8 Jun

Cold, Wet, Won
by Paul Waite
8 Jun 2008

caketin-spectatorsIt was a cold, wet one alright. The All Blacks brought home a win in their first test of the year, played in rugged conditions at the Caketin.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the result on such a night was nicely set up for one of those ‘a win is a win and we’ll take it’ clich├ęs. But you would be wrong.

This test threw up a couple of glorious moments, even given the raw weather, and it also showed us that it isn’t all doom and gloom following the departure of such rocks in the Black jersey as Carl Hayman and Jerry Collins.

But before we get onto the game, let’s first debunk some of the nonsense surrounding those aforementioned conditions. Certain people who should probably know better have been going a bit too far in describing them as ‘awful’, ‘terrible’, and with raised eyes, thanking various deities that we don’t suffer the horror of them very often.

Sure it wasn’t a pleasant evening to be playing footy, but it was nothing unusual for a New Zealand winter providing as it did a good dose of rain, wind and cold (well above freezing I might add). I can remember tests at Athletic Park, played in daylight mark you, where a southerly blast would rake the ground from end-to-end like the wrath of God, instantaneously turning sausage sizzles into silent white ornaments, and have the ground ringing to the sound of spherical brass objects dropping onto the concrete. Players wore no extra layers (apart from Allan Hewson of the infamous tights of course) and didn’t retire for a quarter of an hour thaw-out and massage at half-time.

Despite the wet weather the game was notable for two lovely pieces of skill from the New Zealand backs. The first involved a break down the left 15 minutes into the first half. Conrad Smith received the ball, and stepped inside and past Brian O’Driscoll, straightening the attack as he is so good at doing, before delivering a pin-point pass out to the wing and to Sivivatu, who made no mistake in diving and sliding over. The finishing was as crisp and clinical as anything you would see on a dry track, which made it all the more impressive on the night.

The second moment was in the second half with both teams still locked together on the score-board, and the result therefore still very much in the balance. Dan Carter received the ball, and with the Irish defensive line densely packed in front of him contrived to weave some kind of magic spell as he stepped off his left then right foot to find his way through and make a telling break down the centre of the field. He was tackled but the damage was done. The ball came quickly from the ruck, was taken on then flicked to Ma’a Nonu who charged as only he knows how, and slithered over the line in the tackles of two Irishmen.

Aside from those two tries, there were other encouraging aspects to this All Blacks performance.

The forwards toiled well together as a unit. Despite suffering an injured knee Afoa looks to be a very solid prospect at prop, and did well at scrum time and around the field. The pack made some very good ground with the pick and go, and defended the Irish maul well, despite some cock-eyed rulings on ‘collapses’ from referee White.

The lineout was pretty solid on All Black ball, considering the combativeness of O’Connell, and competed enough on Irish ball. The throwing from Hore was good. Check out Tracey’s stats, which may be published here on Haka later on.

As to the loose-forward mix, well, what can you say about Richie McCaw when it’s all been said before? The man plays like he’s bloody Superman, Batman and all the X-Men rolled into a single bloke. I’m not sure how he manages it because there isn’t anything to parallel him with. Man of the Match, definitely. Rodney So’oialo was playing the blindside in this test, with Jerome Kaino at No.8. Kaino played well there, I thought, though was obviously (and predictably) feeling his way. He had several classic drives off the back and although he didn’t make much ground he made some, and most importantly was secure with the ball. His presence at No.8 gave the loose forwards a bit more of a classical structure I thought, with Rodders running more in support of McCaw, though how he kept up I’ll never know. All-in-all a good outing, in that weather, and we look forward to seeing more of it in the dry.

In the backs we had a wee bit of a mixed performance from Ellis, who looked to be taking that extra step too long to deliver the ball. With the well-known Irish pushing of the offside line when on defence, this often meant that he denied the receiver enough time to do something constructive. In fact on a couple of occasions he delivered what is known as a ‘hospital pass’, which I’m sure he’ll have been reminded about in the changing shed afterwards. Mind you Ellis isn’t known for slow delivery – quite the opposite, so it’s probably a case of getting things settled down in the team, knowing who is likely to be where etc.

At first-five Dan Carter was his usual awesome self on defence – he tackles well above his weight and always has done – and then there was that moment of Dan Magic which effectively tucked the test match safely up in bed for us. Apart from that he kicked well, both from tee and hand, and was all class.

The midfield pairing of Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu didn’t have that much to do, but in the restricted conditions did what they had to well. They maintained their defensive line, and the break that Smith put Sivivatu in for the try was the icing on that cake. Nonu’s try was a fairly standard finish to the piece of Carter genius mentioned before. However as far as I’m concerned the jury is still out on Nonu as first-choice No.12, and we await sterner tests to come to prove or disprove that.

On the wings Sivivatu stood up and was counted when he was needed, scoring the try. Other than that he was not called on to do much. The Irish try was due to a breakdown in communication resulting in too few defenders on his side and he was left covering two players – not his fault. Tuitavake I felt a bit sorry for as he had no real involvement and spent the whole time he was getting frozen stiff. In the end he was subbed for Macca.

Overall then a very good first-up test for the All Blacks, and something to build on for the English up at Eden Park next week.

I hope it doesn’t rain up there, or else somebody will be calling the weather ‘awful’ again, and suggesting we need roofed, air-conditioned stadia, or something. Harden up people!

All the best – The Haka Team

 

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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