13 Nov

Semi-Final Fever
by Paul Waite
13 Nov 2003

The past few years have done All Black fans no favours.

Since the awful 1998 season, the Wallabies have had a habit of coming out onto the paddock, letting us get a sniff of a win, and then playfully knocking over a winning injury-time penalty before patting us on the head and going up to collect whatever Cup it was.

This season we’re seemingly on the up and over that bleak time of trial and tribulation and losses, but the nagging worry that the dying beast has one last death-dealing swipe of the tail left in it is impossible to shake.

Looking at the whole season you’d have to say the All Blacks should do a bit of swiping themselves, and knock the Australians aside by 20 points at minimum. They have superior speed and skills in the back division, and huge grunt and committment in the pack. Looking across the park there isn’t a man you’d swap; the All Blacks are better, man-for-man, from 1 to 15 hell, make that from 1 to 22.

Eddie Jones and a tag-team of Wallaby has-beens in the Aussie media have been trying whip up a bit of niggle. I can’t even remember the details, it’s been so pathetic, but largely on the lines of Spencer being a weak link and ‘roughing’ him up or something.

The All Black management sensibly kept ‘Los well out of it which is more than the silly Pommy management did with Jonny Wilkinson. The poor bastard was wheeled out and was subjected to a ritual mauling by his own country’s press, who basically kept asking variations on the question “why are you playing crap?”, interspersed with “are you crumbling under the pressure”. The poor guy was literally shaking. Not the best preparation for the most important game in his career to date.

And people wonder why the All Blacks hold the World’s media at arm’s length. Take a wild guess.

Getting back to the issue at hand, the overall feeling coming across the Tasman via the media is a mixture of resignation and desperation. Either Eddie is in the process of pulling off the mother of all ‘fast ones’ and has a marvellous turn-around lined up for its unveiling on Saturday night, or there will be a lot of very sad Australians weeping into their glasses come 9 o’clock.

From a New Zealand standpoint the up and down form of the All Blacks in this tournament isn’t confidence-inspiring stuff. But a lot of that was due to the revolving door selection policy during the pool games. This current Bledisloe Cup winning combo has only just got back together, and has had one cobweb-busting blow-out against the Welsh (best forgotten) and one pretty good ‘un against The Bokke, where the forwards were magnificent, but the backs stuttered.

The time is definitely ripe for them to put it all together.

An added bonus, is the motivation engendered in the All Blacks by the knowledge that they have been bridesmaids too many times in previous World Cups. The most recent is one of the worst, and resonates most strongly with this Saturday – the knockout in the semi-final in 1999 by France.

Somehow it’s worse to be kicked out of the comp in the semis. So near yet so far. A loss in the Final is fine – best team on the day etc. etc. A loss in the quarters is simply a case of not being good enough, but to get to the semis and lose is the pits. This team will not want to be repeating the debacle of 1999, where the most devastating aspect of the game was the capitulation up front, rather than the actual loss itself. There will be strong words on this, and I’m confident that this team has the mental and physical strength to win this semi-final confrontation hands down.

So as semi-final fever builds to its height, and Eddie’s mouth starts to overheat and little wisps of steam are seen wafting about his collar, we have only one thing left to say:

Go Black!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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