8 Jan

Stop Press!! Common Sense Outbreak at NZRFU!
by Rick Boyd
8 Jan 2008

There has been considerable moaning from media lightweights — and from a few people who should know better — but with one notable drawback, the NZRFU’s decision to continue All Black coach Graham Henry’s tenure is an asset for All Black and New Zealand rugby.

First and foremost, it signals that maybe, just maybe, the NZRFU are finally getting the message the Rugby World Cup isn’t the be-all and end-all of international rugby.

And even intellectual pygmies (with which rugby is abundantly stocked) should be able to figure out why. Just think about it, the Rugby World Cup measures all the wrong things.

Take a four-test international series. To win one of those is damn hard. A team has to be measured against its opponent four times, and come up victorious three times to claim the series. There’s no room for flukes, lucky breaks and the bounce of the ball. A team that does it three times in a row over an opponent has proven its mettle.

But there’s no four-test series in the Rugby World Cup, for obvious reasons. The Rugby World Cup is a series of one-off tests, with only the semi-final and the final providing any real opposition; and the occasional quarter-final if a team strikes one of the major players (mainly due to the ongoing stupidity that is Rugby World Cup seedings).

A team has one chance to make or break in the Rugby World Cup. One close game, one fluke, one lucky break — one unbelievably imbecilic decision by a blind pommy git referee — and it’s all over red rover.

What does the Rugby World Cup measure? Fuck all.

But then it was never designed to. The Rugby World Cup was designed to be a great showcase of the game, a marvellous carnival of rugby giving the game peak profile to the world’s media in one fantastic marketing window.

It was never designed to find the world’s best team.

Understandably, the media went into a frenzy over the Rugby World Cup. That’s what it was designed for. Less understandably, casual fans followed, mistaking the high profile of the event for high value of rugby. Incomprehensibly, national rugby boards and many grass roots fans trailed blindly after them, deciding that a trophy with world in the title meant that it was the pinnacle of world rugby achievement.

But it’s not. It’s the pinnacle of world rugby profile.

Arguably, the "best" team in world rugby has won the Rugby World Cup three times in six tournaments New Zealand in 1987, Australia in 1991 and England in 2003.

There are those deluded fools who say that the Rugby World Cup is the pinnacle of achievement because all teams are on an even footing and they go into it knowing they have to produce their best in this one event. Which is, of course, simplistic nonsense. Firstly, knowing they have to produce their best has absolutely no connection to actually doing their best. If teams knew how to produce their best on demand, they’d do it every time. And secondly, a one off game is still a poorer way of evaluating ability than a series, no matter how even a footing all teams are on or how much they want to produce their best in one event. It is utter, utter nonsense to think otherwise.

It’s high time the Rugby World Cup was put in its place. Graham Henry and his brains trust took the All Blacks to a string of victories which was the envy of every other team in world rugby. Tri-Nations wins, Lions tour wins, Grand Slam wins no one should ask more of a coach than that. Yet one poor refereeing decision is supposed to turn that brilliant record into failure? How stupid do you have to be?

Ok, so he made a few mistakes. Resting All Blacks during the Super 14 may have been one, it may not. The rotational policy may have been one, or the manner the rotational policy was applied.

The demands on international players in the contemporary era are unreasonable, and the stress modern international athletes are subjected to makes them brittle. On the one hand the team needs players who are match fit, hardened against quality opposition and with enough time together to form working combinations. On the other hand the teams needs players that are fresh, in peak form and injury free – not a bunch of stale, exhausted players carrying a plethora of injuries. It’s a fine line, and many other cliches.

Personally, I think that the rotational policy is a matter of necessity while the international season remains so long and so demanding. And New Zealand has the depth to use it effectively. But what absolutely must happen is that key players have enough time in their key positions to be able to form combinations. It was absolute madness to throw Luke McAlister and Mils Muliaina into the French quarter final in only their third test together.

And let’s look at that Rugby World Cup quarter final, since it seems Henry’s career hung in the balance over one solitary test. Firstly, the All Black forwards did all that could be asked of them. The team had heaps of ball to play with and a lot of it from go-forward positions. Secondly, the All Black backs were flat and awkward. Some of this was due to the poor combinations, some due to Factor Three, excellent French play — particularly in defence — and some due simply to a poor day on the park. Fourthly, the All Blacks were underdone, and no one can deny it. The length of time since earlier tests, the soft pool games, and the decision by Scotland to play their B team against New Zealand in a gutless display of cynical gamesmanship that should be stamped out severely by the IRB. If the All Blacks had played a test series against France, they would have slaughtered them in the following tests. They needed one hard game to get them firing, but in the Rugby World Cup there are no second chances.

But all of those factors meant only that the game was close. The All Blacks were in front, they had dominated play, they had scored tries, they had done enough. And that’s where the real decider, Factor Five, came into play. An inexperienced referee, frozen in the headlights of world cup finals, gave one of the worst displays of test match officiating ever seen and tipped the balance of the match in France’s favour. Apart from the iniquitous direction of modern refereeing that sanctions constant offsides and interference off the ball, referee Barnes was too scared to give one penalty against France in the second half, despite a string of blatant offences that are there for all the world to see on video. And when France passed ridiculously forward to score the try that illegally stole them the game, Barnes was oblivious.

In summary, Barnes wasn’t the reason the game was close – that was the All Blacks’ own fault. But he definitely was the reason the French gained the winning score in that close game. And that’s a disgrace.

Graham Henry and his team must accept responsibility for the Rugby World Cup quarter final loss, but only for the factors under their control. And they should not outweigh Henry’s excellent test record since 2004, they should not even come close.Therefore the decision by the NZRFU to allow Henry and Co. to continue this excellent record is to be applauded, not least because it shows that the Rugby World Cup, while a worthy prize, is not the only prize, and not even the most important prize.

The one negative from this is the loss of Robbie Deans to the Wallabies. I would have been perfectly happy had Deans got the All Black job. Maybe it was time for a new face to have a go. He would have done a sterling job. But then I’m perfectly happy for Henry to continue too.

It’s just a shame that such a great coaching talent as Deans is now offshore. And I feel bound to say, this is not a feature of the modern game that sits at all easily with me. I know it’s a professional sport and rugby people naturally seek the maximum income from the sport they can. I do myself, after all (peanuts though that may be).

Call me a dinosaur, but for me a New Zealander is a New Zealander and should be putting his efforts into furthering All Black rugby. At a pinch, coaching Wales or Ireland might be seen as career development that would not adversely affect New Zealand. Good for the game of rugby (which is certainly my excuse for living and working in Western Australia, trying to educate these isolated heathens about the true, ancient and noble game – before you accuse me of raging hypocrisy).

But to coach Australia, South Africa or France and directly attempt to undermine New Zealand rugby, using all the knowledge and experience New Zealand rugby has supplied — no, that’s not on. Sorry Robbie, but there it is. Bad enough Russell "Turncoat" Coutts sold his soul for twenty pieces of silver; but Robbie Deans? A rugby man, an All Black, a mainlander? That I should live to see the day!

Which only leaves us to hope that Henry and his All Blacks mercilessly smash, humiliate and destroy Deans and his Wallabies this year.

Let’s have just deserts all round.

27 Aug

The Return of the Jedi!
by Rick Boyd
27 Aug 2005

In a triumph of justice over iniquity, of right over wrong, of light over dark, of which Luke Skywalker would have been proud, the creative, positive New Zealand All Blacks utterly dominated, outplayed and slaughtered the negative, spoiling, cheating South African Springboks 31-27 at Carisbrook today.

A score something in the region of 50-15 would have been in the offing but for one factor: the utter, utter, UTTER incompetence of the blind, bent, imbecilic French git of a referee. In a display that makes David McHugh look like the fount of all refereeing wisdom and Derek Bevan look like the world’s most accurate and intuitive referee, Froggie Jutge turned in the worst international refereeing performance I have ever seen since the glorious days of bent Broederbund ref Gert Bezhuiden-whatsit.

And what made it hilarious, totally and completely farcical, was that it was all one way. South Africa were offside, they cheated, they obstructed, they broke every rule in the book and few that aren’t but should be, and this witless Froggie chimpanzee was absolutely uninterested. Instead, he pinged the All Blacks for irrelevant trivialities, along with the same things he was blind to when perpetrated in green jerseys.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing but admiration for the fierce competitiveness and uncompromising physicality of the Springbok team, along with their incisive eye for half an opportunity. They played the ref and they got away with it, time and time again.

But what else did they do? The All Blacks blew their heroic forward pack to pieces, out-thought and out-played their back line which again showed themselves to be utterly bankrupt in creativity and positive attack. The Japies lived off the scraps of the opposition’s mistakes, mistakes largely generated by refereeing incompetence, except for the end of the game, when it looked like the All Blacks would continue their recent habit of capitulating when the tide was against them.

Instead, the men in black stormed back, split the Spingboks wide open and drilled them like a week-old blancmange. Maybe this team has come of age. Maybe.

The All Blacks were in total control for most of the first half but robbed of continuity by blinding refereeing incompetence. The second half was messy, and mistakes crept in, but they came good at the end.

I have nothing but contempt for Jake White and his recidivist attempts to turn back the clock to negative, spoiling, destructive rugby, and for the incontinent NH morons on the IRB and refereeing panels who are simply refusing to apply the laws so that talentless teams can compete.

This is not what will bring rugby to the world, although granted, it is about the only way South Africa will win.

Right, we won, so I can’t be accused of a throwing a tantrum, although if it’s being a poor winner and lacking graciousness I’m accused of, then I’ll gladly settle for that rather than some sort of pathetic sportsmanship to a side whose game I despise.

The game could so easily have gone either way and what an injustice that would have been. The All Blacks were lucky to win in the end, but they did so with convincing style and proved their point emphatically.

YES!!!

11 Jul

Over and out for the Lions
by Rick Boyd
11 Jul 2005

A bit of a damp squib to end the series as was always likely with the rubber already decided.

A few good signs for the Lions with an improved lineout performance and better competition in the loose but with only three tries scored in the entire series, they really have nothing to take home but bitter defeat.

But it wasn’t the Lions that did the most damage to the All Blacks in the third test, but two first class idiots, one with a whistle and one with a flag. Japie “ref” Kraplan did his best to threaten Dickheadson’s superglue hold on the World Heavyweight Joke Referee title, but Dickheadson’s superb supporting performance from the sidelines kept him safely in front.

An utter joke of a yellow card by Kraplan on Umaga in the opening stages of the game before any warnings could be issed, and the exact same offence by Moody later in the game allowed the pom to stay on the field. Kraplan, you are as shite as McHugh. Some of Kraplan’s other calls were just plain mystifying. Held in the tackle? How many nano-seconds could it have been? He penalised Collins when the All Blacks wheeled the scrum. Why? Silly, pedantic little Krap decisions all night that had nothing to do with the game. And the late charge call on Collins that disallowed Sivivatu’s excellent try — what a complete joke. Very, very marginal and absolutely nothing to do with the play. What about the Lions lock penalised for jersey pulling? He held the player without the ball later in the game and was penalsied but was there any card? Yet Umaga got one without any prior offence. What a farce.

Back to the All Blacks — great run by Conrad Smith for an excellent solo try. We’ll be seeing lots more of this boy in the future.

Hey poms, remember how you crowed about that wonderful England team that didn’t concede points despite losing two players from the field? (With generous help from Dickheadson). Guess which team scored 14 points while a player down? Hint: it wasn’t the Lions.

But all round, not a very encouraging game for the All Blacks. Silly errors creeping in, knock ons, turnovers, a few lineouts botched. Probably not the same level of motivation as in the two previous games but we don’t want to go the way of 2004 and crush the early season opposition only to paddle gaily up Shit Creek in the Tri-Nations.

Despite the dominance New Zealand displayed over the Lions, only the lightweights will 100% confident with the Tri-Nations coming up.

No one who understands rugby and has seen the All Blacks play for the last ten years could currently possess one grain of confidence in their winning the Tri Nations games.

They have diplayed zero consistency in recent years and are quite capable of playing hard, mistake-free dominant rugby one month (v England 2004 for instance) and collapsing in a spectacular shower of shit directionless headless chicken orgy of errors a month later (v Australia in Australia and South Africa in South Africa 2004).

Having seen the All Blacks defeat the Lions this year, I am absolutely confident they have the ability to beat any other team on the planet. But I have not the tiniest shred of confidence that they will actually produce that ability on the paddock and turn it into points, reliably, in every game, or even most games, in the remainder of the year.

But I digress.

The fact is the Lions weren’t as bad as some might think. There will be a danger from gloating, overconfident New Zealand lightweights and vindictive, bitter British Isles lightweights alike; to bag the 2005 Lions as being complete failures.

Certainly they had their shortcomings but to base an analysis of the series solely on the test scores is very short sighted.

International tours have changed and Woodward is right in at least one regard — a much fairer judgement would be held in a neutral setting with neutral season timing. Not at the world cup, as Sir Clive suggests though. That tournament doesn’t produce much but a winner based on a knockout lottery. But sending a team exhausted from a marathon NH season south into foreign conditions against a fresh local team puts the tourists at a huge disadvantage before they kick off the first game. I doubt anyone in the British Isles has sufficient vison to realise that the lesson to be learned from this tour is that the national unions need to buy up the players contracts, cut the clubs out of the picture and send a Lions team that is actually “the best prepared Lions in history” by having carefully developed and rested players peaking for the ultimate rugby challenge, rather than just a cast of thousands and an army of hangers-on completly fagged by playing an all-sorts selection of club competitions and the Six Nations B Division.

And then there was the injury count. Not surprising after a long NH season, and it didn’t help the cause at all.

It should also be remembered that the modern game favours attack and small margins of dominance can result in magnified scores that don’t necessarily reflect the play.

The first test was played in the wet and the Lions were a horribly disjointed combination. In that game the score probably flattered the Lions. It should have been played by a settled Lions test combination of form six nations players playing in about their fourth match together as a team.

The second and third tests were closer in play but not in scores. The All Blacks played very well in the first two tests and it is doubtful if the Lions could have beaten them even in good form.

I’m not about to write the Lions off. The tour was not a fair reflection on their ability and while I certainly rejoice in the good, solid, consistent efforts of the All Blacks and their 3-0 series win; I gain little satisfaction from seeing them heavily defeat a Lions team put at such a disadvantage.

26 Jun

Lions first test — heroes v zeroes.
by Rick Boyd
26 Jun 2005

There are a couple of notably good things to come out of the first Lions-All Black test 2005.

First, let’s not neglect to mention that it was a win, and a good win — 21-3 to the All Blacks.

Second, how heartening was it for the average All Black fan to see the New Zealand national team playing good, hard, consistent rugby from a strong forward platform? Well, bloody heartening, I can tell you.

But let’s not get carried away. What we’re after here is the long haul, an actual winning season — and what a season it is. The British lions, the Tri Nations and a Grand Slam. And to do that we not only need quality, we need consistent quality; and that’s where the All Blacks have fallen down in recent years.

And it wasn’t all sunshine and wine gums in this game. For a start, sunshine was a bit unlikely as it was played at some bloody silly hour of the night for the convenience of a nation of fat, lazy poms and other sundry inhabitants of Britannia and Hibernia. Let the useless sods get out of bed at 3 am like real men used to when called upon to watch black and white TV broadcasts from Cardiff Arms Park in days of yawn.

Added to that was fairly copius amounts of finest Canterbury mositure descending from the heavens at various rates of knots and in two of its naturally occuring states — all three, actually, once it hit overheated bodies in soggy rugby jerseys.

I didn’t believe Honest Graham’s proclamations of a ten man game Due to Forecast Rain any more than the next hardened cynic. But playing open, running rugby with horizontal sleet in your face and a ball — even one developed by NASA with a textured vinyl casing designed to stick like superglue to teflon — like the proverbial bar of Lifebouy, is not the idea situation and is unlikely to achieve big Super 12 scores, however noble the intention.

A short round of applause to the All Blacks though, they did a damned good job of it in the circumstances, and were maybe a tad unlucky not to have a couple more tries to their name. Let’s hope for some fine weather at Wellington — all right, you may laugh — and see what they’re really made of.

So, in the face of it, a 21-3 win in shipwreck weather should be worth the odd Speights or 19, right?

Like I say, let’s not get carried away. There is always the temptation to ascribe any win to the qualities of the winning team and forget that there was another side on the paddock contributing to proceedings. And contribute the British and Irish Lions did — mostly by taking a careful aim at the foot region and letting go with both barrels.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Lions team play so poorly. It was a puzzling, and really rather sad, sight. Did any of them really want to be out there? They looked like a very unhappy team with deep internal divisions who didn’t want to play together and made an extremely poor job of the attempt. Did they have a plan? What was it?

I know they had one plan, a Cunning Plan My Lord, fielded once or 17 times by Sir Clive Would-would of Greater Whingeing, which mainly involves cheating like buggery, killing the ball whenever possible and slowing play down so a raft of elderly poms can keep up with play.

Well, bad news, it didn’t work.

Were there any other plans? Their lineouts made the All Blacks’ lineouts of Bledisloe Cup games in the early noughties look accurate, efficient and rock solid. Their scrum, supposedly a demonstration of how the northern hemisphere is leading the rugby world in rugby forwards basic, was barely able to tread water. Their kicking game was a travesty and they never looked remotely like scoring a try.

So all in all, they didn’t provide much competition and the All Blacks shouldn’t put too much store in the way this game was won. They’re unlikely to face such crappy opposition in red jerseys again any time soon. I hope.

Still, a good solid performance from the All Blacks forwards in most departments. All the tight five did the business, with a special mention to Chris Jack, and not too shabby by Ali Williams either.

The loose forwards did all that could be expected of them without being utterly God-like, and Richie McCaw, THE MAN, didn’t get hit in the head more than necessary.

Thanks and So Long to Justin Marshall, who played well without dominating the game as he has done on occasion. Daniel Carter, apart from a plethora of idiot charged-down kicks, kept up to standard. Mauger also looked steady in trying conditions, and made a pleasing half-break to set up Sivivatu’s try. Umaga in good form, one dazzling break, one superb lob pass, and lots of solid defence — and all the back three performed creditably in weather more suited to freezing inactive wings and fullbacks into blue, shivering sculptures while the forwards form barely mobile steam-lodges somewhere beyond the curtain of rain. Howlett looked to be trying too hard to redeem himself, running the ball when it was never really on.

We don’t want to damn the All Blacks with faint praise, considering the conditions, but on the other hand, we don’t want to give them delusions of grandeur, considering the opposition.

Battle has commenced, the victory of the first engagement is ours to savour, but it is only the end of the beginning. Wear your laurels proudly, All Blacks, because you deserve them: but don’t rest on them. There’s a couple more lions heads to go on the trophy room wall yet.

16 Nov

Time for a new destination for "the journey"
by Rick Boyd
16 Nov 2003

Congratulations to the Wallabies on their World Cup semi-final win over the All Blacks, 22-10.

It is a geat pity that everyone is so obsessed by this knock-out tournament that this loss will overshadow many of the good things the All Blacks have achieved this year. The Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations are not minor achievements, and it should not be overlooked that New Zealand remains 2-1 up over Australia in 2003. If it was an old-fashioned series, the All Blacks would have left the ground disappointed but with the consolation that it was a meaningless loss in a dead rubber.

As it is, I can only hope there will be some good come out of this in that people, particularly in New Zealand, start to realise the flaws of this admirable but limited tournament, which basically sets up a top eight lottery. One team emerges to win disproportionate glory, while others who may be more deserving over the longer distance, will feel failure at not stringing together three wins that combine the right game with the right opponent at the right time. It is to be hoped that John Mitchell will not be thrown on the scrap heap, as he has achieved much and could do more. Still, he asked to be judged on his world cup, and that must be seen as a failure. Perhaps future coaches will set goals of greater depth.

No country in the world should go into the world cup “expecting’ to win it. The competition is a lottery and winning it is no guarantee of any greatness outside the cup itself. New Zealanders must stop thinking they have a right to win the world cup. They should focus on more consistent goals.

The All Blacks have only one black mark against them in 2003 in terms of real performance, and that is the loss to England, distorted though that was by John Mitchell’s “journey”. I expect to see England in that most pointless and futile of exercises, the play-off for third. There is one small triumph still left to achieve.

As to the game itself, my “could” prediction came true rather than my “should”, and this perenially inconsistent All Black team chose this match to display their very worst of forward invisibility and backs errors. They were lethargic, wooden, slow and lacklustre, as well as atrociously error-prone and confoundingly directionless.

They lost the game from the moment Mortlock scored his intercept try. Their confidence, always a fragile thing, disappeared and they played the most aimless variety of catch-up rugby for the remainder of the match.

But it wasn’t just New Zealand v New Zealand. The Wallabies were 15 different players from the awkward team that lost the Bledisloe Cup. They were hungry, committed, and put unbelievable pressure on the All Blacks right from the start. Their error count was kept to manageable proportions, their defence was solid and they had a goal kicker who could actually kick goals. Apparently an optional extra for Mitchell’s All Blacks. The Wallaby forwards weren’t outstanding, and their scrum was shaky, but they didn’t need to be anything special as the All Blacks fumbled and bumbled their way though the game with increasing desperation. The Wallaby backs made repeated half breaks without ever manufacturing a try apart from Mortlock’s fluke intercept (yes, look I’m sorry, but intercepts are always flukes). It was just a whole team effort, always bustling, always harrying, never giving the All Blacks an inch of breathing space.

As for the All Blacks, they just imploded with spectacular apathy, if there is such a thing. They had only scraps of possession to play with, not because they aimed for a low-possesion game as they did in Auckland, but simply because they coughed up the ball at every opportunity, lost their lineouts yet again and kicked without direction. When they did have the ball, they never looked like scoring anyway — well, apart from Muliana’s non-try.

The better team won on the day, the All Blacks demonstrated their infuriating inconsistency at exactly the wrong time. And now it’s over to the Australian fans and media for the usual graceless crowing.

Two of three, boys, two out of three. You can keep the icing but we’ve got the cake.

13 Nov

Bok for entree — anyone for roast Wallaby?
by Rick Boyd
13 Nov 2003

So New Zealand barbied the Bokke 29 – 9, but not without the stress levels shooting through the ceiling, last seen heading out past Pluto at close to the speed of light.

First the good news. The basics were solid for the All Blacks — and the Springboks, which is about the only good news they get. All Black lineouts fine, only one lost. Scrums solid. Rucks and mauls good. Three tries to none scored. Defence capable. The All Blacks head for Sydney and a showdown with Australia next weekend. The Springboks head for the airport and a very depressing trip home.

Commiserations to the old enemy. You were committed, you were solid, but you were your own worst enemies. Your mistake rate was atrocious, your backs might as well have been cardboard cutouts. At least it wasn’t a hiding.

And the reason it wasn’t a hiding is because of the bad news. This would have to be the first equal worst All Black game of the year in terms of back line skill, right up there with the shocker against England.

Dropped balls, knock ons, poor passes, bad positioning. Some great breaks that begged to be try scoring opportunities slaughtered through crap support, crap hands and crap decision making. Sloppy, disorganised and slack. If the Springboks hadn’t been so enthusiastically contributing to their own demise with an even higher mistake rate, this game would probably have been lost. And as for McDonald’s kicking — don’t tempt me. He should be out of the team next week and Umaga back in. Hopefully that will give a lot steadier platform to launch the back three. I don’t care who does the kicking. Carter would be good but Mauger was the best attacking back today.

This All Black team just cannot seem to get it together all at once. They either fail in the basics and succeed in the attacking complexities, or succeed in the basics and fail in the attack. If they ever combine both, watch out.

But since we won, let’s have some more good news. First, we won, did I mention that? Second, if we’re going to go further in this cup, succeeding in the basics will probably serve us better. The Australians are pretty shaky there themselves and we absolutely must get them right against either England or France.

Speaking of which, what about those semi-finals:

Anything could happen.

Well, that covers my arse for all eventualities, as well as providing an appropriate summary of this world cup.

England-France:

What should happen – France to win by a healthy margin. France are looking good. Strong in the tight, effective in the loose, fluid in the backs. Plus a precision goal kicker. It looks like they’ve got it all. You can just sense they are gathering, like a big blue panther, to unleash a totally overwhelming assault on the English and send them home as thoroughly demolished as the All Blacks did in 1995. England, while remaining a tight, cohesive, well prepared unit, are starting to look a little worse for wear. Still strong in the tight, but maybe a little less effective in the loose, and the backs — well, there’s always Jonny Wilkinson, isn’t there?

What could happen – England by a few points on penalties. The French have not really been pressured in this world cup, and France will always be France. Who is to say that their fluid, complete performance against Ireland won’t magically transform into a flaky, risky, headless chicken hara kiri against England when England’s forwards meet them on equal terms and the English backs stonewall them? The English have done this for years. Add a bit of niggle — and there’s no team more experienced than the English at bending the rules — and the French may get frustrated and lapse back into their old undisciplined ways. It’s not my pick but it’s quite feasible. I saw it happen at Park de Princes in 1991 and it could just as easily happen in Sydney.

New Zealand v Australia:

What should happen – New Zealand by a healthy margin. New Zealand to continue their impressive forward improvement against an always doubtful Wallaby forward pack. Australia have the backs as individual talents, but their teamwork and understanding has been shit (something like ‘the hole is greater than the sum of its farts’). New Zealand’s backs are brilliant when the mood strikes them and if the All Blacks put it all together it could be a flogging.

What could happen – Australia by a jammy late penalty (who’d have picked it). This is the New Zealand v New Zealand scenario. Who knows, the Wallabies might spark up for this game. If they can lift against anyone, it would be against New Zealand. And this All Black team has repeatedly shown they are capable of awful fluctuations in performance. Another nightmare with the lineouts, another mish mash back line performance of mis-timed combinations and leaky defence, and yes, Australia could jam a win at the wire.

Whatever happens, I’m still pretty happy with 2003. Super 12 won, Bledisloe Cup regained, Tri Nations won, into world cup semi-finals … it’s only the loss to England that bugs me and we can fix that quite easily when they visit us next year. And if we do bomb out of the world cup, maybe people will finally realise that it is a great tournament, but not the be-all and end-all of rugby. We’ve still got a winning record against all comers except England this year.

And if we win, even by beating England, we won’t be world champions, and we still won’t have had a winning year over England. But we will be world cup holders and I will need to suck on a crate of lemons to wipe the smile off my face.

13 Nov

Stop the wails over Wales
by Rick Boyd
13 Nov 2003

Now that the euphoria has settled and the Welshmen have disposed of all the tissues (over a LOSING performance — interesting mind set, but there’s a message in there somewhere…) let’s take a look at the All Blacks-Wales game n the cold, hard light of day.

Firstly, let’s lay to rest the predictable “if that’s all you can do against Wales, South Africa will murder you” comments. When has that ever made sense? Who won the 1991 world cup? The team that squeaked home in a trouser-filling scare against the Paddies in Dublin. Who won the 1995 world cup? The team that couldn’t win a test before or after. Who won a certain 1999 semi-final? The team that was dumped by 50 points by the same opponent earlier in the year. Rugby doesn’t work like an equation. There are too many variables. Nothing has changed for the South Africa-New Zealand quarter final. New Zealand aren’t a shoe-in because they put 50 points on the Bokke in the first tri nations game. South Africa aren’t a shoe-in because the All Blacks went astray against the Taffs. It’s a one-off, knock out game. New Zealand have the backs to win it but they need more cohesion up front and less errors all round.

So what did happen v Wales? John Eales would have us believe that New Zealand’s soft underbelly has been exposed. I rather think John Eales’soft head has been exposed.

Item 1. The All Blacks are inconsistent. They have been for years. Strangely, professional, full-time athletes seem to be less reliable and more error-prone than their part-time, amateur predecessors. Whatever the reason, take nothing for granted. This world cup has been wide open from the start. If there’s a good side to this, it was that most of the mistakes in the Welsh game came from pushing the running game too hard, rather than simple unforced errors.

Item 2. Nobody expected Wales to win this game, least of all Wales themselves. How hard is to to motivate a team to display an iron-willed killer instinct when the result is a gimme? Buck Shelford’s team might have done it, Ruben Thorne’s team have no chance. Combine that with a Welsh team totally without pressure — they had nothing to lose and could throw themselves into the game with wild abdondon, completely free of any expectation. Will they play like that against England next week? You’d be a brave man to put money on that.

Item 3. What were the All Blacks looking for from this game? Judging by the style from the opening whistle, Mitchell sent them into this game to play a mirror image of their last two Tri-Nations games. There they prepared themselves for pressure playing a tight, kicking game. Against Wales it seems to me they were pressuring themselves for a throw-caution-to-the-winds running game. Balls run out from their own 22. Pushing every pass. Even the forwards running like three-quarters. Does anyone think this happened by accident? They played one-dimensional, froth and bubble to see where it would take them.

Item 4. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. The wider you open up your game, the bigger holes you leave. If the All Blacks defence looked like shit, which it did, because that’s what it was, it wasn’t only because of poor tackling. They took chances, they extended themselves, they were prepared to concede points in their attempt to maximise scoring opportunities. They will probably be disppointed they didn’t score more, given the kind of game they were trying to play. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that they put 50 points on Wales. As long as the points conceded stays below points scored, that has to be a positive thing.

Item 5. This is still not a settled combination. There’s Jack to come back in the forwards, and in the backs McDonald remains an imperfect choice at centre. His goal kicking was acceptable, just, his attack moderate, but his defence suspect. Do we risk bringing Umaga back in for his defence and experience? Then who takes the kicks? Carter? It’s a toughie.

Item 6. Professional rugby has meant that there is far more conformity in styles and skills throughout the major rugby nations, and the All Blacks can’t get away with playing poorly any more. Just because countries like Wales have points scored against them doesn’t mean their play is not up with the pace. As I have said until I’m sick of hearing it, modern laws promote positive use of the ball. A small dominance can lead to big numbers. When that dominance lapses momentarily, it doesn’t mean the team has gone down the gurgler. Watch the play, not the scoreline (as long as it’s a winning score of course).

Item 7. Credit where its due. New Zealand’s wobbles weren’t due only to their own errors. This was a Wales team with nothing to lose, and with enough firepower to benefit from such an attitude. Despite their average record, they’re not a bad team. I said earlier in the tournament I hope Wales would give New Zealand a bit of a test in the pool games. Good work Taffs. It probably wasn’t high on your agenda, but I think it did the All Blacks much more good than a 50-0 walkover.

Item 8. The above are some good reasons why the game went the way it did. But genuine concerns remain about this All Black team. Their complete and utter inability to fix ongoing lineout problems is a major worry. Their lack of authority in the tight must be overcome to wrap up South Africa, France and England. I think they can do it on the day. I just hope they manage to make that day one where they actually play South Africa, France or England.

4 Oct

Who created the monster?
by Rick Boyd
4 Oct 2003

The old die-hard dinosaurs on the IRB resisted the concept of a world cup when it was first raised, and in many ways they were dead right, if for all the wrong reasons.

The world cup should be a fine addition to international rugby, a great showcase of the noble game, a carnival of colour and spectacle. The winner of this knock-out tournament should win the handsome gold cup and bear the title “Rugby World Cup Holder” for four years.

But the whole thing has become a bloated, ugly monster. Although it was never deemed so officially, the tag “world champion” has been applied all too often to the winner, a ridiculous claim that cannot possibly last for four years. It would be different if there was a “world championship” every year or every two years, but four years? Foolish in the extreme. Only one team has ever lived up to the claim — the first world cup holders, New Zealand. And that had absolutely nothing to do with them winning the world cup, it had to do with them having a brilliant team for four years running.

And then there’s the organisation of the cup. That sad old pile of cross-dressing incontinent fossils, the IRB, have shamlessly abused the whole concept and turned it into a vast price-gouging exercise so that fat, gin-soaked pommy CEO’s can stuff themselves into corporate boxes and flush down crab meat and caviar with Moet and Chandon — meanwhile, the average rugby bloke has to mortgage his house and sell his children to Arab slave traders just to afford to perch on an apple crate behind a power pole during any game that does not feature Surinam v Andorra.

Now the entire rugby calendar has become almost irrelevant. Tours, test series, all manner of cups and competitions mean next to nothing — all of them just trial runs for the Big Event, that knock-out lottery in the quadrennial world cup. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic. Overseas tours are now just development exercises, traditional stadium-fillers have been rendered meaningless as England A plays France B or vice versa. The result is not really important, it’s all just preparation for The Cup.

Rugby fans the world over should be furious. We are being short-changed. We want porterhouse steak and we are being fed watered-down gruel, with only a promise of a possible overpriced smorgasbord in a few year’s time to keep our mouths watering.

The winner of this silly lottery will strut around like Jesus Christ Almighty for four years, while all the rest get flushed down the big rugby toilet until the next cup.

Let me serve notice that I for one am not giving this world cup more than its due in 2003. Hopefully it will be lots of fun, there will be some spectacular rugby, some tense clashes, and one or two streakers with really big tits.

I reserve the right to give a serve to any team not performing up to scratch, including the All Blacks, but I refuse to give the eventual winner more than a short round of applause and quite modest recognition for surviving the knock-out craps game, unless they have performed with exceptional brilliance (again, including the All Blacks).

There will of course be the predictable “getting your excuses in early, are you?” from the ignorant and the envious, and they’re welcome to what they optimistically consider an opinion.

Bring on the World Cup and may the best team win. Other than Australia, of course.

25 Feb

A Simple Process Of Elimination
by Rick Boyd
25 Feb 2003

Who will contest the final of the 2003 World Cup? It’s only eight months away — let’s speculate!

Australia will win their pool unless Ireland knock them off, which I don’t think will happen in Australia much though I would dearly love to see it (revenge for 1991! Now that was a bit of luck eh?)

France will win theirs, New Zealand will win theirs and the big question is who will win Pool C based right here in Perth? England or South Africa? You’d be pretty brave to say South Africa right now although who knows what the Tri Nations will bring.

Quarter final 1 in Melbourne, New Zealand v South Africa. Ah well, anything can happen in a knock out tournament as we know only too well, eh Kiwis? But going on recent history, and unless there are miraculous improvements in the Tri Nations, the Japies will be manoeuvring a fairly sizeable blind mullet up a steep incline with a small twig to win this one. And if it turns out to be England, well, no big deal. England aren’t due for another win over New Zealand for ten years and this team will not be the Development XV.

Quarter final 2 in Brsbane, Australia v Scotland. Easy peasy, you jammy Aussie wankers.

Quarter final 3 in Smelly Melly on Sunday, France v Ireland. Well, I for one will be praying to St Patrick and every other non-French saint I can think of for victory to the noble Celtic warriors of my ancestry and miserable, painful defeat for the unwashed eaters of frogs. But France will probably win just to piss me off.

Quarter final four in Brizzy, England v Wales. Well, we all know what happened there. Same result if South Africa scrapes into this game. I think.

First semi, in Sydney, the centre of God’s universe (providing God was a shirtlifter, and hey, you don’t hear much about Mrs God, do you? Maybe he was) -

New Zealand v Australia. Who’d pick it? The Tri Nations might give us a clearer indication that Australia is not the team it once was, not that it ever was much of a team, and it also might show that the All Blacks are the team they once were, which will be a nice change considering they’ve not been much of a team either recently. Naturally I’ll be expecting New Zealand to win but who knows. We’ll probably get some pommy fuckwit with a whistle who gives Australia two tries they didn’t really score and a penalty in injury time, but that will only be because Australia has ‘the winning way’ and certainly nothing to do with luck.

Second semi, still in Sydney (“a latte in that little al fresco down Oxford Street Crispin? Can I push your stool in, ducks?”) -

France (or Ireland) v England (or South Africa). Hey, imagine if it’s Ireland v England. Wouldn’t that be fun? Or Ireland v South Arica. An Irish-New Zealand final! Sublime! A New Zealand-South Africa final! History revisited! But it’ll probably be France v England, a replay of the two games they will play in August in preparation. And my money’s on those filthy heathen French. Hard, fast grounds in Sydney, fine weather, yes, I can see the French scoring a bag of tries and a SH ref not giving an endless string of penalties for Wilko’s trusty left boot.

And so we come to our France-New Zealand final. And here we know that karma has brought us to our just and well-deserved win. A fifty point thrashing of the smelly garlic munchers, plus a big punch up in injury time where three of the Froggy forwards are stretchered off, with two more red-carded for good measure.

The skies part and God (not the shirt-lifting Australian God, but a manly, Kiwi God with a checked bush shirt and a DB in his left hand) shines a beam of divine light down on Taine as he lifts the cup heavenward and the mighty warriors in black raise their triumphant fists in victorious salute as their title is announced for all the world to hear … “The World Champion All Blacks!”

Winning the world cup really only makes them world cup holders but they’ll be so good they’ll get the hypothetical accolade to go with it. And no one else has deserved that since the All Blacks last won in 1987.

Up in the stands O’Neill has an aplopexy and shits his intestines all over Vernon Pugh in his wheelchair, accidentally sending the crocked Welsh git hurtling down the stairs into a nearby dumpster of rotting condoms left over from the Mardi Gras, where he drowns in faggot semen.

And the world is a perfect place.

7 Aug

Sydney — jam capital of the world
by Rick Boyd
7 Aug 2002

Yes, congratulations Wallabies, you’ve made your Guinness Book of Records appearance and you are now officially the luckiest sporting team in the history of sport.

I don’t suppose there’s any point in the usual histrionics, this pathetic farce is now into its third year and has become so predictable as to be utterly boring. The clash of the mediocre v the average has again resulted in a last minute penalty lottery and for the fourth game in a row the coin has landed Wallaby side up.

They should make a movie of it, the first scene being large red letters saying THIS IS A TRUE STORY. No scriptwriter would ever have the balls to invent a plot that sees four unbelievable Houdini acts in three consecutive years. Nobody would believe it for a second. Totally incredible, in the true meaning of the word.

Credit where its due, the Wallaby pack didn’t suffer by comparison to their opposite numbers in the All Blacks. The battle in the loose was fairly even, Robertson vanished back into his familiar role of obscurity. The Wallaby backs largely outpointed their opponents and looked more positive with the ball in hand. All in all, the Wallabies played their best game of the year.

The same cannot be said of the All Blacks. The forwards finally cleaned up the lineout but can’t come out of the game with much else to their credit. The backs again had moments of enterprise but with nothing like the pattern they should have, and let’s face it, New Zealand still doesn’t have a quality midfield — and the back three are not likely to put the fear of God into Tonga, much less Australia. The wind put paid to any kicking advantage New Zealand might have had.

I still think that the attitude and the consistency is improving.
Mitchell is on the right track but let’s be honest, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s arse, and this is only half a good All Black team.

None of which had much influence on the outcome, only on the mediocrity of play. The two big factors were once again New Zealand’s mistake rate, which was much higher than Australia’s and can’t be blamed on anyone but themselves (although true to form the Australians will all put it down to Australian pressure). And once again, the big decider, was the all too familiar ugly face of sheer, blind luck. And once again, for the fourth year in a row, the die rolled Australia’s
way. Two very cruel bounces of the ball that deprived the All Blacks of two dead cert tries. And the final ignominy, yet another totally unbelievable injury time penalty kick.

O’Neill said last year “You have to wonder how often these things can be scripted”. Well, like I said, you couldn’t script them because nobody would believe it.

Should we fall to our knees, like the endlessly suffering victim in a Greek tragedy, and scream at the heavens, “Oh stone-hearted Gods of Olympus, what have we done that you torture us so cruelly?

Is New Zealand cursed? What did we do? Isn’t it bad enough having half a good team to measure up to the deeds of the great teams of the past, without mocking us with these sadistic twists of fortune that elevate half a good Wallaby team to heights of which they are so richly undeserving?

Or is it that some terrible tragedy is about to befall Australia and this was but a morsel of good fortune to sweeten the hideous destiny that awaits them? The entire nation wiped out by a huge meteor perhaps? Right now I can only think that would be a great benefit to mankind, notwithstanding that I also live here in the home of the boastful and the land of the loudmouthed.

Yes, it will all begin again. How the Wallabies “won” the Bledisloe Cup (read: retained by yet another jammy, tin-arse escape act). How the Wallabies have “dominated” the Tri-Nations (read: another drawn series with the All Blacks but that’s as cose to dominating as we’re likely to get so we might as well claim it). Another mighty victory built on “composure”, “leadership” and “experience” (read: scraped home to another implausibly lucky one point win in injury time through the mistakes of our opponents but shit, we’re Australian, so we’re wonderful by definition).

All this toss about Australia’s culture of winning is media bollocks dreamt up by an optimistic Australian PR machine.

Look at the facts:
1998 – beaten by South Africa
1999 – drew with New Zealand
2000 – drew with New Zealand
2001 – beaten by South Africa
2002 – drew with New Zealand

Now if this is the sort of record a team with such a winning atiitude has then they’re welcome to it. The fact is that Australia have an average team at present, clinging on a bit past its use by date due to some unusually fortuitous finishes in close games, on the strength of having a couple of average teams to oppose them.

But quite frankly we need to take a look at the the whole tri-nations thing. In fact we need to do more than look at it, we need to take take it out, have it shot, stuffed, and mounted on the mantlepiece. Especially in view of the world cup debacle.

It is a concept only the brain-dead morons on the NZRFU could have approved.

It has become very tedious and the outcome is often some strange mixture of points that means bugger all, while the first and second team have drawn a series.

We need to go back to a proper tour every year. We should dump the Super 12, which was invented only to compete with league on the TV and have that function filled by putting the NPC at the start of the season, not the end.

This will also put an end to the extremely generous program of assisting the development of Australian rugby that the NZRFU has been gifting them with for far too long.

After the NPC the All Blacks can play a home test series against a couple of the minor nations and then a major series against one of the big five — Australia, South Africa, France or the Lions. Home one time, away the next. A proper tour with a month of provincial games, all of which would make good TV, followed by three tests, giving an actual winner. Then Australia wouldn’t be under the strange impression they have “won” the Bledsiloe Cup when they have only drawn a series but retain it because they won it some time in the past, when they might actually have deserved it. And New Zealand wouldn’t be under the equally strange impression they have “lost” the Cup when they have actually drawn a series but failed to bring home the silverware because they couldn’t manage a whitewash. The season could be finished off by a tour up north against the home nations. A year of top rugby and lots of variation, and real series with real results.

And lots more opportunities to grind Australia into the dust as they increasingly fall off the pace without the generous assistance of the NZRFU’s Australian player development program, or Super 12 as some peple call it.

Write to your provincial rugby council immediately and tell them to give some strict instructions to the new NZRFU board: take a break from tradition and make a common sense decision that will actually benefit New Zealand rugby.