20 Sep

Commemorative Mugs
by Paul Waite
20 Sep 2015

south_africa_mugsA spokesman for the South African team at the Rugby World Cup has announced a minor change to the team’s promotional merchandising in the aftermath of the recent loss to Japan 34-32.

“In light of recent results we have withdrawn the range of commemorative mugs (shown right) and we will be replacing these with a new set of mugs.”

When pushed to elaborate on what the new set would look like, Hennie van de Merwe scowled for a little under twenty minutes before replying “the original set will be replaced by the starting XV which lost to Japan”.

“Each of them will be put up on eBay for a special price of only 10 rand each. Collect the set and you would have the ideal training opposition for your local school, as long as you don’t copy the way they tackle, or run with the ball.”

Asked whether he felt that the Bok management was over-reacting and being too harsh, Van de Merwe only replied “No.”

So there you have it, what an exciting Rugby World Cup this is looking to be!

Addendum: the above real mugs can still be had direct-from-factory in Japan.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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12 Jan

Haka Gets a Face-lift
by Paul Waite
12 Jan 2015

As regular visitors might discern, the Haka site has undergone a bit of a revamp, and not before time I hear you say!

The ‘machinerNew Haka machineryy’ behind it all is WordPress, the excellent Open Source blogging tool, and aside from a bunch of improvements all over the shop, this also allows you to respond to articles with your own comments, if you feel moved to do so.

You can also follow us on twitter and/or facebook if you’ve into that, which will let you know when someone posts something on the site.

Apart from the face-lift, basically the site remains the same in essence – an alternative to mainstream media rugby content.

Anyway we hope you enjoy the new look.

All the best from The Haka Team

Paul Waite

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25 Oct

Four More Minutes Boys
by Paul Waite
25 Oct 2011

mccaw-at-ruckThat’s what Richie McCaw might have been thinking as he got to his feet after effecting the final turnover in the Rugby World Cup Final. Four more minutes to suck out of the time-keeper’s clock. Four more minutes to hang onto that ball. Four more minutes to win the World Cup.

The image of the New Zealand captain crouched at a ruck with hands poised, deftly pushing the referee’s patience with the pick-up, will stay with me forever. It epitomised both the man and the moment. There was no panic or worry on his face, just an expression of complete concentration and faith in what he and his team needed to do. A certainty that he had the William Webb-Ellis trophy as firmly within his grasp as he did the ball.

For their part, the French had just spent a full five minutes in possession throwing everything they had at the New Zealand defence. The Black Wall had hurled them back, keeping them between half-way and the 10m line and denying them the territory they needed for drop-kick or penalty.

Rightly loath to kick the ball, they flung it wide from a scrum with a miss-out pass to Rougerie who waded through a Conrad Smith missile attack, and shrugged off Sonny Bill Williams for good measure, before the Black wave crashed down once again and McCaw drove through the final ruck with such force he caused replacement halfback Doussain to fumble.

That final turnover, to a New Zealand scrum four minutes from time was the last that the French saw of the ball.

The story of the final up to that key point was a much different tale than many fans had expected.

A lovely Woodcock try in the 14th minute, from the same lineout move they pulled on Australia a couple of seasons ago seemed to be just reward for All Blacks pressure and control of the game, but three misses with the boot by half-time from the normally reliable Piri Weepu had the worm of doubt working on the home fans.

That anxiety was only heightened at the half-hour mark when Aaron Cruden went down awkwardly in a tackle as he took on the French defensive line and limped off the field to be replaced by Stephen Donald.

For those unfamiliar with Donald’s history with the All Blacks suffice to say he has never impressed, and his appearance on the field with 50 minutes still to play in a World Cup final was probably not greeted with uniform optimism by the fans.

With both teams running off at halftime with only 5 points between them, it was still all to play for in the second half.

After two minutes of play France got the chance to get on the board with a penalty shot from wide, but Yachvili narrowly put it outside the right post. Two minutes later they conceded a much simpler chance to the All Blacks, and Stephen Donald strode forward to claim to ball. The TV cameras caught a rather huffy look on Piri Weepu’s face as he did so, but he had had his chances and time had run out. Donald wasted no time in knocking the ball through the sticks, and the fans breathed a little easier though nobody was relaxing at only 8-0 up, and of course nobody knew that those three precious points would win the World Cup for New Zealand.

A darting run by Dagg floundered badly as All Blacks all left their feet at the ruck, allowing Rougerie to step through and hack the ball loose. Weepu then favoured the French attack by stabbing a toe and deftly chipping it right into Trinh-Duc’s arms, whereupon he set sail for the All Blacks line. A few rucks later the All Blacks were all behind the ball and seemed to have regained their composure but unfortunately Donald’s lack of time with the team told as he came up out of the line and marked the wrong Frenchman, leaving a large hole for outstanding French No.6 and captain Thierry Dusautoir to surge over the line and force by the foot of the right-hand post.

The conversion made the scoreline 8-7 to the All Blacks, with a further 31 minutes to play. With a one-point lead, and a French opponent now pumped and ready, everybody knew the All Blacks had a fight on their hands.

Obviously Graham Henry thought the same, and he sent in reinforcements, substituting Ali Williams on for Whitelock, and Andrew Hore for Mealamu. Piri Weepu took the restart, kicked it out on the full, and was immediately replaced by Andy Ellis. Although the two things were probably not linked it seemed that way, and marked the end of a poor game by Piri’s usual standards. After the game it was reported that he had suffered a troubling groin injury in his warm-up, which may go some way to explaining the lack of form.

The game turned into a gigantic arm-wrestling contest from that point onward, but the only real scoring chance that France had from there until the end of the game was a 45m penalty attempt in the 64th minute from right out in front, which Trinh-Duc missed handsomely.

From there the All Blacks simply backed their defence, as the French had a long period of posession and hung onto it greedily. There is always talk of how tiring it is to defend for long periods, as if the attacking team expend little or no energy themselves. That isn’t the case, and a well-drilled defence can sap the will of an attack if it can knock it backwards consistently. This happened to the French, as they tried everything to break though.

This final underlined what we always learn when we watch these Rugby World Cup Finals every four years. They stand apart, even from semi-finals, in terms of the level of mind-altering pressures brought to bear. Apart from 1987 when nobody really understood what a World Cup was, every final has produced this kind of concentrated grimly-fought rugby contest, and so it will probably always be.

The All Blacks deserved to win this World Cup, make no mistake about that. The single point of difference on the scoreboard was a fair reflection of the teams as they played on the day, the All Blacks were just that tiny bit better in defence and it gave them a win.

Only those teams strong enough in mind as well as body can win these contests, and in seeing it done by your own team, it gives you a new appreciation of the achievements of the Australian, South African and English teams which have won it in earlier years.

Congratulations to Richie McCaw, his All Blacks, and the coaching staff for bringing the Cup home!

All Blacks: 8
T Woodcock try, S Donald pen

France: 7
T Dusautoir try, F Trinh-Duc con

HT: 5-0

Paul Waite

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21 Oct

Head to Head: All Blacks vs. France
by Paul Waite
21 Oct 2011

rhinosYou often see those player-to-player comparisons in the newspapers, where they compare each player with the player wearing the same jersey number on the opposition team. These are misleading because the game isn’t a simplistic man against man competition.

This ia an attempt to do a better job by comparing the two teams in terms of each player’s contribution to their areas of play, and the value of each combination. The assessment has been made on current World Cup form as observed in pool play, quarter-finals, and semi-finals, with most importance attributed to the semis.

The areas of play are kicked off with the tight-five forwards who, together with the loose-forwards, generally determine the outcome of the game. The scoring here involves players value at the set-pieces such as scum and lineout, plus their contribution around the field in the maul, at the ruck, on defence, and on attack.

The loose-forwards are the second most critical ‘pod’ of players in a team, and the scoring here is determined by how they perform at the breakdown, carrying the ball, at set-pieces, and in general play supporting on attack, and tackling on defence.

Moving to the backs we have the play-makers, or ‘halves’ at Nos. 9 and 10 respectively. These are scored on their abilities to use the ball the forwards provide to create plays and chances to score, and on their defensive qualities.

The mid-field pair are a critical element in the team’s defence and attack out wide. These guys essentially control traffic up and down the sides of the rugby field. They must be strong defensively, with an ability to organise both halve and back-three, and they must be able to challenge the opposition midfield on attack.

Finally the back three are the fullback and two wing three-quarters. All must be good in the air, and each wing should be able to read the game well, kick well, and chase attacking kicks. The fullback has to be a great last line of defence, as well as chiming into the back-line on attack.

In all of these areas, there is a high element of combination involved, where the old adage ‘a team is greater than the sum of its parts’ holds true. The scoring here is a judgement on how the various groups of players gel to make that happen, and to produce an effect which is something more than just individualistic play.

All Blacks France
Tony Woodcock 10 Jean-Baptiste Poux 8
Keven Mealamu 10 William Servat 8
Owen Franks 10 Nicolas Mas 8
Brad Thorn 9 Pascal Pape 9
Sam Whitelock 8 Lionel Nallet 9
Combination 9 7
Loose forwards
Jerome Kaino 10 Thierry Dusautoir 9
Richie McCaw 10 Julien Bonnaire 9
Kieran Read 10 Imanol Harinordoquy 9
Combination 10 8
Piri Weepu 10 Dimitri Yachvili 10
Aaron Cruden 7 Morgan Parra 7
Combination 8 7
Ma’a Nonu 10 Maxime Mermoz 9
Conrad Smith 10 Aurelien Rougerie 9
Combination 10 9
Back three
Richard Kahui 9 Alexis Palisson 9
Cory Jane 10 Vincent Clerc 9
Israel Dagg 10 Maxime Medard 9
Combination 10 8
TOTAL 190 170

In the tight-five the New Zealand front row of Woodcock, Mealamu and Franks has shown us that it is peaking perfectly. Against Australia they seemed to be able to destroy their scrum at will. In their semi against a good Welsh scrum the French held their own, but it was even. Looking at value around the field, Owen Franks is currently besting Richie McCaw in presence at the ruck, Mealamu’s ball-carrying is as superlative as ever, and Woodcock’s work-rate is also getting up there. All in all this front row is, in our opinion, the best in the World, with the French sitting at a good 80% of that.

At lock the Thorn/Whitelock combination seems to be rock solid at the lineout. Whitelock is also adept at the occasional steal. However the French are very good in this phase of the game, and Whitelock is still relatively inexperienced, hence the French shade this area, though not by much because Thorn and Whitelock are possibly a little more value in general play.

The combined value of the tight-fives is in the All Blacks favour on the back of their awesome display of forward power against Australia. The ‘Black Tide’ was evident as the tighties worked as a unit for the full 80 minutes, and we haven’t seen the same kind of thing from the French.

The loose-forwards are very close, but the trio of Kaino, McCaw and Read are the best in the World right now. Kaino’s form is simply stellar. Even so the trio they are up against is also World class, and this tussle will be the most fascinating and possibly decisive one.

In the halves both teams have selected pairings that would not have been foreseen before the tournament. France have picked two halfbacks, whereas New Zealand have lost two first-choice No.10s to injury, bringing in Aaron Cruden for the semi-final. Both halfbacks are World class, and equally influential to the way their teams play and create chances. Each of them kicks goals well. At No.10 the scores are low-ish and again equal. Cruden is better on defence than Parra however this is offset by Cruden’s inexperience of test rugby. The combination goes in New Zealand’s favour because Cruden has had more time playing outside Pirir Weepu than Parra has had outside Yachvili.

In mid-field we have the World’s best pairing in Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith. The threat these two pose on attack is an immense worry for any team. On defence they are rock solid, so they get solid 10s. For the French we also have a World class pair in Mermoz and Rougerie, but they lose out to the long-standing combination of Nonu/Smith.

The back three are fairly evenly matched. France’s Palisson, Clerc and Medard have shown they can open up defences in that inimitable French style, and they are solid on defence. For the All Blacks however, we see the development of something special, with Jane and Kahui both possessed of an innate cunning when running the ball at defences. Israel Dagg is simply a nightmare to defend against, as he showed against Australia, and all three are commanding under the high-ball. Taken together this trio are hard to keep out, and very hard to get past.

The above overall advantage, on paper, to the All Blacks is a confirmation of why the betting agencies are all already giving the trophy to New Zealand.

Unfortunately for All Blacks fans, there is the small matter of having to actually win the game first. France will not be rolling up and running onto Eden Park to make up the numbers at a New Zealand Wins The Cup party.

A test of this magnitude only comes along for a player once in a lifetime, if that. Also, France live to play the All Blacks and beat them, and have done so on Eden Park itself before now. They always raise their game massively for the All Blacks, no matter what their form has been in previous matches.

With that in mind, literally anything can happen on Sunday. The above score-sheet indicates what shoould happen, but there is no way that any All Black will be thinking along those lines.

Here’s to the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final being the show-piece of rugby that it deserves to be and may the best team on the day win the trophy.

(That’s the All Blacks, in case you were wondering)

Paul Waite

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19 Oct

How To Beat The French
by Paul Waite
19 Oct 2011

The All Blacks have ample experience of losing to the French in test matches, especially those of the crucial World Cup variety, so they should be in a great position to know how to beat them. Let’s explore that here, ourselves.

The "unpredictable French" cliché, predictably, has been done to death and then some in the media this week. Sadly it isn’t a cliché, it’s just a fact. France might turn up on Sunday and simply not fire a shot, or they could suddenly go apeshit and run in 5 tries in 15 minutes.

But looking back at those painful test losses against our World Cup nemesis, there has always been a trigger point of reward, in the form of a points-scoring foray, which has fired the French side up into one of those performance frenzies only they are capable of.

So the real key to beating the French lies in defence, both up front and in the backs, to prevent that trigger point occurring. And given France are probably the only nation I would say could win a test through their backs even if we were shading them up front, that defence has to be water-tight out wide as well.

The All Blacks have to at least duplicate the passion and shear workrate across the XV that they brought to the semi-final against Australia, and once again for the full 80 minutes. The difference this time is that they have to breach the French lines, open them up and score tries early on. The small margin we saw against Australia won’t be enough.

Key areas we need to target in the backs are of course the halves Yachvili and Parra. We need to shut down their space and stop them firing up their backline.

Linked to that area is the ever-important loose-forward battle. There the French are very strong with skipper Dusautoir leading the powerful Harinordoquy, and the electric openside Bonnaire. But in Kaino, McCaw, and Read the All Blacks have what I believe to be the World’s best loose-forward trio. It should be a fascinating, and bruising battle at the breakdown, and in general play.

The scrum is another area where I expect dominance from the men in Black. The French outfit is not weak by any means, but our unit is hitting its straps at the right time. Woodcock is back to full fitness, Owen Franks is getting better and better, and both our hookers are World class. Behind them with Brad Thorn providing the grunt of a locomotive, and Whitlock we don’t lack for power. Add in the Mike Cron factor and you have a unit which is drilled better than any other.

A key test to look at with regard to tackling the French side is the quarter-final against Wales, who showed that they are by no means supermen. The way they took them on is similar to the way we will. It essentially boils down to doing the basics, moving the ball accurately through the phases probing for space and gaps. And on defence bringing them to deck hard.

The only caveat with the Welsh game is the sending off. As Thierry Lacroix mentioned on a TV show yesterday, the red carding of Sam Warburton for Wales actually messed up the French as well as Wales. They went from being fired up to take Wales on and beat them, to a mindset of making sure they didn’t blow the advantage and lose. It sounds screwy, but I take it from him (he talked to the team) that this is the way they thought.

If so then we will see a much more positive and challenging French team hitting the All Blacks with all they have got this Sunday. They will attempt to come out and knock them off their stride. A reward at this point in the form of a try or so will only let them gather confidence. That simply can’t be allowed to happen.

The All Blacks have to hit the French hard back, not leak any points whilst putting their own on the board. It’s not exactly rocket science, but in this particular test match it is essential the All Black establish not only dominance, but a decent lead by half-time.

And even with a 20 point lead, no New Zealander should feel safe until they are counting down that final minute.

Oh, and if the All Blacks win by the same scoreline of 29 – 9 as they did in 1987, then I’m going down to the video shop and rent out the complete series of The Twilight Zone.

Paul Waite

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18 Oct

One Monkey Down, One To Go
by Paul Waite
18 Oct 2011

When the All Blacks defeated the Wallabies in the World Cup semi-final this Sunday just past, they ripped one monkey off their backs. This coming Saturday, in the Final, they have the opportunity to do the same with the other one.

Beginning with that humbling loss as defending World Champions in the 1991 semi-final to Australia New Zealand have built an unenviable reputation as ‘chokers’ in World Cups. In 1995 they choked again, poisoning rumours notwithstanding, against hosts South Africa in the final.

Come 1999 and they again looked to be the team to beat with some nice momentum going into the semi-final only to be dumped out of the competition by a fired-up French side which flicked that imponderable Gallic switch at half-time, and left the Blacks eating their dust.

Forward to 2003 and Australia once again were their nemesis as they out-thought the All Blacks by cleverly targeting their ball-carriers and half-back. Once again the form team going into the tournament they were kicked to touch by the host nation.

In 2007 the hosts, France, were again the All Blacks executioner in a controversial 18-20 loss in the quarter-final in which referee, Wayne Barnes made a series of questionable but crucial decisions against the men in black. Whether or not he was to blame for the All Blacks earliest ever World Cup exit is still hotly debated, but the record books stand.

Here in 2011, the planets seem to have moved into an alignment which is eerily similar to 1987. Once again we have a final in New Zealand between the All Blacks and France. Again the All Blacks campaign has been disrupted by injury to a key player, skipper Andy Dalton in 1987, No.10 Dan Carter in 2011. As a direct result of that in 1987 we saw the rise of David Kirk at halfback to lead the All Blacks to victory as skipper. In 2011 we have Piri Weepu at halfback stepping up to perform a similarly crucial leadership role.

Leaving aside all the touchy-feely astrological musings, the All Blacks undoubtedly have genuine World Cup momentum on their side. In contrast to the faux-momentum of all previous tournaments barring 1995. The strength and accuracy of the display from the forwards against Australia in the semi-final is emphatic proof.

This was no questionable victory based on some quirky refereeing decision. It was hard-as-nails rugby and as visceral as it gets. The All Black pack served up a peformance which was in keeping with the very best that the team has put together in its history. The way they stamped their control over the physical exchanges, took the Wallabies in a vise-like grip and never let go would have brought a smile to All Black greats such as Meads and Lochore. Sitting next to the latter in this test, I suspect even Fred Allen, perfectionist and most successful All Black coach ever, would have admired the way they went about their work.

Add to that a smattering of genius from Dagg setting up that early try to Ma’a Nonu, and you have the perfect recipe for Wallaby a la Creme (Creamed Wallaby).

There were so many areas in which the All Blacks improved as compared with the last few months, that you would almost suspect them of hiding their light under a bushell. Take the aerial dominace as an example. Cory Jane and Israel Dagg were imperious at the back fielding the high kick. At the breakdown the numbers were tremendous, whereas previously they had been light. You can always tell when the All Blacks are on song by watching that Black Wave crashing over the opposition like a tsunami and continually blowing them off the ball.

Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith are also due a lot of praise for their strategies in this campaign. Watching the semi-final unfold one of the most telling stories was the way the All Blacks continually targetted David Pocock, running the ball at him thereby involving him in tackles rather than leaving him free to forage for turnover ball. As well as that the general tactical approach, keeping the Wallabies pinned in their own half, using the forwards to drive the ball rather than fling it wide too often, go for the odd drop-kick, and force penalties. The whole package was designed to beat Australia in this one-off test, and it worked perfectly.

The monkey on the backs of the All Blacks placed there by two semi-final losses to the Wallabies in World Cups is now gone.

The remaining monkey is the one which comes from the two defeats by France in the World Cup knock-out stages.

To use a quotation from that most famous of all New Zealanders, Sir Edmund Hilary, let’s hope the All Blacks can knock the bastard off!

Paul Waite

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15 Oct

Carrying the Hopes of a Nation
by Paul Waite
15 Oct 2011

barbell-weightNo All Blacks fan needs to be told that there is a lot riding on tomorrow’s World Cup semi-final against Australia. To be beaten for the first time at Eden Park by them since 1986, and be knocked out of the Cup by them again, and on our own turf is unthinkable.

But of course it’s precisely because of that sad World Cup history against this most wily of all World Cup foes (France included) that has had us all thinking along those lines for this whole damnable week.

The loss of Dan Carter, the foot problems of our talismanic skipper Richie McCaw, the failure of Colin Slade and his last-minute replacement from NPC ranks, by the redoubtable but undeniably green Aaron Cruden, have not exactly served to calm the nerves, have they?

As with all games of footy, this one can go two ways. Either we win or we lose.

If we lose, we take the oft-used ‘choker’ label to a whole new level. Not only will we not have won this thing for 28 years, we will have been knocked out yet again despite having home advantage and, as usual, despite going into the tournament as No.1 team in the World. To add insult to injury, having beaten us in this semi, Australia are likely to win the Cup itself, which would be unbearable. Australia are gold medallists at being the World’s Worst Winners.

If we win, then a pair of hands will take a firm grip of the monkey on our back. They will be one step away from ripping it loose for good. Gone will be the bad memories of so many World Cup exits, gone will be the memories of so many at the hands of the Wallabies, gone will be that ‘choker’ label.

Also imagine, if you will, that the All Blacks defeat the Wallabies, and reach the final against France. Should they once again overcome France in a World Cup Final in New Zealand, as in 1987, they will also exorcise the ghosts of two exits at that nation’s hands in 1999 and 2007.

So this one semi-final has immense significance, and one can only hope that the All Blacks don’t think too much about that aspect or it might well overwhelm them. When a surgeon walks up to the operating table to perform a heart-transplant he has to have his mind totally on the technicalities of the procedure, and trust in his skill. He must entertain no thoughts of the life in his hands, the anxiety, hopes and fears of the patient’s family or the pressure would likely cause him to falter.

The All Blacks are up against the Wallabies. Fifteen blokes on the field who feel pain, run at normal speeds, and are subject to the same Laws of Physics as everyone else. They will succumb to good, hard All Black rugby, like so many have before.

Much has been made of Dan Carter’s absence. But the All Blacks are not Carter, or any one player. There have been tests we have won where he has been more or less insignificant due to lack of form. There have been others where he has shone. Aaron Cruden just has to play his normal game and, like all the other backs, feed off the forward effort where the game will be won or lost.

Richie McCaw’s foot problems are also misleading the media, and some fans we feel. Talking to medical people, the irritation he is feeling from the screw is a common side-effect, and is managable. The current light training regime is doing just that. McCaw will play a blinder of a semi-final and anyone thinking otherwise is either insane, or kidding themselves.

At lock we have a duo of Thorne and Whitelock which has settled in very well, and provide a lot of scrummaging power. The front row of Woodcock, Mealamu and Franks will, with those two locks, give the Australian scrum a stern test and should set the platform around the field for a huge effort from the tight-five.

In the loose-trio of McCaw, Kaino and Read we have, I believe, the best trio in the World at present. Read has been coming back to form nicely after injury and this semi-final should see him take that final step back to being the key man at Number 8 for the All Blacks once again. Jerome Kaino is in fearsome form both carrying the ball and tackling. McCaw is McCaw, and will more than equal the redoubtable Pocock in this test.

So, as usual this test will be decided up front. The backs will then decide the margin, and I am hoping that the mercurial back-three of Dagg, Jane and Kahui will get a chance to put enough points on the board to make the winning margin more decisive than expected, aided by the best midfield combination in the World currently, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith.

Go Black!

Paul Waite

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11 Oct

Cup Balls: A Case of The First Five Groins
by Paul Waite
11 Oct 2011

SherlockAs a wave of disturbing misfortune sweeps over the All Blacks camp, seeing first five-eighth after first five-eighth fall victim to the same debillitating ‘groin injury’, Steve Pugh of the New Zealand Rugby Union visits 221b Baker Street to seek the services of the famous Sherlock Holmes in the hope of discovering an answer to the mystery.

Sherlock Holmes (for it is he): Ah, Watson by the sound of the loose tread on the fifth step from the head of the stair, we have a client. If I’m not very much mistaken, he is of the rugby union fraternity, and has a companion.

Dr. Watson: You amaze me Holmes! Did you deduce that from the heaviness of the step perchance?

SH: No, he just texted me to say he was arriving.

DW: Ah, thankyou Mrs. Hudson. Lestrade, please come in and bring our guest with you.

Lestrade: Greetings gentlemen. It’s a fine mystery and no mistake Mr. Holmes. Mr. Pugh here will enlighten you as to the details.

Pugh: Good morning gentlemen. Let me begin by saying that the very existence of a Nation is at stake here. If we can’t resolve this crisis, my country might well disappear, as we say, down the dunny.

SH: Come, come Mr. Pugh. I can see at a glance that you are here on a matter to do with groins and injury thereto, petaining to the sport of rugby in particular.

DW: Marvellous Holmes! How did you deduce that? In fact, how did you even say that sentence?

SH: You know my methods Watson. Mr. Pugh, is not that bulge in your trousers indicative of a truss? And I would hazard a guess, judging by the maladjustment and excessive frontal protuberance of same that you are simply testing it, to see if it might aid your ailing sportsmen? Watson, I refer you to a short monograph I have written on the instructive characteristics of the trouser bulge, published only last month in Ladyboy Magazine. Tell me Pugh, have I not hit the mark?

Pugh: Actually that’s just my iPhone. Please Mr. Holmes. Let me explain our predicament!

SH: As you wish. Watson, tighten this rubber tubing around my arm would you, I’ll have to administer some more drugs if I’m to get through this.

Lestrade: Time is of the essence Mr. Holmes! All Black No.10s are falling like flies, as we speak.

SH: Chill dude… uh what’s that about black No.2s? Watson that’s more your line isn’t it?

DW: Sorry gentlemen, my thumb slipped and I administered too much of this. Here, let me inject some tincture of coffee bean and napalm to rouse him.

SH: Wow. That was some trip. Fuck me with a Stradivarius, I just dreamt I had sex with Professor Moriarty!

DW: How are you feeling now?

SH: Well if you must know, a tad horny. Where’s that copy of Ladyboy..

Pugh: Really! May I continue? Good. At first we thought that the first-five eighth groin tears were accidents, however close examination by one of the ground-staff revealed a concealed tunnel.

DW: In my capacity as medical expert, I would just interject to say that a ‘tunnel’ is quite normal in the groin area though we have a more scientific term for it of course.

Pugh: Arsehole!

DW: That’s right.

Pugh: No! The tunnel was in the Eden Park pitch. With a trap-door leading down to a network of subterranean caverns and a large cave with all kinds of sparking electrical machinery and other bubbling mad-scientist gear in it. Oh and a discarded carboard box labelled Acme Groin Destroyers Inc, but that’s probably irrelevant.

SH: Hmmm. Watson I think this sounds like it will be a three-pipe problem. Get me a good shag will you?

Watson: Realy Holmes I hardly think this is the time… oh right, I’ll fetch the tobacco tin.

SH: Tell me Pugh, what else did you see, nearer to the trap-door for instance? Let me hazard that there was a long hollow bamboo tube, and a box of poison-tipped darts with two missing, labeled ‘Viagra For Elephants’?

Pugh: Astonishing! How did you know that? Yes, we saw it there, but obviously ignored it because we weren’t interested in elephants.

SH: Tish, my dear fellow. What do you imagine happens when a fit young rugby player is injected with enough Viagra to arouse an elephant’s naughty parts?

Pugh: He goes out to Dwarf Night at a bar in Queenstown and gets caught on camera with a blonde?

SH: Getting warm.. Watson?

DW: Aha it all makes sense Holmes. He would either have to immediately find himself a hole strong enough to contain his erection, for example in a block of depleted Uranium, or he would fall to the ground as his wedding tackle exploded.

SH: Exactly so Watson. Mr. Pugh The man you are seeking is a one-legged dwarf who is a member of the Jibuti tribe with a distinctive ‘Z’-shaped scar running down his left cheek.

Pugh: Amazing Holmes! Who is he?

SH: How the fuck would I know? How many one-legged, scarred, blow-darting dwarves with a mad-scientist complex and an interest in rugby can there be?

Lestrade: I’ll put out an APB.


Lestrade: I heard it on the telly. It means I’m going to send a constable out to look for this blighter.

Pugh: But what about the All Blacks chances? What can we do to win the World Cup?

SH: Easily solved Pugh. Just pick Aaron Cruden. He’s the Dog’s Bollocks and therefore naturally immune.

Pugh: Marvellous, you’ve cracked it again Holmes!

SH: I believe the appropriate rejoinder at this juncture is ‘No shit Sherlock’.

DW: Please see yourselves out gentlemen.

SH: Now Watson I feel the urge for some gun play. Lay out my duelling pistols and take the towel off that wax bust of Quade Cooper for me would you?

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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10 Oct

The Southern Quarters
by Paul Waite
10 Oct 2011

Southern_HemisphereThe Sunday quarter-finals bill was headlined as ‘The Clash of the Titans’ starring Australia vs. South Africa, featuring supporting act ‘The 4N Audition’, starring Argentina vs. New Zealand.

A classic sunny Spring afternoon in brilliant sunshine and a full house of noisy fans greeted South Africa as they ran on to the Caketin field to defend their World title against Australia.

What ensued was nothing short of seige warfare, for the most part, but it was begun by Australia at a pace that South Africa couldn’t initially adjust to, and this opened up a 5-0 lead when Horwill crashed over from a ruck in the 12th minute.

From the kickoff Australia looked, as is so often the case with them, as if they had been playing the game for 10 minutes already, they hit the ground running so hard. The South Africans were bamboozled on defence, and bested at the ruck on attack. Genia was buzzing about like an angry bluebottle, and they were finding holes to run through everywhere.

A minute later yet another clean break saw Beale through and the Springboks only managed to stifle it 5m out from their line, and in the end a ruck penalty out in front of the sticks gave Australia an 8-0 lead at the 15 minute mark.

There was only one team out there which looked as if it was playing to a well-drilled gameplan, and that was Australia. South Africa were simply defending like daemons, and on attack just making stuff up as they went along. They were rattled, and looked vulnerable every time Australia ran the ball at them, but held on regardless.

After the half-hour mark the Boks had regrouped somewhat and were managing to hold onto the ball and mount some pressure on the Wallaby line. Towards half-time one of these forays resulted in a penalty, and the teams retired to the sheds with Australia leading 8-3.

The second half saw a reborn South African team. They tore into the rucks and the Aussie defence with redoubled force, hung onto the ball well and mounted wave after wave of attack. By the end of the game the stats showed Australia made 150 tackles, more or less three times the Boks total.

By inches the pressure told, and it started in the 53rd minute with a Steyne penalty for offside at a maul, to make it 8-6.

Pressure on the Australian halves also had first five-eighth Quade Cooper back to his blooper best. He had kicks charged, fluffed clearances, and was generally a liability for the men in Green and Gold.

In the 60th minute the Boks showed how useful a classy No.10 who isn’t panicking is when Morne Steyne slotted a nice drop-goal to put South Africa in the lead for the first time by 9-8.

By this stage South Africa literally owned the ball. Australia were simply defending and hoping for the best. South Africa ran in a try but it was (rightly) disallowed for a forward pass, Lambie narrowly shaded a drop-goal, and all-in-all the Springboks looked the most likely winners of the tie.

In the end it was a penalty which swung the game back in Australia’s favour when Roussouw was judged to have tipped Samo up at a lineout near the Bok 10m line. O’Connor showed nerves of stell to slot the penalty kick making it 11-9 with 10 minutes left on the clock.

History will show that the Boks came close, but by this time they were as tired as the Wallabies, and creating plays when tired is sometimes more difficult than just reacting in defence.

Either side could have won this, but for my money South Africa deserved it more than Australia due to playing most of the attacking rugby. The Wallabies dodged yet another Rugby World CUp bullet, as is their habit.

Australia 11
James Horwill try
James O’Connor 2 pen

South Africa 9
Morne Steyn 2 pen, drop goal

HT: 8-3

The second quarter-final up at Eden Park was expected to be another convincing win for New Zealand over Argentina, but the reality was far different. To be fair, although a win was expected from All Blacks fans, the other main interest was in how Colin Slade would fare as replacement No.10 to Dan Carter, and how the team looks in general, coming to the sharp end of the tournament.

New Zealand started hard and fast, hitting rucks and tackles trying to blow Argentina away in the opening minutes by shear force and speed. But the Argentines were up to the task, rebutting the forays with staunch defence and clever return kicks, sending the New Zealanders back into their own half each time. After 5 minutes you could see from the All Blacks’ faces and body language that they realised they were up against a foe which wasn’t about to be gobbled up as easy-meat, and would have to work for their win.

After 11 minutes Argentina were whistled up for man in front of the kicker, and who should step up for the kicking duty but none other than Piri Weepu, to make it 3-0. In fact Weepu took the restarts, put the ball into touch from penalties, took the place-kicks, and generally performed all the duties of both a halfback and first-five, leaving Slade to shovel the ball on to the outside backs, and make the odd tactical kick.

Sadly Slade still didn’t look at all happy. He behaved as if the weight of the World was on his shoulders, and gave a good imitation of ‘choking’.

He dropped passes cold, made some silly tactical kicks straight to the opposition, and his passing was lack-lustre, slow, pass-it-on stuff. Hardly a viable replacement for Dan Carter.

So when he took a knock in the 17th minute, and was then eventually replaced by Cruden in the 32nd, quite a few fans could be forgiven for silently offering up a prayer of thanks. I was one of them.

In the 18th minute a nice move down the left touchline saw Read in the corner but the try was disallowed due to a foot grazing the chalk briefly before the grounding.

In the meantime the Argentine defence, for all it’s staunchness, was largely founded on ruck, scrum and other infringements to slow the All Blacks ball down to a crawl, and in the 24th minute Piri Weepu knocked over another penalty to make it 6-0.

Then, at the half-hour mark, and somewhat against the run of play a defensive error from Kieran Read saw the Argentine No.8 take a gap off the back of a scrum at halfway, to storm upfield and create a try for No.6 Cabello which was converted by Contemponi to make it 7-6 to Argentina.

With Cruden replacing Slade Weepu still took the goal-kicks and nailed penalties in the 35th and 38th minutes to bring New Zealand to 12-7 at the half-time break.

The second half saw more of the same hard-fought play, but the opening penalty went to Argentina for a ruck infringement making it 12-10 in the 47th minute. Another brace of Weepu penalties took it to 18-10 by the 58th minute and referee Owens also sent an Argentine forward to the sin-bin for his activities defending his line as the All Blacks mounted pressure right on it. McCaw then had a try attempt disallowed by the TMO.

In the 68th minute New Zealand finally got the try they had been searching for and it was Read finishing off in winger’s style down the left again after he received a lovely miss-out pass from Kaino. The move was initially started by a great burst from Ma’a Nonu up the middle. Weepu missed the conversion from out wide, but at 23-10 the match seemed safe.

Three minutes later Weepu made his last kick of the game before being subbed for Cowan, putting another penalty through the sticks bringing it to 26-10.

Finally just before time, a lovely piece of work from Jane on the right wing saw him keep the ball in when everyone though he’d stepped into touch, and then Brad Thorne surged the last 8m to score. Cruden added the extras to make the final score 33-10.

This was a hard-fought but well-deserved victory to the Men in Black. For their part Argentina acquiited themselves well, showing that well-known resolve in defence, and flashes of that famous South American flair in the form of individual skills with the ball in hand. They should be a great addition to the Tri-Nations next year.

For New Zealand the problems still remain for the No.10 jersey. Given the form issues Slade is obviously having, Cruden simply must start against Australia next week, with Weepu the backup option. But the backline is still bound to be disjointed without Carter, and therefore less able to break deadlocks against a determined defence – a fact all too well revealed in this test.

Put baldly, looking at the relative performances this weekend, Australia must go into next week’s semi-final as favourites, since they have a settled team which is hitting peak form just at the right time. The All Blacks, by contrast, are still trying to adjust for the loss of Carter, and so far it isn’t going well.

New Zealand 33
Kieran Read, Brad Thorn tries
Piri Weepu 7 pen, Aaron Cruden con

Argentina 10
Julio Farias Cabello try
Felipe Contepomi con, Marcelo Bosch pen

HT: 12-7

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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9 Oct

The Northern Quarters
by Paul Waite
9 Oct 2011

Northern_HemisphereThe Northern Hemisphere Rugby World Cup quarter-finals gave us two pulsating tests, and two results that many experts did not predict. But one things is certain, the best teams are through to the semis.

The first of a brace of Saturday evening quarters was played at the Caketin, in Wellington between Ireland and Wales. The pre-match predictions were all leaning towards the Irish due to the upset they scored over Australia in the pool games, the experience of the squad, and their general Irish ‘pile into it’ playing style. Most thought that they would hoe into Wales and blow through them enough times with that big pack of theirs, to take a place in the semi-final.

Against that is the evidence of our own eyes. Contrary to some teams (eg. France, as described below) Wales have built gradually through the pool stages, and have shown themselves to be masters of every facet of the game. Right across the team, and right across the width of the paddock they have been putting in strong performances. Warren Gatland has got them humming.

The game started with a bang as Wales built pressure and moved on the Irish line with some lovely probing runs and great ball retention scoring a try in the right corner through Shane Williams. The Irish, smarting from the early slap, came back strongly and drove the ball dangerously in the forwards, adding darting probes in the backs. They signalled their intent when Ronan O’Gara kicked for a 5m lineout three times instead of taking kickable penalties, though none of these resulted in the try they sought.

The Welsh soaked up the Irish pressure for what seemed like an age, but showed that this is another facet of the game that they have mastered under Gatland’s tutelage. At halftime they went in 10-3 to Wales having added a penalty each.

In the second spell Wales really nailed the game, but only after the Irish had their fans cheering as Keith Earls crashed over the line in the 45th minute, and the scores were levelled.

Only six minutes later Welsh pressure led to a ruck on the left hand side of the field inside the Irish 22m. Man of the Match, Welsh halfback Mike Phillips picked the ball up and made a lightning run down the blind to touch down with an athletic dive millimetres inside the corner flag.

At this point the Irish lost their way, and instead of piling into the Welsh defence with strong driving and great darting runs from the likes of O’Driscoll, started to hoof the ball downfield, presumably for field position. Whatever the reason it back-fired, and just kept handing the Welsh possession, which they used in the 64th minute to score again this time through Jonathan Davies who walzed through a number of sleep-walking Irish defenders before dotting it down. With the conversion bringing up a 22-10 score-line with 15 minutes left, the game was more or less done and dusted.

Wales 22
Shane Williams, Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies tries
Rhys Priestland 2 con, Leigh Halfpenny con

Ireland 10
Keith Earls try
Ronan O’Gara pen, con

HT: 10-3

The second quarter-final was not predictable, by definition, since it involved the French. On pool play this game was going to be a walk in the park for the English, as Les Bleus had been more like Les Bleeeurghs! With two losses, one to the All Blacks and one to Tonga, they couldn’t have looked less promising as World Cup semi-finalists.

England coach Martin Johnson had picked a strange-looking back-line with the injury of Mike Tindall, bringing together two first-five eighths, Toby Flood and Jonny Wilkinson.

The side in white started off the game moving the ball wide, showing an intention to play attacking football, however the French defence was up to the challenge, making some strong forays back in the opposite direction and giving early indications that they had shaken off their pool-play sluggishness. There was an urgency and an enthusiasm about the French which had been missing.

The English, as the cricket saying has it, did not trouble the scorers, for the whole first half. France notched up 16 points without reply from their opponents via two penalties and two unconverted tries through Clerc and Medard. The former danced and spun through a seemingly bamboozled England defence 5m in from the left corner. Medard’s try was the result of a lovely French backline attack, again down the left, aided by some lacklustre English defence which saw three players committed to the man they thought would try to score, only to see it passed infield for Medard to dart through the hole they had created.

The English had their chances too, but it was evident that their skill levels were not up to the task as each time the ball was fumbled, or did not go to hand in the crucial moments. They looked like a bunch of players trying to take their game up a notch, to a level they had never before played. It was a level beyond them.

The second half was a tighter affair as the French, understandably, tried to consolidate, rather than create. But as time wore on the English continued to make mistakes, and eventually a raft of replacements started coming on.

One of those, Ben Foden, finally got England on the scoreboard with a try, and Jonny Wilkinson converted, before being replaced himself. His absence immediately gave the back-line a bit more fluency, and some time later Mark Cueto bagged another try with about 5 minutes left. A conversion at that point would have brought the English to within 5 points, allowing extra time if they scored another try or a win if it was converted. However, for once Flood’s boot failed him despite the kick being relatively easy.

With Trinh-Duc on at No.10 for France, they easily played out the final moments of the match with some nice tactical kicking and defensive clearances.

France 19
Vincent Clerc, Maxime Medard tries; Dimitri Yachvili 2 pen, Francois Trinh-Duc drop goal

England 12
Ben Foden, Mark Cueto tries; Jonny Wilkinson con

HT: 16-0

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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