw. The lineouts remain an area opposition teams mark out as a weakness in the All Black game, and it remains a big concern going up against the likes of the Bok pairing of Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield, and the Aussie locks Sharpe, Horwill and Mumm. Things haven’t been helped with ever-changing combinations in the pack so far this year (some albeit to injury), making it hard to cement combinations between jumpers and lifters, and in some ways having more options in the lineout has been more of a hindrance than help on our own throw. There remain question marks as to why Thorn is being used as a jumper at the back, why we do not consistently contest on the opposition throw, and why we set our lineout quickly but then take so long to get the call to the thrower and the ball thrown in. While the shortened five man lineout worked reasonably well against England, expect the Boks and Wallabies to have worked out exactly where the ball will be going and to contest hard on every All Black throw. Injury to key lineout man Williams will be the main worry.

THE BREAKDOWN 8/10
England showed that getting numbers to the tackle and driving over the ball can still win you turnover possession at the breakdown. Because of the wide, running game the All Blacks prefer to play, they tend not to commit large numbers of players to the breakdown and often rely on just three or four players to secure the ball. This leaves them vulnerable to the counter ruck, and teams with bulk and power such as England and South Africa are quick to seize on it. Minus McCaw’s speed while he is out with his ankle injury, the All Blacks will need to get more players to the breakdown to secure the ball in the tackle else risk losing it in the turnover to the likes of Schalk Burger, George Smith and Phil Waugh. Despite claims by the All Blacks that they have been playing a left-right flank game, Haka’s stats have shown that there is still a discrepancy in workrate at the breakdown. It will be vital for captain So’oialo to up his work rate and lead the way for his rookie loosies, who are going up against two very experienced loose forward packs. In the All Blacks’ favour is the mobility of their tight five, who consistently shine in the breakdown and tackle stats.

ATTACK 9/10
The ability of this team to score from set pieces is a major feather in their cap. To be pulling set piece moves off with such seeming ease so early in the season with a new backline is nothing to be sniffed at. The backs have scored some very tidy tries from set piece moves during the Iveco series, although the defensive effort from England didn’t really test the execution of the moves too much, if at all. At long last we are starting to see some settled selections in the midfield, and Dan Carter has had the luxury of having the same halfback and 2nd 5 combo for three consecutive test matches. Nonu continues to impress even his biggest doubters in the role of 2nd 5, and there is little doubt that we have two genuine centres in Smith and Kahui. Most pleasing has been seeing the backline actually running onto passes this year, and there is no doubt this has much to do with the gelling of combinations. Hopefully we will see that consistency of selections continue to grow. Add to all this Carter’s near perfect goal kicking stats this international season, then attack is one area the All Blacks simply need to keep humming along.

DEFENCE 6/10

There have been noises from the coaches that they weren’t happy with some of their defensive efforts during the Iveco series, and certainly the All Blacks do not look to be firing on all cylinders in this department. Slow reaction to opposition quick taps, and the odd defender bolting out of the line have allowed the opposition to score. Fringe defence around the rucks has also shown some frailty, although once again this comes back to the numbers the All Blacks commit (or not, in this case) to the breakdown. So while defence from set piece has so far been sound, it is the scrambling defence that requires some work – and area that will be vital under the ELVs.

OVERALL STRENGTHS: Scrum, attack, Carter
MAJOR WEAKNESSES: Lineout, being without captain McCaw for another month, lack of experience on the bench