2 Sep

Oliver, Smith, Gilbert Must Go
by Paul Waite
2 Sep 2001

Another season handed to the Australians. Someone has to pay, and it might as well be those responsible.

Back in the Good Old Days, when contracts to play and coach weren’t heard of, it would have been simple. You got a season and a team to play with and if you didn’t get the results, you got the boot. Immediately.

There would have been no “I was proud of the boys” and “I think we can hold our heads high” and “there’s nothing between these teams” bleating from the incumbents at post-loss press conferences, no protracted reviews, no bullshit. The coach would be back looking after his sheep in deepest Whangamata or wherever, and that would be that.

I hope the so-called professional era of New Zealand Rugby can do something professional off the paddock, if not on it.

The game itself was a Black Comedy. Headlining entertainers on the night were the Keystone Cops in the new Zealand lineout. Make no mistake, this shambles was the reason the All Blacks lost the game having managed to make something of it despite the raving lunacy of South African referee Tappe Henning.

The lineout problem itself was a fairly straightforward one. Anton Oliver simply lost the plot early in the first half, and steadily became worse. His throwing was execrable, and meant that any attempts to keep the desperate Australians at bay were certain to founder. The only reason it took so long was that the Best Team In The World were so incompetent. Time and again they bumbled and fumbled on attack, showing a dearth of ideas at odds with their World Champion package label. It took two soft tackles on a dumb rhinoceros charge by Toutai Kefu to break the deadlock.

The other half of this simple equation was the referee. Earlier, in the first half, we were treated to the unusual sight of a player being sin-binned for being punched and not retaliating. Norm Maxwell marched to the touchline looking confused, as were the spectators until the replay screens showed what had happened. Foley had punched Maxwell in the jaw having taken umbrage at having his arm held at a ruck. Maxwell had then been unwise enough to look angry, which of course is usually rewarded with a Red Card. Luckily for him he only got the Yellow. The end result of this utter nonsense was ten points to Australia; three for the original penalty, and then a converted try due to the All Blacks only having 14 men on the park. Tappe Henning 10 – All Blacks 0.

Good one ref.

I could also mention the blatant knock on the Australians made at the lineout which led to their winning try, which Henning’s incompetence missed, but that would be sour grapes, so I won’t talk about it for that very reason. Besides, he missed an equally blatant forward pass in the All Blacks second try.

The All Blacks have been in the doldrums now, playing rubbish rugby, for four long seasons. It all started in 1998, and has continued unabated since that time. Every season there are some changes, and the team looks to have “potential” but the performances are largely poor in the key tests, with the odd surprise (eg. the Springboks last week).

Once again it is time to make changes to the coaching staff, and the All Black captaincy.

Smith must go due to his patent ineptitude with selections, as demonstrated in the ealier part of the season. Valuable time has been wasted, and he still has a blind spot regarding openside flanker berth. Enough is enough. Gilbert’s handling of the forwards is also short of the mark, with the lineout a very basic blemish which has not been improved in two seasons of trying. The pair have had two years, have won nothing, and have not done enough with the team to warrant any further work. We’ve seen enough. It’s time for new blood at the top, with plenty of time to build for the 2003 World Cup.

Anton Oliver is no All Blacks skipper. His leadership on the field in Sydney was all “from the front” but had little substance in terms of talking to the team. The re-surfacing of his technical deficiencies in throwing the ball in to the lineout also mean that his position as All Black No.2 has to be in doubt. This is a basic requirement, and he failed in that. Mark Hammet stands ready as a replacement.

The loss in Sydney is easy to dismiss or explain. Smith and Co. will be at pains to sell the idea that we actually did quite well, and nearly got there. They will tell us there isn’t much difference between the teams, and that it’s just a case of working to handle the pressures etc.

This is nonsense. The team played badly, and suffered humiliation in a basic phase of the game – the lineout. It lost because of this technical deficiency which the coaches have had two years to rectify.

If the NZRFU and the public look at this honestly, and take the steps required, then we can go forward. If the same nonsense is perpetuated, then we can look forward to more of the same next year and the year after that.

Is that what we want?

Think on it, but don’t think too long.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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