21 Sep

Game Stats: All Blacks v Wallabies, Wellington, 19 Sept 2009
by Tracey Nelson
21 Sep 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, Corey Jane, Isaia Toeava, Ma’a Nonu, Joe Rokocoko, Dan Carter, Jimmy Cowan, Kieran Read, Adam Thomson, Richie McCaw (c), Tom Donnelly, Brad Thorn, Neemia Tialata, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock.
Reserves: Aled de Malmanche, JOhn Afoa, Jason Eaton, Rodney So’oialo, Brendon Leonard, Stephen Donald, Hosea Gear.

Substitutions were: Afoa for Tialata at 46 min, Gear for Jane at 59 min, Eaton for Donnelly at 65 min, Leonard for Cowan at 68 min, So’oialo for Thomson at 72 min and de Malmanche for Hore at 79 min.

Points Scored NZ Australia
Tries 3 0
Conversions 3 0
Penalties 3/4 1/2
Drop goals 0 1/1
Total 33 6

Penalties/Free Kicks Conceded Pen FKs
NZ 9 3
Australia 9 2
Total 18 5

NZ Penalty Offences
Tackle Read, Cowan, Toeava(YC), Afoa 4
Ruck Read, Hore, McCaw 3
Offside Thorn, NOnu 2
Total   9

Opp Penalty Offences
Tackle 4
Ruck 3
Deliberate knockon 1
Early charge 1
Total 9

Turnovers Conceded by NZ
Knock-ons 5
Forward pass 3
Spilled 1
Pass to opposition 1
Kicks out on full 1
In the tackle 3
At the ruck 1
Total 15

First 3 to Breakdown Total Per half
Thorn 44 22+22
McCaw 33 20+13
Woodcock 32 18+14
Hore 32 18+14
Read 31 13+18
Thomson 28 12+16
Donnelly 22 16+10
Tialata 16 14+2
Afoa* 13  
Nonu 10 6+4
Rokocoko 10 5+5
Muliaina 10 5+5
Toeava 9 6+3
Eaton* 7  
Carter 5 1+4
Leonard* 2  
Cowan 2 1+1
So’oialo 1  
Jane 1 0+1

Ball carries
McCaw 15  
Read 11
Thorn 8
Thomson 5
Woodcock 5
Afoa* 4
So’oialo* 3
Hore 3
Tialata 3
Donnelly 2

Completed Tackles and Assists Tackles Assists
Read 9 (2+7) 4 (2+2)
McCaw 8 (2+6) 1 (1+0)
Carter 7 (4+3) 1 (0+1)
Thomson 7 (4+3) 1 (1+0)
NOnu 4 (2+2) 1 (1+0)
Thorn 4 (2+2) 1 (0+1)
Toeava 3 (2+1) 3 (2+1)
Hore 3 (1+2) 2 (2+0)
Donnelly 3 (2+1) 2 (2+0)
Cowan 3 (1+2) 1 (1+0)
Muliaina 3 (1+2) 1 (1+0)
Afoa* 2 1
Leonare* 2 0
Woodcock 2 (1+1) 1 (1+0)
Tialata 2 (2+0) 0
Eaton* 1 0
Rokocoko 1 (1+0) 0
Total 63 22

Missed and Slipped Tackles
Rokocoko 3
Toeava 3
Donnelly 2
Read 2
Cowan 1
Carter 1
Nonu 1
Muliaina 1
Total 14

NZ Line-outs Won From
First half 1 2
Second half 8 8
Total 8 9

NZ Line-out Jumpers Won From
Read 5 5
Donnelly 2 3
THorn 1 1
Thomson 1 1

Australia Line-outs Won From
First half 8 8
Second half 5 7
Total 13 15

NZ Scrum Feeds Won From
First half 3 3
Second half 5 5
Total 8 8

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

18 Sep

How to win friends and influence people
by Tracey Nelson
18 Sep 2009

If we thought John Hart and John Mitchell were All Black coaches who could raise the ire of the New Zealand public like no other, then step aside everyone – because while the current coaching trio may not be winning on the field, off the field they are excelling in statements that have wound New Zealand rugby supporters up like a spring.

Let’s start with that C word – Confidence. Or should that be contradiction. Because certainly there have been plenty of contradictory statements stemming from the 2009 All Blacks. The lineout is just the start, where on one hand we have Steve Hansen stating that the All Blacks haven’t lost confidence and that they aren’t going to change what they’re doing because "Our issue with the lineout is not that we can’t lineout, it’s just that we’re making mistakes."

Yet Graham Henry then comes out and says "I guess it’s about confidence. If you don’t hit the jumpers early, then confidence starts to wane and that’s what happened." And listening to Andrew Hore talking about lineouts in the lead up to the test against Australia in Wellington this weekend using langauge such as "hopeful" and "we think" and "we’re pretty sure" just reinforces the fact that confidence is definitely down.

There have been the recent comments about rugby being a simple game. Henry confirmed for us that "It’s a basic game. You have to have quality first-phase ball. You have to build a foundation through the set-piece and get across the advantage line. That sets the platform." Hmm, yet Wayne Smith and Henry himself both still back playing an expansive game that hasn’t come to fruition all this season because we are failing to win our set pieces and get front foot ball.

Last year we were told the side "would have learned a great deal from the defeat" after losing the first test to the Wallabies in Sydney, and we were told at the start of the Tri-Nations this year that "we are a work in progress". But have we made any progress? Forward progess, that is?

Comments such as "the sort of pressure Habana applies at kick is a good lesson for our blokes" seems to have fallen on deaf ears, as the All Blacks time and again have failed to put any pressure on their opposition at the restart and actually managed to put pressure on themselves last week in Hamilton by kicking two restarts out on the full.

Equally we’ve heard this week that "You can’t (win games) if you’re not able to execute your set piece platforms or catch and pass. We’ve got to find the players who we know can go out and perform on that stage accurately" and yet Joe Rokocoko keeps his spot on the wing despite reaching double digits for the number of knock-ons he’s contributed this Tri-Nations.

That was followed up with the re-call of Neemia Tialata who was initially dropped after the first two Tri-Nations tests due to poor form, with the reasoning "We are a bit concerned about the amount of football he’s played in recent times, but we think that’s the best selection". Sorry? Can you repeat that? Owen Franks, who has more than held his own at tighthead prop and has proved to have a very high workrate around the field, is supposedly being "rested" and isn’t being made a scapegoat for the loss in Hamilton. Quite what Franks needs a rest from, averaging only 51 minutes play in each of the five tests he’s played in over the last 8 weeks – that works out to be around half an hour of playing per week – is anyone’s guess. But that’s what we’re being told.

Ah, and don’t forget that despite the All Blacks being our premier professional side – the side that all other players, teams and competitions in this country have to take a back seat to – that at the end of day it is, according to Hansen, "just a game". He reckons that public pressure on him to get the lineout working right was nothing compared to his previous life working in the police force. Well, if the All Blacks’ lineout implodes again this weekend he may just need a police escort to leave the stadium.

It’s been all well and good for the coaches to tell us that the players have the right attitude, and that they’re trying the best. But I’m afraid that when you’re an All Black trying your best isn’t good enough – you need to be better than your best, because that’s what wearing the black jersey is all about. Excuses about the high error rates from Hansen by suggesting that if there were no mistakes in sport Roger Federer would win every Grand Slam missed the obvious point that Roger Federer doesn’t consistently double-fault on his own serve the way the All Black lineout has tended to this season.

So thank goodness for Dan Carter who has come out with the only worthwhile statement this week, saying "Pressure is just part of the territory and you’ve got to use it to your advantage." Let’s hope the All Blacks can channel that pressure, because a loss this weekend will make them the only All Black team to ever suffer three home defeats in one season. If the coaches want to quote Lombardi by quipping "they have not built any statues yet for critics and wannabes" they may also want to consider another of his quotes:

If winning isn’t everything, why do they keep score?

16 Sep

Beyond reasonable doubt
by Tracey Nelson
16 Sep 2009

Rugby, according to Graham Henry, is a simple game. So if that’s true, then why are the All Blacks making it so complicated?

Let’s start with the biggest bug-bear of them all. The lineouts. Our lineout woes have been going on for a few years now under this coaching regime and while they may have briefly improved last year where the All Blacks were winning around 87% of their throws, this season it has slipped to 75% . It reads worse against South Africa, where the All Blacks could only win 59% of their own throws across the three Tri-Nations tests.

Steve Hansen has blamed the current lineout problems on human error, but when you look at what those errors are the question has to be asked whether those errors could have been avoided in the first instance. Claiming that jumpers didn’t have back lifters is just "a human error" is up there with suggesting it would be human error to jump out of an aircraft without a parachute.

The technical aspects of the All Blacks’ lineout are flawed, and they are not helping themselves by making their lineouts prescriptive rather than thinking on their feet and reacting to the conditions at the time. It’s all well and good to have set moves you would like to use on given parts of the field, but if the opposition are on to you then you need to act accordingly rather than doggedly sticking to "the plan".

Test match rugby is all about pressure, so what was the thinking to give a rookie lock the job of calling the lineouts? Equally, the process of subbing him off in two of the tests and then getting the substitute player to take over the lineout calls also seemed nothing short of premeditated chaos. Hansen is quick to point out that Isaac Ross should not shoulder all the blame for the lineouts, "..there’s a lot of responsibility on his shoulders and he’s just a kid" – so surely the buck falls back on the coaches who decided it was a good idea to laod this responsibility onto a new All Black.

There weretheludicrous claims from the All Blacks that they suspected their lineouts were being spied on while they were in South Africa, but the fact of the matter is that the All Black throws are easy to read and therefore easy for the opposition to match up against. Not to mention the All Blacks seem to like helping the Springboks out by throwing to the spot Victor Matfield is jumping in.

But if lineouts weren’t bad enough, there is the backline. A backline that has failed to produce any cohesion or strike power, and one that has continued to operate poorly even after the return of Dan Carter. Quite why the All Blacks were running moves with Donald at 1st 5 and Carter at 2nd 5 at training last week when Carter was named to start at 1st 5 we can only put down to some form of smoke and trickery in lead up to the test – and it was a gamble that ultimately backfired in Hamilton.

To see a player of the calibre of Carter throwing a pass that was easily intercepted for a try was bad enough, but that it came from an overly complicated move from one of the few of our own lineouts we actually managed to win really just summed this season up. Add the continued selecion of out-of-sorts Joe Rokocoko on the wing and the inability of most of the backs to get into position and take control of high kicks from the opposition, then you really have to start wondering what is going on in the All Black camp.

There have been plenty of noises about how the team is building this season, but even the players must be starting to switch off when the coaches look for things to build on after yet another loss. Commentsfrom Hansen such as "the positive thing about the lineout for me in that first half was that we managed to put them under a lot of pressure. The ball they won was pretty untidy too" is merely grasping at straws. Untidy it may have been yet the All Blacks never profited from it, and it was a botched All Black lineout the Boks scored their first try from. Nothing too positive in that for me, I’m afraid.

The high error rate from this side is simply not good enough. While the coaches stress that it is not a lack of confidence, the questions must now be asked why the errors continue to come. The lack of composure, inability to execute anything under pressure (and sometimes under no pressure at all), and the general poor decision making point to a distinct lack of self confidence in even the senior players in this side. Sure, there are some key All Black unavailable due to injuries but to see the likes of Muliaina, Carter and McCaw all well short of their best must surely be more than ringing the alarm bells.

15 Sep

Game Stats: All Blacks v Springboks, Hamilton, 12 September 2009
by Tracey Nelson
15 Sep 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, Ma’a Nonu, Stephen Donald, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Dan Carter, Jimmy Cowan, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw(c), Jerome Kaino, Isaac Ross, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore,Tony Woodcock.
Reserves: Aled de Malmanche, John Afoa, Adam Thomson, Rodney So’oialo, Brendon Leonard, Isaia Toeava, Cory Jane.

Substitutions were: Toeava for Donald and Afoa for Franks at 51 min, Thomson for Kaino at 71 min and Jane for Sivivatu at 72 min.

Points Scored NZ SA
Tries 2 2
Conversions 2/2 2/2
Penalties 4/4 5/5
Drop goals 0/0 0/2
Total 29 32

Penalties/Free Kicks Conceded Pen FKs
NZ 8 0
SA 12 0
Total 20 0

NZ Penalty Offences
Tackle Woodcock, Rokocoko, Nonu, Franks, Muliaina 5
Ruck offside Sivivatu 1
Scrum ? 1
Shoulder charge Read 1
Total   8

SA Penalty Offences
Tackle 5
Ruck 3
Offside 1
Scrum 1
Obstruction 1
Backchat 1
Total 12

Turnovers Conceded by NZ
Knock-ons 10
Spilled ball 3
Pass to opposition/intercepted 1
In the tackle 4
At the ruck 1
Lineout 5
Scrum 1
Kick out on full 2
Miss touch from penalty 1
Total 28

First 3 to Breakdown Total Per half
Thorn 41 22+19
McCaw 38 18+20
Hore 32 15+17
Read 30 10+20
Woodcock 23 7+16
Franks 21 16+5
Ross 20 6+14
Kaino 18 7+11
Afoa* 17  
Rokocoko 10 3+7
Toeava* 9  
Nonu 9 4+5
Thomson* 8  
Carter 7 1+6
Muliaina 6 3+3
Donald 4 2+2
Sivivatu 4 2+2
Cowan 1 0+1
Jane* 1  

Ball carries
Hore 8
Read 7
Woodcock 6
Kaino 4
McCaw 3  
Thomson* 2
Afoa* 2
Ross 2
Thorn 2
Franks 1

Completed Tackles and Assists Tackles Assists
Nonu 6 (4+2) 0
McCaw 5 (2+3) 4 (3+1)
Franks 5 (5+0) 1 (1+0)
Thorn 5(3+3) 0
Cowan 5 (1+4) 0
Carter 4 (1+3+ 0
Read 3 (2+1) 1 (1+0)
Hore 2 (1+1) 1 (1+0)
Ross 2 (0+2) 1 (0+1)
Sivivatu 2 (1+1) 1 (1+0)
Donald 2 (2+2) 0
Woodcock 1 (1+0) 2 (1+1)  
Jane* 1 0
Rokocoko 1 (1+0) 0
Muliaina 1 (1+0) 0
Kaino 0 2 (1+1)
Total 45 13

Missed and Slipped Tackles
Sivivatu 2
Kaino 1
McCaw 1
Cowan 1
Carter 1
Total 6

NZ Line-outs Won From
First half 1 5
Second half 6 7
Total 7 12

NZ Line-out Jumpers Won From
Ross 2 3
Read 1 4
McCaw 1 1
Thomson 1 1
? 1 1
Quick throw 2 2

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

NZ Scrum Feeds Won From
First half 3 3
Second half 4 5
Total 7 8

SA Scrum Feeds Won From
First half 1 1
Second half 7 7
Total 8 8

13 Sep

Match Report – All Blacks v South Africa
by Tracey Nelson
13 Sep 2009

They came, they saw, and they beat us on our own soil. Last night the South African’s weren’t necessarily bigger, but they were certainly better and while they didn’t show that much in the way of a game plan they didn’t really need to because the All Blacks made enough mistakes for the South Africans to win and take out the Tri Nations.

The All Blacks’ game was again full of mistakes with handling errors and an inability to win our own lineouts (none of our own throws in the first half) again prominent. The fact that Dan Carter put two restarts out on the full and threw a wobbly delayed pass that was intercepted by Jean de Villiers for a try that put the visitors ahead by 19 points probably summed up the wobbles that the entire All Black side seemed to be suffering from.

Amazingly, this game actually looked better watching it on replay than it did live at the ground, however the fact remains that the All Blacks are their own worst enemy and continue to put themselves under pressure throughout the game. Noises were made in the lead up to this test that winning the breakdown would be important, yet there did not seem to be the numbers nor the forward drive over the ball to ever make this a reality.

Likewise the lineout continues to irk, with overthrows and poor timing again the main problem. Many thought that our scrum would be dominant, but somehow the Boks had done enough work since Brisbane to at least have parity for the most part – and on one occasion, when the All Blacks had passed up a shot at goal and opted for a scrum on the South African’s 22 they ended up getting shunted backwards.

There were glimmers of light in the last 20 minutes, when the All Blacks almost seemed to give up what was a scratchy gameplan at best and just threw themselves into the game. A nicely placed kick out to the right wing by Carter saw McCaw make a fine take in the air to dot down in the corner, but it was too little too late and despite a desperate last two minutes of play a similar kick by Carter to the left corner was too deep and went over the sideline to see the All Blacks go down 32-29.

There is a final chance in Wellington against the Wallabies next weekend for the All Blacks to finish the TriNations with some pride intact, for if they don’t beat the Wallabies they run the risk of coming last. Quite whether this side can string some consistency and passion together is the big question, as so far this season they have only stuttered along and we have yet to see any building from game to game.

As for the coaches, there seems little to say. The acid test is now on Steve Hansen to sort the lineout out once and for all. Wayne Smith’s backline has looked out of sorts and incapable of stringing any sort of move together. Only Graham Henry’s defence seems to have got a pass mark for improvement this season, and even that has been scratchy and desperate at times. But there is nobody else to assume the mantle, so we’d all better hope they can come up with something in the next week to inspire their charges and give the NZ public something worth watching.

10 Sep

All in the Numbers – Match Preview, Hamilton
by Tracey Nelson
10 Sep 2009

The win by the Wallabies over the Springboks last weekend has left the Tri-Nations door ajar for the All Blacks. But the road to winning the Tri-Nations crown is far from easy, and with South Africa sitting at the top of the table and with a handy points differential, the All Blacks are going to have to pull out all the stops this weekend.

According to a study released by Auckland University this week, New Zealanders are not particularly good at linking maths to everyday life and it suggested that we have neither the ability nor the inclination to use mathematics effectively. However, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that to stay alive in the TriNations the All Blacks neeed to do three things on Saturday:

1. Win

2. Deny South Africa any bonus points (which means don’t let them score four tries and/or be within seven points of our score)

3. Preferably score four tries in winning the game, or if not then win by more than 25 points.

Of course, those who can do maths will quickly work out that the best way to win by 25 points or more is by scoring tries because it is fairly unlikely the Springboks will concede 9 penalties within kicking distance and that Dan Carter will nail them all – not impossible, but I’d say improbable.

The likelihood of the All Blacks scoring four tries is also in the improbable basket. Namely because so far in 2009 they are only averaging 1.4 tries a game, and in Tri-Nations test matches it lowers to just on one try per game. The 10 tries scored so far in 2009 is the worst try tally since 1978, and given we haven’t scored a bonus point win in the last 8 test matches against South Africa you wouldn’t be putting money on it happening this weekend – especially with wet weather forecast for Saturday night in Hamilton.

However, there is one number I like and that is the one on the back of Dan Carter’s jersey. Thankfully he has been selected at 1st 5, and despite the All Black coaches suggesting that they will use two pivots on attack and either Carter or Donald will call the plays, hopes of the All Blacks winning – and winning well enough to possibly score four tries – surely lie in the hands of the world’s best playmaker.

A few eyebrows were raised over the lack of specialist lock on the All Blacks’ bench, but given our current lack of international locks and the prowess of the Bok lineout there really was little to be gained by having specialist cover there. By including Adam Thomson, the All Blacks are allowing themselves the luxury of fresh legs and a player who has shown great form in the ANZC with his speed and skills at the breakdown. As the Wallabies proved last weekend, it is the contest at the breakdown and speed of play that is vital to beat this South African side.

This test match will the be third in a row on the road for the Springboks, and while they are making noises about wanting to atone for the loss against Australia in Brisbane last week, they will be feeling jaded. Add to that the insult they handed Hamiltonians by delaying their arrival into NZ because "there is nothing to do in Hamilton", I would expect the crowd to be baying for blood when they run out on the field. It will be the first time the Springboks have played a Tri-Nations test in New Zealand at a ground where the crowd is so close to the sidelines, so I expect the atmosphere to be well and truly charged in favour of the All Blacks.

Kick off is at 7.35pm in Hamilton, Saturday 12 September.