A Game Of Two Halves
by Paul Waite
10 Sep 2011
The All Blacks started the Rugby World Cup 2011 against Tonga in Pool A with a hiss and a whimper, playing great rugby in the first half, and an awful pile of rubbish in the second.
If Graham Henry intended to lull the opposition at this Rugby World Cup by convincing them that his side couldn’t last 80 minutes, could only scrum like Golden Oldies with the subs on, and can’t defend their line against determined (but predictable) pick-and-goes, then he probably succeeded.
The first half was pretty much as expected, with the All Blacks defence up hard on the one-dimensional Tongan attack snuffing everything out and turning their ball over. The only discordant note in the regular try-scoring was that most of them seemed to come from Tongan errors, or broken play, rather than from All Black control.
But the scoreboard was ticking over, and when they ran out for the second half we all expected it to mount to somewhere in the region of 50-something. Wrong.
Give the Tongans credit here for coming out with renewed energy and a more solid approach to defence, closing down the All Blacks attack more quickly. As we have seen against South Afrtica and lately against Australia in Brisbane, the All Blacks are vulnerable to this kind of defence, and seemingly still have no adequate answer to it. They tend to panic and make mistakes and this is what happened against Tonga. A littany of dropped ball, wrong options, and plain stupidity saw the clock being run down with no added points.
Tonga took heart from the changing fortunes and got some good field position in the All Blacks 22m late in the game. Seeing this as their chance to score a try they kept the ball in hand and simply drove at the All Blacks who visibly seemed to tire. With replacements on the field Franks for Woodcock (LH prop), and Whitelock for Thorn (lock) the All Black scrum suddenly went from having a marked advantage, to being under pressure. Repeated penalties to Tonga for collapsing 5m out from the All Blacks line were an effective ‘down-trou’ for the home team in front of their own fans, something they won’t relish watching on the replays.
After much pressure and an un-countable number of pick and goes, finally the irrepressible Taumalolo fired himself through grasping hands to score a deserved try. The positives that Henry, Hansen and Smith can take from this game are, in order of importance:
- Kahui’s Man of the Match performance cementing him as a starting winger.
- The SB Williams/Nonu combination showing promise as an option to the proven World-beating pairing of Nonu/Smith in midfield if injury requires it.
- Kaino’s hard-hitting, bulldozing plays showing what superb form he is in.
- Colin Slade improving with every game.
- The maul is back as an attacking option!
- No inuries.
- Bonus point start to Rugby World Cup 2011
I expect that a lot of folks will be talking about how the Sonny Bill/Nonu partnership is now our best midfield option. Get a grip people, a few good touches against Tonga doesn’t trump seasons of proven World-beating partnership against the top sides in crucial tests. Great to see SBW looking sharp and to have him ready though.
The next team that Henry announces will be very interesting. Will he do more experimentation, or will it be (as I hope) his view of the Top XV + bench?
If you don’t pick you top starting XV in a World Cup and play it together in consequetive games, how can it possibly build enough rhythm to win a World Cup?
Make the right decision, Ted!
New Zealand 41
Israel Dagg (2), Richard Kahui (2), Jerome Kaino, Ma’a Nonu tries
Dan Carter (3 con, pen), Colin Slade (con)
Alisona Taumalolo try
Kurt Morath (Con, Pen)