17 Sep

All Blacks Rout Japanese 83-7
by Paul Waite
17 Sep 2011

Though it’s hard to judge individual performances against such a weak opposition, it’s safe to say that this pool game saw the All Blacks step up a gear in their preparations for the knock-out stages, and also gave us slightly more clarity on what their top selection is.

Looking ahead we have to ignore the 13 try to 1 point-scoring festival, and instead focus on what happened out there. For starters we had another ‘experimental’ 22 playing, especially so given the injury withdrawals during the week of Muliaina, McCaw, Dagg, and Carter. Given the makeshift nature of the team which eventually ran out onto Waikato Stadium, the insights it produced were excellent.

Looking at the overall picture it was pleasing that the team kept its discipline and structure for the full 80 minutes, even when subs came on, many playing out of position. Also pleasing was the number of set-piece moves that were practiced on the night, and with a high success rate. And once again we saw the All Blacks honing their mauling skills, something that has been absent from their repertoire for too long.

There were negatives as well of course. Colin Slade had a ‘mare of a game, missing easy kicks from the tee, fumbling the ball and throwing the intercept pass that gave Japan their solitary try. I have some sympathy with him however, given the kicking percentage across the whole Rugby World Cup so far is only about 60% and outstanding kickers such as Jonny Wilkinson are struggling with it. Clearly RWC Ltd. has, once again, allowed some manufacturer to create yet another ‘special’ World Cup Ball, which flies like a bag of dirty washing. You only have to watch the thing wobbling about in flight to see something is very wrong with it. [Ed: new information indicates the ball is the same one used in the 6N and other European comps with no complaints, and if so clearly the kickers are at fault not the ball!]

The early kicking problems seemed to sap Slade’s confidence, and he got into that ‘it’s all going wrong’ mindset. He’s a lot better than he showed, but it would be great if he could find some form, fast!

At halfback Andy Ellis was busy and accurate, and there isn’t anything obvious to separate him from Weepu and Cowan. However given the weakness of the opposition, I’d say that Cowan and Weepu still rate as the top two, with Weepu a shoe-in due to his ability to cover the No.10 jersey.

The wings are also still a bit of a conundrum. Kahui has definitely sewn up left-wing, but Jane on the right was a bit tentative without doing anything wrong. Toeava may get the nod from the selectors here vs. France we shall see.

Finally, I think that this game saw Sonny Bill Williams cement a place on the bench in the selectors’ minds, covering wing and midfield. They have been trying very hard to get him into the frame due to his perceived game-breaking abilities, and I would say that he has done that now. The starting midfield was always going to be the Nonu/Smith partnership, which once again showed its class in this match.

For my part I would prefer a Kahui, Jane, Dagg back three now, persevering with Jane on the right wing due to his quick-silver cleverness in tight situations, and expertise under the high ball. However the selectors might pick Toeava on the right instead.

Looking at the forwards, once again the lack of physical presence from Japan makes it difficult to reach solid conclusions. Plus points were that Thomson proved he has recovered fully from his arm injury, Woodcock got in a good form-building run, and Boric got on the field. It was great to see those trademark burrowing runs from skipper for the night Keven Mealamu too. But the standout forward of the night has to be Jerome Kaino who is building up the kind of unstoppable form that will be hugely valuable in the rounds to come.

Apart from the points above, the other big win on the night was that the All Blacks got through it with no further injuries.

All Blacks 83
Smith, Kahui (2), Kaino, Mealamu, Ellis, Slade, Toeava, Hore, SB Williams (2), Nonu, Thomson tries; Slade 9 con

Japan 7
Onozawa try; Williams Con

Halftime: 38-0

The Haka Top XV:
15 Israel Dagg
14 Richard Kahui
13 Conrad Smith
12 Ma’a Nonu
11 Cory Jane
10 Daniel Carter
9 Piri Weepu
8 Kieran Read
7 Richie McCaw (c)
6 Jerome Kaino
5 Brad Thorn
4 Anthony Boric
3 Owen Franks
2 Keven Mealamu
1 Tony Woodcock

Reserves:
SB Williams, Jimmy Cowan, Colin Slade, Sam Whitelock, Adam Thomson, Ben Franks, Andrew Hore

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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