by Paul Waite
13 Aug 2000
Well the dust has settled, and emotions have calmed somewhat. Time for some reflection.
The All Blacks lost the Bledisloe and with it the chance to clean up the Tri-Series, but positives can be taken from the game as well as negatives.
The positives are that the All Blacks are on the improve, and managed to outplay the World Champions decisively despite losing. This augures well for next season when the combinations will be that much stronger.
The negatives are of course all the technicalities and issues which lost us that very important test match. The lineout has been a big problem all season, and remains so. As for the rest, I’m tempted to dump them into a single large bucket labelled “lack of experience as a team”. The coolness under pressure which was required in that final 3 minutes or so was missing last week, but will grow with time. The basic elements of success are there: skill, growing combinations, and most important of all: desire.
This last element is the one which was lacking in 1998/9 and drives everything which can be achieved by a team of rugby players.
Finally, some doubts still remain over the front row. Meeuws scrummaged much better last week after the tutalage of Steve McDowell, however it isn’t over this phase of the game that the doubts are cast but in general play.
It’s a mistake to think that the game can be played with the degreee of tightness and control which was the hallmark of New Zealand teams in the late 1980′s and prior. The rules have changed and with them so has the style. However as with everything, there is a balance to be struck for optimal performance and I don’t believe the All Blacks are managing to do this.
The tight forwards, led by the front row still need to practice more of the old-fashioned tight work as a team. Too often we see them operating as individuals spread across the park, and therefore not as effective as a tight unit can be at breaking an opposition’s defensive resolve. Although its true that the pace and expansiveness of the game tends to leave players in disarray, this isn’t being offset by the tighties attempting to reform to a pattern. Instead they simply carry on playing as individuals.
The current front row do have time on their side, being relatively young. History has shown us that props and hookers play their best rugby from around 29-32 or so, and if this is born out then we can expect perfect timing for the next World Cup.
Here’s to that!by