15 Dec

John Drake: The passing of a true legend
by Tracey Nelson
15 Dec 2008

John Drake, LegendIt was with great sorrow New Zealand rugby circles learnt of the news that John Drake had passed away at his Mt Maunganui home on Saturday evening, at the age of just 49. Drake was part of the 1987 World Cup winning side, and played 12 matches (including 8 tests) for New Zealand at tight head prop.

Much of Drake’s scrummaging ability was honed playing off-season club rugby in France, and it was from France that he was first called into the All Blacks as a replacement prop during their tour to Argentina in 1985. He went on to play his first test match in France the following year, before being named in the World Cup side in 1987. Drake played in all but the opening game of that tournament, and later stated that the most memorable try in his career was the one that John Kirwan scored in the final against France “because that was when I knew we had the game won“.

Drake retired from playing the year after the RWC, and soon after shifted from Auckland to Mt Maunganui where he went on to have a very successful business career running Cotton Traders. But his links with rugby remained, and he continuedscrum coaching for the next few years.

He first entered media circles as radio comments man alongside Peter Montgomery for games at Eden Park, and then in 1998 began writing a column for the Auckland Herald. But it was his foray into rugby analysis for SKY Television’s rugby commentaries where he really found his niche.

Not only was Drake balanced and intelligent in the comments he made, he also had the ability to remain calm and articulate when the pressure was on. He chose his words well, and those of us listening would nod in agreement or be given cause to think further and deeper on what we had just seen on the screen. While his knowledge of all things scrum-wise was a given, his ability to analyse backline moves and plays was something that set him aside from other comments-people. Drake also had a long-time slot on Brendan Telfer’s Radio Sport show on Monday mornings,analysing the weekend’s rugby action.

New Zealand rugby analysis and comment will be muchthe poorer with his loss, especially SKY’s commentaries where his combination with game-caller Grant Nisbett was without peer. While we mourn the loss of a great rugby man our thoughts go out to his wife Cathy and three daughters, who have lost something even greater.

John Drake’s first class record:

Auckland: 1981-87 (University Club)
NZ Universities: 1980-82
NZ Trials: 1984 & 1987
North Zone: 1987
All Blacks: 1985-1988 (12 games, 8 tests)
Test tries: 1

5 Dec

All Blacks' Report Card 2008
by Tracey Nelson
5 Dec 2008

On paper you can’t really argue with the success of the All Blacks in 2008. With 14 wins from 16 games, and the Iveco Series, the Tri-Nations, the Bledisloe Cup and a Grand Salm all to their name, this has been a satisfactory year after the disaster of 2007. So how did the coaches and players measure up this year?

COACHES:

Thank goodness we seem to have seen the end of rotation and rest, despite claims from Graham Henry that All Blacks couldn’t be expected to play test matches over three consecutive weekends. The end of year tour (comprising the Bledisloe test in Hong Kong and the Grand Slam) put paid to that theory, with Ali Williams and Keven Mealamu playing in all five tests, Joe Rokocoko playing six games over four weeks, Ma’a Nonu playing four consecutive tests and the bulk of team playing three in a row. I suspect that a large part of this shift in mantra came from the players themselves, with Ali Williams being one in particular who has always been keen to start in every test. With continuity in team selection on the Grand Slam, we finally started to see combinations forming and a real understanding within the team emerged – this was no better demonstrated than by their exceptional defensive record during the Grand Slam test matches.

Despite the trophy cabinet being full and all titles claimed this year, there are three key points that I’m not happy about:

Inability of the team to win without Richie McCaw

It was no coincidence that the two test matches the All Blacks lost this year were the two that Richie McCaw didn’t play during the Tri-Nations due to injury. The test match in Sydney against the Wallabies was without a doubt the All Blacks’ worst game in 2008, and there were questions asked over selections, lack of a specialist opensider and in particular our defence

Admission of being out-coached and not up to speed on the ELVs

How they could not be up to speed on the ELVs given they’d had an entire S14 to watch teams play under the trial laws, not to mention players in key positions who had performed under the ELVs, will forever remain a mystery. The admission was not only a major lapse in judgement at a time when they still needed to get the public back on board, but was symptomatic of the trio’s inability to adapt and change with the modern game. Thankfully that seemed to come right as the year wore on, but the reality is that the home unions were cannon fodder so it remains to be seen how they fare tactically against South Africa and Australia next year.

Continuing to play players out of position

Having selected Rudi Wulf and Anthony Tuitavake as wingers, we then had to watch Richard Kahui (a specialist midfielder) being played on the wing instead. After limited chances, Wulf was discarded for the end of year tour. There were experiments with So’oialo at openside and blindside, using Adam Thomson at openside, Jerome Kaino at No 8, and moving Carter to 2nd 5 to accommodate Stephen Donald at 1st 5. Hopefully the lesson has been learnt that So’oialo is a No 8, Kahui is best at centre despite performing admirably on the wing, Donald is limited as an international 1st 5, Thomson is not up to the role of openside at top level, and Kaino’s best position is at blindside.

I would have added a fourth point over Sione Lauaki had they not finally seen the light and dropped him from the sqaud after the Tri-Nations (though I question his selection in the first instance). Player loyalty is admirable, but blinkered loyalty in the light of continual poor performance is another. Enough said.

PLAYERS:

Some stand-out perfomances by key senior All Blacks this year. Those who deserve special mention are Richie McCaw, Ali Williams, Tony Woodcock, Brad Thorn, Mils Muliaina, Ma’a Nonu, and Dan Carter.

First accolades must go to captain McCaw. While continuing to perform as the world’s best openside flanker, his captaincy skills finally reached maturity and we now see a captain of true international standing. I am frankly incredulous that he failed to win Player of the Year both at the IRB and the NZRU Steinlager Awards – perhaps the fact that our own NZ judges couldn’trecognise the significance of McCaw’s playing abilities mirrors that of the IRB judging panel. If ever there was a leader who fell in the vein of “follow my example”, then it’s McCaw. I could wax lyrical about his work rate on attack and defence, his ability to read the game, his ball carrying skills, his lineout work – the list is endless. What I will say though, is that without McCaw this All Black side, even with the mercurial Dan Carter, becomes disjointed and vulnerable.

Ali Williams played in all 16 tests this year. His lineout work with nearly faultless, his overall game has stepped up to a new level, and to me he embodies the passion for the jersey. Ali Williams would never say he was too tired to play, or turn down the chance to start in a test. Most importantly, he proved the point that the modern professional player isn’t too precious to front up week to week in test matches.

Tony Woodcock is one of the un-sung troopers, but continued to do his hard work both in the scrums and at ruck time. This year he was rewarded with tries, the standout one being against Australia in Auckland worked from a set move at a lineout. With the departure of Carl Hayman he has taken on the mantle of senior front rower, and will only continue to make his mark as a senior player in this All Black side.

Brad Thorn, despite having a few head-rushes on the field this year, has proven to be the workhorse of the pack. His ability to gain ground as a ball carrier and flatten attackers with his tackles have been a pleasure to watch. However, it is his efforts in the scrum that should be heralded. There is no doubt that his presence as tighthead lock in the scrum has made the job easier for the new TH props taking over from Carl Hayman, and the All Black scrum was seldom bettered when Thorn was packing down in it.

Mils Muliaina was back to his best form on the end of year tour, but more importantly showed an assuredness and calmness that marked him out as something special in this team. His organisation from the back has been a standout, and it was his calming presence off the bench and wide pass to Joe Rokocoko that saved the All Blacks from defeat against Munster. Two tries to his name against England were just reward for the try-saving ankle tap he’d managed at the start of the second half.

Ma’a Nonu has had his doubters, and I put my hand up as one of them. But it’s always great to be proven wrong, and Nonu has done that in style. His game has come on in leaps and bounds, and his ability to straighten the line proved invaluable in the UK. He has increased his workrate around the field, and his defence has improved immensely – especially from set piece where he was prone to rushing the line earlier in the season. His hard, strong running has seen him score a bag of tries this year. One can only imagine what a nightmare it must be for the opposition to front up on defence againstour five-eighth pairing of Carter and Nonu.

Dan Carter, even when his kicking boots failed him, remains the consumate all-round player. While his attacking game remains as sharp as ever, his defence in combination with McCaw has become a formidable weapon for the All Blacks. There is absolutely no chance of getting through the inside channel against this All Black side with Carter and McCaw lying in wait for you. Even with some ordinary goal kicking by his usual high standards, Carter clocked up 203 points for the test season.

OVERALL:

Pleasing improvement in our lineout, which is now a consistent source of ball on our throw. Gone are the days of ducking and diving around before the ball was thrown in, there is a calmness that has improved our accuracy no end. Better yet, we contest the opposition thro
w to good success. The scrum is the All Blacks dominant set piece, and should continue to be so.

The loose trio, now that they’ve had a chance to gel without rotation, is a lethal and complimentary combination. Jimmy Cowan and Piri Weepu both came back from the wilderness and proved themselves at this level. We have depth in the midfield, and talent emerging at lower levels both in the forwards and three quarters.

However, we still lack international-class replacements for our two key players – McCaw and Carter. While it is impossible to replace perfection, this is one area that needs to be focussed on next year as without one or both of these players our game falters. It is the collective responsibility of the coaches and the team that we attempt to wean ourselves from relying on these two. There are glimpses that this is beginning, so I can only hope that we don’t see more key players heading offshore in the next year or so.

5 Dec

2008 Steinlager Awards
by Tracey Nelson
5 Dec 2008

The 2008 Steinlager Awards were announced last night in Auckland. The supreme winner, taking out the Kelvin R. Tremain Memorial Player of the Year, was Andrew Hore. Hore also won the Rebel Sport Super 14 Player of the Year award, reflecting his form at hooker for the Hurricanes. The All Blacks won Team of the Year, whilst Graham Henry took out the Coach of the Year on the back of the All Blacks’ 14 from 16 wins this season in securing the Iveco Series, the Tri Nations, the Bledisloe Cup and the Grand Slam.

Other winners were:

NZRU Age Grade Player of the Year: Zac Guildford (New Zealand Under-20, Hurricanes, Hawke’s Bay)

Richard Crawshaw Memorial Sevens Player of the Year: DJ Forbes (Counties Manukau)

NZRU Referee of the Year: Bryce Lawrence (Bay of Plenty)

Women’s Player of the Year: Victoria Grant (nee Blackledge) (Auckland)

New Zealand Rugby Volunteer of the Year: Ken Swain (Horowhenua Kapiti)

Rebel Sport Super 14 Player of the Year: Andrew Hore (Hurricanes)

Tom French Memorial Maori Player of the Year: Piri Weepu (Wellington)

AA Rewards Heartland Championship Player of the Year: Cameron Crowley (Wanganui)

Air New Zealand Cup Player of the Year: Jamie Mackintosh (Southland)

adidas Team of the Year: All Blacks

New Zealand Rugby Coach of the Year: Graham Henry (All Blacks)

Steinlager Salver for an Outstanding Contribution to New Zealand: Rugby Tane Norton

Kelvin R. Tremain Memorial Player of the Year: Andrew Hore

Six of New Zealand’s most decorated All Blacks were also awarded long-overdue Test caps in recognition of their first Test match and to symbolically recognise more than 400 former players who will now be presented their caps in a series of events to be held over the next two years.

The six players represented the six decades of All Blacks who did not receive their Test caps when the tradition lapsed in the decades following the Second World War. Capping was re-introduced by the New Zealand Rugby Union in 1997. The former players honoured this evening were: Fred Allen (representing the 1940s); Sir Wilson Whineray (1950s); Sir Brian Lochore (1960s); Andy Dalton (1970s); Wayne Buck Shelford (1980s); and Olo Brown (1990s).

5 Dec

2008 Steinlager Awards
by Tracey Nelson
5 Dec 2008

The 2008 Steinlager Awards were announced last night in Auckland. The supreme winner, taking out the Kelvin R. Tremain Memorial Player of the Year, was Andrew Hore. Hore also won the Rebel Sport Super 14 Player of the Year award, reflecting his form at hooker for the Hurricanes. The All Blacks won Team of the Year, whilst Graham Henry took out the Coach of the Year on the back of the All Blacks’ 14 from 16 wins this season in securing the Iveco Series, the Tri Nations, the Bledisloe Cup and the Grand Slam.

Other winners were:

NZRU Age Grade Player of the Year: Zac Guildford (New Zealand Under-20, Hurricanes, Hawke’s Bay)

Richard Crawshaw Memorial Sevens Player of the Year: DJ Forbes (Counties Manukau)

NZRU Referee of the Year: Bryce Lawrence (Bay of Plenty)

Women’s Player of the Year: Victoria Grant (nee Blackledge) (Auckland)

New Zealand Rugby Volunteer of the Year: Ken Swain (Horowhenua Kapiti)

Rebel Sport Super 14 Player of the Year: Andrew Hore (Hurricanes)

Tom French Memorial Maori Player of the Year: Piri Weepu (Wellington)

AA Rewards Heartland Championship Player of the Year: Cameron Crowley (Wanganui)

Air New Zealand Cup Player of the Year: Jamie Mackintosh (Southland)

adidas Team of the Year: All Blacks

New Zealand Rugby Coach of the Year: Graham Henry (All Blacks)

Steinlager Salver for an Outstanding Contribution to New Zealand: Rugby Tane Norton

Kelvin R. Tremain Memorial Player of the Year: Andrew Hore

Six of New Zealand’s most decorated All Blacks werealso awarded long-overdue Test caps in recognition of their first Test match and to symbolically recognise more than 400 former players who will now be presented their caps in a series of events to be held over the next two years.

The six players represented the six decades of All Blacks who did not receive their Test caps when the tradition lapsed in the decades following the Second World War. Capping was re-introduced by the New Zealand Rugby Union in 1997. The former players honoured this evening were: Fred Allen (representing the 1940s); Sir Wilson Whineray (1950s); Sir Brian Lochore (1960s); Andy Dalton (1970s); Wayne Buck Shelford (1980s); and Olo Brown (1990s).

1 Dec

Game Stats: England v All Blacks, London, 29 November 2008
by Tracey Nelson
1 Dec 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 win over England completed the Grand Slam for the 2008 All Blacks and was the seventh consecutive win against England since 2004. During this Grand Slam the All Blacks have not conceded a try in any of the four test matches and the most points scored against them was 9 (v Ireland). Despite having an ordinary day at the office with his goal kicking (60%), Daniel Carter brought up 203 test points for 2008.

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 and Read for Kaino at 55 min, Boric for Thorn and Toeava for Smith at 68 min, and Weepu for Cowan at 70 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, Elliot

Points Scored NZ England
Tries 3 (Muliaina (2), Nonu) 0
Conversions 1 0
Penalties 5 2
Total 32 6

Penalties/Free Kicks Conceded Pen FKs
NZ 8 2
England 16 2
Total 18 6

NZ Penalty Offences
Tackle So’oialo, Williams, McCaw 3
Ruck Thorn, Tialata 2
Scrum McCaw, Woodcock, Tialata 3
Total   8

NZ Free Kick Offences
Scrum 1
Lineout 1
Total 2

England Penalty Offences
Tackle 7
Ruck 6 (+ 2 yellow cards)
Scrum 1
Foul Play 2 (+ 2 yellow cards)
Total 16

England Free Kick Offences
Scrum 1
Lineout 1
Total 2

Turnovers Conceded by NZ
Knock-ons 11
Forward pass 2
Pass to opposition 2
Tackle 1
Lineout 2
Total 18

Turnovers Conceded by England
Knock-ons 2
Tackle 5
Ruck 1
Spilled pass 1
Scrum 1
Man infront of kick off 1
Missed touch from penalty 1
Lineout 1
Total 13

First 3 to Breakdown Total Per half
McCaw 26 12+14
So’oialo 21 13+9
Woodcock 20 12+8
Thorn 19 10+9
Williams 17 11+6
Mealamu 17 8+9
Tialata 14 9+5
Kaino 12 9+3
Muliaina 10 5+5
Rokocoko 10 4+6
Nonu 8 4+4
Read* 7  
Carter 7 5+2
Afoa* 6  
Smith 5 2+3
Sivivatu 3 2+1
Cowan 2 (0+2)
Toeava* 1  

Ball Carries
Williams 7
Woodcock 4
Mealamu 3
Thorn 3
Kaino 3
McCaw 2
Tialata 2
Read* 2
So’oialo 0
Afoa* 0
Total 26

Completed Tackles and Assists Tackles Assists
McCaw 15 (5+10) 7 (4+3)
So’oialo 10 (5+5) 3 (1+2)
Kaino 8 (7+1) 3 (1+2)
Thorn 7 (4+3) 3 (2+1)
Tialata 7(4+3) 1 (1+0)
Carter 6 (4+2) 2 (0+2)
Williams 6 (2+4) 2 (0+2)
Smith 6 (5+1)1 (1+0)
Mealamu 6 (4+2) 0
Nonu 5 (3+2) 3 (2+1)
Read* 4 0
Cowan 3 (2+1) 0
Muliaina 3 (0+3) 0
Woodcock 2 (0+2) 2 (2+0)
Rokocoko 2 (1+1) 0
Sivivatu 2 (0+2) 0
Boric* 1 0
Afoa* 0 1
Total 93 28

Missed and Slipped Tackles
Woodcock 1
Tialata 1
Williams 1
Carter 1
Rokocoko 1
Total 5

NZ Line-outs Won From
First half 8 10
Second half 2 2
Total 8 10

NZ Line-out Jumpers Won From
Williams 5 5
Kaino 2 2
Thorn 1 1
So’oialo 2 2
McCaw 0 1

England Line-outs Won From
First half 4 4
Second half 5 6
Total 9 10

NZ Scrums Won From
First half 0 0
Second half 5 6
Total 5 6

England Scrums Won From
First half 3 4
Second half 5 7
Total 8 11