30 Nov

Slam Dunk
by Paul Waite
30 Nov 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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28 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 Nov

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

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

Some notes on these stats:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NZ Free Kick Offences
Scrum 4
Total 4

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

Wales Free Kick Offences
Scrum 1
Total 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23 Nov

Who Stares Wins
by Paul Waite
23 Nov 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three down and one to go for the Grand Slam.

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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21 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REFEREE: Jonathan Kaplan, South Africa

18 Nov

Change the record
by Tracey Nelson
18 Nov 2008

Every year we seem to go through this – Open Season on Richie McCaw. Gripes and complaints about him being “a cheat” and that referees don’t penalise him enough. It’s usually from some jealous type who doesn’t have an openside flanker of McCaw’s quality, and almost always from someone who doesn’t quite have their heads around the laws of the game.

Somewhat surprisingly this time it’s from former Wallaby coach Bob Dwyer, who has complained that referees are allowing McCaw to enter the breakdown illegally ‘We think he is allowed by referees to make his first point of entry at which he claims a shot at the opposition ball from the side rather than going in through what is called ‘the rear gate’. He then swings the rest of his body around so he finishes up in an illegal position, shutting off any opponent from getting the ball. Illegally, he has denied the opposition a shot at possession’.

At the risk of repeating myself ad-naseum (and I was sorely tempted to simply drag out an old article dating back to the 2006 S14), you need to understand the laws at the breakdown correctly before you start showing yourself up as a complete idiot by making such statements as Dwyer’s. I’ll start with this ‘swinging of the body’ claim.

Fact – Richie McCaw makes more tackles per game than any other rugby player on the current international stage. Therefore, he has more chances than other players to legally contest for the ball simply because as the tackler he has rights to play the ball before a ruck forms.

Fact – if you are the tackler, position-wise the single onus on you is to get back to your feet before you attempt to play the ball. McCaw as the tackler (that being the defending player who has gone to ground with the tackled player in the tackle) is quite entitled to get to his feet and play the ball in whatever direction his body happens to be facing in. He does not have to retire back ‘through the gate’ to play the ball as the tackler.

Fact – If he’s smart enough to present his back to the attacking team while he attempts to win the ball, then it just shows he knows the laws and uses them to his advantage. If he is on his feet, he is not in an ‘illegal position, shutting off any opponent from getting the ball’. It is up to the opposition to get numbers there, bind to McCaw and form a ruck thus denying him the opportunity to continue playing at the ball with his hands. Tough luck if your side isn’t fast enough to get there before he turns the ball over.

What McCaw is doing as a defender is completely above-board and legal. He does not get away with illegal play at the breakdown, as was demonstrated by the excellent refereeing of South African Mark Lawrence in the weekend. When McCaw wasn’t the tackler and entered the breakdown illegally by not coming through ‘the gate’, or it became a ruck and he continued to play the ball, Lawrence penalised him.

Dwyer went on further with his complaints about McCaw, suggesting that when teams had possession referees were allowing entry from the side as well. I’m struggling to think where Dwyer has seen this happen, because most referees are managing to police this fairly well and those who haven’t have been consistent in letting all players do the same and not giving McCaw or any other openside flanker special rights.

In a final serve to the IRB referees, Dwyer suggested that they are allowing McCaw to bend the laws saying ‘There seems to be some other directive to referees, which informs that none of the laws concerning entry and sealing off apply to Richie McCaw’. Whilst I share some of Dwyer’s frustration with the current international refereeing standards, I find his claims to be somewhat off the mark. Perhaps he should be looking in his own backyard at another world-class No 7 in the form of George Smith, who is arguably only second to McCaw when it comes to contesting the ball at the breakdown. Is he a cheat as well?

17 Nov

Game Stats: Ireland v All Blacks, Dublin, 15 November 2008
by Tracey Nelson
17 Nov 2008

The usual analysis of the All Blacks game, being the First 3 to the Breakdown, tackle stats, penalties conceded, turnovers, the lineouts, and scrums. This was Joe Rokocoko’s 50th test match.

Some notes on these stats:

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

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

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

Numbers in brackets are the first half/second half breakdown for each total. An asterisk denotes a player that came on as a substitute. This week: Aofa for Woodcock (yellow card) at 45 min then Woodcock back on for Tialata at 60 min, Weepu for Cowan at 60 min, Toeava for Smith at 63 min, Flynn for Mealamu 65 min, Tialata back on for Woodocock at 67 min, Read for Kaino at 71 min, Donald for Carter at 75 min.

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

Points Scored NZ Ireland
Tries 3 (Penalty try, Nonu, Thorn) 0
Conversions 2 0
Penalties 1 1
Total 22 3

Possession & Territory NZ Ireland
Possession 51% 49%
Territory 63% 37%

Penalties/Free Kicks Conceded Pen FKs
NZ 14 2
Ireland 11 1
Total 25 3

NZ Penalty Offences
Tackle Smith, Muliaina, Rokocoko, So’oialo, combo of Kaino/Read/Sivivatu 5
Ruck McCaw (2), Kaino, Weepu 4
Offside Cowan, Nonu 2
Scrum McCaw, Afoa 2
Foul play Woodcock 1 + Yellow card
Total   14

NZ Free Kick Offences
Scrum 2
Total 2

Ireland Penalty Offences
Tackle 5
Ruck 3
Offside 1
Obstruction 1
Foul play 1 + Yellow card
Total 11

Ireland Free Kick Offences
Scrum 1
Total 1

Turnovers Conceded by NZ
Knock-ons 10
Forward pass 1
Breakdown 5
Pass to opposition 3
Total 19

Turnovers Conceded by Ireland
Knock-ons 6
Breakdown 4
Spilled 3
Total 13

First 3 to Breakdown Total Per half
McCaw 39 22+17
Thorn 26 18+8
So’oialo 21 10+11
Woodcock 17 16+1
Mealamu 17 12+5
Kaino 16 8+8
Williams 13 7+6
Nonu 11 7+4
Tialata 10 7+3
Sivivatu 9 5+4
Rokocoko 9 3+6
Read* 7  
Afoa* 7  
Carter 7 2+5
Smith 6 4+2
Muliaina 4 2+2
Weepu* 1  
Donald* 1  

Ball Carries
Williams 7
Thorn 7
McCaw 5
Tialata 5
Woodcock 4
Afoa* 2
So’oialo 2
Mealamu 1
Flynn* 1
Total 34

Completed Tackles and Assists Tackles Assists
McCaw 20 (6+14) 1 (0+1)
Carter 13 (5+8) 3 (1+2)
Mealamu 7 (5+2) 1 (0+1)
Thorn 7 (3+4) 1 (0+1)
Kaino 6 (4+2) 1 (0+1)
So’oialo 5 (2+3) 5 (3+2)
Woodcock 4 (1+3) 3 (3+0)
Sivivatu 4 (2+2) 0
Williams 3 (2+1) 2 (1+1)
Tialata 3 (2+1) 1 (0+1)
Read* 3 0
Muliaina 2 (1+1) 0
Afoa* 2 1
Weepu* 2 1
Flynn* 2 0
Nonu 1 (1+0) 1 (1+0)
Cowan 1 (1+0) 0
Total 85 22

Missed and Slipped Tackles
McCaw 3
Cowan 2
Carter 2
Smith 2
Rokocoko 1
So’oialo 1
Afoa* 1
Weepu* 1
Total 13

NZ Line-outs Won From
First half 10 11
Second half 5 6
Total 15 17

NZ Line-out Jumpers Won From
Williams 7 8
So’oialo 3 3
Kaino 2 3
Thorn 1 1
McCaw (ruled not straight) 0 1
Quick throw 1 1

Ireland Line-outs Won From
First half 6 7
Second half 8 9
Total 14 16

NZ Scrums Won From
First half 0 0
Second half 5 7
Total 5 7

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

13 Nov

Ireland v All Blacks – Preview
by Tracey Nelson
13 Nov 2008

This weekend sees the All Blacks taking on Ireland in Dublin, which promises to be one of the toughest encounters on their Grand Slam tour. Infront of a crowd likely to be in excess of 73 000, the Irish side will be pumped with adrenalin and will no doubt start the game at a level of intensity over and above what the Scots fielded last week – because they are playing the All Blacks at Croke Park.

Croke Park, in Dublin, is Ireland’s largest stadium and headquarters of the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) which was founded as a nationalist organisation to promote indigenous Irish sports – in particular the All-Ireland Football Championship and the sport of Hurling. Irish sports have been played at this ground since 1884, but it wasn’t until 2006 that the first game of rugby was allowed to be played at the stadium.

Rugby, along with other non-indigneous Irish sports, had been banned from this stadium for over a century as the GAA historically has opposed other foreign sports and British ones in particular. It was only in 2006, with Ireland’s traditional rugby stadium Lansdowne Rd undergoing major reconstruction, that the GAA relented and allowed Six Nations test matches to be staged there. This will be the first and possibly last time the All Blacks will play on Croke Park, as by the next time the New Zealanders play in Ireland Lansdowne Rd will be completed.

However, the significance of Croke Park to the Irish lies deeper than just being their national stadium. On November 21st 1920 during the Irish War of Independence, in what is now remembered as Bloody Sunday, Croke Park was the scene of carnage when British Army auxiliaries entered the ground during a Dublin v Tipperary gaelic football match and shot indiscriminately into the crowd killing 14 people, once of which was the Tipperary captain Michael Hogan. The shootings were a reprisal for the assassination of 14 British Intelligence officers earlier that same day. The stand built at the ground in 1924 was named the Hogan stand in the Tipperary captain’s honour, so you can understand the depth of feeling that surrounds Croke Park in the hearts of the Irish.

The ground can hold 82 300 people but seated has a capacity of 73 500, and the playing field is a Desso GrassMaster pitch. This is a combination of natural grass and stitched synthetic fibres which makes the pitch extremely stable – so there should be no excuses for front rowers’ feet to be slipping when the scrums set this week. Likewise there should be plenty of stable footing for both backlines to show their wares.

The All Blacks are feilding arguably their strongest side as acknowledgement of the threat this Irish side are likely to pose. There is little between Conrad Smith and Richard Kahui at centre, but the selectors have chosen to maintain the Wellington midfield pairing for this test – although defensive lapses by either Smith or Nonu could cost them their next start. Kieran Read has been rewarded for his strong showing against Scotland with a place on the bench at the expense of Adam Thomson, which means So’oialo would deputise at openside should the unthinkable happen and McCaw has to leave the field.

Ireland are fielding a highly capped side, with the exception of Jamie Heaslip at halfback who is starting in his first test match. Both Brian O’Driscoll and Joe Rokocoko will be starting in their 50th test.

All Blacks: Mils Muliaina, Joe Rokocoko, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Dan Carter, Jimmy Cowan, Rodney So’oialo, Richie McCaw (c), Jerome Kaino, Ali Williams, Brad Thorn, Neemia Tialata, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodock. Reserves – Corey Flynn, John Afoa, Anthony Boric, Kieran Read, Piri Weepu, Stephen Donald, Isaia Toeava.

Ireland: Girvan Dempsey, Tommy Bowe, Brian O’Driscoll (captain), Luke Fitzgerald, Robert Kearney, Ronan O’Gara, Tomas O’Leary, Jamie Heaslip, David Wallace, Alan Quinlan, Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callaghan, John Hayes, Rory Best, Marcus Horan. Reserves – Jerry Flannery, Tony Buckley, Stephen Ferris, Shane Jennings, Eoin Reddan, Paddy Wallace, Keith Earls.

10 Nov

Game Stats: Scotland v All Blacks, Edinburgh, 8 November 2008
by Tracey Nelson
10 Nov 2008

The usual analysis of the All Blacks game, being the First 3 to the Breakdown, tackle stats, penalties conceded, turnovers, the lineouts, and scrums. This test saw three All Black debuts – Jamie MacIntosh, Kieran Read and Liam Messam – and was the first outing as captain for hooker Keven Mealamu.

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: Jane for Toeava at 40min, Ellis for Weepu at 52 min, Tialata for MacIntosh at 54 min, Flynn for Mealamu and McCaw for Thomson at 60 min, Filipo for Williams at 66min, Carter for Ellis at 71 min.

Team: Toeava, Tuitavake, Kahui, Nonu, Rokocoko, Donald, Weepu, Messam, Thomson, Read, Williams, Boric, Afoa,
Reserves: Jane, Carter, Ellis, McCaw, Filipo, Tialata, Flyn

Points Scored NZ Scotland
Tries 4 (Tuitavake,Weepu, Kahui, Boric) 0
Conversions 3 0
Penalties 2 2
Total 32 6

Penalties/Free Kicks Conceded Pen FKs
NZ 11 4
Scotland 9 1
Total 20 5

NZ Penalty Offences
Tackle Afoa, Nonu, Williams/MacIntosh, Tialata, Kahui 5
Ruck Thomson, Boric (Yellow card), Messam, Nonu 4
Lineout ? 1
Scrum MacIntosh 1
Total   11

NZ Free Kick Offences
Lineout 1
Scrum 3
Total 4

Scotland Penalty Offences
Tackle 3
Ruck 2
Lineout 1
Foul play 2 + yellow card
Scrum 1
Total 9

Scotland Free Kick Offences
Lineout 1
Total 1

Turnovers Conceded by NZ
Knock-ons 14
Tackle 3
Ruck 2
Pass to opposition 2
Other 2
  Total 23

Turnovers Conceded by Scotland
Knock-ons 6
Tackle 2
Ruck 6
Total 14

First 3 to Breakdown Total Per half
Thomson 19 11+8
Messam 19 7+12
McCaw* 18  
Boric 18 6+12
Read 17 3+14
Afoa 14 3+11
Kahui 14 3+11
Donald 13 5+8
Williams 11 5+6
MacIntosh 9 5+4
Filipo* 8  
Mealamu 8 4+4
Nonu 8 0+8
Jane* 6  
Rokocoko 6 2+4
Tuitavake 6 2+4
Flynn* 5  
Tialata* 5  
Carter* 4  
Weepu 2 1+1
Ellis* 2  
Toeava 1  

Ball Carries
Messam 7
McCaw 2
Flynn 2
Tialata 2
Boric 2
Mealamu 1
Williams 1
Read 1
Afoa 1
Total 19

Completed Tackles and Assists Tackles Assists
Read 15 (9+6) 3 (2+1)
Thomson 12 (7+5) 2 (1+1)
Messam 9 (5+4) 6 (6+0)
Williams 7 (5+2)3 (3+0)
MacIntosh 7 (5+2) 2 (2+0)
Boric 7 (2+5) 1 (1+0)
Afoa 6 (2+4+ 2 (2+0)
Tuitavake 6 (1+5) 0
Donald 5 (2+3) 0
Toeava 4 1
Nonu 4 (3+1) 5 (2+3)
Kahui 4 (2+2) 0
Filipo* 3 2
McCaw* 3 1
Ellis* 3 0
Flynn* 2 2
Tialata* 2 0
Jane* 2 0
Carter* 1 0
Weepu 1 (1+0) 0
Rokocoko 1 (1+0) 0
Total 112 32

Missed and Slipped Tackles
Weepu 2
Mealamu 1
Boric 1
Williams 1
Messam 1
Nonu 1
Kahui 1
Tuitavake 1
Filipo* 1
Total 10

NZ Line-outs Won From
First half 2 2
Second half 5 5
Total 7 7

NZ Line-out Jumpers Won From
Boric 3 3
Read 2 2
Thomson 1 1
Ellis 1 1

Scotland Line-outs Won From
First half 7 9
Second half 1 5
Total 8 14

NZ Scrums Won From
First half 1 2
Second half 5 6
Total 6 8

Scotland Scrums Won From
First half 5 6
Second half 4 6
Total 9 12

3 Nov

All Blacks v Wallabies – Hong Kong, 1 Nov 2008
by Tracey Nelson
3 Nov 2008

Sorry folks, no game stats yet due to being away on holiday but never fear – the stats for the HK match will be posted next week along with normal coverage resuming for the entire UK tour. So here is just a brief summary of the inaugural off-shore Bledisloe Cup test match.

Both teams said in the build up to this test that it was not going to be a festival game or a dead rubber, and that they were treating it as the real McCoy and wanted the win. So you could have been mistaken in thinking aliens had abducted the All Blacks on the Friday night and replaced them with blundering idiots who thought it was more important to play hot potato with the ball than construct anything resembling good ruck ball and a platform for the backs.

Australia scored the first try of the game thanks to a dreadful no-look long pass to Mr Nobody that they swooped on and scored in the corner. The poor pass was a culmination of what had preceded it, the All Blacks failing to get numbers to the breakdown, not fielding kicks on the full but instead letting them bounce, and generally attempting to play too much rugby in their own 22 and from behind the advantage line.

What made it worse was that after conceding that try, nothing changed. It was a glaring demonstration of why rugby players need game time rather than resting, as it was mostly those who hadn’t had much ANZC rugby who were struggling to keep up with play and making errors such as dropping passes, mis-timing runs and simply not doing the basics of the game well. Meanwhile the Australians were looking confident, making the gain line, committing players to the breakdown and using the kicking game well to keep the All Blacks in their own half.

Failure to get numbers to the breakdown was a serious issue for the All Blacks in the first half, and I have no doubt that had McCaw not been playing the outcome of this game could easily have gone the other way. Losing Andrew Hore so early in the game (and from the whole tour now due to the seriousness of his injury) probably didn’t help the cause, with reserve hooker Keven Mealamu looking desperately short of a gallop and having a bad case of the dropsies as well.

Meanwhile, the All Black backline was stuttering along under the direction of Stephen Donald at 1st 5 and it was no surprise at all when he was subbed around the 50 minute stage of the game and Dan Carter slotted back into his usual position with Ma’a Nonu coming on at 2nd 5. However, it was the injection of Piri Weepu at halfback that finally stirred the team into some decent rugby at last. He started sniping around the fringes, his passing was crisp and fast, and he got the pack hitting the rucks and producing better ball than had been offered up to Jimmy Cowan in the first half.

Despite a few more flaky moments from the boys in black, eventually they started to find some gears and thanks to referee Alan Lewis being particulalry hard on the Wallabies at the breakdown, the All Blacks started to wear the Australians down and eventually managed to get the overlap out wide when a long pass by Sivivatu found captain McCaw in the clear out on the wing. He made no mistake and scooped the ball up from around his ankles to score the winning try.

This game probably posed more questions for the selectors than it answered, as it was obvious the backline struggled to run under Donald’s guidance, Tialata does not look the answer at TH prop, the lineout still wobbled under pressure late in the game, and the conundrum of playing the flakey Sivivatu on the wing must continue to vex. Underlying this is a game plan that doesn’t seem to have addressed key problems the All Blacks have had all year, which is committment of number at the breakdown to provide clean, fast ball, the ongoing problems with scrambling defence, the propensity for the defence to get beaten by the wide pass in midfield, and an inability to score tries from set piece.

Being able to score from broken play is all well and good, but only works if you can pressure the oppositon into making mistakes and currently this All Black side does not exert nearly enough pressure on the opposition to rely on this as their only form of try scoring. With a team boasting the talents of Dan Carter, Joe Rokocoko, Hosea Gear and the ilk, you would