30 Nov

Slam Dunk
by Paul Waite
30 Nov 2008

New Zealand won the inaugural Hillary Shield and completed their third Grand Slam as expected by beating England 32 – 6, and 3 tries to none at Twickenham, in what was a niggly encounter further polluted by the over-officious rulings of the referee.

The aforementioned individual, Alain Rolland, seemed to be on a one-man crusade to change the face of World Rugby as we know it, and to prove to everyone that he was born in a little town on Mars.

There was no doubt that England had come to the party to poop. They knew they had to slow down the All Blacks ball, or suffer the consequences. So what they were doing was no different to every other test match they’ve ever played in this modern era where good old-fashioned rucking is forbidden. Except this time Alain ‘Hang ‘em high, and out to dry’ Rolland was in town, and he set about England like a rabid Doberman. The flashing of yellow at the end of his upright arm was so frequent that we were almost tricked into believing the Sun had come out, and the path worn between field and bench by England players either going off for 10 or coming back needed some care and attention from the ground staff.

England spent a whole half of the test, 40 minutes, playing with only 14 men, and at one brief stage when Rolland got his timing wrong, they were a rugby league side. It was testament to the utterly confusing and disruptive influence that this parade of refereeing Blitzkrieg had on the game that the All Blacks couldn’t take advantage of it. Like England they didn’t know what Rolland was going to rule on next, so they didn’t do too much, just in case. For all they knew, he was going to start in on cleaning up that whole problematic area of skippers agreeing with the referee ‘Yer binned t’be sure fer feckin agreein’ wit me – anyone who thinks I know what I’m doin must be a feckin eejit..’.

The end result was Rolland basically made the whole first half of this test into a meaningless farce for everyone watching it, or trying to. It was a complete waste of time. I’m not sure who was the most stupid, Rolland for trying to do a King Canute job on Rugby infringements, or England who brainlessly kept repeating the same blatant infringements at the ruck. Either way it resulted in about 60 minutes of utterly scrambled rugby.

In the second half things loosened up a bit, as they do. England went the way of other All Black opponents on this tour, and got ragged and tired. The All Blacks played for territory a bit more. But it was an early bust up the middle from England in the form of burly Nick Easter which nearly brought the first try. Only a despairing ankle tap, and the thinnest at that from Mils Muliaina, brought him down when he was clear for the line and only 10m out. The All Blacks re-grouped, turned the ball over and Cowan broke up-field only to be tackled high by Toby Flood for which he was of course marched for his turn in the England-bin.

The first try came at about the 60 minute mark when the New Zealand scrum pushed the English off their own ball 15m out for their line. Cowan reverse-passed out to the backs and it went through two sets of hands before Mils ran onto it and in at the right hand corner for a fine try.

Later on another All Black attacking wave saw Carter put in a lovely chip out to the same wing for Mils to catch and force for his second. Although Dan Carter had been having a bad day with the boot, missing a number of penalties and the previous conversion, he nailed this one.

The final try went to Ma’a Nonu after a lovely break out from the 22m by Keven Mealamu. The hooker, who had a fine game, found Nonu approaching halfway, and got a great pass away. Nonu then showed a clean pair of heels to the chasing English defence to go in under the sticks.

Ignoring the gross pollution dumped into the clean waters of this test match by the referee (impossible but let’s try) the ineffectual English attack, as toothless as a 16 year old bulldog from the get-go, was never going to get them a win on this day. If Rolland had not been there, and a decent official had control, they would probably have lost by a good deal more. On the ball the English looked busy busy, but it was predictable activity which was easy to defend as compared with, for example, Australia, who actually do have a clue what to do when in possession of a rugby ball. Judging by this opening series of test matches, Martin Johnson has a massive problem on his hands. It isn’t so much the way they are playing, as the skill levels of most of the players he has in his squad. The only player to catch the eye was fullback Delon Armitage, who’s vision and all-round abilities mark him out as top grade. The rest of them would probably have to fight hard to get picked for a New Zealand Super-14 team.

It’s been said before but obviously the people in charge are not getting the message. If British clubs continue to pack their teams with foreign players, there is no chance for the National teams in the future. Read the writing on the wall.

For now though congratulations to the All Blacks for winning the Hillary Shield on its first outing, and for completing another Grand Slam, this time without conceding a try.

A few last words to the All Blacks and coaching team. Well done lads, for coming back from the utterly disappointing 2007 World Cup season, and delivering a very special series of tests in 2008. The silverware is all-important of course, but more important than even that is the heart that you have all shown, and the re-gaining of respect for that All Black jersey.

Kia kaha from everyone at Haka, and have a great Christmas and New Year!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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