9 Oct

The Northern Quarters
by Paul Waite
9 Oct 2011

Northern_HemisphereThe Northern Hemisphere Rugby World Cup quarter-finals gave us two pulsating tests, and two results that many experts did not predict. But one things is certain, the best teams are through to the semis.

The first of a brace of Saturday evening quarters was played at the Caketin, in Wellington between Ireland and Wales. The pre-match predictions were all leaning towards the Irish due to the upset they scored over Australia in the pool games, the experience of the squad, and their general Irish ‘pile into it’ playing style. Most thought that they would hoe into Wales and blow through them enough times with that big pack of theirs, to take a place in the semi-final.

Against that is the evidence of our own eyes. Contrary to some teams (eg. France, as described below) Wales have built gradually through the pool stages, and have shown themselves to be masters of every facet of the game. Right across the team, and right across the width of the paddock they have been putting in strong performances. Warren Gatland has got them humming.

The game started with a bang as Wales built pressure and moved on the Irish line with some lovely probing runs and great ball retention scoring a try in the right corner through Shane Williams. The Irish, smarting from the early slap, came back strongly and drove the ball dangerously in the forwards, adding darting probes in the backs. They signalled their intent when Ronan O’Gara kicked for a 5m lineout three times instead of taking kickable penalties, though none of these resulted in the try they sought.

The Welsh soaked up the Irish pressure for what seemed like an age, but showed that this is another facet of the game that they have mastered under Gatland’s tutelage. At halftime they went in 10-3 to Wales having added a penalty each.

In the second spell Wales really nailed the game, but only after the Irish had their fans cheering as Keith Earls crashed over the line in the 45th minute, and the scores were levelled.

Only six minutes later Welsh pressure led to a ruck on the left hand side of the field inside the Irish 22m. Man of the Match, Welsh halfback Mike Phillips picked the ball up and made a lightning run down the blind to touch down with an athletic dive millimetres inside the corner flag.

At this point the Irish lost their way, and instead of piling into the Welsh defence with strong driving and great darting runs from the likes of O’Driscoll, started to hoof the ball downfield, presumably for field position. Whatever the reason it back-fired, and just kept handing the Welsh possession, which they used in the 64th minute to score again this time through Jonathan Davies who walzed through a number of sleep-walking Irish defenders before dotting it down. With the conversion bringing up a 22-10 score-line with 15 minutes left, the game was more or less done and dusted.

Wales 22
Shane Williams, Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies tries
Rhys Priestland 2 con, Leigh Halfpenny con

Ireland 10
Keith Earls try
Ronan O’Gara pen, con

HT: 10-3

The second quarter-final was not predictable, by definition, since it involved the French. On pool play this game was going to be a walk in the park for the English, as Les Bleus had been more like Les Bleeeurghs! With two losses, one to the All Blacks and one to Tonga, they couldn’t have looked less promising as World Cup semi-finalists.

England coach Martin Johnson had picked a strange-looking back-line with the injury of Mike Tindall, bringing together two first-five eighths, Toby Flood and Jonny Wilkinson.

The side in white started off the game moving the ball wide, showing an intention to play attacking football, however the French defence was up to the challenge, making some strong forays back in the opposite direction and giving early indications that they had shaken off their pool-play sluggishness. There was an urgency and an enthusiasm about the French which had been missing.

The English, as the cricket saying has it, did not trouble the scorers, for the whole first half. France notched up 16 points without reply from their opponents via two penalties and two unconverted tries through Clerc and Medard. The former danced and spun through a seemingly bamboozled England defence 5m in from the left corner. Medard’s try was the result of a lovely French backline attack, again down the left, aided by some lacklustre English defence which saw three players committed to the man they thought would try to score, only to see it passed infield for Medard to dart through the hole they had created.

The English had their chances too, but it was evident that their skill levels were not up to the task as each time the ball was fumbled, or did not go to hand in the crucial moments. They looked like a bunch of players trying to take their game up a notch, to a level they had never before played. It was a level beyond them.

The second half was a tighter affair as the French, understandably, tried to consolidate, rather than create. But as time wore on the English continued to make mistakes, and eventually a raft of replacements started coming on.

One of those, Ben Foden, finally got England on the scoreboard with a try, and Jonny Wilkinson converted, before being replaced himself. His absence immediately gave the back-line a bit more fluency, and some time later Mark Cueto bagged another try with about 5 minutes left. A conversion at that point would have brought the English to within 5 points, allowing extra time if they scored another try or a win if it was converted. However, for once Flood’s boot failed him despite the kick being relatively easy.

With Trinh-Duc on at No.10 for France, they easily played out the final moments of the match with some nice tactical kicking and defensive clearances.

France 19
Vincent Clerc, Maxime Medard tries; Dimitri Yachvili 2 pen, Francois Trinh-Duc drop goal

England 12
Ben Foden, Mark Cueto tries; Jonny Wilkinson con

HT: 16-0

Paul Waite

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5 Oct

Cup Balls: IRB Fines Player For Sponsorship Breach
by Paul Waite
5 Oct 2011

Mouth GuardAn un-named team at the Rugby World Cup has had one of its players fined for wearing an un-approved jock strap, it was revealed in a press release today.

In this tournament the IRB has been taking a hard line on teams and players who have strayed away from using officially sanctioned products.

‘We have to be very careful to protect the interests of our sponsors’, said IRB spokesman Francois Pissoire.

‘If we let this jock strap slip we would lose their support’, he added.

As the press conference went on, the assembled media learned of other similar breaches of protocol that the IRB investigators had uncovered.

It transpires that England first five-eighth Jonny Wilkinson was found inside a non-sponsored magic supplies shop in Auckland called ‘Disappearing Act’.

‘Lucky for Jonny, he couldn’t buy a successful kick at goal, so we ‘ave let ‘im go’ Pissoire explained.

Not so fortunate were the whole of the French team, who were slapped with a 10,000 Euro penalty for going up Cuba Street and attempting to buy themselves a spine after their nightmare outing against Tonga.

And of course there was the unfortunate case of the Samoan player wearing an un-approved mouth-guard.

‘Naturally billions watching the game on TV would have noticed this blatant attempt to advertise a competitors product immediately, and rushed out to replace their existing equipment. This cannot be tolerated and we have fined the Samoans $10,000!’, explained Pissoire.

‘We must do this so we can carry on our mission to globalise Rugby by donating $100 here and $50 there to the poorer Unions in the World, funded solely by the interest we make from the pallets of gold bullion we have lodged in Switzerland. We trust that Samoa will understand that our hands were tied.’

The Samoan Union could not be reached for comment in Apia, as their phone had been cut off due to an unpaid bill.

At this point what can only be described as a ‘troop’ of 15 IRB officials marched into the room and lined up behind their leader. Several of the press cohorts were visibly disturbed by the shiny polished knee-length boots, brown uniforms and black arm-bands with glittering IRB logo.

‘Allow me to introduce you to our Sponsorship Scrutineers’, Pissoire announced, to which there were several murmurings which sounded suspiciously like ‘SS’ from some present.

It then became obvious why Pissoire needed such reinforcements as he addressed the assembled media more forcefully.

‘It has also come to my notice that none of you are taking notes at these press conferences using official IRB-sanctioned pens. In fact none of you are writing anything, just typing into those stupid laptops and iPhones!’

At this point Pissoire became so angry and animated that spittle was spraying from his mouth, as he delivered his final statement.

‘So all of you are fined $100,000,000 Euro each, banned from the tournament, and we will make a heap of those instruments of the Devil and burn them. Dismissed!’

As the World’s journalists turned to begin filing out of the room, laptops held out ready, Bernard Laprat, Mr. IRB Himself, burst into the room wearing an immense pair of shoes, yellow and red striped pantaloons, a revolving bow tie, big red nose and flappy red hair.

‘Hahahaha! It’s all a big fucking joke!’ he shouted.

Nobody disagreed.

Paul Waite

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20 Sep

RWC – Stats at the midway point
by Tracey Nelson
20 Sep 2011

Who has the best attack, best defence, has conceded the most penalties? Some quick stats from the tournament at the halfway stage of pool play.

Please note that these stats include the game played between Italy and Russia on Tuesday 20 September, so that all four pools have had five games played to make up the first 20 of the overall 40 games of pool play.

Team Points For Tries Points Against
New Zealand 124 19 17
France 93 10 40
South Africa 66 8 19
Italy 59 9 49
Samoa 59 7 29
England 54 7 19
Fiji 52 6 74
Argentina 52 6 21
Scotland 49 4 30
Canada 44 4 66
Australia 38 4 21
Ireland 37 3 16
Namibia 37 3 98
Wales 33 2 27
Tonga 30 3 66
Romania 29 3 77
Japan 28 3 130
Russia 23 3 66
USA 23 2 28
Georgia 16 1 56

Pool Total points Tries
A 319 39
B 203 21
C 180 21
D 247 27

Pool Penalties Cards
A 115 0
B 115 3
C 102 0
D 106 2

Team Penalties con Cards
Romania 28 1
England 27 2
Australia 27 0
Canada 26 0
Argentina 26 0
New Zealand 25 0
Japan 25 0
Samoa 25 1
Namibia 22 1
Russia 21 0
Fiji 21 0
Tonga 20 0
USA 20 0
France 10 0
Ireland 19 0
South Africa 19 0
Wales 19 0
Georgia 18 0
Scotland 16 0
Itlay 15 1

Referee Penalties awarded Match Av
Alain Rolland 53 26.5
Steve Walsh 51 25.5
Bryce Lawrence 39 24.5
Jonathan Kaplan 47 23.5
Craig Joubert 42 21.0
Nigel Owens 41 20.5
Alan Pearson 41 20.5
George Clancy 36 18.0
Wayne Barnes 33 16.5

20 Sep

RWC Summary and Predictions
by Paul Waite
20 Sep 2011

Let’s have a look at the story so far in the pools at RWC2011, and then have a quick look at what might (or might not) lie ahead as we zero in on the knock-out phase.

The 2011 edition of the Rugby World Cup continues to deliver more cracking games as compared with 2007. The first weeks of pool games are normally a succession of thrashings delivered with appropriate hauteur by the ‘tier 1′ teams to the ‘minnows, with the occasional evenly contested minnow-vs-minnow encounter. Not this time around!

In fact the term ‘minnow’ is now officially defunct. Inappropriate. There are no teams at RWC2011 which deserve that condescending label, and the people who, after 2007, were suggesting we revert to the 16-team format are thankfully being shown up for the short-sighted idiots they are.

Even the All Blacks’ 83-7 rout of an under-strength Japan falls into the same perspective, given the 145-17 stomping in 1995. The Brave Blossoms competed for the full 80 minutes and were not daunted, just over-matched.

There were other examples of the massive increase in global playing standards by the tier 2 teams. England vs Georgia was a classic. Georgia were playing a team which has won the Rugby World Cup once, and been finalists twice. To say they competed is an epic understatement. Georgian forwards, most of them looking like Popeye’s nemesis, Bluto, fired themselves into the English defensive line like missiles, and their heroic efforts earned them a close 10-17 deficit at halftime. They eventually went down 10-41 as they tired and leaked points in the second half, but given they were being forced to play only FOUR DAYS after their previous pool game against Scotland (a hard-fought 15-6 defeat), that was unsurprising. England left the field looking battered by the encounter, and still utterly confused by the Laws of the game.

The game of the round was undoubtedly Australia vs. Ireland played at a rainy Eden Park. Leading up to this Ireland had suffered through a forgettable August of World Cup build-up games losing to Scotland, England and twice to France. But it was a fired-up team of Emerald-isle men who really took it to the jaunty Aussies in Auckland. Though the damp conditions probably helped, it was mainly the shutting down of play-makers Genia and Cooper which delivered the surprise 15-6 result. That and a ton of Irish passion.

To say that the Aussie World Cup plans are now derailed is over-stating it, but they have undoubtedly been severely dented. Ireland still have to make good on their leg-up, but victories over Russia and Italy would seem to be well within their scope. If that happens then Australia will come second in the pool, and probably meet South Africa in the Quarter-final. An early exit therefore looms for one of the Southern Hemisphere giants. The Wallabies need to be very worried about this as the Boks, historically, have been well suited to beating them in this kind of pressure-cooker encounter.

All the other pools seem to be on course for the following probable quarter-finals in the knock-out phase of the cup:

QF1: Ireland vs. Wales
QF2: England vs. France
QF3: South Africa vs. Australia
QF4: New Zealand vs. Argentina or Scotland

QF1 does offer Samoa an outside chance of getting there ahead of Wales, but Wales have Namibia and Fiji to play, whereas Samoa have Fiji and South Africa, so it will be very difficult.

With QF4 Argentina are 3 points behind Scotland but Scotland has yet to play England which may well result in a zero points haul and Argentina has Georgia which should get them at least 4. So the Scotland vs. Argentina pool game next week should decide which of them goes through to the knock-out stages.

Looking too far ahead is dangerous, but we love danger so let’s throw the clich├ęd (and boring) ‘one game at a time’ rule out of the proverbial window.

In some parallel universe, the above quarter-finals will produce these semi-finals:

SF1: Wales vs. France
SF2: New Zealand vs. South Africa

And, being an All Blacks supporter, and a lover of symmetry I can’t help but predict that the 2011 Rugby World Cup final will be the same as the inaugural World Cup held in 1987 in this country:

Final: New Zealand vs. France

And the result of that will obviously be a New Zealand victory by 29-9.

Eh bien!

Paul Waite

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14 Sep

Carry On Tinkering
by Paul Waite
14 Sep 2011

After a brief flirt with picking a reasonably consistent team last season, the All Blacks Selectors are back to spinning the bottle once again. Just about the whole of the New Zealand rugby-going public, as well as most media pundits know in their guts that a Top XV must be played together, but it is not a feeling shared by the Three Wise Men.

The team announced to play Japan on Friday is as follows:

All Blacks: Woodcock, Mealamu, O. Franks, Thorn, Whitelock, Kaino, Thomson, Vito, Ellis, Slade, Kahui, Nonu, Smith, Jane, Toeava
Reserves: Hore, Afoa, Williams, Vito, Weepu, Cowan, SB Williams

[Ed: the team above has been changed after various 'minor' injuries occurred in training resulting in Carter, McCaw, Muliaina and Dagg being ruled unavailable. In fact, the resulting team looks a lot more balanced and useful than the original]

Let’s first talk about the specifics of this selection. In the backs we have Andy Ellis starting at halfback. With Jimmy Cowan and Piri Weepu presumably the top pair, and Cowan obviously short of game time this is a missed opportunity to start the Southlander and help his return to form which is lacking currently. Ellis is the third in line and should be just training until needed.

At full-back we have the most predictable change with Mils coming back. Love him as I do, I would simply play Dagg in every game from now on to hone his combinations there. I won’t be betting against Mils being handed another outing simply to make up his 100 either. [Ed: Mils now ruled out due to hamstring strain]

On the bench we have Sonny Bill Williams, which is an illogical choice for replacement cover. It looks to me like the only reason he is there is so Ted can carry on tinkering with combinations in midfield. Expect him to replace Nonu in the final 20 minutes for an outing with Smith perhaps.

In the forwards the tinkering continues. On the bench we have the venerable Ali Williams who, bless him, is fairly obviously a shadow of his former self, and doesn’t look like improving much more during this campaign. Out in the cold, not even selected, is Anthony Boric who badly needs game time after his injury lay-off. On top form Boric offers what we need so why isn’t he either starting or on the bench?

Finally picking Tomson at No.8 is another experiment. Vito did some good things at #8 in the Tongan test, so why not keep him building there whilst Read is out and develop him into his understudy? Against Japan I’m betting McCaw spends time actually doing the #8 job whilst Thomson ranges the field anyway. The only logic behind this selection is to give Thomson a run to prove his arm is ok again. [Ed: Vito now in due to McCaw minor injury in training]

Tinker, Tailor Told-ya, Failure.

So it comes down to this: rugby aficianados throughout New Zealand believe that there is value in a Top XV playing together, or a Top 22 if you like. Ted & Co. don’t.

Why do we think that a Top XV should be picked and played through now? What is it that this would give us?

An All Blacks team which knows itself to be the Top XV undergoes a subtle but powerful shift in mindset.

When it sees itself as such, the Top XV realise that they are The Ones. The buck stop with them and nobody else. It takes a few tests to properly sink in and have its effect as well – you can’t just pick it, and tell it to go out and perform today, it doesn’t work like that.

Identify and play a Top XV in tests one after another, and you get the best that the selected players can produce. Combinations click in to a higher level as players use the almost subconscious knowledge of particular habits which might only exist as a complete thing for a few weeks at a time.

And it’s these small improvements which the All Blacks have been missing out on, and which allow teams to overcome unusually difficult tests, such as those which have ejected them from previous World Cups.

By tinkering and fiddling about, these All Blacks selectors are missing out on this. Presumably they think that it’s good enough for us to play the Top XV from the QF onwards or the last pool game. That is, in my humble opinion, cutting it too fine.

They are on record as saying that this is a long tournament. Well, guys, it isn’t too bloody long if you get knocked out in the Quarter-final, is it?

My Top XV: Woodcock, Mealamu, O. Franks, Thorn, Boric, Kaino, McCaw, Read/Vito, Weepu, Carter, Kahui, Nonu, Smith, Jane, Dagg
Reserves: Hore, B. Franks, Whitelock, Vito/Thomson, Cowan, Slade, Toeava

Paul Waite

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10 Sep

RUGBY WORLD CUP 2011: All Blacks v Tonga game stats
by Tracey Nelson
10 Sep 2011

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

Some notes on these stats:

First Three to the Breakdown stats are looking for those players who are getting to the tackle/breakdown quickly and are also being useful by either cleaning out opposition players or setting up ruck ball. Anyone arriving and just leaning on the ruck isn’t included, so there are times when I will only tally one or two players. Likewise, if four players arrive simultaneously and perform a clean-out and setting up of a ruck, I will include all four in the stat.

Completed Tackles means that player actually brought the ball carrier to ground (ie. as the Laws of the Game actually described the tackler), not assists in the tackle situation which are tallied separately.

Missed tackles also includes slipped tackles where the ball runner gets away. Most importantly, I do NOT included slipped tackles in the Tackles Made stats, it gets noted as a missed tackle. Either you’ve made the tackle or you’ve missed it.

Numbers in brackets are the first half/second half breakdown for each TOTAL. An asterisk denotes a player that came on as a substitute. This week: Ben Franks for Tony Woodcock at 44 min, Piri Weepu for Jimmy Cowan at 52 min, Sam Whitelock for Brad Thorn at 55 min, Cory Jane for Isaia Toeava at 61 min, Corey Flynn for Andrew Hore and Colin Slade for Dan Carter at 73 min, Anthony Boric for Jerome Kaino at 74 min.

Team: Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore, Owen Franks, Brad Thorn, Ali Williams, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw, Victor Vito, Jimmy Cowan, Dan Carter, Isaia Toeava, Sonny Bill Williams, Ma’a Nonu, Richard Kahui, Israel Dagg
Reserves: Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Anthony Boric, Sam Whitelock, Piri Weepu, Colin Slade, Cory Jane

Points Scored NZ Tonga
Tries 6 1
Conversions Carter 3 Morath 1
Penalties Carter 1/1 Morath 1/1
TOTAL 41 10

Penalties/Free Kicks Conceded Pen FKs
NZ 13 1
Tonga 6 0
TOTAL 19 1

NZ Penalty Offences
Tackler S Williams, O Franks 2
Tackled player S Williams, A Williams 2
Ruck entry Thorn 1
Ruck leaving feet Cowan 1
Ruck hands Hore 1
Ruck offside McCaw 1
Obstruction Thorn 1
Scrum B Franks, front row (2) 3
TOTAL   13

Tonga Penalty Offences
Tackler 2
Ruck leaving feet 1
Offside 1
Scrum 1
Early tackle 1
TOTAL 6

Turnovers Conceded by NZ
Knock-ons S Williams, Toeava, Hore, A Williams, Dagg(2), Nonu, Cowan, Kahui 9
Spilled ball Carter 1
Ruck   1
Tackle Thorn 1
Tackled into touch A Williams 1
Lineout   1
TOTAL   17

Turnovers Conceded by Tonga
Knock-ons 6
Tackle 4
Ruck 1
Maul 1
Missed touch from penalty 1
Lineout 4
TOTAL 17

Tackle turnovers won by NZ
Tackle McCaw, Hore (2), Carter
TOTAL 4

Linebreaks
Kahui 2
Toeava 2
Nonu 2
Sonny Bill Williams 1
TOTAL 7

First 3 to Breakdown Total Per half
McCaw 30 18+12
Hore 21 12+9
Thorn 18 11+7
Vito 17 11+6
O Franks 15 8+7
A Williams 14 7+7
B Franks*   9
Woodcock 9 7+2
Kaino 9 5+4
Toeava 6 4+2
S Williams 5 2+3
Kahui 5 2+3
Dagg 5 2+3
Boric*   4
Whitelock*   3
Cowan 3 1+2
Nonu 2 1+1
Flynn*   1
Jane*   1

Ball carries and metres gained No of carries Metres
Kaino 10 90
McCaw 9 50
A Williams 5 20
Thorn 3 12
O Franks 3 25
Vito 2 8
Whitelock* 2 9
Flynn* 1 5
B Franks* 1 5
Woodcock 1 3
Hore 1 2
TOTAL 38 229

Completed Tackles and Assists Tackles Assists
McCaw 16 (4+12) 5 (2+3)
B Franks* 10 4
Whitelock* 10 1
O Franks 12 (2+10 1 (1+0)
A Williams 9 (3+6) 3 (2+1)
Kaino 8 (3+5) 2 (2+0)
Hore 7 (2+5) 6 (1+5)
S Williams 7 (3+4) 1 (1+0)
Vito 7 (2+5) 0
Thorn 4 (3+1) 0
Carter 3 (2+1) 2 (0+2)
Cowan 2 (1+1) 0
Toeava 2 (2+0) 0
Nonu 2 (0+2) 0
Woodcock 2 (2+0) 0
Flynn* 1 0
Boric* 1 0
Slade* 1 0
Jane* 0 1
Kahui 0 2 (1+1)
TOTAL 105 27

Missed and Slipped Tackles
McCaw 2
Carter 2
O Franks 1
A Williams 1
S Wiliams 1
TOTAL 7

NZ Line-outs Won From
First half 4 5
Second half 3 3
TOTAL 7 8

NZ Line-out Jumpers Won From
Kaino 3 4
Thorn 2 2
Williams 1 1
Vito 1 1
TOTAL 7 8

Tonga Line-outs Won From
First half 3 4
Second half 4 7
TOTAL 7 11

NZ Scrums Won From
First half 5 5
Second half 4 4
TOTAL 9 9

Tonga Scrums Won From
First half 1 3
Second half 6 6
TOTAL 7 9

10 Sep

A Game Of Two Halves
by Paul Waite
10 Sep 2011

The All Blacks started the Rugby World Cup 2011 against Tonga in Pool A with a hiss and a whimper, playing great rugby in the first half, and an awful pile of rubbish in the second.

If Graham Henry intended to lull the opposition at this Rugby World Cup by convincing them that his side couldn’t last 80 minutes, could only scrum like Golden Oldies with the subs on, and can’t defend their line against determined (but predictable) pick-and-goes, then he probably succeeded.

The first half was pretty much as expected, with the All Blacks defence up hard on the one-dimensional Tongan attack snuffing everything out and turning their ball over. The only discordant note in the regular try-scoring was that most of them seemed to come from Tongan errors, or broken play, rather than from All Black control.

But the scoreboard was ticking over, and when they ran out for the second half we all expected it to mount to somewhere in the region of 50-something. Wrong.

Give the Tongans credit here for coming out with renewed energy and a more solid approach to defence, closing down the All Blacks attack more quickly. As we have seen against South Afrtica and lately against Australia in Brisbane, the All Blacks are vulnerable to this kind of defence, and seemingly still have no adequate answer to it. They tend to panic and make mistakes and this is what happened against Tonga. A littany of dropped ball, wrong options, and plain stupidity saw the clock being run down with no added points.

Tonga took heart from the changing fortunes and got some good field position in the All Blacks 22m late in the game. Seeing this as their chance to score a try they kept the ball in hand and simply drove at the All Blacks who visibly seemed to tire. With replacements on the field Franks for Woodcock (LH prop), and Whitelock for Thorn (lock) the All Black scrum suddenly went from having a marked advantage, to being under pressure. Repeated penalties to Tonga for collapsing 5m out from the All Blacks line were an effective ‘down-trou’ for the home team in front of their own fans, something they won’t relish watching on the replays.

After much pressure and an un-countable number of pick and goes, finally the irrepressible Taumalolo fired himself through grasping hands to score a deserved try. The positives that Henry, Hansen and Smith can take from this game are, in order of importance:

  • Kahui’s Man of the Match performance cementing him as a starting winger.
  • The SB Williams/Nonu combination showing promise as an option to the proven World-beating pairing of Nonu/Smith in midfield if injury requires it.
  • Kaino’s hard-hitting, bulldozing plays showing what superb form he is in.
  • Colin Slade improving with every game.
  • The maul is back as an attacking option!
  • No inuries.
  • Bonus point start to Rugby World Cup 2011

I expect that a lot of folks will be talking about how the Sonny Bill/Nonu partnership is now our best midfield option. Get a grip people, a few good touches against Tonga doesn’t trump seasons of proven World-beating partnership against the top sides in crucial tests. Great to see SBW looking sharp and to have him ready though.

The next team that Henry announces will be very interesting. Will he do more experimentation, or will it be (as I hope) his view of the Top XV + bench?

If you don’t pick you top starting XV in a World Cup and play it together in consequetive games, how can it possibly build enough rhythm to win a World Cup?

Make the right decision, Ted!

New Zealand 41
Israel Dagg (2), Richard Kahui (2), Jerome Kaino, Ma’a Nonu tries
Dan Carter (3 con, pen), Colin Slade (con)

Tonga 10
Alisona Taumalolo try
Kurt Morath (Con, Pen)

Paul Waite

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7 Sep

Wanted: An All Blacks First XV
by Paul Waite
7 Sep 2011

The team for the All Blacks first World Cup pool game against Tonga was announced this morning, and contained a few surprises. Have the selectors learned from previous failed World Cups that consistent selection through the pool games is essential?

All Blacks: Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore, Owen Franks, Brad Thorn, Ali Williams, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (c), Victor Vito, Jimmy Cowan, Daniel Carter, Isaia Toeava, Ma’a Nonu, Richard Kahui, Israel Dagg

Reserves: Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Anthony Boric, Sam Whiltelock, Piri Weepu, Colin Slade, Cory Jane

I remember watching Tonga playing the All Blacks in the 1999 World Cup pool game in Bristol, UK and that day the match was remarkable for the number of reckless head-high tackles made by the team in red. One thing that Tonga always bring to a test match, particularly against New Zealand, is physicality, some of it ‘over exuberant’. The men in black were lucky to get away without serious injury in that one.

Looking at the team above, I can see a lot of large midfielder-type artillery in the backs, and some hard bastards in the forwards. Pretty much a perfect team to field against our pacific (or not so pacific) neighbours, in an World Cup opener. The only worries there are Kahui, a notable injury magnet at the best of times, and the precious Dan Carter. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him only completing the first half, if that, and Slade taking over the tiller for a large chunk of this game which would have the double advantage of protecting DC, and getting Slade some valuable match fitness.

Israel Dagg is picked over Mils Muliaina for this game, but I would expect Mils to get a run in the next. Henry has stated that both are ‘in competition’ now, so the fullback selection for the third pool game could be the telling one.

But all of this team tweaking, resting and ‘competition’ taken together with the usual forced changes due to injury has me concerned that the selectors are not focussed closely enough on selecting a consistent XV + bench for at least three games prior to the knock-out phase of the tournament.

If we look back at our best World Cup campaigns, 1987 and 1995, we see that this consistency was used to great effect in sharpening the team as a unit to a peak performance. In our failed campaigns this consistency was lacking and rotation was the name of the game.

I can’t agree with Hansen’s statements implying that playing a core 10-12 together is enough. World Cups are all about peaking, and squeezing that extra 0.5% of performance from the players. You can’t do that, in my opinion, without playing your top XV players and the best bench in 2-3 games prior to the knockout phase.

That knockout phase is where the All Blacks encounter teams which will pull out the extra-ordinary, and will only be beatable if they can reply with the extra-ordinary themselves. This has been the All Blacks’ achilles heel in all World Cups since 1987, except 1995.

Laurie Mains understood the need to peak a top XV, and but for The Incident Which Shall Not Be Named, would have brought back the cup then.

Let’s hope that the All Blacks selectors show us they have learned from 2007, and the rest of our World Cup history, and refine to a consistent team after this opener against Tonga.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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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.

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24 Jul

Game Stats: All Blacks v Fiji, Dunedin, 22 July 2011
by Tracey Nelson
24 Jul 2011

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

Some notes on these stats:

First Three to the Breakdown stats are looking for those players who are getting to the tackle/breakdown quickly and are also being useful by either cleaning out opposition players or setting up ruck ball. Anyone arriving and just leaning on the ruck isn’t included, so there are times when I will only tally one or two players. Likewise, if four players arrive simultaneously and perform a clean-out and setting up of a ruck, I will include all four in the stat.

Completed Tackles means that player actually brought the ball carrier to ground (ie. as the Laws of the Game actually described the tackler), not assists in the tackle situation which are tallied separately. Missed tackles also includes slipped tackles where the ball runner gets away. Most importantly, I do NOT included slipped tackles in the Tackles Made stats, it gets noted as a missed tackle. Either you’re nailing the ball carrier or you’ve stuffed it up!

Numbers in brackets are the first half/second half breakdown for each total. An asterisk denotes a player that came on as a substitute. This week: Ben Smith for Sitiveni Sivivatu at 50 min, Piri Weepu for Jimmy Cowan and Sam Whitelock for Jarred Hoeata at 54 min, Dan Carter for Colin Slade and Jerome Kaino for Liam Messam at 63 min, and John Afoa for Wyatt Crockett at 68 min.

Team: Mils Muliaina, Zac Guildford, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Colin Slade, Jimmy Cowan, Liam Messam, Adam Thomson, Richie McCaw (c), Ali Williams, Jarred Hoeata, Ben Franks, Andrew Hore, Wyatt Crockett
Reserves: John Afoa, Cory Flynn, Sam Whitelock, Jerome Kaino, Piri Weepu, Dan Carter, Ben Smith

Points Scored NZ Fiji
Tries 8 2
Try scorers Sivivatu, Hore, Slade, Thomson, C. Smith, Penalty Try, Weepu, Muliaina
Conversions 6 (Slade 4, Carter 3) 2
Penalties 2 (Slade) 0
Total 60 14

Penalties/Free Kicks Conceded Pen FKs
NZ 6 0
Fiji 15 0
Total 21 0

NZ Penalty Offences
Tackler Thomson 2
Ruck McCaw(2), Nonu 3
Scrum   1
Total   6

Fiji Penalty Offences
Tackler 2
Tackled player 1
Offside 1
Scrum 8
Obstruction 1
Offside from kick 1
Total 15

Turnovers Conceded by NZ
Knock-ons 11
Pass to opposition 1
Ruck 2
Tackle 2
Total 16

Turnovers Conceded by Fiji
Knock-ons 7
Tackle 4
Ruck 3
Scrum 5
Total 19

First 3 to Breakdown Total Per half
McCaw 35 17+18
Franks 29 16+13
Crockett 22 17+5
Thomson 22 10+12
Hoeata 21 18+3
Hore 20 14+6
Messam 15 13+2
Williams 14 9+5
Whitelock* 11  
Guildford 9 5+4
C. Smith 9 5+4
Kaino* 8  
Afoa* 6  
Flynn* 5  
Muliaina 4 1+3
Sivivatu 4 1+3
B. Smith* 2  
Slade 2 1+1
Weepu* 1  
Carter* 1  
Nonu 1 0+1

Ball Carries
Thomson 9
Williams 8
Crockett 4
McCaw 4
Messam 4
Hore 2
Franks 2
Kaino* 2
Hoeata 2
Afoa 1
Total 38

Completed Tackles and Assists Tackles Assists
Thomson 16 (7+9) 5 (5+0)
McCaw 13 (7+6) 2 (2+0)
Williams 9 (4+5) 3 (3+0)
Messam 9 (8+1) 2 (1+1)
Nonu 9 (5+4) 1 (0+1)
Slade 8 (5+3) 2 (1+1)
Hore 7 (3+4) 2 (1+1)
Franks 6 (2+4) 3 (1+2)
Hoeata 5 (5+0) 1 (1+0)
Crockett 4 (2+2) 0
Kaino* 3 1
Sivivatu 3 (3+0) 0
C. Smith 3 (2+1) 0
Whitelock* 2 0
Weepu* 1 0
Guildford 2 (1+1) 0
Afoa* 1 0
Carter* 1 0
B. Smith 1 0
Flynn* 1 0
Cowan 1 (1+0) 0
Muilaina 1 (1+0) 0

Missed and Slipped Tackles
McCaw 3
C. Smith 2
Nonu 2
Franks 1
Hoeata 1
Total 9

NZ Line-outs Won From
First half 7 8
Second half 1 2
Total 8 10

NZ Line-out Jumpers Won From
Williams 3 3
Thomson 3 3
Hoeata 1 1
Quick throw 1 1
Not straight (Hore)   2

Fiji Line-outs Won From
First half 2 2
Second half 5 5
Total 9 7

NZ Scrums Won From
First half 2 2
Second half 5 5
Total 7 7

Fiji Scrums Won From
First half 3 6
Second half 4 6
Total 7 12