31 Jul

Match Preview: Springboks v All Blacks, Durban, 1 Aug 2009
by Tracey Nelson
31 Jul 2009

After a fairly ordinary first half last week where they only had 40% of possession and territory, the All Blacks managed to improve their game in the second half to give themselves a chance of winning the game. Unfortunately, they still failed to convert pressure into points and instead ending up conceding a try after two very ordinary passes and a missed catch. What do the All Blacks need to change this weekend to win in Durban?

How to beat South Africa: Lesson 102

The All Blacks could do with a bit of kissing at the moment. As in KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid! For starters their set piece, being kick-offs/restarts, scrums and lineouts. Get the basics right first. So that means chasing your own restarts and contesting the ball, getting players around the ball receiver and protecting that possession, and not letting props attempt dinky little drop outs on your own 22. We’d like to see the halfback feed the ball corectly into the scrum, or at least not so obviously under the hooker’s feet if the referee is standing right beside you. And please, please – for our first lineout throw of the game let’s not throw long to the back this time? You know, just for once let the thrower and jumpers get some rhythm going first?

And while we’re talking lineouts, how about contesting the opposition throws? Because it’s clear to all and sundry we have no clue how to stop a rolling maul even when we don’t contest and stack up in an attempt to stop the drive. Quite how we can’t sack the jumper when we’re just standing there waiting for him to get free ball in the first instance is yet another mystery of the universe, so therefore we may as well contest because the stats so far tell me that we have a better defensive success rate contesting lineouts than attempting to stop rolling mauls where we are conceding a penalty every third time.

Committing some numbers to the breakdown and actually driving over the player on the ground to provide quick ball would be great – but the key work is numbers, so that when you do drive over you’re not leaving the ball lying out of the ruck for the opposition to come through and steal it. A couple of guard dogs around the side of rucks wouldn’t go astray either. Again – numbers is the key. As for pick and go’s, if you’re going to line someone up to be a ball runner close to the ruck it generally pays to pick someone who is good at it. Those players are your front rowers (both starting and bench), Brad Thorn, and any of your loosies. It is not Isaac Ross, and it most certainly is not Jason Eaton.

If we committ numbers to the breakdown and provide quick ball, there is a chance – slim though it may seem – that the backline line may actually function. Certainly if they didn’t have to continually skirt forwards there may be a chance we could see some straight running that would commit the defence and give the wingers space when they hit the line, rather than the current lateral play that fizzles out by the touchlines. Or, rather than playing the flat backline against South Africa’s rushing defence we could stand a little deeper and employ the chip kick – allowing Donald the time to place the kick for our chasers.

The other option for our backs from set piece is to attack the No 10 channel where Morne Steyn has been found wanting – again, this relies on straight running and having support players right on your elbows. With McCaw and So’oialo both having plenty of speed to the intial breakdown, and the way that Franks, Hore, Woodcock and Thorn hit rucks that should be the no-brainer choice of play from scrums in the South African’s half of the field.

But are the All Blacks capable of taking a simple game plan to the field and executing it well? Watch this space.

27 Jul

Game Stats: Springboks v All Blacks, Bloemfontein, 25 July 2009
by Tracey Nelson
27 Jul 2009

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

Please note Completed Tackles means that player actually brought the ball carrier to ground (ie. halting the movement and being the tackler according to the laws of the game), not assists in the tackle situation which are tallied separately. Missed tackles also includes slipped tackles where the ball carrier isn’t stopped. Most importantly, I do NOT call a slipped tackle a tackle, it gets noted as a missed tackle.

Numbers in brackets are the first half/second half breakdown for each total. An asterisk denotes a player who came on as a substitute.

Team: Mils Muliaina, Joesevata Rokocoko, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Stephen Donald, Brendon Leonard, Rodney So’oialo, Richie McCaw(c), Jerome Kaino, Isaac Ross, Brad Thorn, Neemia Tialata, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock.
Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Owen Franks, Jason Eaton, Kieran Read, Piri Weepu, Luke McAlister, Corey Jane.

Substitutions were: Franks for Tialata at 40min, Weepu for Leonard at 48 min, Read for So’oialo at 52 min, Mealamu for Hore at 57 min, Eaton for Ross at 65 min and McAlister for Smith at 75 min.

Points Scored NZ SA
Tries 1 2
Conversions 1/1 0/2
Penalties 4/5 6/9
Total 19 28

Penalties/Free Kicks Conceded Pen FKs
NZ 11 2
SA 7 0
Total 18 2

NZ Penalty Offences
Tackle Hore, So’oialo, Kaino 3
Ruck Hore, Muliaina, Weepu 3
Maul Kaino, Eaton 2
Offside Leonard, Nonu, Smith 3
Total   11

SA Penalty Offences
Tackle 2
Ruck 4
Deliberate obstruction 1
Total 7

Turnovers Conceded by NZ
Knock-ons 7
Spilled 2
Pass to opposition 2
Step into touch 1
In the tackle 4
At the ruck 1
Total 17

First 3 to Breakdown Total Per half
Thorn 34 13+21
McCaw 26 14+12
Franks* 25  
Woodcock 21 14+7
Kaino 20 7+13
Hore 17 9+8
Ross 14 7+7
So’oialo 13 10+3
Mealamu* 9  
Tialata 9  
Muliaina 8 3+5
Smith 8 2+6
Nonu 7 3+4
Eaton* 6  
Weepu* 6  
Rokocoko 6 2+4
Sivivatu 4 3+1
Donald 4 2+2
Read* 3  
Leonard 1 1+0

Ball carries
Hore 4  
Kaino 4
McCaw 3
Mealamu* 3
So’oialo 2
Read* 2
Ross 2
Woodcock 1
Tialata 1
Eaton* 1

Completed Tackles and Assists Tackles Assists
Smith 13 (9+4) 3 (2+1)
McCaw 12 (7+5) 5 (3+2)
Kaino 10 (7+3) 0
Thorn 8 (4+4) 3 (2+1)
Hore 7 (6+1) 2 (1+1)
So’oialo 7 (7+0) 0
Ross 7 (2+5) 0
Donald 5 (4+1) 1 (0+1)
Read* 4 0
Franks* 4 0
Tialata 4 0
Woodcock 3 (2+1) 1 (0+1)
Leonard 3 (3+0) 0
Rokocoko 3 (2+1) 0
Mealamu* 2 0
Eaton* 1 0
Weepu* 1 0
Nonu 1 (0+1) 2 (1+1)
Muliaina 1 (0+1) 0
Total 99 17

Missed and Slipped Tackles
Nonu 4
Kaino 3
McCaw 2
Leonard 2
Donald 2
Sivivatu 2
Ross 1
So’oialo 1
Muliaina 1
Read* 1
Total 19

NZ Line-outs Won From
First half 4 6
Second half 3 4
Total 7 10

NZ Line-out Jumpers Won From
Thorn 3 3
Ross 1 2
Kaino 1 2
Eaton 1 2
So’oialo 1 1

SA Line-outs Won From
First half 5 5
Second half 2 3
Total 7 8

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

SA Scrum Feeds Won From
First half 3 3
Second half 3 4
Total 6 7

27 Jul

Carnival of the Clueless
by Tracey Nelson
27 Jul 2009

McCawIn the first TriNations test in Auckland it was the All Blacks’ bench that helped them win the game. This week it was the bench that was the undoing of the side in a sixty second piece of play that was so farcical it might have been funny had it not cost the All Blacks the test against South Africa.

There is no doubt that the test match was there for the winning on Saturday night – the All Blacks had clawed their way back from being 17-3 down just after half time to come within four points of the Springboks with 10 minutes left to play. A ruck formed just inside the Springboks’ 22 and it looked like the All Blacks were poised to score with the Boks obviously tiring after having to defend against quick ruck ball. But then, in the space of a minute, the tide had turned and the Springboks were at the other end of the field scoring the match-winning try.

For some unfathomable reason, having finally managed to get possession and recycle the ball quickly to stretch the South African defence, what can only be described as a complete brain fade then occurred. Instead of clearing the ball quickly again, replacement halfback Piri Weepu starting orchestrating the most lengthy piece of organisation ever witnessed at test level as he waved his forwards left then right for no less than 16 seconds. In this time it allowed not only the Springboks to realign their defence but apparently also allowed confusion to grow amongst the All Blacks. For reasons known only to themselves, they chose Jason Eaton as the primary ball runner despite the fact Keven Mealamu was standing one inside him and is by far the better – and more obvious – ball carrier.

Weepu’s pass, despite having had said 16 seconds to decide where it was going, was wayward and high. Eaton, who is not known for his ball skills at the best of times, could only grab desperately at air as the ball sailed behind his ear. As it hit the ground Pierre Spies, who probably couldn’t believe his luck at the complete botch up of the world’s most telegraphed play, hoofed the loose ball downfield and the race was on. Conrad Smith, the lone shining light of the All Black side, managed to scuttle back and did enough as he lunged at the ball on the ground for Weepu to regain possession.

The obvious thing to do in that situation, being 8m from the sideline with the entire Springbok team bearing down on you as the rest of your team are retreating madly to get back on defence, would have been to either kick the ball into touch or take the tackle and try to keep possession. Ah, but logic seems to go out the window for some and in a play that would have made the worst of Hurricane’s-style rugby look smart, Weepu decided to throw a no-look pass back over his head possibly in the vague hope someone in a black jersey might actually be there to catch it.

The luckless sod was Richie McCaw, who wasn’t expecting the ball to drop out of the sky as he was racing to get back in support – probably expecting his halfback to tacke the tackle so we could set up a defensive ruck and at least try to stem the damage already incurred. With the ball loose again the Springboks pounced and got the ball away to Jacque Fourie who scampered off in delight to score in the corner as the All Blacks defenders could only watch in despair.

All other things aside in this game, including the six penalties conceded in the space of nine minutes early in the first half, the wobbly lineout (which incidentally wasn’t as bad as it seemed, with the All Blacks winning 7/10 on their own throw) and the strange decision not to contest the Springboks’ lineouts, the All Blacks had still done enough in the second half to be back in the game and to be a real chance of pushing on to win – until that 60 seconds of inexplicably poor decision making.

So far this season it appears to be one step forward and two back again for this All Black side. And more worringly, this is a side that is now missing only two key players in Dan Carter and Ali Williams. It would be nice to blame the rarified atmosphere of Bloemfontein for Weepu’s brainfade in the 71st minute of the game, but sadly this sort of poor decision-making at key moments is starting to become something of a pattern for this team and, no doubt just like the coaches, I’m at a loss to know just how you stop the rot.

24 Jul

Match preview: Springboks v All Blacks, Bloemfontein
by Tracey Nelson
24 Jul 2009

Andrew HoreAndrew Horerugby_for_dummiesWith one victory already under their belts after last weekend’s win over the Wallabies in Auckland, the All Blacks face the first of two back to back tests against the World Champion Springboks. It’s a tough ask to play two tests in a row against South Africa on South African soil, especially when one of those games is at altitude.

How do you beat the Springboks? Well, other than scoring more points than them it’s relatively simple. You have to shut them down, and in doing so you also shut down their major home advantage which is their crowd. Mind you, they’ve had problems selling out the ground at Bloemfontein to the point where they had to drop the ticket prices so maybe that will help the All Blacks regardless.

With Schalk Burger still on suspension for his eye gouging efforts against the British and Irish Lions, the All Blacks are anticipating that the Boks will be missing some grunt in the loose – and undoubtedly Burger did provide that. But in Heinrich Brossouw the Boks have a player who is probably more McCaw-like in the way he scavenges for the ball at the breakdown, and he is certainly head and shoulders above Burger in that area of the game. Add in the bulk Pierre Spies and Juan Smith and the All Blacks will still have to work hard to secure ball when it goes to ground.

If the All Blacks can carry on from where they left off against the Wallabies and hit rucks hard and in numbers, then they should come out on top. But should anyone shirk in this area of the game, and if we have tight forwards standing off, then watch the Boks pile in the numbers and drive us off the ball. It may be an afternoon game with a dry ball, but the backline won’t be able to do anything if they don’t get quick, front-foot ball from the forwards.

The All Black backline has barely stuttered let alone shown anything resembling class yet this season, so this is their big chance. But it will rely on good delivery from Leonard (this is the forwards’ job), good option taking by Donald, straightening the line rather than running laterally as Nonu was wont to do last week against Australia, and giving the threequarters space to hit the line at pace. With both de Villiers and Habana being expert intercepters, the All Blacks will have to watch throwing 50:50 passes in the face of the South African rushing defence. Take note, Luke McAlister.

The one area of weakness the Boks will be eyeing up with anticipation is our lineout. Hopefully the lessons will have be learned from last week, and we won’t see the All Blacks sticking doggedly to pre-determined throws in particular areas of the field if that thow is too risky. I’d like to see them go for the money ball first up, just to give the thrower and jumpers some confidence against undoubtedly the world’s best lineout. Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha are wiley campaigners who will be looking to give rookie Isaac Ross a real taste of the big time when it comes to contesting lineouts. In our favour we have plenty of jumping options, with both So’oialo and Kaino able to jump both at the front and the back, whilst McCaw gives a fifth option if required.

But possibly the biggest factor the All Blacks will have to overcome is fatigue. Having boarded their flight to South Africa just hours after beating the Wallabies last weekend, they will be playing at altitude which is always harder on the the visitors than the home side. The bench will certainly be used, and look for some of the subs to come not long after halftime. If the likes of Mealamu, Franks, Read and Weepu can front again as well as they did last weekend, the All Blacks should be able to overcome the rarified air and push the Boks for the full 80 minutes. I fully expect to see the full bench used on Saturday, so it may well come down to which side has the better one.

20 Jul

Game Stats: All Blacks v Wallabies, Auckland, 18 July 2009
by Tracey Nelson
20 Jul 2009

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

Please note Completed Tackles means that player actually brought the ball carrier to ground (ie. halting the ovement and being the tackler according to the laws of the game), not assists in the tackle situation which are tallied separately. Missed tackles also includes slipped tackles where the ball carrier isn’t stopped. Most importantly, I do NOT call a slipped tackle a tackle, it gets noted as a missed tackle.

Numbers in brackets are the first half/second half breakdown for each total. An asterisk denotes a player who came on as a substitute.

Team: Mils Muliaina, Corey Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Stephen Donald, Jimmy Cowan, Rodney So’oialo, Richie McCaw(c), Jerome Kaino, Isaac Ross, Brad Thorn, Neemia Tialata, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock.
Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Owen Franks, Jason Eaton, Kieran Read, Piri Weepu, Luke McAlister, Joesevata Rokocoko.

Substitutions were: Mealamu for Hore and Franks for Tialata at 44min, Weepu for Cowan at 52 min, Read for So’oialo at 61 min and Eaton for Ross at 71min.

Points Scored NZ Australia
Tries 1 1
Conversions 1 1
Penalties 5 3
Total 22 16

Penalties/Free Kicks Conceded Pen FKs
NZ 10 1
Australia 13 4
Total 23 5

NZ Penalty Offences
Tackle Hore, Tialata, Smith(3), Muliaina 6
Ruck McCaw 2
Offside from kick Thorn 1
Foul play Franks 1
Total leave blank 10

Opp Penalty Offences
Tackle 6
Offside 1
Ruck 1
Scrum 3
Obstruction 1
Deliberate knock on 1
Total 13

Turnovers Conceded by NZ
Knock-ons 9
Forward pass 1
Spilled ball 1
Ruck 4
Missing touch from penalty 1
Total 16

First 3 to Breakdown Total Per half
Thorn 35 15+20
McCaw 34 16+18
Woodcock 30 14+16
Ross 18 12+6
Hore 17 15+2
Kaino 16 6+10
So’oialo 15 9+6
Mealamu* 11  
Franks* 10  
Tialata 10 9+1
Smith 10 6+4
Muliaina 10 5+5
Eaton* 7  
Read* 7  
Donald 5 4+1
Jane 5 3+2
Nonu 5 1+4
Sivivatu 3 3+0
Weepu* 1  
Cowan 1  

Ball carries
Mealamu*   6
So’oialo   5
Ross   5
McCaw   4
Kaino   3
Read*   2
Woodcock   2
Hore   2
Franks*   1
Tialata   1
Thorn   1

Completed Tackles and Assists Tackles Assists
McCaw 12 (4+8) 0
Nonu 8 (4+4) 1 (0+1)
Kaino 8 (4+4) 0
Thorn 6 (3+3) 1 (0+1)
Donald 6 (2+4) 0
Smith 6 (1+5) 1 (0+1)
Franks* 5 0
Woodcock 5 (2+3) 1 (0+1)
Ross 5 (1+4) 2 (0+2)
So’oialo 4 (3+1) 0
Mealamu* 3 0
Read* 3 0
Hore 3 (3+0) 2 (2+0)
Cowan 3 (3+0) 0
Muliaina 3 (2+1) 0
Weepu* 2 0
Eaton* 1 0
Sivivatu 1 (0+1) 1 (1+0)
Jane 1 (0+1) 0
Total 85 9

Missed and Slipped Tackles
Kaino 3
Jane 3
Woodcock 2
McCaw 2
Thorn 1
Ross 1
Muliaina 1
Mealamu* 1
Franks* 1
Total 15

NZ Line-outs Won From
First half 7 11
Second half 3 4
Total 10 15

NZ Line-out Jumpers Won From
Ross 5 7
Thorn 2 4
So’oialo 3 3
? 1 1

Australia Line-outs Won From
First half 1 2
Second half 6 6
Total 7 8

NZ Scrum Feeds Won From
First half 3 3
Second half 6 6
Total 9 9

Australia Scrum Feeds Won From
First half 2 4
Second half 2 3
Total 4 7

18 Jul

A Win Is A Win, and We'll Take It
by Paul Waite
18 Jul 2009

Thus spake The Fitzpatrick in the Olden Days when men were hard, and the All Blacks knew how to win ugly when they needed to. Much has been written about this mythical Lost Ability since the failure against France in the 2007 World Cup Semi Final, but now it could be back!

The lead-up to this test at Eden Park was horrendous. The mix ‘n match teams which played such disjointed and lack-lustre rugby against the French were suddenly augmented with returning but non-match-fit experience in the forms of Rodney So’oialo, Richie McCaw, and Sitiveni Sivivatu, but how would they fit in?

Previous experience has shown that even with a smoother season of warm-up tests, the first 3N test can be one where we see a lot of rust being ground out of the seized joints of the team as they go about re-discovering exactly how they play together at the speed and pressure of test rugby against Australia and South Africa. This time around things looked much worse.

So I have to admit that before this test I lost the faith and had written off the All Blacks in a probable loss.

The opening 20 minutes of the first half did nothing to convince me otherwise either. It took until the final quarter for the grit and committment of the team to really weigh in and swing it. But in that opening segment the men in black were shown up in a number of key facets.

The lineout was a complete write-off, with Hore having a nightmare with his throwing. If someone had whacked him over the bonce with a baseball bat and given him triple vision, I could have understood. As it was I’m afraid I have to fall back to utter incompetence as the reason. The throws were all either too long or so mis-directed as to have the halfbacks ducking under them. Awful. We lost four lineouts in the first half whereas the Australian lineout was simply not contested. It took until the second half and a Mealamu substitution for Hore to rectify this. A whole half of lost lineouts.

The All Black defence was also soft. When Australians run the ball it is always harder to read the moves and react quickly enough than with any other team, they are that good. But even allowing for that the tackling was simply not being executed fast or accurately enough. The technique was poor in contact, and the reading of the attack too slow. All that resulted in the Wallabies, particularly the backs making the advantage line and more with complete ease. It resulted in the Wallaby opening try in the 4th minute through Burgess. A sloppy tackle from McCaw, an awful effort on backup tackle by Donald and the break was made.

Speaking of Donald, this young lad has had his critics in the early part of the All Black season. Bad luck for him that he gets to be compared with Dan Carter of course, but against the French at the Caketin a few weeks ago he was nothing short of awful. The phrase ‘couldn’t kick the skin of a rice pudding’ came to mind, many times. In this test he at least had his place-kicking boots on, which was good because without them we’d have lost this one. His punting to touch was mostly good, apart from one very bad missed touch on a penalty kick-out. Mind you the way the lineout was going I expect it didn’t matter much. The one area he needs to improve *hugely* though is his kicking from hand under pressure. Time and again he received the ball to punt to air, or for position, and I had time to go out to the kitchen, make a cup of tea and a slice of toast before he had caught it, looked down, shuffled his feet, adjusted his grip and then kicked it. Naturally there were usually about 5 Australians a millimetre away from him by the time his boot met ball. Speed it up noddy, that rubbish just isn’t good enough at this level.

The last area we were under-par was our work at the breakdown. We were getting some numbers there, but it was a man or two too few quite often and it wasn’t effective enough. This was fixed in the second half and I was much happier with the way we were blowing them off the ball and threatening their ball. It definitely upset them and gave us a few turnovers.

All of the team rallied in this one, and threw the bodies on the line. McCaw was as outstanding and influential as ever. Whenever we think he can’t do something he does it. Coming back to 3N rugby with just a club game under his belt since injury, the thinking was that he wouldn’t last the pace. He didn’t only last the pace, he made it. There will have been some sore Aussie bodies in the shed after this test, and a good number of those bruises will have been inflicted by a certain R McCaw.

Kudos also to Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu who kept the Australian midfield pretty quiet all night, and especially to Smith who, with that wonderful ability to run straight that he has, created McCaw’s try in the 25th minute to get us back into the test 10-13 at a critical stage.

So’oialo and Kaino toiled, as did Big Bad Brad and Isaac Ross. At scrum time Woodcock got the better of his opposite Al Baxter and the All Blacks got several scrum penalties. Although nobody except a fully initiated member of The Front Row Club knows exactly what goes on in the murky depths of the scrum, I have a strong feeling that Woody was hood-winking the ref into thinking Baxter was pulling him down. Not a new trick by any means, but if so it was executed with awesome skill by him, and was a very valuable contribution to the win.

Franks came on for Tialata at tight-head in the 49th minute, whether for injury or tactics I don’t know, but he certainly impressed, and in my opinion is well worth looking at for a starting spot next time. Mealamu, as mentioned totally eclipsed Hore and should retain his spot at hooker too.

At the back Cory Jane did nothing wrong and was tidy. Mils however didn’t play with his usual aplomb, and made two uncharacteristic errors at the back putting pressure on the team. He was also pretty ordinary running the ball, so hopefully we have some better form from him in the tests coming up. On the other wing Sivivatu kept fairly busy without really having much in the way of opportunities.

In summary this test was one that a lot of fans here in New Zealand had already conceded to Australia judging by the talk in the week prior. But the All Blacks had other plans and although they were as rusty as we feared in the first half, they kept in the test into the wind, and after they turned around, they swung the game momentum their way with some awesome presence at the breakdown and in the tackle.

The way they upped the intensity in the contact areas was enough to shade ahead by forcing a couple of kickable penalties which Donald obliged with, and that was enough to win.

It warmed the heart to see the boys turn the desperate Wallabies over in possession in the final couple of minutes, then suck it into the forwards and operate delaying tactics to wind the clock down for Piri Weepu to punt the ball directly into touch and seal the result.

Won ugly, but W-O-N!

The Haka Team

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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17 Jul

Match Preview: All Blacks v Wallabies, Auckland
by Tracey Nelson
17 Jul 2009

It may well be nothing more than a rectangle of grass with goal posts at either end, but it’s been 23 years since the Wallabies last beat the All Blacks at Eden Park.

With the welcome return of Richie McCaw and Rodney So’oialo to the forward pack, it is the battle of the breakdown that most focus will be on this weekend. There is no doubt that McCaw is without peer when it comes to contesting the ball at the tackle, and this along with his valued leadership both on and off the field have been the missing ingredients so far this season.

This weekend he will once again be expected to front as the miracle worker – the key player who makes the All Blacks seemingly invincible when he takes the field. But it is a big ask for McCaw who, like So’oialo, has not played top class rugby since the S14 semi finals in mid May. And this is probably a point of difference the Wallabies will be looking to exploit.

Australia’s version of McCaw is George Smith, who this weekend will be playing his 100th test match – a milestone not may openside flankers have achieved in the modern game where the battering and hits they take generally shorten their careers and leave them carrying niggling injuries. Alongside Smith the Wallabies are fielding ball-running No 8 Wycliff Palu and Richard Brown who is normally a No 8 but will be running at blindside flanker.

The selection of Brown, along with two specialist openside flankers on the bench (Phil Waugh and David Pocock) tends to suggest the Wallabies have formulated a game plan to try and negate McCaw’s skills. In matching the bulk of the All Black loose trio they may look to use numbers to the breakdown and blow McCaw off the ball, banking on the fact that both McCaw and So’oialo will be lacking match fitness. If the Wallabies employ a ball running game plan at the start, then they will look to batter and tire the All Black loosies with tackling, rather than use the kicking game they’ve employed so far under coach Robbie Deans.

Should the ball carrying plan work, then I suspect the Wallabies will bring on Waugh and even possibly Pocock as well in the last quarter of the game and then up the pace against a tiring All Black pack. With only Kieran Read as true loose forward cover, the All Blacks could potentially be caught short. Of course, this all depends on being able to negate McCaw. But recent history has shown us that if you can do that, then you can beat the All Blacks.

Kick off is Saturday 7.35pm NZT at Eden Park, Auckland.

13 Jul

To coach, or not to coach?
by Tracey Nelson
13 Jul 2009

Last week All Blacks Coach Graham Henry and his two Assistant Coaches, Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen, were re-appointed to take the All Blacks team through until the end of 2011. This will extend their reign to eight years and will encompass the 2011 Rugby World Cup. So what lies ahead for Messrs Henry, Hansen and Smith as they get a second bite of the cherry?

There was some eyebrow raising at the timing of the annoucement, given the outgoing NZRU board made the decision in April and the All Blacks were coming off the end of an Iveco series against France and Italy that had failed to inspire and resulted in France winning the Gallagher Trophy. But there can be no denying that statistically speaking their coaching record looks good. Under Henry, Hansen and Smith the All Blacks have won 57 out of 66 Test matches, a winning record of 86 percent that includes defending the Bledisloe Cup in five successive seasons, winning the Tri Nations four times, a clean-sweep of the British and Irish Lions series in 2005, and two Grand Slams in 2005 and 2008. NZRU Chairman Jock Hobbs said the current All Blacks coaching panel was a very strong and experienced team.Graham, Wayne and Steve are outstanding coaches. They have a formidable record and we hold them in very high regard.”

Ah, this is the crux of the matter though. The use of the word “coach”. These three men, at this level of rugby, aren’t as much coaches as player managers – much in the way of the Alan Ferguson’s of this world. Which had been fine and dandy up until about 2007. They had all played rugby and coached their first rugby sides in a different era, when you still had players who had learnt their trade via the club scene, then the NPC before hitting the Super 12 comp. That was the era of the “rugby-intelligent” players – the likes of Fitzy, the Brooke brothers, Andrew Mehrtens, etc. But now we are in an era where most players leave school, enter the development squad systems and never really got a chance to play club rugby surrounded by older, wiser heads.

In the 80′s and 90′s, and even as late as 2003, the top players participated at club level and the newbies came up through the ranks playing alongside All Blacks. One past-Crusader who played club rugby alongside Richard Loe made the comment that back then if the ball needed to be kicked out, you made damn sure you got it out otherwise you risked being either thumped or rucked by Loe himself. And while he may have ruled with a reign of terror, equally there were techniques and tactics he and other senior players employed that junior players learned from. It was learning in the school of hard knocks, not watching data streams of your tackling technique sitting indoors at a computer.

All the basic core skills of the game were coached and learned at club and provincial level, so that by the time a player made the Super comp or the ABs, they had all the skills required for that position and the coaches didn’t have to spend hours teaching the basics. Instead they could just concentrate on the moves, or the finer points of lineouts or scrummaging. The All Black coach could tell the players to employ umbrella or inside out or whatever other defensive system he wanted to use and know that the players actually understood what he were talking about rather than having to explain it from scratch and then hope like hell they could do it right in a game.

You also had players with not just a good grounding in the core skills but also an understanding of the laws. Mehrts might be an extreme example here but he could actually discuss rulings with the ref as could Fitzy, Zinny etc. But you look at today’s players and outside of McCaw the bulk of the forwards are clueless when it comes to the laws. One All Black lock admitted during the S14 that he didn’t actually know or understand all the laws around a lineout. Unfortunately in the modern game you can’t bluff your way as a rugby player without eventually being found out. And I think we’re about at that stage now with some of the players.

Now, before someone starts bleating about the laws being too difficult or that there are too many of them, here are just a few examples where players have cost the All Blacks penalties in the recent Iveco series:

1. Continuing to chase a kick when infront of the kicker
2. Forwards running outside the 15m to take a long throw at thelineout before the ball has even left the hooker’s hands
3. Backs running up offside before a lineout has finished
4. Not retiring 10m from a kick and actually continuing to move forward and make the tackle from that offside position

There is no way a coach should have to be coaching ANY of those four examples, even at Div 2 club rugby. They’re basics of the game and haven’t been fiddled with by the law makers for some years now. So the dilemma we find ourselves in is that we have just appointed three coaches through to 2011 who have not had to really *coach* rugby for the last decade but are now finding themselves faced with the serious problem of having a lot of players lacking in the fundamental basics of the game. Add to that the recent ELVs in the S14 and switching back again for test rugby and the problems just increase. The biggest task infront of the All Black coaches in the next two years is learning how to coach again, rather than just manage.

6 Jul

All Blacks Squad for TriNations named
by Tracey Nelson
6 Jul 2009

On Saturday morning the 30 man All Black squad was named to play the Investec TriNations Series against South Africa and Australia. After stumbling through the Iveco series the All Black coaches will welcome the return from injury of inspirational captain Richie McCaw, along with Rodney So’oialo, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Conrad Smith.

With four extra players added to the squad the coaches have gone for an extra prop and lock in Owen Franks and Jason Eaton respectively, a third hooker in Aled de Malmanche and a further winger, Hosea Gear. Gone from the Iveco squad are Liam Messam, George Whitelock and Lelia Masaga.

Messam was the major causalty from the original squad named to play the Iveco series against France and Ireland back in late May, With head coach Graeme Henry stating that his high-risk style of game isn’t suited to test match rugby he pointed out that Messam had missed crucial tackles and turned the ball over in the one test he played against France, costing the All Blacks vital points in that test match. While Messam wasn’t the only player to miss tackles in Dunedin this message was uncannily similar to statements the selectors made about Sione Lauaki, who was relegated to playing the NZ Juniors this last month. It would appear that it’s a case of two strikes in a game and you’re out for any rookies in the 2009 All Blacks, with winger Lelia Masaga having also played himself out of contention with a flighty display against Italy.

The injury curse is continuing to bug the All Blacks, with Stephen Donald (hamstring) and Isaia Toeava (foot fracture) both out for the opening TriNations/Bledisloe test against Australia in Auckland on July 18th. Other players not considered for the squad due to injury are Dan Carter, Ali Williams, Richard Kahui, Anthony Boric, Adam Thomson, Rudi Wulf, Andy Ellis, Scott Waldrom and Cory Flynn. While there is little doubt McCaw will provide much needed leadership for the forwards, his return needs to be tempered with the fact he hasn’t played top level rugby since mid-May so will be lacking some match fitness. Likewise So’oaialo has also been out of top rugby for the best part of two months as has Andrew Hore who only lasted 7 minutes against France in Dunedin.

With Donald struggling to recover from his injury the role of 1st 5 will go to Luke McAlister – a position he struggled in when he started there against Italy. This is by far the biggest area of concern for the All Blacks, and despite the selectors being outwardly bouyant over McAlister’s ability to step up, there are still a lot of frailties in the crucial pivot position. Henry reiterated the need for other players around McAlister to offer him help on the field, namely Ma’a Nonu at 2nd 5 and the openside/No 8 combination. But questions remain around Nonu’s kicking game which was absent during the Iveco series, and outside of Muliaina at fullback there are precious other options available should the ball need to be cleared.

The recall of Eaton has also raised a few eyebrows. Eaton have been named alongside Kieran Read as cover for blindside flanker, and while there is no doubt Read can play international rugby in that position there must be serious questions asked over Eaton’s abilities. Despite playing three games at blindside for the Juniors at the request of the All Black coaches, he did not shine in the role and certainly lacks the pace required of a flanker at test level.

The selectors have also found him ‘a bit questionable in the past’ when it comes to kick-offs, and Eaton’s aerial and catching skills didn’t set the world on fire with the Juniors. He is also prone to missing tackles and turning the ball over – traits that saw Messam dropped from the squad. With a requirement for a fourth lock, and preferably one with not just height but the ability to play the tight role as cover for Brad Thorn, it would have seemed judicious to have picked either Tom Donnelly or Jeremy Thrush who both performed well for the Juniors. However, with Isaac Ross and Bryn Evans boasting just 5 test caps between them it would appear Eaton’s re-selection is purely to add test experience to the locking stocks.

The squad is:

BACKS: Mils Muliaina, Cory Jane, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Joesevata Rokocoko, Hosea Gear, Conrad Smith, Isaia Toeava, Ma’a Nonu, Luke McAlister, Stephen Donald, Piri Weepu, Brendon Leonard, Jimmy Cowan.

FORWARDS: Rodney So’oialo, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Tanerau Latimer, Jerome Kaino, Brad Thorn, Isaac Ross, Bryn Evans, Jason Eaton, Tony Woodcock, John Afoa, Wyatt Crockett, Neemia Tialata, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Andrew Hore, Aled de Malmanche.

Four players are on standby to cover for injuries in the squad, and they are Stephen Brett, Anthony Tuitavake, Tamati Ellison and Ben Franks.

3 Jul

Haka's possible All Black squad for the 2009 TriNations
by Tracey Nelson
3 Jul 2009

After some discussion and arguing, the team at Haka have come up with their possible squad for the upcoming TriNations series that will kick off in Auckland on July 18th when the All Blacks take on the Wallabies in the first of the Bledisloe Cup test matches.

We’ve gone with a 17:13 split of forwards to backs to make up the 30 man squad.

Mils Muiliaina
Cory Jane

Sitiveni Sivivatu
Joe Rokocoko
Hosea Gear

Isaia Toeava
Conrad Smith
Ma’a Nonu
Luke McAlister

Stephen Donald

Piri Weepu
Brendon Leonard
Jimmy Cowan

Rodney So’oialo
Kieran Read

Richie McCaw (c)
George Whitelock

Jerome Kaino
Liam Messam

Brad Thorn
Isaac Ross
Bryn Evans
Tom Donnelly

Tony Woodcock
John Afoa
Neemia Tialata
Owen Franks

Keven Mealamu
Andrew Hore
Aled de Malmanche

We couldn’t decide between Whitelock and Tanerau Latimer for the second specialist openside as deputy to McCaw, so it’s my executive decision to go for an out and out fetcher in Whitelock ahead of Latimer but we wouldn’t be surprised if Latimer gets the nod ahead of Whitelock.

We’ve picked three hookers and only four locks, the selectors may well go for just two hookers and look at five locks in which case they will probably pick Jason Eaton. We wouldn’t on his 2009 form for both the Hurricanes and the NZ Juniors.

Potential bolters:

Tamati Ellison for Isaia Toeava
Colin Slade as a specialist 1st 5, at the expense of either Toeava or Hosea Gear

The squad will be announced at 9am Saturday morning, NZ time.