Back to Basics
by Paul Waite
3 Aug 2008
All the previous week’s talk about how Robbie had out-coached Henry and his two assistants was put into perspective where it counts, out on the field of Eden Park, where the All Blacks proved that when they play a committed eighty minutes respecting the basics of the game, they are a tough proposition for any team in the World.
Last week the All Blacks, coaches perhaps included, hoodwinked themselves into thinking that the Australians, coached by the Kiwi Wunderkind, Robbie ‘Dingo’ Deans, were something special. Whether unconsciously or no, they paid them too much respect. The were guilty of standing off, watching them with doubt as to their own ability and they paid the price. In short the All Blacks provided the Wallabies with the perfect platform to flaunt their many talents instead of simply getting stuck in and nullifying them before imposing their own.
This week the All Blacks delivered the message that things were going to be very different by performing a fierce rendition of Kapa O Pango as the haka. From the whistle the defence was back to a mean, punishing unit which apart from one slip-up which gave the ever dangerous Mortlock his break to create a fine Wallaby try, let nothing else past and eventually smashed the Wallaby resolve and saw the team wearing yellow resorting to hail-mary passes out wide which went straight into touch, and squandering possession by kicking in the vain hope that a lone Australian wing might somehow get the ball before three All Blacks covering it. In short the Wallaby attack was crushed and humbled.
Elsewhere in the game the signs were all good. The lineout was, for once, secure, and the scrum, as ever, dominant. Last week the All Blacks failed to get numbers to the breakdown and in support of the ball-carrier. This week, with the return of Richie McCaw leading the charge that area of weakness in the New Zealand game was eradicated. The injection of Cowan for the dithery Ellis was a refreshing addition to the mix, and the doughty Southlander delivered crisp ball off the deck all game, varying it with some clever pop kicks to keep the Aussies guessing. The added space the fast delivery gave the receivers made all the difference. Cowan is now clearly the number one halfback in the squad.
But one of the chief reasons for the emphatic 39-10 scoreline (which amongst the technorati of rugby officionados is usually referred to as ‘a dorking‘) was the crunching nature of the defence. The All Blacks piled into the Wallabies taking no prisoners, and there would have been some battered and bruised players winging their way back across the Tasman today in the aftermath.
Last week the Wallabies played well, and took advantage of an All Black team which for one reason or another allowed themselves to forget the basics of defence, territorial kicking, support at the breakdown, and building their gameplan from a platform provided by a structured forward effort. Instead they played helter-skelter rugby, utterly lacking any composure or structure. This week the Wallabies played no differently, but faced an All Black team with a steely glint in its eye, and a fierce determination in its heart. One week can indeed be a very long time in rugby. One would hope that both the coaches and players have learned the lesson that the basics of the game must always be respected at the highest level, or else they will suffer the very same consequences that we witnessed last week.
The Man Of The Match, as far as we at Haka are concerned, was Tony Woodcock. Not only did he out-scrum his Aussie opposite, but he also drove over for two well-taken and well-timed tries. If his first, after around 20 minutes didn’t quite set the tone for the rest of the test, then his second low drive over three minutes later definitely did. It rewarded the All Blacks for some fierce pressure on the Wallaby line, and acted as a spur which saw them leading 21-10 at half-time. Not even a beautifully taken try care of a worked move from a lineout, and a Mortlock bust past the despairing tackle of Conrad Smith was enough to deflect the momentum being built up by the men in black.
Ma’a Nonu also chimed in with a brace of tries, the crucial first of which came with the second half only three minutes old. The All Blacks contested a Wallaby lineout, scrambled the ball out to the backs where Sivivatu combined to put Nonu over on the burst. A Carter conversion and two further penalties, backed up by consistent All Black pressure on the Wallabies put the game to bed at 34-10. A try in the dying minutes care of a long-range Nonu burst down the left touch-line saw the final score of 39-10 reached, together with a bonus point which might become important in the tightest 3N competition for years.
Starring performances for the All Blacks were returning skipper Richie McCaw, half-back Jimmy Cowan for his combativeness and quick delivery, Woodcock for his crucial and well-taken brace of tries, Richard Kahui for containing Lote Tuquiri on the wing, Mils Muliaina for his command of the ball in the air at the back, and Ali Williams for his line-out performance.
But this test was won by the team, and because it respected the basics of the game and played it with the kind of steely-eyed precision and commitment for which the All Blacks are rightly reknowned.
We trust that the team and coaches will pack that combination with the luggage they take to South Africa.by