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.

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