3 Nov

All Blacks v Wallabies – Hong Kong, 1 Nov 2008
by Tracey Nelson
3 Nov 2008

Sorry folks, no game stats yet due to being away on holiday but never fear – the stats for the HK match will be posted next week along with normal coverage resuming for the entire UK tour. So here is just a brief summary of the inaugural off-shore Bledisloe Cup test match.

Both teams said in the build up to this test that it was not going to be a festival game or a dead rubber, and that they were treating it as the real McCoy and wanted the win. So you could have been mistaken in thinking aliens had abducted the All Blacks on the Friday night and replaced them with blundering idiots who thought it was more important to play hot potato with the ball than construct anything resembling good ruck ball and a platform for the backs.

Australia scored the first try of the game thanks to a dreadful no-look long pass to Mr Nobody that they swooped on and scored in the corner. The poor pass was a culmination of what had preceded it, the All Blacks failing to get numbers to the breakdown, not fielding kicks on the full but instead letting them bounce, and generally attempting to play too much rugby in their own 22 and from behind the advantage line.

What made it worse was that after conceding that try, nothing changed. It was a glaring demonstration of why rugby players need game time rather than resting, as it was mostly those who hadn’t had much ANZC rugby who were struggling to keep up with play and making errors such as dropping passes, mis-timing runs and simply not doing the basics of the game well. Meanwhile the Australians were looking confident, making the gain line, committing players to the breakdown and using the kicking game well to keep the All Blacks in their own half.

Failure to get numbers to the breakdown was a serious issue for the All Blacks in the first half, and I have no doubt that had McCaw not been playing the outcome of this game could easily have gone the other way. Losing Andrew Hore so early in the game (and from the whole tour now due to the seriousness of his injury) probably didn’t help the cause, with reserve hooker Keven Mealamu looking desperately short of a gallop and having a bad case of the dropsies as well.

Meanwhile, the All Black backline was stuttering along under the direction of Stephen Donald at 1st 5 and it was no surprise at all when he was subbed around the 50 minute stage of the game and Dan Carter slotted back into his usual position with Ma’a Nonu coming on at 2nd 5. However, it was the injection of Piri Weepu at halfback that finally stirred the team into some decent rugby at last. He started sniping around the fringes, his passing was crisp and fast, and he got the pack hitting the rucks and producing better ball than had been offered up to Jimmy Cowan in the first half.

Despite a few more flaky moments from the boys in black, eventually they started to find some gears and thanks to referee Alan Lewis being particulalry hard on the Wallabies at the breakdown, the All Blacks started to wear the Australians down and eventually managed to get the overlap out wide when a long pass by Sivivatu found captain McCaw in the clear out on the wing. He made no mistake and scooped the ball up from around his ankles to score the winning try.

This game probably posed more questions for the selectors than it answered, as it was obvious the backline struggled to run under Donald’s guidance, Tialata does not look the answer at TH prop, the lineout still wobbled under pressure late in the game, and the conundrum of playing the flakey Sivivatu on the wing must continue to vex. Underlying this is a game plan that doesn’t seem to have addressed key problems the All Blacks have had all year, which is committment of number at the breakdown to provide clean, fast ball, the ongoing problems with scrambling defence, the propensity for the defence to get beaten by the wide pass in midfield, and an inability to score tries from set piece.

Being able to score from broken play is all well and good, but only works if you can pressure the oppositon into making mistakes and currently this All Black side does not exert nearly enough pressure on the opposition to rely on this as their only form of try scoring. With a team boasting the talents of Dan Carter, Joe Rokocoko, Hosea Gear and the ilk, you would

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