27 Oct

Can A Great Competition Get Better
by Tracey Nelson
27 Oct 2009

There are many reasons to love our domestic rugby competition, the Air New Zealand Cup. We also saw that the magic still exists when Southland took the Ranfurly Shield off Canterbury last week. But with the shadow of demotion facing four of the fourteen sides, is there a way to make this competition even better?

History was made in the last round with Southland lifting the Shield off Canterbury – a feat all the more remarkable because it had been 50 years since they last held the Log of Wood. If any grey-suited NZRU member had any doubts over what the Shield means to New Zealand rugby, they needed only to look at the two sides when the final whistle blew on Thursday night. One side had their arms held aloft to the heavens with many players actually leaping in the air with delight, whilst the other side stood as one with heads downcast and shoulders sagged.

Likewise, the week before we had seen an epic game where the lead see-sawed and it was only the individual contributions of All Blacks Richie McCaw and Dan Carter that saw Canterbury get up over Hawkes Bay. Hawkes Bay, at that stage with no current All Blacks in their side, had pushed a team boasting eight All Blacks to the very limit before being denied a potential draw at the final whistle. But there in lies the rub.

The All Blacks have, for all intents and purposes, been withdrawn from the ANZC and were it not for the five week gap between the end of the Tri-Nations and the start of the end of year tour to the northern hemisphere, they wouldn’t feature in the competition at all. But because they need match time and a gallop before going on tour, they are thrust back into the competition for a couple of weeks in October – around weeks 11 and 12, which is basically coming into the business end of the draw as places for the semis are starting to heat up.

It seems inherently unfair that teams like Northland, Counties, Bay of Plenty, Hawkes Bay, Manawatu and Tasman have a 23-man squad that play week in and week out, with the associated player/injury management required for the duration of a 13 week competition (and longer if you make the play-offs), yet teams like Canterbury, Wellington, Auckland and Waikato essentially have a squad of 28+ players that they can rotate and rest because of All Blacks popping in to play a couple of games just at the point of the competition where player wear and tear starts to mount up.

If we must have the ABs coming back in to play the odd game here and there, despite the fact that overall the ANZC is apparently a bit beneath them to play more than two or three games because they need a rest after playing six games over a three month period, then perhaps the following rules should apply:

1. Any province can nominate up to three of their current All Blacks (ie. have played in the Tri-Nations) to turn out for them during the comp.

2. The remaining All Blacks from that province go into a pool that provinces who have no All Blacks at all (eg. Counties, Manawatu, Northland etc) get first dibs at – and they can pick up to three All Blacks. Teams with major injuries to key players/positions get first choice of the pool to fill that position.

3. Any remaining ABs in the pool can then be picked up by any other province not already fielding 3 All Blacks.

So teams like Northland, Counties, Manawatu with no All Blacks get 3 from the pool. A team like Southland with just one All Black would be eligible to get two from the pool.

Using this structure All Blacks would still get some game time prior to an EOYT, but it wouldn’t create the huge imbalances you see – for example, when Canterbury took on Hawkes Bay with eight All Blacks, because we all know that without those All Blacks Canterbury would have lost that game. It would also mean that the smaller provinces and the players would get the benefits of having some All Blacks spending time with them.

Given the the NZRU sold out our domestic competition by agreeing to extend the Tri-Nations into September and insist on treating ABs as demi-gods when it comes to participating in provincial rugby, then I think it’s only fair that they should be dispensed in equal amounts into the competition to compensate. As it stand at the moment it makes it a farce that the big guns suddenly overtake the so-called minnows solely due to having their All Blacks back en masse for a few games.

It could also potentially sort out the salary cap problem too, because a province would then only ever be covering the salary of three All Blacks – and if a minnow province felt that they couldn’t afford All Blacks for a couple of games then they wouldn’t have to pick them out of the pool.

Food for thought?

22 Oct

Race for the Semis
by Tracey Nelson
22 Oct 2009

We’ve reached the final round of the ANZC competition, and places for the semi finals are still up in the air with only Canterbury guaranteed of being in the play-offs before this weekend’s games are decided. So what are scenarios?

Canterbury are sitting in 1st place on 46 points. Regardless of whether Canterbury win or lose (although if they lose this game they also lose the Ranfurly Shield) to Southland, they are guarenteed of finishing in 1st place due to being 7 points ahead on the leaderboard from second-placed Wellington.

Wellington are currently sitting second on 39 points.. If Wellington win away against Tasman this Friday, they sew up second place regardless of whether or not they win with a bonus point. However, should they lose this game they could miss out on the semis if Southland, Waikato/Auckland and Hawkes Bay all win their games. A loss with the loser’s bonus point could see them potentially finish in 4th place behind both Waikato and Hawkes Bay if they win their games – all three sides could finish on 40 points but because Wellington lost to Waikato in round robin play they would finish behind Waikato.

Southland are currently sitting third on 37 points. Should they lose to Canterbury they risk missing out on the semis if Hawkes Bay wins, becuase either one of Waikato or Auckland will overtake Southland when that game is played on Saturday night. So to make the semis Southland must either win the Ranfurly Shield, or hope that Hawkes Bay is beaten by Northland.

Waikato are currently 4th on 36 points. They can make the semis by beating Auckland, and could potentially finish in scond place if both Wellington and Southland lose this weekend. A loss, even with the bonus point, will see them miss out if Hawkes Bay wins against Northland.

Hawkes Bay are just outside the top four, sitting on 36 points but behind Waikato as the Mooloos won the round robin game between the two sides. Hawkes Bay need to win their game against Northland to have any hope of making the semis. If they win that game then they also need one of the following to occur: Canterbury to beat Southland, Tasman to beat Wellington, or Auckland to beat Waikato. If any of those events occur and Hawkes Bay win their game, they could finish as high as second should Wellington lose to Tasman.

Auckland are in 6th place on 35 points. They can make the semis by beating Waikato and hoping that Canterbury beats Southland. They could even finish as high as second if those two things happen, and also both Wellington and Hawkes Bay lose their games.

The deciding games this weekend are:

Thurs 7.30pm: Canterbury v Southland (Ranfurly Shield)
Fri 7.30pm: Northland v Hawkes Bay and Tasman v Wellington
Sat 7.30pm: Waikato v Auckland

22 Oct

Race for the Semi Finals
by Tracey Nelson
22 Oct 2009

We’ve reached the final round of the ANZC competition, and places for the semi finals are still up in the air with only Canterbury guaranteed of being in the play-offs before this weekend’s games are decided. So what are scenarios?

Canterbury are sitting in 1st place on 46 points. Regardless of whether Canterbury win or lose (although if they lose this game they also lose the Ranfurly Shield) to Southland, they are guarenteed of finishing in 1st place due to being 7 points ahead on the leaderboard from second-placed Wellington.

Wellington are currently sitting second on 39 points.. If Wellington win away against Tasman this Friday, they sew up second place regardless of whether or not they win with a bonus point. However, should they lose this game they could miss out on the semis if Southland, Waikato/Auckland and Hawkes Bay all win their games. A loss with the loser’s bonus point could see them potentially finish in 4th place behind both Waikato and Hawkes Bay if they win their games – all three sides could finish on 40 points but because Wellington lost to both sides in round robin play they would finish behind them.

Southland are currently sitting third on 37 points. Should they lose to Canterbury they risk missing out on the semis if Hawkes Bay wins, becuase either one of Waikato or Auckland will overtake Southland when that game is played on Saturday night. So to make the semis Southland must either win the Ranfurly Shield, or hope that Hawkes Bay is beaten by Northland.

Waikato are currently 4th on 36 points. They can make the semis by beating Auckland, and could potentially finish in scond place if both Wellington and Southland lose this weekend. A loss, even with the bonus point, will see them miss out if Hawkes Bay wins against Northland.

Hawkes Bay are just outside the top four, sitting on 36 points but behind Waikato as the Mooloos won the round robin game between the two sides. Hawkes Bay need to win their game against Northland to have any hope of making the semis. If they win that game then they also need one of the following to occur: Canterbury to beat Southland, Tasman to beat Wellington, or Auckland to beat Waikato. If any of those events occur and Hawkes Bay win their game, they could finish as high as second should Wellington lose to Tasman.

Auckland are in 6th place on 35 points. They can make the semis by beating Waikato and hoping that Canterbury beats Southland. They could even finish as high as second if those two things happen, and also both Wellington and Hawkes Bay lose their games.

The deciding games this weekend are:

Thurs 7.30pm: Canterbury v Southland (Ranfurly Shield)
Fri 7.30pm: Northland v Hawkes Bay and Tasman v Wellington
Sat 7.30pm: Waikato v Auckland

18 Oct

All Blacks end of year tour squad announced
by Tracey Nelson
18 Oct 2009

There are four new caps in the All Black squad named this morning for the end of year tour, including an out an out bolter in Otago’s Ben Smith.

The new caps are all backs, with Mike Delany (Bay of Plenty), Tamati Ellison (Wellington), Zac Guildford (Hawkes Bay) and Ben Smith named in the 33 man squad. The squad also features the return of Corey Flynn, Andy Ellis and Anthony Boric, who went on last year’s end of tour and return to the All Blacks after injuries.

Delany has been selected "on form", with the coaches liking his positive play, ability to counter-attack, his skills under the high ball and his kicking. He is the leading points scorer in the ANZC, and joins Dan Carter and Stephen Donald as a specialist 1st 5.

Ben Smith will be a specialist right winger, also able to cover fullback. Guildford (top try scorer in the ANZC) and Ben Smith "both have the skill set for the modern game", and were praised for their abilities under the high ball and their kick/chase game. Both make the squad ahead of Joe Rokocoko and Hosea Gear, with Henry commenting on their need to work on their skills under the high ball and their counter-attacking for future selection.

Tamati Ellison, who has been part of wider training groups in the past, is selected for the first time in a All Black squad as a specialist centre alongside Conrad Smith. Luke McAlister has been passed fit after his ankle injury scare this week, and joins Ma’a Nonu as a 2nd 5 in the squad.

Liam Messam has been recalled after his axing from the first squadnamed in2009. Messam was dropped after the June test series and had been sent away with two "work ons" in ball maintenance and one-on-one tackling.The coaches felt he had improved sufficiently in these areas and had shown good form in the ANZC to warrant re-selection.

Tanerau Latimer gets the nod as Richie McCaw’s understudy at openside flanker and was considered "a step ahead" of the other contenders, George Whitelock (Canterbury) and Karl Lowe (Hawkes Bay).

With seven loose forwards named only two hookers have been selected, with Cory Flynn replacing Aled de Malmanche. Graham Henry stated that Flynn was selected due to the need for experience when only taking two hookers, and that they feel de Malmanche needs to work on his throwing. If there are any injuries John Afoa will cover hooker, with either him or Tony Woodcock throwing to the lineout.

As expected, Isaac Ross has been left with key areas of his game to work on, those being his scrummaging skills and clean-out work at the breakdown. The coaches reiterated that they felt he has had a good year, but "will come back a better player" after working on those key areas.

But the biggest curve ball thrown this morning was the announcement that the coaches will be swapping their roles on this tour, with Graham Henry taking on the forwards, Wayne Smith the defence and Steve Hansen the attack. Perhaps an admission that an element of staleness has crept into the team this year.

The full squad is:

Props (5)
John Afoa (Auckland)
Wyatt Crockett (Canterbury)
Owen Franks (Canterbury)
Neemia Tialata (Wellington)
Tony Woodcock (North Harbour)

Hookers (2)
Andrew Hore (Taranaki)
Cory Flynn (Canterbury)

Locks (4)
Anthony Boric (North Harbour)
Tom Donnelly (Otago)
Jason Eaton (Taranaki)
Brad Thorn (Canterbury)

Loosies (7)
Jerome Kaino (Auckland)
Adam Thomson (Otago)
Richie McCaw (Canterbury)
Tanerau Latimer (Bay of Plenty)
Liam Messam (Waikato)
Kieran Read (Canterbury)
Rodney So’oialo (Wellington)

Halfbacks (3)
Jimmy Cowan (Southland)
Brendon Leonard (Waikato)
Andy Ellis (Canterbury)

First fives(3)
Dan Carter (Canterbury)
Stephen Donald (Waikato)
Mike Delany (Bay of Plenty)

Midfielders (4)
Luke McAlister (North Harbour)
Ma’a Nonu (Wellington)
Conrad Smith (Wellington)
Tamati Ellison (Wellington)

Wingers (3)
Sitiveni Sivivatu (Waikato)
Zac Guildford (Hawkes Bay)
Ben Smith (Otago)

Fullbacks (2)
Mils Muliaina (Waikato)
Cory Jane (Wellington)

Players not considered for selection due to injury include:
Piri Weepu (ankle), Isaia Toeava (pelvis), Lelia Masaga (shoulder), Keven Mealamu (chest), Bryn Evans (back), Richard Kahui (shoulder) and Ali Williams (Achilles).

The All Blacks tour schedule is:

Saturday 31 October, All Blacks vs Australia, National Olympic Stadium, Tokyo
Saturday 7 November, All Blacks vs Wales, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Saturday 14 November, All Blacks vs Italy, San Siro Stadium, Milan
Saturday 21 November, All Blacks vs England, Twickenham, London
Saturday 28 November, All Blacks vs France, Stade Velodrome, Marseille
Saturday 5 December, All Blacks vs Barbarians, Twickenham, London

16 Oct

Haka's possible All Black squad for end of year tour
by Tracey Nelson
16 Oct 2009

The Haka team have mused over who the likely candidates will be when the All Black sway is named this Sunday for the end of year tour that takes in Australia in Tokyo before test matches against Wales, Italy, England and France, and finally the Baabaas game.

With a reduced squad of 33 players (compared with last year’s tour squad of 35) it is likely the coaches will stay loyal to most of the players who played in the Tri-Nations series. As such, we have gone for a split of 18 forwards and 15 backs.

With Isaac Ross possibly left behind to "bulk up" in the gym we see Anthony Boric as likely to be re-called after missing selection earlier this year due to injury. While Zac Guildford has been a standout winger on form in the ANZC, with only 15 backs in the squad and Cory Jane able to cover fullback and wing he is the unlucky one in our books with Sivivatu, Rokocoko and Rico Gear the front runners. Should Sivivatu not be considered due to injury, we thinkGuilford would go in his place.

We think it is unlikely the coaches will risk exposing Aaron Cruden so early in his career, particularly without any S14 rugby under his belt, which is why we haven’t named him. We’ve picked three 1st 5s in Dan Carter, Stephen Donald and Colin Slade (who can also cover fullback) but the bolter may be Bay of Plenty’s Mike Delaney, who is the form 1st 5 in the ANZC and has played a season of S14 with the Chiefs this year.

Hawkes Bay’s Karl Lowe gets our nod as Richie McCaw’s back-up after his display against Canterbury last night, backed up by other performances during the ANZC. Lowe played for the Hurricanes this year, so ticks that key box for the coaches. However, Canterbury’s George Whitelock and Bay of Plenty’s Tanerau Latimer have both been part of wider training squads this year and as such may have the front running.

The squad we think likely to be named is:

Props (5)
John Afoa (Auckland)
Wyatt Crockett (Canterbury)
Owen Franks (Canterbury)
Neemia Tialata (Wellington)
Tony Woodcock (North Harbour)

Hookers (3)
Aled de Malmanche (Waikato)
Andrew Hore (Taranaki)
Hika Elliot (Hawkes Bay)

Locks (4)
Anthony Boric (North Harbour)
Tom Donnelly (Otago)
Jason Eaton (Taranaki)
Brad Thorn (Canterbury)

Loosies (6)
Jerome Kaino (Auckland)
Adam Thomson (Otago)
Karl Lowe (Hawkes Bay)
Richie McCaw (Canterbury)
Kieran Read (Canterbury)
Rodney So’oialo (Wellington)

Halfbacks (3)
Jimmy Cowan (Southland)
Brendon Leonard (Waikato)
Andy Ellis (Canterbury)

First fives (3)
Dan Carter (Canterbury)
Stephen Donald (Waikato)
Colin Slade (Canterbury)

Midfielders (4)
Luke McAlister (North Harbour)
Ma’a Nonu (Wellington)
Conrad Smith (Wellington)
Tamati Ellison (Wellington)

Wingers (3)
Siteveni Sivivatu (Waikato)
Joe Rokocoko (Auckland)
Rico Gear (Wellington)

Fullbacks (2)
Mils Muliaina (Waikato)
Cory Jane (Wellington)

Possible bolters: Liam Messam (Waikato) getting a re-call at No 8 in place of Rodney So’oialo, Israel Dagg (Hawkes Bay) at fullback, Zac Guildford (Hawkes Bay) on the wing, Mike Delaney (Bay of Plenty) at 1st 5, Aaron Cruden (Manawatu) at 1st 5.

The squad is named at 10am this Sunday, 18 October.

9 Oct

All Blacks Test Venues 2010
by Tracey Nelson
9 Oct 2009

The All Blacks will play their opening test match of 2010 in New Plymouth as the Taranaki city secures its second test match after the All Blacks played Samoa there in 2008.

Six venues in total will host the All Blacks’ home games next year, with Dunedin hosting Wales for the very first time in what could be an historic occasion as it is likely to be the last time the All Blacks play at Carisbrook with the new Otago Stadium due for completion in 2011.

The June international series sees a one-off test against Ireland in New Plymouth, followed by two test matches against Wales played in Dunedin and Hamilton. The Investec Tri-Nations kicks off with the All Blacks hosting South Africa at Eden Park in Auckland, and then again the following weekend in Wellington. The All Blacks have a two week break before travelling to Australia for a test against the Wallabies before returning to New Zealand to host them at the newly completed AMI Stadium in Christchurch the following weekend. After another break the All Blacks travel to South Africa to take on the Springboks in Johannesburg and Pretoria, before returning to Sydney to play the Wallabies in the final game of the Tri-Nations.

The June-September 2010 schedule is as follows:

Date Match Venue
June 12 All Blacks v Ireland New Plymouth
June 19 All Blacks v Wales Dunedin
June 26 All Blacks v Wales Hamilton
July 10 All Blacks v South Africa Auckland
July 17 All Blacks v South Africa Wellington
July 24 Australia v South Africa Brisbane
July 31 Australia v All Blacks Melbourne
Aug 7 All Blacks v Australia Christchurch
Aug 21 South Africa v All Blacks Johannesburg
Aug 28 South Africa v Australia Pretoria
Sept 4 South Africa v Australia Bloemfontein
Sept 11 Australia v All Blacks Sydney