Dance of the Desperate
by Tracey Nelson
3 Aug 2009
“We’re a work in progress” we were told a few weeks ago, and so far that progress seems to be in a backward direction as the All Blacks lost for the second week in a row to further reinforce the Springboks position they took from us the previous week as number one in the IRB world rankings.
It was a debacle. There’s no other word to describe the performance by the All Blacks in the second test against South Africa. From the opening minute when Stephen Donald knocked the ball on from a high kick, through to the dying minutes of the game when the All Blacks conceded yet another kickable penalty, the entire 80 minutes was riddled by handling errors, poor skill execution, lost lineouts, untidy scrums and a bloody-mindedness to play to a highly flawed game plan.
Despite acknowledging they have a team lacking in confidence, and several key All Blacks short of a gallop after coming back from injury, the coaches are unrepentent in sticking to their guns that they played the right game plan against South Africa. When queries were made as to why the All Blacks continued played high-risk rugby in front of their own goal posts, Wayne Smith pointed out “you kick long against this team and it relieves the pressure for about five seconds, two seconds maybe. Then it’s coming back at you in the air with great chasers after it”. Well here’s a thought – how about kicking long *and* into touch to relieve pressure when you’re parked in your own 22? Oh hang on, that would involve a lineout…
Yes, the lineouts. Last week we had claims the All Black lineout had been spied on, such was the accuracy of the Springbok opposition jumpers in Bloemfontein. But even a barbequed sausage could tell you where the All Blacks are going to throw the ball, as the make up and positioning of their jumping pods is fair telegraphed to the opposition and spectators. To all except the lineout throwers it would seem. As to why you would throw long when camped on your own goal line with your primary lineout caller in the sinbin is probably best left unaswered.
The ineffectual All Black lineout has become key to any opposition’s game plan against us – they know we seldom compete on their throw so it’s essentially secure possession for them. Putting a kick deep into All Black territory is almost a guaranteed gain in territory because we don’t attempt to kick for touch so the opposition only need to keep one sweeper back to cover and bring everyone else forward on defence. Equally them putting a kick into touch is also a better than even chance of regaining possession because our own lineouts are a complete lottery. But don’t worry everyone, Steve Hansen doesn’t think we have any major technical issues with our lineout, and that it’s “just a confidence thing”.
Confidence that has well and truly gone out in the window in more than just our lineouts. The 15 handling errors by the All Blacks on Saturday night were the stuff of nightmares, with Joe Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu contributing 10 of those between them. Then there was the total brain fade by Rokocoko when he inexplicably chose not to ground the ball in-goal for a 22 drop out but instead opted to run the ball out as a wall of Springbok defence descended on him. The All Blacks scrambled back on defence, but when the ball was cleared the first receiver standing in-goal was Ma’a Nonu who didn’t manage to get the kick away and conceded a 5m scrum. A situation made all the more ridiculous when Stephen Donald was standing just outside him and the ball had been secure enough at the back of the ruck to give them time to swap places and allow Donald to clear our line.
It was all too easy for South Africa to target our wingers with the high ball and their good chasers. Time and again the high kick went up and either Habana or Fourie belted up the field to put pressure on in the air. Yet whilst our wingers were mishandling their way around the field Cory Jane, who has excellent skills under the high ball and is no slouch in running it back on the counter attack, was left languishing on the bench. Piri Weepu came off the bench and yet again proved that he is a super-sub, for the opposition that is. Continuing on from his headless chicken passes that cost the All Blacks a chance of winning in Bloemfontein, this time his repetoire included clearing the ball directly into touch from a defensive ruck on our goal line.
The forwards weren’t exempt from idiot maneouvers either. Tony Woodcock was penalised for inexplicably continuing to advance when well upfield from an All Black kick, Isaac Ross chose not let discretion be the better part of valour with the team on a warning for penalties at the breakdown and came from an offside position to fly kick the ball (which yes, was out of the ruck but he was offside) and land himself in the sin bin as well as giving away a very kickable penalty. Jerome Kaino needed two penalties against him to remember to stay bound to the scrum until the ball is out. The only sensible penalty – if there is such a thing – was when Rodney So’oialo chose to dive on the ball from an offside position after it had been knocked on. A decision that gave away three points rather than the very possible converted try that was in the offing for the Springboks.
This Springbok side isn’t that great, they seem as incapable of scoring tries as we are yet they had 56% possession and 72% of the territory. The All Black defence was good enough to keep them from scoring tries, but the discipline was not good enough to prevent Morne Steyn kicking eight penalties. What allowed South Africa to win this game was our game plan which saw us camped in our own half attempting to run the ball out, and a far superior kick-chase game by them which our backline was simply not up to fielding nor countering. The few times the All Blacks made it into the Springboks 22 (which was a mere 4 minutes out of the 80), they scored points. Compare that with the 15 minutes the Springboks totalled in our 22, most of which was spent just waiting for us to make the mistakes. And they didn’t usually have to wait too long.by