29 Aug

Battered in Brisbane – What Now?
by Paul Waite
29 Aug 2011

After the All Blacks ‘thumped’ the Wallabies at Eden Park I said that the score flattered them, and that but for a poor start and missed kicks it would have been very tight. The test in Brisbane proves that was correct, and our foe over the ditch are our biggest threat in this coming World Cup.

This test loss has been a wake-up call for the Men In Black, of that there is no doubt. They were bested up front by a country mile in the first half and despite a second half rally failed to reverse the situation. The parallels with RWC 2007 are all too painful to draw.

As it transpired this test was a fabulous example of what the All Blacks
will face at the sharp end of the World Cup, and was exactly the kind of
test which has been their downfall in past World Cups. The way they
were shocked into mistakes by a hungry and passionate opponent that had worked them out and
then, forced into playing catch-up rugby, failed to reverse the scoreboard was a
classic and all too familiar example.

Graham Henry couldn’t have provided a better build-up for his men if he’d had Robbie Deans on the NZRU’s payroll.

In previous World Cup years the All Blacks have sailed along garnering a series of easy wins, lulling themselves into a nice warm fuzzy state of superiority, and then run aground on exactly these rocks.

But the question on our lips now is "how will the All Blacks react?".

If I was writing this in the so-called ‘amateur’ era, I would be 100% confident that the All Blacks would, as one, silently take the loss to heart, work out what went wrong and then, in the return test visit a fury of power rugby on their hapless opponents, taking it to a much higher level of clinical rugby, and emphatically cleansing themselves of the loss.

Sadly we are in the professional era, and we have no such cast iron guarantees. Some players are in exactly the same mold as those of yesteryear, an example being All Black skipper Richie McCaw. But the squad also contains a newer type of player, as concerned about the latest playing contract negotiations by their managers, as they are about the old-school All Black ethos and traditions. So as a whole the reaction of the team, although it will definitely be close to the old style, will probably not be quite the same.

That said there is undoubtedly still a lot of mileage left in All Black tradition, and we can assume that they will be hurting enough as a group to come together, sort out with the coaches what went wrong out there, and bring the memories of that loss to a possible World Cup re-match against Australia.

That’s on the plus side. On the negative side the Aussies, as if they of all teams needed any fillip for their confidence levels, will now know (or think they know) that they can best the All Black forwards and shock us into stupidity with rush-umbrella defence. That means the rematch, if it occurs, will probably turn on what happens in the first 20 minutes, where the All Black forwards must deliver a lesson in hard rugby to their opposites. Nothing else will work.

So what of the details? Unfortunately the All Blacks also had injuries in this test. The good news is that Kieran Read’s ankle knock does not seem to be serious, and that is the crucial one. Slightly less crucial, but still important is the potential loss of Adam Thomson who was our fill-in No.6 and 7. His arm/elbow injury does seem to be serious which leaves us short in the loose-forwards before the World Cup starts.

Finally I would just like to mention the Australian defensive approach in this test. In a surprise tactic Deans had them operate a system often used to great effect on us by South Africa whereby they cut down the space quickly close in (rush defence) and had the outside backs come around infield in an umbrella formation further cutting down space.

This is effective against the All Blacks because they tend to operate their ruck ball in a fairly predictable way, getting the backs moving through midfield. Pressure the first-five and cut down the space out wider, and you cause hurried plays and mistakes which we saw on Saturday in abundance.

So there are two issues for The Three Wise Men to deal with here. The first and most important is to play with more variety from the ruck. It is simplistic but true, that if the opposition is unsure of how you are going to play from there, then they will be unsure of how to defend as well. This will force them to back off, or risk coming up too quickly and creating the opportunity for a line-break.

The variations are all well documented and no big secret. The halfback probing and kicking (with support runners to pressure the kicks), and well-drilled forward drives either striaght from the ruck or one or two out. Similarly kicking from first-five and (if you have a 12 who can kick) second-five to vary the point of attack. We have become too predictable.

Of course Ted might have us running the ball predictably just to stop his opposing coaches developing counter-measures, but I have tried this as a working theory for previous World Cups and found it wanting.

Generally the All Blacks play in World Cups as they are playing in the tests leading up to it and, apart from the odd worked backline move, that’s the way it stays.

So, having had any possible remnant of over-confidence smashed out of them in the humbling loss to a better team in Brisbane, the All Blacks had better do some serious work back at the drawing board in the last two weeks before it all kicks off.

Good luck boys.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:

19 Aug

3N Preview — All Blacks vs South Africa
by WAJ
19 Aug 2011

A desperate side v a relaxed side. An out of form side v an in form side. A best XV v a try out XV. There are lots of different ways to look at this game. I think the reality is a bit of everything and it throws up a fascinating game.

Let’s look at the various aspects of the game. Scrums – look pretty even, all 4 props have played little rugby of late so the substitutions will be interesting.

Lineouts – both have struggled a bit on their own throw of late, and with 4 extremely tall locks one or two might be nicked again, especially with the occasionally erratic Big Kev and The Battleship throwing. Could Thommo be the difference here?

The breakdown – this is the area which will dictate this game. Can the AB’s get the quick ball that they want to play with and move the still underdone Boks around the park. The Boks are going to hit this area hard physically to try and disrupt us – lets hope George Clancy has it under control.

Kicking – playing at sea level helps us out here, but you would think Steyn will still kick a lot so big games for the back 3. Slade has his first real test and I reckon he will go OK – he looks a cool customer and will kick less as we try to move the ball around by hand. But he needs to place kick well – a must do.

Backline – I really like the look of the AB’s backline – stacks of talent. The big question is can they gel, if they do it could be a great night. The Boks looked all sorts of stodgy last week – both on attack and defence. The quicker Aussie backs were able to get through or past them a number of times and if they ever threatened on attack I must have missed it. Well thats not true but they only ever threatened with the boot and those days are gone. Steyn in won’t help as he tends to drop back into the pocket but equally Lambie is a good in and will need to be watched. The Bok centres looked very cumbersome and they failed to bring their wings into the game at all. There will be an improvement but if we can maintain the defence of a fortnight ago then they will struggle again.

The big questions for me are how the AB loose trio will gel, and not so much how Thommo goes as an open-side but how they attack the breakdowns and defend as a unit. How rusty will the backline be? Not only from a combination point of view but all so match fitness and individual touch. I am backing the fitness staff here as the AB’s have always been superbly prepared conditioning wise. And lastly will we be able to withstand what will be an extremely physical and fericious start from the Boks without some of the hard heads and calm minds resting in NZ. The other side of that is whether the Boks will go over the top!!

I think we will be down early and our superior fitness will win over in the end.

AB’s by 1 – 12


7 Aug

Bledisloe Cup Safe
by Paul Waite
7 Aug 2011

The most important outcome of last nights test at Eden Park was that the All Blacks achieved their first major goal this season: to make sure that the Bledisloe Cup could be safely tucked away in the trophy cabinet. With that in mind let’s look at the rest of the game, and how the World Cup preparations are going.

There is no doubt that the final score of 30-14 flattered the All Blacks. In the first half the Wallabies failed to pick up an easy 9 points through missed kicks, and possibly blew a try. The 17-0 deficit at half-time could have been a more competetive 17-9 or even 17-all, which would have put a different complexion on the second half.

In the first quarter there were times that the All Blacks looked terribly vulnerable against the shear efficiency and inventiveness of the Aussie ball-recycling machine. The defence kept the score to Nil, but quite how that happened was not clear.

But, as the coaches pointed out in the press conference after the test, the All Blacks brought a ‘we will not be denied’ attitude to this game, and that ran through the whole team. It was that hunger and heart which made the difference in the end.

Standouts in Black were, in no particular order, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith, Dan Carter, and the loose-trio of Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, and Jerome Kaino. DC kicked everything from the tee right down the middle, and was a monster in the tackle. Our midfeld was rock solid, with Smith tackling like a demon, and Nonu a defences’ nightmare on attack. The loosies were literally in everything.

So they played with guts and heart, and won the first important trophy of the year 30-14, but this being World Cup year we have to look at what wasn’t so good as well.

This was only the second outing together, however an All Black team should not be allowing their ruck ball to be turned over the number of times it was in the second half. Later on, poor support at the ruck was mainly to blame, however the first big turnover resulted from a series of badly executed pick-and-goes from the forward pack, and directly gave away the Wallaby’s first try. Quite what the forwards were trying to prove I’m not sure. Each pick and go resulted in an immediate collapse and an inevitable frantic scramble to retain possession. That happened 3 or 4 times before the surprised Aussies finally understood they were being handed the ball, and gratefully took it to scamper down the touchline and score. Definitely a “work-on” that one.

Set-piece was another worry, with both scrum and lineout looking a wee bit shaky. Crocket seemed to struggle at test level, conceding a few free kicks as he collapsed. When Franks replaced him things were much more solid. At lineout time it was good to see us attacking their ball, and on our throws we had reasonable success but mistakes were made and generally it didn’t inspire enough confidence. In both cases we have the knowledge to fix the issues, though previous seasons with the lineout have shown that this can sometimes take longer than it should. Steve, you have a month for both.

Probably the most important area to improve on was the defence. As mentioned above it looked good on paper in the first half with that Opponents: Nil statistic, but the missed tackle stats showed a different story. The Wallabies were allowed to run that bit too far, and make too much ground as we struggled to keep adjusting our defensive lines and react to changing points of attack. By comparison, when we were on the ball, the Aussies could shut us down far more quickly in each phase, the difference being we punished the few errors they made with points and they didn’t. Clearly work needs to be done to close down that 2-3m of room we are currently allowing. If the Wallabies can do it to us, we can do it to them.

Reference was made by the All Blacks in the after-match conference to some of the team ‘running out of petrol’ towards the end. That would go a long way to explaining some of the turnovers due to lack of support at the ruck. It will also fix itself as the 3N goes on, so for now let’s not get too hung up on that area of deficiency.

I’m not counting the Fiji ‘test’ when I say that overall this match was a typical second hit-out of the test season. A huge step-up from the first one against the under-strength Boks, a lot of blemishes counter-balanced by a lot of hard physical effort and a great gutsy attitude, netting a good win.

So the All Blacks look to be on track for the World Cup. There are a lot of things to fix, but the number of those and the amount of improvement required are all pretty much as expected. The away tests in South Africa and Australia will provide a chance to iron these out.

Finally I’d like to make a plea for teams to stop selling things which don’t exist to gormless sponsors.

The Australian National Rugby Team is called “The Wallabies”. Not “The ACME Sports Emporium Wallabies”, or “The Quaint Arse Wallabies”, or whatever.

Listening to a nasal Aussie accent gabbling through a seemingly endless list of people fronting up at the press conference, and prefixing them all with “The Quaint Arse Wallaby (Captain|Coach|Vice-captain…)” isn’t going to make me choose to fly Quaint Arse. Quite the reverse, in fact.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:

10 Jun

Super 15 — Round 17
by WAJ
10 Jun 2011

Another potentially cracking weekend of rugger. Three games with major top 6 repercussions. Alocal NZ derby with plenty for all players to prove (especially Nonu; I cannot believe you would tell one of the best players in his position in world rugby that he is no longer needed – quite bizarre). And a tricky road trip for the Reds.

It is a brave stand from Hammettbut fraught with risk. Getting rid of the older generation and any attitude that exists with them is one thing, but rebuilding a side in this competition isgoing to be tough. Look at how the Rebels, Force and Cheetahs have fared by starting from scratch, the main issue being depth and assembling a tight 5 that can at least hold its own. Hammett will havea brand new front row next year – good luck I reckon!

Chiefs v Hurricanes
A fascinating game with all that has been going on with both teams off the field – there will be plenty of players with ‘I’ll show you’ attitudes to the fore, could be a few sparks flying. Both put up good performances last week and we should expect another repeat of that – though the Hurricanes morale will need to be taken into account.Lots of interesting match ups throughout as well – notably Mils/Jane, Gear/Sivi, Nonu/Kahui, Duck/Cruden, Weepu/Leonard, Messam/Vito, Hore/Elliot – not all exactly head to head, but still players vying for a WC spot. The Chiefs will want more of the first half performance from last week, with more accuracy from The Duck (in all aspects). The good ball the forwards are now delivering and the counter attacking from the back 3 was superb. A repeat of that effort will win them this game against a similair hot and cold Hurricanes outfit – what was said at halftime last week to get the Hurricanes going? But if Cruden and Nonu can be shut down the Hurricanes are pretty impotent. Foster will know that and I would expect to see them given no room.
Chiefs 13+

Brumbies v Rebels
The fascinating thing about this game will be whether the Brumbies can repeat the intensity and fire they showed against the Reds. Admittedly they are not up against much, the Rebels were simply terrible last week – worse live than on the box, sorry showing my age, on the slim line flat screen. Whilst not showing a whole lotof good play the Brumbies were so direct that you wonder what substance they were on when compared to the poor efforts over the rest of the season, andI loved Giteau taking the last shot at goal to deny the Reds any points at all. It will be the last game for a host of Brumbies (8 – 10 are leaving as Jake White does a Hammett)in Canberra and they will want to go out with a bang, and with the confidence from last week the ball should see plenty of air. Against a struggling Rebels team, where defense is clearly something you find on a farm, because it hasn’t been a part of the Rebels game plan so far, coupled with a backline down on pace and more importantly ideas, well I can’t see anything but a big loss. Oh and Sterling needs to retire – he is slower than a wet week and takes longer to turn than an oil tanker – great captain, but getting found out more and more.
Brumbies 13+

Crusaders v Blues
Hard to believe that 1 of these sides has onlywon once in the last 4 weeks and the other hasn’t won at all! Soit is all on in Timvegas for the biggest game in NZ S15 to date this year. (Are you going Tracey – silly question I suppose!) A few question marks on both teams, one perhaps more than the other, but they both need to hit form NOW or forget winning the thing. The Crusaders are greatly strengthened by the return of Ellis, his option taking has been first class this year, and with Carter looking close to his best the Crusaders pack need to give them the sort of ball to get the likes of SBW and Fruean a bit of room to move, given that they will be too hard to beat.Thus the Blues need to win the battle up front to have a chance here. Big big game for the Blues 8. Their midfield defence is flakey, that isa given, so they need to limit the damage, simple really, again don’t let the Crusaders pack get on top. Unfortunately I don’t see that happening. So what next – counterattack. Yep good idea, plenty of pace and nous out the back for the Blues, not necessarily in the same package unfortunately, but will the best tactical kicker in the game give theopportunities required? Methinks not. How do the Blues win it? It comes back to that battle up front, and against this Crusaders 8 that is a tough ask. Or it becomes a battle of attrition and McA out kicks Carter to ein 6 penalties to 5 – what chance – ha!
Crusaders 1 – 12

Waratahs v Highlanders
Both sides have losttheir last 2 games, but in contrasting circumstances. HAve the wheels fallen off at the Highlanders or what. And it is very hard to get things right again once you lose 2 in a row like the Highlanders have, their 2nd half capitulations have been terrible. Having said that they at least know what to focus on. Nail your chances and pick up your game big time in the last 20 minutes!! The Waratahs could have won both games in Sth Africa, but got done over by incompetence last week and naivety the week before. But, as ever, they have been very good up front and with Beale in outstanding form and Barnes settling things nicely in midfield they have scored plenty of points without being able to win. On the basis that the Waraths are going along slightly better and are at home, I am going with theWaratahs,but….
Waratahs 1 – 12

Force v Reds
Another danger game for the injury hit Reds. They are going to miss the go forward of Diggers, the defensive steel of Faingaa and the reliabilityof Lucas at fullbackthis week,three critical parts of what makes them so good. Whilst they have been very industrious in the forwards to date they will need a big effort this week against an underestimated Force8 with their blue chip loosies. The Brumbies were able to close down the Burglar pretty well last week with their in your face aggressive defenceand thus the need for the Reds forwards to make absolutely sure they are always going forward when in possession to give him more time to weave his magic, he doesn’t need a lot, but more than the Brumbies gave – you know those Force loosies will have one target, so a big night needed from the Reds fatties. The Force are going to provide plenty of problems themselves with the return of Twinkle Toes, to bolster a backline that has been very good of late, just wish he was closer to the action than fullback. Actually the more and more I look at this game the better the Force look. Stannard has been a revelation at 1 5/8 and Smith has really to started to play well on the wing after some pretty tepid performances and to be able to leave McCalman on the bench says a lot about their forwards.
Force 1 – 12

Lions v Sharks
The Sharks were a bit lucky last week, 2 long range tries got them home in a subdued effort where the Cheetahs had by far the better of the game without the ability to finish. Credit to the Sharks defence and their own ability to take any points offered. The Sharks haven’t lost to the Lions since 2001 (the last time the Lions made the semifinals – yikes) and though improved on previous years I can’tsee them having enough of an attacking edge to breach that defence enough to win. For the Sharks – well they keep finding ways to win. Their forwards are going OK,and they will need to dominate against this jetlagged Lions team and get plenty of ball to Peterson and Mvovo. Should be a comfortable win.
Sharks 13+ pan>

Stormers v Bulls
The battle of the 2 South African heavyweights to top the round. Should be a cracker as both teams are in good form. The Bulls were on the end of some sympatheticofficiating last week (and if you haven’t seen the events around O’Connor’s sending off, it was the worst sort of officiating you can imagine by someone who clearly felt he had to be seen at some stage during the game -inaccurate, hesitant, just woeful)and were perhaps a bit lucky, but they probably would have held on anyway. They are playing well without the dominating form of previous years when they would overwhelm teams – aging but still classy. Triple B and de Preez miss this week, 2 extremely influential players who can’t be replaced. The Stormers are back in SA after their most successful Antipodean excursion. A nice tune up last week with the opportunity to get their attacking game in better order has them primed, and with their outstanding defence of this season still in suffocation mode they will win in a close one. Coleman at 1 5/8 the weak point for the Stormers, and he will need to be looked after by the erratic Januarie, but the experience outside him and playing at home should see him through.
Stormers 1 – 12

Regards Waj

27 May

Super 15 — Round 15
by WAJ
27 May 2011

Four rounds to go and with 8 sides vying for the 6 spots available there are 3 games of crucial importance over the weekend.All sorts of questions going into this round – Can the Sharks bounce back from a pretty demoralising loss, which of the Waratahs teams will show up,can the Bulls continue on their impressive run, how will the Cheetahs go againstthem after 4 consecutive wins, and inthe match of the round- how will the Reds andCrusaders play it?

Hurricanes v Force
Mmmm 11th plays 12th – could be quite a good game though with nothing to lose from both sides – though the weather might have the final say. Twinkle Toes out reduces the appeal a bit.And with Ripia also out Stannard becomes the makeshift 1 5/8! Most interest is probably in the performance of the Hurricanes back line – but again the weather could be the spoiler here. A few of them need to start showing some form to ensure a World Cup spot, with Jane probably under the most pressure from the improving Smith from the Highlanders. The Hurricanes have won 4 of the 5 games played between the two and will make it 5 out of 6 here. Interesting choice ofHurricanes captain!
Hurricanes 1 – 12

Highlanders v Lions
Should be a straight forward win for the Highlanders as they push for a top six spot. Sitting in 6th spot now, a bonus point win is a must and with a virtual full strength team lining up should run over the top of the Lions. Tom Donnelly out injured is further putting his World Cup spot in jeopardy – I still puzzle how a 1st choice AB lock can fade to abit part reserve in less than a year. The Lions are the real battlers of this comp with only 2 wins in their last 27 games and just do not have the cattle to challenge here.
Highlanders 13+

Brumbies v Stormers
Again this should be a straight forward win for the Stormers. The Brumbies were improved last week, but were certainly no world beaters. Again it is issue of not having the cattle available, and the ongoing loss of players, and the sacking of the coach, and the outburst of his replacement, and the constant changing of the team….. The Stormers should have too much class all over the paddock and win comfortably
Stormers 13+

Sharks v Waratahs
This really holds no attraction as a viewing spectacle, but of course is crucial to both teams Top 6 aspirations. If results go as they should the loser of this is in real dogfight for the last spot in the 6. Form is pretty similair for both teams – up and down like the proverbial whore’s drawers. I fancy this then to be a pretty dour struggle, and with the Sharks slightly better ability to gather points, they should win in a close one. As an aside it is fascinating to watch the circus that isSouth African rugby. Where else would you get thenational captain relegated to prop, holding up his major rival, who is arguablya better player, though far less disciplined. The captain has to be hooker at the WC – so game time would be fairly important you would think- all bizarre really.
Sharks 1 – 12

Bulls v Cheetahs
The old bull v the young bull.There could be an upset here! Of course this a South African derby so it will begin and end in the forwards and any chance the Cheetahs have will depend on their young forwards fronting against the onslaught that was the downfall of the Sharks last week – Triple B and his mates on the front foot is nigh on impossible to counter. Having had the better of the Crusaders a fortnite ago the Cheetahswill have the confidence to give this a red hot shot. They will need to start well and get some points early agaisnt the great accumulators of the comp. I fancy this mighht be close but ultimately the Bulls will have enough smarts to pull through.
Bulls 1 – 12

Reds v Crusaders
It is time for McCaw to bring that imperious form we all know to the fore as the Crusaders will need all hands on deck to defeat this very good, but also adaptableReds team.But I figure this game will come down to one aspect – thescrum. You know the Crusaders are going to target this area, and with Iron Man backtheir scrum becomes a truely formidable weapon. With play then generated from this phase they should get on the front foot and there is no better player to exploit this than DanThe Man. This also means the Burglar is not going to receive a lot of good ball to generate momentum for the Reds. Combine this with strong defence on the inside channelsagainst the likes ofDiggers. Link is a clever man though and the Reds will have to watched.
Crusaders 1 – 12

Regards Waj

29 Apr

Super 15 – Round 11
by WAJ
29 Apr 2011

Terrible news for Blues lock Kurtis Haiu – we all hope for a fast and full recovery. Our world has an amazing ability to inject a little/lot ofperspective into life at regular intervals.

Seems there is going to be a salary cap in operation for the Aus sides. This will stop the likes of the Waratahs building ateamfull of Wallabies, probably force the Reds to dismantle their successful squad and work towards a stronger Force and Rebels. It will thus have the effect of making Aus teams less of a force in Soopa rugby as there will be noteams full of outstanding players like the Crusaders and Bulls of recent vintage. Unless of course players choose to play for less than their market worth. The Highlanders form of this season though gives hope to all teams.

Highlanders v Blues
What a great way to start the round, this should be a cracker. The Highlanders have been great all season, well coached by JJ, he has got the best out of his team with a simple game plan – get the bloody ballusing a great lineout, solid enough scrum and plenty of aggression at the breakdown, and don’t waste it when you have it on the back of a scheming 1 5/8.Simple, effective and everyone has bought in. Throw inthe outstanding form of individuals like Thomo, Hoata, Smithamd Poki and a depth in the ranks that must make JJ very happy to see come through – they are a real threat to go all the way. The Blues too continue on their winning way, and have also managed themselves through the inevitable injuries. The main isse for them is their hot and cold turns during the game – they won’t be able to do that tonight. I like the Blues for their greater strike power out wide, they will make breaks and they will score tries, hopefully they can sort out their defence for the full 80. Some great match ups too – Cowan v Matthewson and Kaino v Thomothe big ones but the lineout battle too looks a goodie. Can’t wait.
Blues 1 – 12

Cheetahs v Brumbies
The who cares game of the weekend. The Brumbies are coming off a bye and have been strengthened by the return of a few players. They will also want to put on a show for their new coach, though the way things are going not many of this years team will be left. They should be well prepared for the SA leg and with a 4 to 1 winning record against the Cheetahs will challenge strongly. The Cheetahs welcomeback the hugely influential Roussow and are a good chance to win this as they are not scared to throw the ball around. A toughie but think the Brumbies have a bit more class.
Brumbies 1 – 12

Hurricanes v Reds
A lot of injuries for both teams here, though the result won’t be affected. The Reds are on a roll on the back of their irresistable halves pairing and will be too strong here. The Hurricanes are having a shocker and will have a crack but have too many playersout or out of form.
Reds 13+

Waratahs v Rebels
I fear a repeat score of the round 1 clash between these two sides, though injury may limit the effectiveness of the Waratahs. Waugh, Palu and Mitchell are big outs, and with only Barnes returning they are down on strike power. But they have a dominat scrum and still retain some outstanding players in the form of the Flying Affro, Ben Mowen, Bealeand Burgo. If they maintain 80 minutes of concentration they will be too strong for an erratic Rebels team. The Rebels are close to full strength and have made a point of dropping their 2 worsat defenders, who also happen to be their best attackers, but will be arguably better off for it. This will probably mean they will lose by 20instead of 40.
Waratahs 13+

Force v Crusaders
I don’t fancy being a Forceforward this week, the Crusaders will be very keen to put last weeks disappointing effort behind them and get back on track with, in particular, a strong display up front. The loss of Thorn is the perhaps the key here and Romano and Jack will need to keep it tight to compensate. But with McCaw at the helm you feel this will happen and give the wonderfully gifted backline plenty of pill to run theForce ragged. The Force will be brave and the loosies will challenge all day, but they lack the class out wide that the Crusaders bring and will struggle to defend against them. A big game for Todd againstPocock and we will know more about him after this.
Crusaders 13+

Bulls v Chiefs
Can the Bulls get their faltering campaign back on track. They are 2 1/2 wins out of the playoffs at the moment and a loss here would almost certainly end any chance to defend their title. And you know, I fancy the Chiefs here to pull off an upset so bad are the Bulls playing. The Chiefs haven’t wonin Pretoria for 10 years, but certainly have the backline ammunition to break that streak. The forwards of course hold the key and anything close to parity will see them go close. The Duck hopefully has sorted out his kicking blues, he wasshit last week and they can’t afford to give anything away with Steyn always accurate as hell. The Bulls are so out of form, with all their big guns struggling, if the Chiefs put it together a win is on the cards. My upset of the week, and yes I know … it is the Chiefs.
Chiefs 1 – 12

Stormers v Sharks
And we finish off with a good old fashioned South African grudge match. It will be tight, niggly and extremely intense. I see Smitty holds his hooking bath ahead of the returning Battleship.The difference could be at 1 5/8 where two young guns could be set to face off. Their goalkicking will be critical and Lambie will want to improve on his efforts of last week. The Stormers with home advantage should get up. Interestingly these sides are dead even on wins and losses both home and away and 9 of the 14 meetings have been wins by 12 or under.
Stormers 1 – 12

Regards Waj

12 Sep

The Winning Habit
by Paul Waite
12 Sep 2010

The first opponent that the All Blacks had to subdue was themselves, and their own worst enemy put up a great fight for 55 minutes whilst the Wallabies ran rampant. Once that was out of the way we had 25 minutes of both teams playing rugby, and the All Blacks once again emerged the winners.

This defeat must be the most gutting of all the losses the Wallabies have suffered at All Black hands this season. To give credit where credit is due they played some great rugby for those 55 minutes. As hungry as sharks, and as quick and mean as rattlesnakes, they swarmed across the field knocking All Black attacks back, and fizzing at running their own ball.

It was evident right at the outset that the Wallabies were out for blood, and were slavering to taste victory in this one.

The All Blacks by contrast looked out of sorts. They went through the motions we have already seen this season but it lacked cohesion and focus. Perhaps it was the distraction for many of them of having family and friends involved in the Christchurch earthquake, the amount of time since the previous test (3 weeks), or maybe it was just the fact that the Tri-Nations was already won; we can only speculate. Often these things work in the sub-conscious and even the players themselves don’t know.

Other factors added to the negative mix. You can’t take the likes of Dan Carter, arguably the best No. 10 in the World, out of a team and replace him with a young rookie in the form of the diminutive Aaron Cruden and expect the team will run the same. Cruden will put this test in the experience bank, but probably won’t take much pride in it. He looked pretty much as if he was floundering in the deep end of the pool, and couldn’t impose any kind of structure or pattern to the All Blacks play. Given he also had trouble with restarts, and doesn’t do the place-kicking, it wasn’t a surprise that the team looked to be on a firmer footing once Colin Slade came on. Slade is arguably less intuative and gifted at running the ball than Cruden, but the team looked the better for his more orthodox hand on the rudder.

Victor Vito, playing at number 6 also had a mixed bag of a game. He didn’t combine that well with McCaw and Read, and acted more like Rodney So’oialo did, as an individual unit. Great at running with the ball, but lacking in all other departments. He also directly cost the team a try with a mistake on defence from a scrum in the first half, leaving a lane the Wallabies could have driven a bus down to the try-line. Once Kaino came on and the All Blacks had their first-choice trio back in action we saw some awesome driving which resulted in tries, and ultimately the winning of the test.

The final problem was that the All Blacks lost Mealamu to a blown calf very early on which took away the ball-carrying options he brings to the game.

With all of the above, plus the out-of-sorts mindset we saw the All Blacks largely fumbling around for the first half, watching the Wallabies playing all the rugby. It was incredible that the scoreline was only 14-6 when they went in for a half-time rub-down, largely attributable to the execrable goal-kicking of Matt Giteau (thanks Matt).

All Black fans would have hoped that a half-time rev-up might have made a difference, but not a bit of it. Basically it remained the same for 15 minutes until the substitution of Cruden and Vito which changed the complexion of the All Blacks play markedly. With Slade providing a steadying influence from hand and boot, the team looked a lot more balanced, but it was Kaino who made the biggest difference and together the pack and loose-forwards gave the All Blacks the forward momentum they had been lacking.

One other factor may also have been a tiring Wallaby forward pack, due to their recent travel back from South Africa because in the final 25 minutes despite numerous fresh legs being substituted, the gaps started to open. The All Blacks won the second half 17-3 and scored 14 points in the last 20 minutes to crush the Wallaby heart, stamp on it, and grind the heel.

The loss must be a gut-wrencher of immense proportions to Deans’ men. Looking back on it, to a man they were slavering for the taste of victory over the All Blacks in this one, and the commitment levels were red-lined. They threw the kichen sink at it, and came away losing and that must hurt. But defeat usually makes teams grow stronger, and the Wallabies are now well positioned for next season’s lead-up to the Rugby World Cup.

For the All Blacks the hunt is still on for a Dan Carter replacement and back-up. Cruden seems to be very raw, and the more orthodox Colin Slade looked to be a better fit. Perhaps some thought will be given to starting Slade with Cruden on the bench for the next few tests. Aside from the learning curve Cruden is embarked on for running a test match, his presence currently dictates that the All Black halfback is Piri Weepu, for place-kicking duty. Having to play Weepu is an obvious selection problem, as Jimmy Cowan does offer the team more when he is on form.

This test marks the end of the Tri-Nations. The next test is the money-making junket against the Wallabies in Hong Kong (assuming ticket sales pick up) and after that the End Of Year Grand Slam Tour to the UK.

A final note. Contrary to the tongue-in-cheek title of this article, winning is not, and never has been, a "habit". Wins have to be grafted for, and the All Blacks grafted for this one. Well done to them and the coaching team for winning the Tri-Nations so emphatically.

New Zealand 23 (Kieran Read, Richie McCaw tries; Piri Weepu 3 pen, 2 con)

Australia 22 (Adam Ashley-Cooper, James O’Connor tries; Matt Giteau 3 pen, Kurtley Beale pen)

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:

8 Aug

The 'D' In All Blacks
by Paul Waite
8 Aug 2010

The All Blacks arm-wrestled the Wallabies and won the contest 20 – 10 and two tries to one, in what was a true test match to put the Bledisloe Cup safely away in the trophy cabinet for another season.

The opening minutes of this test saw the teams going at breath-taking speed, recycling the ball and each endlessly probing the other in great lung-busting efforts of ruck-a-thon rugby. The accuracy levels were high on both sides, however the All Blacks showed that they don’t just rely on the drilled patterns the Wallabies produce, but can also bring out the X-Factor to score tries.

The first 15 minutes of the game brought two beauts, punctuated by an Aussie reply from an All Black turnover.

The first New Zealand try came from a couple of bursts up the left from Smith and Mealamu to put the Wallaby defence on the back foot. Rokocoko then took the pass at high speed, evaded the second-to-last line of defence before spinning it wide to Mils Muliaina who danced inside the chalk, evading the fullback as well as any winger ever has, to dot down. It was a classic try built on well-timed passes and speed.

The All Blacks were playing with tails well up in the air, however they over-reached themselves when Carter lost the ball trying to pop it up in the tackle just over half-way. With everyone pushed up it was a gift to the Wallabies and Pocock and Sharpe put Kurtley Beale away, albeit with what looked like a forward pass. Beale then ran the ball in with Carter in lone and futile pursuit.

Carter made amends by breaking the line a few minutes later, popping the ball up to Weepu who spun it left to Ma’a Nonu who was dangerous all game. With the Aussie defence struggling and out of alignment, he made the most of it by running into some space and then putting Conrad Smith over in the corner. The referee went upstairs to confirm the grounding, but it was fine.

Given this opening, it was hard to believe, after the game had ended, that the remainder of the test saw no more tries scored. The Wallabies gradually asserted themselves in the posession stakes, and showed themselves to be better at maintaining the ball than the All Blacks were. This meant they gradually climbed into the driving seat of the test, something which didn’t go unnoticed by the Three Wise Men.

A further penalty to the both teams saw the scores still quite close on 17 – 10 at halftime, and just before they came out for the second half, an interviewed Steve Hansen said the team had been told to step up their intensity and get back in control of the test instead of allowing the Wallabies to dictate proceedings.

In the event, that didn’t happen. The story of the second half was, basically, Australian attack versus All Black defence.

But the All Blacks showed that they once again have the mettle and abilities to defend what, in the current game, is a slender lead.

For the Wallabies, the lesson they will have learned is that you can drill away for hours developing the patterns that will enable you to keep the ball and recycle it endlessly, but against the top sides you need to do more than that. You need to have that X-Factor of variation and genius that will create the gap and the opening for the try scoring opportunity, and you have to take it.

After the test the Wallaby comment was they failed to take their chances. Well I thought they took all the ones that were on offer, in reality, and that was just the single one given to them by a Carter mistake.

Australia also sent it’s top pundit over, Matt Dunning (also affectionately known as Matt Dumpling amongst his friends). Matt was obviously there to offer the typically balanced and informed Australian sportsman’s viewpoint, and did so with statements like "we could easily have won that test but every time the Wallabies got the ball they gave it straight back again".

Well I’m not sure what Matt understands by the phrase "straight back" here, but from my viewpoint, the Wallabies did everything BUT that. The All Blacks couldn’t get their hands on the ball for 10 minutes at a stretch as Wallabies went through their recycling drills like a bunch of gym bunnies making an aerobics video for large blokes with masochistic tendencies.

No, the Wallabies had so much possession that they couldn’t even wag a finger at it, let alone shake a stick. It was embarassing how much of the ball they had, without scoring with it. That should be the point that Matt takes back with him over the Tasman. Matt could even use this as a nice little example of how not to play the game, in his up-coming book "Rugby for Dumplings".

The All Blacks now have a week off, whilst Aussies have to schlepp all the way over to South Africa for some sun and a good hiding from a fresh but very angry Springboks team. Lucky them.

I have to say that this season’s draw has been just about perfect for the All Blacks, and I would recommend that SANZAR have it this way around every year. None of that starting the series with a trip to South Africa, playing two tests then travelling to Sydney for one there rubbish.

After the week off the All Blacks will then travel to South Africa, nicely freshened up, to take on the Boks, hopefully by that time sitting sated with eyes glazed over, gorged on Wallaby blood.

So for now congratulations to the All Blacks for locking up the Bledisloe Cup for another season!

[That trophy is so much more important to New Zealanders than the Tri-Nations, it doesn't even bear talking about, so I won't mention it.]

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:

31 Jul

Two Flashes of Genius From Jane
by Paul Waite
31 Jul 2010

The All Blacks took it to the Wallabies on their own patch at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, scoring a resounding 49-28, 7 tries to 3 victory.

It has to be said that what could have been an absolute cracker of a test match was ruined by the muppet with the whistle. I don’t have an issue with referees being reasonably strict interpreting the Laws, but South African Craig Joubert obviously studied at the Hitlerian University of Rugby Refereeing, then presumably went on to do a Ph.D. in ‘The Effects on a Rugby Game of Blowing A Whistle and Waving Yellow and Red Cards Around’.

To say that Joubert had an eagle eye for an offence is the same as saying Stalin was a bit of a naughty boy. It wouldn’t be so bad if all, or even most other referees did the same things, giving the players a heads-up on what to expect, but he’s so different it just makes it all very silly.

Just to show you how silly I thought it was, when Drew Mitchell was yellow-carded for the second time for interfering with the ball after the whistle had gone (preventing a quick play by an All Black) and therefore had to march off for good with Joubert waving him goodbye with a shiny red piece of plastic, I actually felt sorry for the Wallabies! Which, I have to tell you, was quite unnerving since it has never happened to me before.

Well of course we then had a test match with 15 men against 14, with three-quarters of the time left – pretty much a ruined game if ever there was one. Yes, Australia did rally in the second half and provide a huge amount of fight, but the result was never in doubt and that was hard to take.

The kicker was, the game would have been a hum-dinger with 15 vs 15, and the All Blacks would have had to fight that much harder for supremacy.

So let’s get to a bit of the actual rugby. The test started out with two mistakes by the No.10′s Carter and Barnes. Carter was up first, doing that lazy clearance thing I’ve seen as an intermittent fault in his game for a long time. He received the pass, then took ages to run and clear, getting it charged down and giving away a soft try. Just to show that whatever the All Blacks could do, they could match it, the Aussies passed the ball to their own idiot, and Berrick Barnes proceeded to gift none other than Dan Carter himself with a charge-down and resulting try. All within 5 minutes of each other which was quite bizarre.

After that the teams started playing some real rugby, and the All Blacks looked the better side immediately. Their carries went further, and their defence was harder. They also seemed to have that little bit more variation moving the ball. Though the Wallabies moved the ball energetically and fast, it tended to get too lateral too quickly, and they ended up going from side to side.

Of course the refereeing wasn’t helping much. With both sides determined to keep the ball in hand the breakdown and tackling came in for some very anally-retentive rulings from Joubert. Every little real and indeed imaginary thing was picked up by his antenna. A case in point being a collision/tackle made by Whitelock and I think McCaw which had the unfortunate Wallaby sandwiched and flipping horizontally then falling onto the deck. Joubert erroneously saw this as a ‘tip tackle’, but luckily his brain didn’t manage to conjure up a jersey number so nobody got sent to the bin in error that time.

The test was notable for two pieces of shear magic conjured by All Black winger Cory Jane. The first involved the ball being spun to his right wing on the Wallaby 10m mark where he made ground but encountered the fearsome Rocky Elsom coming at him to barge him out of play. Jane calmly fended Elsom with his left hand, giving him time to drop the ball from his right and put in a beautifully weighted centring chip for Mils Muliaina to run onto and score.

In the second he received the ball out on the same wing 15m out with a player to beat and Genia coming at him like an express train from in-field. He fended the first player, stepped past, judged Genia’s speed and angle and checked then changed direction in-field to wrong-foot him just enough to be able to step through and score the try. The clever way he assessed and used all of the dynamics of everything going on around him with split-second timing were just a joy to watch.

Unfortunately for the All Blacks late in the first half Jimmy Cowan got a rib injury and Piri Weepu had to come on. Weepu is a redoutable half-back but we needed Cowan’s style of game against the Aussies, and we greatly missed his fast pass, and darting runs around the ruck. That, together with a game Aussie fight-back saw the All Blacks game drop off in the second half to a level that they will be disappointed with when they review the recording of the test. In the final quarter they were not supporting the ball-carrier anywhere near the level they had been, and lost possession to turnovers several times as a result. This saw the momentum gained in the first half dissipate somewhat, and the machine stuttered.

Even so it had enough umph to score a couple more tries, and the eventual tally of 7 tries to 3, 49 points to 28 will have Graham Henry chortling over his glass of medicinal port tonight. With a 15 point maximum out of three 3N tests so far, only an idiot would put money against the All Blacks for the Tri-Nations this season, although the Bledisloe Cup is the real prize everyone wants to see retained in the NZRU’s trophy cabinet.

The Wallabies will take a little bit of comfort from the fact they battled well with the deficit of 14 men, however it was only a winger they lost, and they were being beaten quite handily before it happened, and now have to play the All Blacks back here in New Zealand. So I doubt much celebrating will be going on over in Camp Dingo tonight, and basically they have to face up to the fact that they were given a good hiding on their own turf whilst probably playing to their best abilities.

For the All Blacks, it was a good performance but it was definitely very patchy. The second half saw some of the wheels wobbling, if not coming off, and there is certainly a lot of improvement to be had.

As for the referee, there was nothing that a cold bath followed by a double labotomy couldn’t see right. I’m not sure how SANZAR or the IRB handle their referees, but I’d like to imagine that a report is being written which contains the phrases ‘over-zealous’, ‘utter wanker’ and ‘should never be allowed near a rugby pitch again’.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:

19 Jul

Game Stats: All Blacks v Springboks, Wellington, 17 July 2010
by Tracey Nelson
19 Jul 2010

The usual analysis of the All Blacks game,including First 3 to the Breakdown, ball carries, tackle stats, penalties conceded, turnovers, the lineouts, and scrums.

Please note Completed Tackles means that player actually brought the ball carrier to ground (ie. halting the movement and being the tackler according to the laws of the game), not assists in the tackle situation which are tallied separately. Missed tackles also includes slipped tackles where the ball carrier isn’t stopped. Most importantly, I do NOT call a slipped tackle a tackle, it gets noted as a missed tackle.

Numbers in brackets are the first half/second half breakdown for each total. An asterisk denotes a player who came on as a substitute.

Team: Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu, Owen Franks, Brad Thorn, Tom Donnelly, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw(c), Kieran Read, Piri Weepu, Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Rene Ranger, Cory Jane, Mils Muliaina
Reserves: Cory Flynn, Ben Franks, Sam Whitelock, Liam Messam, Jimmy Cowan, Aaron Cruden, Israel Dagg.

Substitutions were: Cowan for Weepu, Dagg for Ranger, and Whitelock for Donnelly all at 64 min, Ben Franks for Owen Franks at 71 min, Cruden for Nonu at 74 min, and Messam for Kaino and Flynn for Mealamu at 76 min.

Points Scored NZ South Africa
Tries 4 2
Conversions 2 2
Penalties 3/5 1/1
Total 31 17

Penalties/Free Kicks Conceded Pen FKs
NZ 11 0
SA 9 0
Total 20 0

NZ Penalty Offences
Tackle Read(3), Nonu, Ranger 5
Ruck McCaw(4), Thorn 5
Scrum   1
Total   11

South Africa’s Penalty Offences
Tackle 4
Ruck 3
Foul play 2 plus 1 yellow card
Total 9

Turnovers Conceded by NZ
Knock-ons 10
Forward pass 1
Spilled 1
In the tackle 2
Total 14

First 3 to Breakdown Total Per half
MCaw 40 20+20
Thorn 38 20+18
Woodcock 36 17+19
O Franks 26 13+13
Kaino 25 12+13
Read 22 12+10
Donnelly 18 12+6
Mealamu 18 8+10
Whitelock* 12  
Smith 11 6+5
B Franks* 10  
Ranger 7 6+1
Muliaina 5 2+3
Carter 4 1+3
Flynn* 3  
Nonu 3 2+1
Jane 3 1+2
Messam* 2  
Cowan* 1  

Ball carries
Mealamu 9
Kaino 9
Read 9  
McCaw 6
Thorn 6
Woodcock 4
Donnelly 3
O Franks 3
Whitelock* 2
B Franks* 1

Line breaks
Weepu 3
Ranger 1
Dagg 1

Completed Tackles and Assists Tackles Assists
Read 11(3+8) 3 (1+2)
McCaw 9 (3+6) 4 (2+2)
Carter 9 (3+6) 1 (1+0)
Kaino 8 (2+6) 0
Smith 7 (2+5) 3 (2+1)
Nonu 7 (4+3) 2 (0+2)
Donnelly 7 (3+4) 1 (1+0)
Thorn 7 (3+4) 0 (0+1)
Woodcock 6 (3+3) 1 (0+1)
Mealamu 5 (1+4) 0
O Franks 4 (3+1) 1 (0+1)
Jane 4 (1+3) 0
B Franks* 3 0
Whitelock* 3 1
Weepu 3 (2+1) 2 (0+2)
Flynn* 2 0
Muliaina 2 (2+0) 0
Ranger 2 (2+0) 1 (0+1)
Cruden* 1 0
Dagg* 1 0
Total 101 21

Missed and Slipped Tackles
Weepu 3
Carter 2
Mealamu 1
Woodcock 1
Donnelly 1
McCaw 1
Read 1
Nonu 1
Total 11

NZ Line-outs Won From
First half 5 5
Second half 1 5
Total 6 10

NZ Line-out Jumpers Won From
Thorn 2 2
Read 1 3
Kaino 1 1
Woodcock 1 1
Donnelly 0 1
Quick throws 1 1

South Africa Line-outs Won From
First half 4 4
Second half 4 4
Total 8 8

NZ Scrum Feeds Won From
First half 2 3
Second half 1 2
Total 3 5

SA Scrum Feeds Won From
First half 6 6
Second half 3 4
Total 9 10