22 Jun

All Blacks See Off The English
by Paul Waite
22 Jun 2008

Any thoughts that England might be able to take the lessons of the last test on board, and come out for this one to mount a serious challenge were dashed in Christchurch as the All Blacks made a clean sweep of the Iveco Series, winning by a greater margin than last week 44-12.

The English were their own worst enemies once again, as they chucked away try-scoring chances through shear poor finishing ability. Winger Tom Varndell should have scored in the left corner, and would have if he had seen the incoming tackle of Leon MacDonald and gone in lower. Inexperience.

Just before the halftime whistle fullback Tait also had a good chance, after doing all the hard work with a lovely chip and chase, he coughed the ball in the in-goal instead of forcing it. Ok, there were a couple of All Black defenders in attendance, but that was no excuse.

So the score of 20-0 at half-time flattered the All Blacks who, against a more clinical opposition, would have either been going in the odd 10 points down, or at best on a par. That’s why it’s important not to get too carried away with the two-test series win, and view it just as a good blow-out and a trial chance for some newbies.

But one thing we should get carried away about is the form and play-making of Dan Carter. I thought that, after his virtuoso performances in 2005 against the Lions, we’d maybe seen a peak given his fall-off in form leading up to the World Cup. But the way he is playing right now I think we have yet to see the very best from him, so thank goodness that the NZRU have signed him up until 2011, sabbatical clause or not.

It was a dream of a debut for Waikato’s Richard Kahui, who took to test rugby like the proverbial duck to the wet stuff. After 11 minutes, Carter burst through the English midfield and raced toward the 22m with Kahui in support on the right touch-line. They both executed a lovely switch with Kahui cutting across behind Carter to dot down under the sticks.

Carter went near again 20 minutes later as he jumped to regather his own chip-kick, but was held up in-goal. During this attacking skirmish, All Black skipper Richie McCaw had his left foot caught from behind by the legs of an English player tackling Carter, and rolled his ankle badly. He was helped from the field, and will have scans this week to ascertain the damage. But from the ensuing 5m scrum the All Blacks showed the English set-piece defence up, as they were sucked in by a few dummy cross field runs and left a gaping hole for Carter to run through without a hand laid on him to score.

England grabbed a couple of tries through halfback Danny Care who took advantage of a scrum penalty 5m out to scamper over before anyone reacted, and Tom Varndell who received a lovely pass from the pick of the English backs, Tait. But both of those tries came from somewhat chaotic phases of play, and were opportunistic. They were not really created by England, and although they were a welcome addition to their side of the score-board, it never looked like they would act as a platform for a serious challenge.

Ma’a Nonu got in on the scoring act, grabbing his fifth try in Black after some great interplay between Carter and Sivivatu, and Lauaki, who had come on when McCaw left the field, lumbered over the line under the posts more or less unopposed after the All Blacks had a scrum 5m out.

The final try came to replacement All Black halfback Cowan after the hooter had sounded, in a frenetic sequence of play where repeated free-kick infringements on both sides kept the game going. If the English had simply kicked the ball out on one of theirs, then they would have left the field 7 points better off.

The Man of the Match for me was Dan Carter. The No.10 is in superlative form, and is an absolute joy to watch.

Debutants Kahui, Thomson and Wulf all played very well. Kahui grabbed the spotlight with his ability to read the game, crunching defence, and clinical finishing. But it was perhaps Thomson who was the most impressive of them. His work-rate, and strength at the breakdown was phenomenal, and he matched McCaw in making himself a pest at the ruck against the English ball. He also seems to have that un-teachable ability to read the way play is going, and to be in the right place, doing the right things.

Rudi Wulf looked very sharp and keen, however it was one of those nights when the ball didn’t really come his way, so he will have to wait for his next chance and hope for better opportunities. For now he showed enough on attack and defence to show he has what it takes at this level.

There were some good points and bad from this test, some of which Henry touched on at the press conference afterwards. I’ve listed both sets of my own in no particular order here:

Good points:

  • Adam Thomson’s general work-rate, vision, and effect at the ruck.
  • Kahui’s debut at 13 showed all the skills and vision, and defensive ability required.
  • Rudi Wulf was sharp and quick.
  • Woodcock’s return showing it is no ‘myth’ he is the best there is.
  • The team still functioned well despite losing Ali Williams and Richie McCaw.
  • Nonu continues his good run of form.
  • The Carter Magic. Absolute joy to watch him in this form.
  • Thorn taking responsibility in the lineouts.
  • Rodney So’oialo’s calm, steady captaincy in the absence of McCaw.

The not so good:

  • Kicks being watched by everyone, allowing the ball to bounce.
  • Too much 50-50 ball on the ground not being claimed by anyone.
  • Not enough support of players coming in behind.
  • Silly antics from the front-row giving away a free-kick 5m out from our line.
  • Lineouts – our perennial problem (even allowing for Williams going off).
  • A drop in intensity on defence compared with last week.
  • Delivery from halfback often too slow or dithery.

So plenty to work on (as they say) for the opening Tri-Nations test against South Africa in a fortnight’s time.

Although McCaw has to have a scan this week, from the look of it as he limped off, he will be out of action for that test at the very least and possibly a few more. It will be very interesting to see how we re-organise the loose-trio to cope with that.

Thomson’s quality performance out there tonight could be a very timely one indeed.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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