16 Sep

GAME STATS: Wallabies v All Blacks, Brisbane, 13 September 2008
by Tracey Nelson
16 Sep 2008

The usual analysis of the All Blacks game, being the First 3 to the Breakdown, tackle stats, penalties conceded, turnovers, the lineouts, and scrums. This was Greg Somerville’s 65th test at prop, and probably his last All Black game as he heads to Europe at the end of the year.

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: Mealamu for Hore at 50min, Aofa for Somerville at 50 min, Donald for Nonu at 50 min, Weepu for Cowan at 50 min, and Boric for Thorn at 78 min.

Team: Muliaina, Kahui, Smith, Nonu, Sivivatu, Carter, Cowan, So’oialo, Kaino, McCaw (c), Williams, Thorn, Somerville, Hore, Woodcock
Reserves: Toeava, Donald, Weepu, Thomson, Boric, Afoa, Mealam

Points Scored NZ Aus
Tries 4 (Muliaina,Woodcock, Weepu, Carter) 3 (Ashley-Cooper, Horwill, Cross)
Conversions 4 3
Penalties 0 1
Total 28 24

Penalties/Free Kicks Conceded Pen FKs
NZ 11 6
Aus 12 2
Total 23 8

NZ Penalty Offences
Ruck offside McCaw, Cowan, Woodcock 3
General offside Somerville 1
Lineout Williams 1
Foul play McCaw 1
Total   6

NZ Free Kick Offences
Tackle 7
Ruck 1
Not 10m 1
Scrum 2
Total 11

Aus Penalty Offences
Ruck offside 1
Foul play 1
Total 2

Aus Free Kick Offences
Tackle 8
Ruck 3
Throwing ball away 1
Total 7

Turnovers Conceded by NZ
Knock-ons 10
Breakdown 3
Spilled 1
Other 2
Total 16

Turnovers Conceded by Aus
Knock-ons 2
Breakdown 9
Spilled 1
Other 2
Total 14

First 3 to Breakdown Total Per half
McCaw 35 12+23
Thorn 32 17+15
Woodcock 25 11+14
Hore 21 17+4
Williams 20 8+12
So’oialo 20 5+15
Somerville 15 12+3
Mealamu* 14  
Kaino 13 3+10
Sivivatu 11 6+5
Afoa* 9  
Smith 8 2+6
Kahui 8 4+4
Carter 7 2+5
Muliaina 7 3+4
Donald* 5  
Nonu 4 3+1
Boric* 1  
Weepu* 1  

Ball Carries
So’oialo 9
Kaino 4
Williams 3
Thorn 3
Hore 3
Afoa* 3
Mealamu* 1
Woodcock 1
McCaw 1
Somerville 1
Total 29

Completed Tackles and Assists Tackles Assists
Williams 15 (6+9) 3 (3+0)
Carter 15 (6+9) 0
McCaw 12 (8+4) 6 (2+4)
So’oialo 12 (5+7) 0 (0+3)
Smith 12 (5+7) 3 (3+0)
Kaino 12 (6+6) 1 (0+1)
Woodcock 10 (5+5) 3 (2+1)
Sivivatu 8 (3+5) 1 (0+1)
Thorn 7 (4+3) 8 (3+5)
Somerville 7 (6+1) 3 (3+0)
Afoa* 6 1
Hore 5 (4+1) 2 (2+0)
Cowan 4 (2+2) 3 (3+0)
Muliaina 4 (2+2) 0
Mealamu* 3 1
Donald* 3 0
Nonu 2 (1+1) 2 (2+0)
Boric* 2 1
Kahui 1 (0+1) 0
Total 140 41

Missed and Slipped Tackles
Cowan 3
So’oialo 3
Kahui 3
Thorn 2
Kaino 2
Muliaina 2
Woodcock 1
Williams 1
McCaw 1
Carter 1
Smith 1
Afoa 1
Total 21

NZ Line-outs Won From
First half 3 4
Second half 2 2
Total 5 6

NZ Line-out Jumpers Won From
Williams 2 3
Thorn 2 2
Cowan 1 1

Aus Line-outs Won From
First half 7 7
Second half 4 5
Total 11 12

NZ Scrums Won From
First half 4 5
Second half 3 4
Total 7 9

Aus Scrums Won From
First half 6 6
Second half 4 4
Total 10 10

14 Sep

A Heart-stopper At Ballymore
by Paul Waite
14 Sep 2008

solr_pmAll you middle-aged New Zealand fans who were previously worried about the health of the old ticker can be assured that it must be as strong as an ox’s this morning. If you made it through the hair-raising final five minutes of this test, where heart-rates throughout the land must have been pushed up into the zone labeled “Seek Urgent Medical Assistance” on your local gym’s exer-cycle consoles, are either now recovering nicely in the CCU, or are going to live to get a birthday telegram from the Queen.

It wasn’t a test for the rugby purist, that’s for sure. But the sight of Richie McCaw hoisting the Bledisloe Cup after a nail-biting 4-point win was enough to warm the heart of any All Black fan.

The win away from home in a Wallaby stronghold was never going to be easy. Coming into it after three weeks of no rugby, apart from the training rout against Samoa ‘C’ in New Plymouth, was always going to be the toughest element of the campaign, and so it proved with the All Blacks looking decidedly off the pace for the first 50 minutes.

But they rose to the occasion, dug deep and turned in a stunning 25 minutes, putting on 21 unanswered points, and essentially putting the Bledisloe Cup in the cupboard for another year. Almost.

With around 5 minutes left, and with an 11-point lead the Wallabies were staring down the barrell of a two-try deficit. They had to cross the All Black line twice to win. At that stage of the test it looked impossible, due to the fact that the All Blacks had been dominating the breakdown so strongly for the previous 25 minutes. But that didn’t daunt the Australians who swept down the left with a fantastic piece of interplay between Tuquiri, Giteau, Cross and Mortlock. The ensuing rucks saw a brave challenge thwarted by strong Black defence again and the New Zealanders won a defensive 5m scrum. With front-row replacements on, and Brad Thorne also subbed, the Black scrum machine faltered. Afoa’s tight-head side was wheeled backwards and Kaplan ruled a turnover. The Wallabies then scored through Ryan Cross to bring them within 4 points.

The remaining 3 and a half minutes of the test were a heart-stopping blur, as the Wallabies, who had looked extremely dangerous running the ball all game, carried it up-field 60-70 metres with some at times brilliant inter-plays. The All Blacks finally got their hands on it with yet another breakdown turnover, and Weepu cleared the ball out of the ground to set the seal on it.

The first half belonged to the home team, who enjoyed more or less all of the possession, and despite the All Blacks drawing first blood with a nice try to Mils Muliaina in the right-hand corner. It came from a rare All Black attack through a Jimmy Cowan burst up the middle, and a ruck centre field, followed by quick hands feeding the ball out far enough to outflank the Wallaby defence and cash in on the two-man overlap.

For the rest of the half the All Blacks were mainly defending. Clever Australian defence read all their attacking plays and shut them down. Conversely the All Blacks policy of standing back and watching the Wallabies run the ball at them allowed quick metres to be made, and once it was on a roll any structure in the Black defence was shredded, making it easy for the team in Gold to run the game.

Nevertheless the All Blacks scrambled just enough, and always just in time to keep them out, and it wasn’t until a defensive blunder occurred that they added to their lone penalty. Opting to go to the air for once, Giteau, who had until then been having a bit of a ‘mare with the boot, cross-kicked out to the right touchline where Hynes jumped and in-passed in the air to fullback Adam Ashley-Cooper. The All Blacks had he and another Wallaby player covered, but Muliaina and Kahui collided and let Ashley-Cooper slip past for an easy try. It should be noted that All Black wing Sitiveni Sivivatu also took out Peter Hynes whilst he was in the air, so if the try hadn’t been scored, it would have been a penalty.

At half-time the score was 10-7 to the Wallabies.

The second half started where the first ended – with the Wallabies in control of possession, and seemingly able to run right through the All Blacks defence at times.

Aussie lock James Horwill was on the end of another of these forays to take the scoreline out to 17-7 early in the second 40 after some good work by Giteau and No.8 Richard Brown.

Then the All Blacks woke up, looked at the time, and decided to go to work.

On attack at about the halfway line the All Blacks spun the ball left, found Conrad Smith who straightened in that wonderful way that he does, stepped inside Cross and made the midfield break. As the defence reacted and chased he looked left, saw the largest winger he’d ever seen, in the form of Tony Woodcock and with a lovely flick of the wrists delivered a pin-point pass right to hand. The loose-head prop, who seems to have a handy habit of scoring tries against Australia, thundered down the touchline all the way from the 22m mark to go over for a fine winger’s try. The Australian props would have noted that there was nothing in the least “mythical” about it.

Carter nailed the conversion from the touchline, like threading a needle from 40 metres.

Play continued to swing the All Blacks way as they intensified their efforts in defence, and more particularly at the breakdown, where they started winning turnover ball.

So’oialo then popped up in about the 60th minute, putting in a telling burst over halfway and sewing disarray into the normally organised Australian defence. He then fed Sivivatu, who continued the success before being lowered, however he spotted Weepu looming up, popped the pass and the half-back went over to score a nice try. Carter converted again.

Another All Black period of pressure ensued, building to Carter receiving the ball 10m out from the line. Jinking and swerving he wrong-footed Ryan Cross who barely laid a hand on him, fended off another defender and slipped right through the defensive line to dot down under the sticks. The conversion brought the searing All Black scoring burst to an end with the scoreline standing at a crowd-silencing 28-17 with 10 or so minutes left.

The Wallabies threw the kitchen sink into it, again making ground easily with some lovely Giteau interplays down the left, and ending with the Cross try described earlier, and bringing the test into that heart-testing last 3 minutes with 4 points between the teams.

This test was definitely one for the All Black fans, players and coaches to savour. It brought the Bledisloe Cup back home, won the Tri-Nations, proved that Graham Henry, Wayne Smith, and Steve Hansen are still fantastic coaches, and vindicated their re-selection by the NZRU.

Not a bad little night’s work all-in-all.

We now have the end-of-year rugby to look forward to, which from a New Zealand perspective can now be looked at in a positive light, as an opportunity to move the squad, which is very much still in a re-building phase, forward.

Well done to the All Blacks, and to all the coaching staff!

Last, and not least, all the very best to Greg Sommerville who played his last test for the All Blacks last night. His super performance underlined what a difficult job his replacement will have in stepping up.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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10 Sep

The BASICS: How to beat Australia
by Tracey Nelson
10 Sep 2008

The ledger so far in 2008 is one win each between the All Blacks and Wallabies. The Wallabies won the first match in Sydney 34-19, the next week being a total reversal in Auckland with the All Blacks emerging 39-10 victors. With both the TriNations and the Bledisloe Cup on the line in Brisbane this weekend, what do the All Blacks need to do in order to beat Australia and put both trophies in the cupboard until next year?

BREAKDOWN
Possibly the most vital part of the modern game, particularly under the ELVs. The All Blacks were without Richie McCaw in Sydney, and in his absence they were beaten in the loose forward battle for domination at the breakdown by George Smith and Rocky Elsom. In Auckland the All Blacks had their captain back while the Wallabies were without an injured Rocky Elsom, and the tables were turned. McCaw turned on a text-book display of openside flanker play, and led his team to a resounding victory seven days on from their loss in Sydney. There is no doubt that when the All Blacks are minus McCaw and the Wallabies minus Elsom, both sides struggled to dominate at the breakdown. This weekend will be the first test in 2008 where both players will meet, so all eyes will be on the breakdown. It will be imperative for McCaw to have support at the breakdown and not be operating alone, for without that support the combination of Smith and Elsom could dominate.

ACCURACY
The reason I was underwhelmed by the All Blacks’ 101-14 win over Samoa last week was that despite the cricket score they managed to clock up, the accuracy of their game in doing so was well below what will be needed to beat Australia. Passes need to be infront of players so they can run on to it, instead of stopping to grasp at a ball going behind them. If space is created, players need to run into the gap and not at the defender. Lineout throws need to be pinpoint, pick and go’s must be supported, mauls need to be well-formed and the ball available to the halfback. Most importantly, kicks in general play must be chased and pressure put on the receiver.

SET PIECE
In theory the All Blacks have the upper hand here. Without a doubt our scrum is better, but whether the Wallabies can put pressure on via their halfback as Samoa did to such good effect remains the question. Under the ELVs with defensive backlines required to be 5m back, it is the perfect platform from which to launch a set-piece move if you have the dominant scrum. So far this TriNations it has been the All Blacks on the receiving end of set piece moves from scrums resulting in tries, hopefully this can be rectified this weekend. Both sides have scored tries from lineouts, in Auckland the All Blacks scored a set-move try from a 5m lineout while the Wallabies scored from a scintillating backline move from a lineout on half way.

INTENSITY
This game is about as much as what is happening inside the players’ heads as it is what happens out on the field. While you cannot control the bounce of the ball or the direction of the wind, everything else is controllable. At this level it only takes a momentary drop in intensity and concentration to allow the opposition a chance, the gap, the loose pass or lineout throw. Brisbane’s test match will discover which team can dig deepest, which team can apply tactics and pressure the best, and which team can keep their cool under fire.

CONTEST
The one thing that has stood out in this year’s TriNations is that all three sides’ lineouts have been vulnerable when contested. The All Blacks have historically not contested many opposition throws but in the last two test matchs in Auckland and Capetown they upped the number they were contesting, with excellent results. Australia and South Africa have long benefitted from contesting on New Zealand’s throws, but at long last the worm appears to be turning. It would be disappointing not to mention a foolish strategy not to see the All Blacks put pressure on the Wallaby lineout this weekend, particularly inside the Wallaby 22.

SCRAMBLE
If there has been one glaring defect in the All Blacks’ game this year, it has been their inability to scramble on defence. This has only shown slow signs of improvement as the season has gone on, but as the scramble defence improved inexplicably the set piece defence started to stagger. No doubt Graham Henry has been working hard on his defensive patterns after the All Blacks were exposed from a 5m attacking lineout by Samoa last week, but it will be the scrambling abilities of our defence that will most likely be called into action against Australia this weekend.

A win or draw against Australia in Brisbane this weekend will not only give the All Blacks the title of TriNations champions for 2008 but will also guarantee the retention of the Bledisloe Cup for another year. A loss however, will give the TriNations mantle to the Wallabies and put the Bledisloe Cup on the line in the one-off test match to be played between the two sides in Hong Kong in November.

4 Sep

Wellington and Christchurch to host RWC Quarter Finals
by Tracey Nelson
4 Sep 2008

Rugby New Zealand 2011 Ltd in conjunction with Rugby World Cup Limited (RWCL) today announced that the venues for the quarter-final games will be in Wellington and Christchurch. Auckland will host the play-off bronze medal game for third place.

With RWC Ltd’s preference to have just two cities hosting the quarter-finals, it came down to a three horse race between Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. With Auckland already allocated the two semi-finals and the final, it was hoped that the quarter-finals would be hosted elsewhere in the country to truly live up to the slogan “a stadium of 4 million people” but there were doubts that this would happen given that Auckland is home to the country’s biggest stadium, and therefore the source of greatest revenue from ticket sales.

But despite IRB chief executive Mike Miller’s “clear and strong preference” that Auckland and one other city host the quarterfinals mainly on the grounds of financial reasons, RNZ 2011 decided to compromise and use Wellington and Christchurch as the two hosts regardless of the fact it could cost the NZRU up to $10million in gate revenue due to both stadiums being smaller tha Eden Park.

While Wellington’s stadium has a current capacity of 34,500 seats, temporary seating could increase that to 40.000.Likewise in Christchurch where the redeveloped stadium will have a capacity of 38,6000 this too could be increased to 45,000 with temporary seating.

Rugby World Cup 2011 Ltd chief executive Martin Sneddon said that even with Auckland not hosting a quarter-final, financial losses could be contained. The government has already unwritten the $30 million loss the tournament is expected to record, but hosting the RWC is likely to provide $112 million in tax revenue.

The only downside is that tickets are likely to be more expensive than ever seen before at a RWC tournament, with premium seats at the final potentially costing up to $1000. But with 40 pool games likely to be spread over 11 venues throughout the country, the average New Zealander is likely to be able to afford a seat even if it isn’t to watch the All Blacks.

The four quarter-finals will be played on the weekend of October 7, 8 and 9, 2011. The semi-finals will be played on the weekend of 15 and 16 October while the Bronze Final will be staged one or two days prior to the Final which is scheduled to be played on Labour Weekend (October 21-23) 2011.

4 Sep

All Blacks v Samoa, New Plymouth, 3 September 2008
by Tracey Nelson
4 Sep 2008

There were a few positives to come out of the mis-match of the All Blacks’ 101-14 win over an understrength Samoa side last night – in that the people of New Plymouth got to see the All Blacks play on their patch, and the All Blacks themselves got a physical hit out after no rugby for almost four weeks. No major injuries is probably another positive, but that’s about where it ends.

At halftime Graham Henry was asked how he thought the game was going and his response was “Good and bad. I think we did some really good things and scored some good tries. But the scrum is unstable at the back and we’re not clearing from the scrum”. He was not happy about the try the All Blacks conceded in the first half, stating that it was a soft try from a lineout and “you practice defence from that sort of thing so it’s a little bit irritating”. The coaching trio were also annoyed that a couple of times when tries had been on players hadn’t passed the ball, and so in the second half were looking for stability at scrum and first phase along with clearing out well at ruck time.

So did they get that ? At times yes. But for the most part this was a shabby display where the All Blacks did not exhibit accuracy with the ball in hand, demonstrated poor option-taking on numerous occasions, did not play with structure or control when it was called for, and more alarmingly some of the problems we thought we’d eliminated in Auckland crept back into the game. The inability of the All Blacks to consistently win the ball when receiving from the restarts, particularly when there is no pressure from the opposition, must surely be driving the coaches to distraction. Crooked throws to the front of the lineout and inaccurate long throwing were also back like an annoying squeaky floorboard.

When pressure was put on at the back of what was a ridiculously dominant All Black scrum, there were fumbles and poor clearing by captain of the day Rodney So’oialo. Both tries scored by Samoa were borne of the All Blacks’ inability to scramble quickly on defence, the Samoans benefitting from a fragmented All Black attacking line being at sea defensively when the ball was turned over in the tackle and a blindside attack was mounted. Indeed, the accuracy and timing of the Samoan passing to score this try put most of the All Blacks’ efforts to shame. Again, not what I’d imagine the coaching trio would have been wanting to see.

However, Henry stated after the game “The guys stuck to the game plan pretty well and were professional in what they did, and that’s what we wanted them to do”. Quite what the game plan was I’m not sure, but I find it hard to believe the team were told to go out and play festival rugby as their lead up to Brisbane. No doubt Mr Henry would point the finger at me for concentrating on the negatives, but frankly there were more negatives than positives in the way the All Blacks played this game and whether it truly was more than just an opposed training run is certainly still up for debate.

For the record the All Blacks won the game 101-14, the halftime score being 47-7.

Quick stats:

Restarts received by NZ Won From
First half 3 6
Second half 6 7
Total 9 13

NZ Line-outs Won From
First half 6 7
Second half 0 1
Total 6 8

NZ Scrum Clearances Cleared From
First half 5 7
Second half 3 4
Total 8 11

4 Sep

All Blacks v Samoa, New Plymouth, 3 September 2008
by Tracey Nelson
4 Sep 2008

There were a few positives to come out of the mis-match of the All Blacks’ 101-14 win over an understrength Samoa side last night – in that the people of New Plymouth got to see the All Blacks play on their patch, and the All Blacks themselves got a physical hit out after no rugby for almost four weeks. No major injuries is probably another positive, but that’s about where it ends.

At halftime Graham Henry was asked how he thought the game was going and his response was “Good and bad. I think we did some really good things and scored some good tries. But the scrum is unstable at the back and we’re not clearing from the scrum”. He was not happy about the try the All Blacks conceded in the first half, stating that it was a soft try from a lineout and “you practice defence from that sort of thing so it’s a little bit irritating”. The coaching trio were also annoyed that a couple of times when tries had been on players hadn’t passed the ball, and so in the second half were looking for stability at scrum and first phase along with clearing out well at ruck time.

So did they get that ? At times yes. But for the most part this was a shabby display where the All Blacks did not exhibit accuracy with the ball in hand, demonstrated poor option-taking on numerous occasions, did not play with structure or control when it was called for, and more alarmingly some of the problems we thought we’d eliminated in Auckland crept back into the game. The inability of the All Blacks to consistently win the ball when receiving from the restarts, particularly when there is no pressure from the opposition, must surely be driving the coaches to distraction. Crooked throws to the front of the lineout and inaccurate long throwing were also back like an annoying squeaky floorboard.

When pressure was put on at the back of what was a ridiculously dominant All Black scrum, there were fumbles and poor clearing by captain of the day Rodney So’oialo. Both tries scored by Samoa were borne of the All Blacks’ inability to scramble quickly on defence, the Samoans benefitting from a fragmented All Black attacking line being at sea defensively when the ball was turned over in the tackle and a blindside attack was mounted. Indeed, the accuracy and timing of the Samoan passing to score this try put most of the All Blacks’ efforts to shame. Again, not what I’d imagine the coaching trio would have been wanting to see.

However, Henry stated after the game “The guys stuck to the game plan pretty well and were professional in what they did, and that’s what we wanted them to do”. Quite what the game plan was I’m not sure, but I find it hard to believe the team were told to go out and play festival rugby as their lead up to Brisbane. No doubt Mr Henry would point the finger at me for concentrating on the negatives, but frankly there were more negatives than positives in the way the All Blacks played this game and whether it truly was more than just an opposed training run is certainly still up for debate.

For the record the All Blacks won the game 101-14, with the halftime score being 47-4.

Quick stats:

Restarts received by NZ Won From
First half 3 6
Second half 6 7
Total 9 13

NZ Line-outs Won From
First half 6 7
Second half 0 1
Total 6 8

NZ Scrum Clearances Cleared From
First half 5 7
Second half 3 4
Total 8 11

3 Sep

RWC 2011: Where will the quarter-finals be?
by Tracey Nelson
3 Sep 2008

In its bid to host the 2011 Rugby World Cup, New Zealand took a campaign theme to the IRB that the tournament would be hosted in a stadium of four million people. It wasn’t just the NZRU backing this message, it was supported by the New Zealand government who are underwriting the tournament to the tune of $30 million dollars of our tax-payer money. But on the eve of the announcement of which cities will be hosting quarter-finals, just how many of our nation of four million will actually be getting a piece of the RWC pie?

Auckland’s Eden Park has already been committed to hosting the two semi-finals and the final, on the back of stadium capacity (62,000 for the RWC) and the logistics of moving more than 40,000 people between the South and North Islands in one weekend to attend both semi-finals games. Nobody is arguing the financial and logistical realities over that decison.

But just where the quarter-finals will be played will be revealed tomorrow, following approval by the Board of Rugby World Cup Limited earlier that morning. Proposals to host the quarter-finals have been lodged by Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch, with Auckland and Hamilton also bidding to host the play-off for third and fourth.

Rugby New Zealand 2011, the company established in 2006 on behalf of the NZRU and the government charged with the responsibility for the planning and delivery of the 2011 RWC, has supposedly assessed the proposals on the following critieria which align to their four key strategic goals. These are:

1. Delivering an operationally excellent tournament
2. Achieving capacity crowds and achieving the budgeted financial result or better
3. Inspiring a nationwide Rugby World Cup festival
4. Creating enduring benefits

Martin Sneddon, CEO of Rugby New Zealand 2011, stated ‘There are tensions between those strategic goals and therefore a delicate balancing exercise to be undertaken when we assess the various proposals and venue allocation options’. The cynical amongst us – and let’s face it, our numbers swelled after the last RWC – would suggest that such a statement is a back-out clause to explain why the likes of Wellington and Christchurch will miss out on hosting quarter-finals.

Despite the fact that Christchurch is already in the midst of up-grading its stadium to be at a capacity of 45,000 for RWC 2011 making it the second biggest stadium in New Zealand (and without any of the $190 million the government has thrown in for the redevlopment of Eden Park) , many suspect that the travelling logistics card will be pulled on the country’s most successful professional province. Likewise Wellington with the third biggest stadium, who have hosted the incredibly successful New Zealand leg of the World Sevens tournament for several years now, are also threatened with the same travel logistics smoke screen.

According to NZRU Chairman Jock Hobbs, our bid to host the tournament ‘emphasised the rich heritage and history of New Zealand rugby’ in a country where ‘rugby is the pre-eminent sport’. If we spread the quarter-finals around the country, then yes we will be inspiring a nationwide festival and will certainly create enduring benefits. The fact of the matter is that hosting quarter finals in Wellington and Christchurch would not be setting a new precendent. Afteall, Cardiff hosted a infamous quarter final last year despite the fact the tournament was hosted by France and if fans didn’t have many problems getting from Cardiff to Paris in the space of seven days then they shouldn’t be too hard pressed to make their way to Auckland from Wellington or Christchurch.

Then there’s the ‘pre-eminent sport’ comment. If there is a one city in this country that doesn’t generate excitment before a big rugby game, it’s Auckland. The fact they get more people turning out to watch Americas Cup yatching kind of sums it up for the rest of New Zealand. It would be a slap in the face to the real rugby fans and the pro-active local councils in our other main centres if the quarter-final matches were all played in the Auckland region.

Given the vast amount of central government money being spent on upgrading Eden Park for RWC 2011 versus the local council and rate-payer funding of stadium up-grades outside of Auckland, there are compelling grounds for awarding quarter-final matches to Wellington and Christchurch. If the NZRU choose to argue they need to generate as much revenue as possible from ticket sales to the quarter-finals, it makes sense to base two games in Christchurch given their greater capacity. Indeed, concerns for the tournament to be a New Zealand-wide occasion led four government MPs to recently write to Rugby New Zealand 2011 to call for two quarter-finals to be held in the South Island. Christchurh MPs Lianne Dalziel, Tim Barnett, Ruth Dyson and Jim Anderton all noted that it was important to recognise the rest of the country outside of Auckland.

So all is set to be revealed at 3.15pm tomorrow in Wellington, headquarters of Rugby New Zealand 2011 and the NZRU. One can only hope that thecampaign theme of a stadium of four million has not lost in the the myriad of key strategic goals, budget sheets and the headache that has been the up-grade of Eden Park. This is New Zealand’s chance to show-case rugby to the world, and as such the quarter-finals need to be shared around. Closet all the tournament play-offs in the Auckland region and there will be a backlash from the rest of the country that willmake the fall-out from the 2007 RWC quarter-final loss look like a handbag fight in a rest home.

1 Sep

Will the real Wallaby side please stand up?
by Tracey Nelson
1 Sep 2008

So did the Wallabies throw the game in Johannesburg as has being suggested in some quarters, or were they simply out-played by a Springbok team that had it’s back to the wall and needed to prove they were still worthy of the title of World Champions?

The truth lies somewhere in the middle. I don’t believe for an instant that Robbie Deans would have sent his team out to deliberately lose the game, that simply isn’t in the man’s repertoire. But it was obvious from the start of the game that the Wallabies’ minds were not on the job at hand, and in this year where the three southern hemisphere teams are fairly evenly matched it has been the team in the best head space that has ermerged victorious each time.

There is probably no question that the Wallabies were looking head to their clash in Brisbane against the All Blacks on September 13, the test match that will decide the winner of the TriNations competition. The game at Ellis Park had no bearing on who will eventually win this year’s competition, and with wins against South Africa in Perth and Durban the Australians had already won the Mandela trophy. The only thing to play for was the chance of consecutive wins on South African soil, and as the All Blacks know very well it’s hard to win two games on the trot in South Africa especially if the second one is at altitude.

This test loss for the Wallabies was in some ways reminscent of the Crusaders’ unlikely last round defeat at the hands of the Highlanders this year – while it was a game the Crusaders would have liked to have won, it had no bearing on the final standings going into the semi-finals and the players were simply not focussed on the job at hand. Several Crusaders players confessed after that loss that despite the words used and the training done in the lead up to that game, that it had been hard to concentrate on winning it with the knowledge they were safely into the play-offs the week after.

However, for anyone to imply t that the Wallabies deliberately threw the game because it had no bearing on the final outcome of the TriNations competition suggests to me that they don’t know Australians very well. Losing is not something they are comfortable with, and losing by a record margin will not be sitting that well with them either.

They did not field their strongest side due to injury and resting of key players – a key figure being that of George Smith on the bench. Phil Waugh is a very good flanker at Super 14 level, but at test level his smaller stature against the bigger Springbok loosies negates his scavenging skills at the breakdown. The Wallabies lost that particular battle this week, and if there’s one thing that’s stood out in 2008 it’s that the team that wins the breakdown wins the game. It was noticeable that when Smith eventually was subbed on late in the game, the Australians started to fare better in that area.

Compounding Australia’s woes in this game was their inability to win their own lineout with their second choice hooker throwing (although both sides contested strongly in this area and won opposition ball) and a rather wobbly scrum causing a few problems, along with their captain Stirling Mortlock having probably one of his worst ever games at international level. The bombing of what should have been a straightforward try in the corner early on in the game by a bumble-fingered Lote Tuqiri was indicative of what was to follow for the Wallabies. There was little organisation if any in their scramble defence, with the Springboks scoring out wide on numerous occasions. The kicking game was aimless, and there appeared to be little cohesiveness in the backline both on attack or defence.

Meanwhile, the Springboks had one of those games where with nothing to lose they moved the ball wide in the style of game Peter de Villiers has been trying to get them to play all year – and it finally came off. Unlike last week in Durban, where the South Africans appeared more intent on spoiling Australia’s game than playing their own, they concentrated on playing rugby instead of the man and it paid off. With quick ruck ball and Butch James distributing it instead of kicking aimlessly down-field, Jean de Villiers was able to display the skills that make him one of the best midfield backs in world rugby and he cut swathes through a brittle Wallaby defence. It was a day when everything the Springboks did turned to gold, while for Australia the more the score mounted the less they seemed able to do about it. And that is as much to do with with your own head space as it is with the form of the opposition.

On the back of this embarrassing loss former Wallaby-great Mark Ella is suggesting that Deans may be struggling with both attack and defence, and may need some help in these areas. I find this interesting that on the basis of one loss, granted a big one, that questions are being asked of Deans’ defensive coaching skills when he has coached one of the best defensive sides in Super rugby. Last week in Durban and again in Auckland last month, the Wallabies displayed some exceptional defence close to their own goal line. Likewise the Australians have also managed to score some very well worked tries from set pieces, especially against the All Blacks. Let’s also not forget that justlast week Deans guided the Wallabies to their first win in South Africa since the year 2000. The question is, do you judge a team solely on it’s wins or it’s losses, or do you need to look at both?

This year has seen the closest-fought TriNations competition, and not one of the three sides has gone through unbeaten. Both Australia and New Zealand will go into the deciding TriNations test in Brisbane with three wins and two losses to their names. At the moment the ledger between them stands at one game apiece, both having won at home and lost away. We’ve already seen the dramatic change in form by the All Blacks from Sydney to Auckland, so it’s going to come down to which team fronts up the best in Brisbane. I somehow suspect that Saturday night’s loss in South Africa will have little if any bearing on the outcome.