15 Oct

Carrying the Hopes of a Nation
by Paul Waite
15 Oct 2011

barbell-weightNo All Blacks fan needs to be told that there is a lot riding on tomorrow’s World Cup semi-final against Australia. To be beaten for the first time at Eden Park by them since 1986, and be knocked out of the Cup by them again, and on our own turf is unthinkable.

But of course it’s precisely because of that sad World Cup history against this most wily of all World Cup foes (France included) that has had us all thinking along those lines for this whole damnable week.

The loss of Dan Carter, the foot problems of our talismanic skipper Richie McCaw, the failure of Colin Slade and his last-minute replacement from NPC ranks, by the redoubtable but undeniably green Aaron Cruden, have not exactly served to calm the nerves, have they?

As with all games of footy, this one can go two ways. Either we win or we lose.

If we lose, we take the oft-used ‘choker’ label to a whole new level. Not only will we not have won this thing for 28 years, we will have been knocked out yet again despite having home advantage and, as usual, despite going into the tournament as No.1 team in the World. To add insult to injury, having beaten us in this semi, Australia are likely to win the Cup itself, which would be unbearable. Australia are gold medallists at being the World’s Worst Winners.

If we win, then a pair of hands will take a firm grip of the monkey on our back. They will be one step away from ripping it loose for good. Gone will be the bad memories of so many World Cup exits, gone will be the memories of so many at the hands of the Wallabies, gone will be that ‘choker’ label.

Also imagine, if you will, that the All Blacks defeat the Wallabies, and reach the final against France. Should they once again overcome France in a World Cup Final in New Zealand, as in 1987, they will also exorcise the ghosts of two exits at that nation’s hands in 1999 and 2007.

So this one semi-final has immense significance, and one can only hope that the All Blacks don’t think too much about that aspect or it might well overwhelm them. When a surgeon walks up to the operating table to perform a heart-transplant he has to have his mind totally on the technicalities of the procedure, and trust in his skill. He must entertain no thoughts of the life in his hands, the anxiety, hopes and fears of the patient’s family or the pressure would likely cause him to falter.

The All Blacks are up against the Wallabies. Fifteen blokes on the field who feel pain, run at normal speeds, and are subject to the same Laws of Physics as everyone else. They will succumb to good, hard All Black rugby, like so many have before.

Much has been made of Dan Carter’s absence. But the All Blacks are not Carter, or any one player. There have been tests we have won where he has been more or less insignificant due to lack of form. There have been others where he has shone. Aaron Cruden just has to play his normal game and, like all the other backs, feed off the forward effort where the game will be won or lost.

Richie McCaw’s foot problems are also misleading the media, and some fans we feel. Talking to medical people, the irritation he is feeling from the screw is a common side-effect, and is managable. The current light training regime is doing just that. McCaw will play a blinder of a semi-final and anyone thinking otherwise is either insane, or kidding themselves.

At lock we have a duo of Thorne and Whitelock which has settled in very well, and provide a lot of scrummaging power. The front row of Woodcock, Mealamu and Franks will, with those two locks, give the Australian scrum a stern test and should set the platform around the field for a huge effort from the tight-five.

In the loose-trio of McCaw, Kaino and Read we have, I believe, the best trio in the World at present. Read has been coming back to form nicely after injury and this semi-final should see him take that final step back to being the key man at Number 8 for the All Blacks once again. Jerome Kaino is in fearsome form both carrying the ball and tackling. McCaw is McCaw, and will more than equal the redoubtable Pocock in this test.

So, as usual this test will be decided up front. The backs will then decide the margin, and I am hoping that the mercurial back-three of Dagg, Jane and Kahui will get a chance to put enough points on the board to make the winning margin more decisive than expected, aided by the best midfield combination in the World currently, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith.

Go Black!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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13 Jul

To coach, or not to coach?
by Tracey Nelson
13 Jul 2009

Last week All Blacks Coach Graham Henry and his two Assistant Coaches, Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen, were re-appointed to take the All Blacks team through until the end of 2011. This will extend their reign to eight years and will encompass the 2011 Rugby World Cup. So what lies ahead for Messrs Henry, Hansen and Smith as they get a second bite of the cherry?

There was some eyebrow raising at the timing of the annoucement, given the outgoing NZRU board made the decision in April and the All Blacks were coming off the end of an Iveco series against France and Italy that had failed to inspire and resulted in France winning the Gallagher Trophy. But there can be no denying that statistically speaking their coaching record looks good. Under Henry, Hansen and Smith the All Blacks have won 57 out of 66 Test matches, a winning record of 86 percent that includes defending the Bledisloe Cup in five successive seasons, winning the Tri Nations four times, a clean-sweep of the British and Irish Lions series in 2005, and two Grand Slams in 2005 and 2008. NZRU Chairman Jock Hobbs said the current All Blacks coaching panel was a very strong and experienced team.Graham, Wayne and Steve are outstanding coaches. They have a formidable record and we hold them in very high regard.”

Ah, this is the crux of the matter though. The use of the word “coach”. These three men, at this level of rugby, aren’t as much coaches as player managers – much in the way of the Alan Ferguson’s of this world. Which had been fine and dandy up until about 2007. They had all played rugby and coached their first rugby sides in a different era, when you still had players who had learnt their trade via the club scene, then the NPC before hitting the Super 12 comp. That was the era of the “rugby-intelligent” players – the likes of Fitzy, the Brooke brothers, Andrew Mehrtens, etc. But now we are in an era where most players leave school, enter the development squad systems and never really got a chance to play club rugby surrounded by older, wiser heads.

In the 80′s and 90′s, and even as late as 2003, the top players participated at club level and the newbies came up through the ranks playing alongside All Blacks. One past-Crusader who played club rugby alongside Richard Loe made the comment that back then if the ball needed to be kicked out, you made damn sure you got it out otherwise you risked being either thumped or rucked by Loe himself. And while he may have ruled with a reign of terror, equally there were techniques and tactics he and other senior players employed that junior players learned from. It was learning in the school of hard knocks, not watching data streams of your tackling technique sitting indoors at a computer.

All the basic core skills of the game were coached and learned at club and provincial level, so that by the time a player made the Super comp or the ABs, they had all the skills required for that position and the coaches didn’t have to spend hours teaching the basics. Instead they could just concentrate on the moves, or the finer points of lineouts or scrummaging. The All Black coach could tell the players to employ umbrella or inside out or whatever other defensive system he wanted to use and know that the players actually understood what he were talking about rather than having to explain it from scratch and then hope like hell they could do it right in a game.

You also had players with not just a good grounding in the core skills but also an understanding of the laws. Mehrts might be an extreme example here but he could actually discuss rulings with the ref as could Fitzy, Zinny etc. But you look at today’s players and outside of McCaw the bulk of the forwards are clueless when it comes to the laws. One All Black lock admitted during the S14 that he didn’t actually know or understand all the laws around a lineout. Unfortunately in the modern game you can’t bluff your way as a rugby player without eventually being found out. And I think we’re about at that stage now with some of the players.

Now, before someone starts bleating about the laws being too difficult or that there are too many of them, here are just a few examples where players have cost the All Blacks penalties in the recent Iveco series:

1. Continuing to chase a kick when infront of the kicker
2. Forwards running outside the 15m to take a long throw at thelineout before the ball has even left the hooker’s hands
3. Backs running up offside before a lineout has finished
4. Not retiring 10m from a kick and actually continuing to move forward and make the tackle from that offside position

There is no way a coach should have to be coaching ANY of those four examples, even at Div 2 club rugby. They’re basics of the game and haven’t been fiddled with by the law makers for some years now. So the dilemma we find ourselves in is that we have just appointed three coaches through to 2011 who have not had to really *coach* rugby for the last decade but are now finding themselves faced with the serious problem of having a lot of players lacking in the fundamental basics of the game. Add to that the recent ELVs in the S14 and switching back again for test rugby and the problems just increase. The biggest task infront of the All Black coaches in the next two years is learning how to coach again, rather than just manage.

15 Feb

Pre-season Predictions
by WAJ
15 Feb 2008

Well here we go again for another season. With the movement of players
to the NH $$$ (and a few retirements), no reconditioning period, the
continuing political issues in SA rugby and the introduction of the
ELV’s there is plenty of interest this year in a S14 comp which I expect
to revert to type when it comes to the top teams – a NZ team will win
and we will have 2 or 3 in the top 4.

­
So here’s my finishing order

­1) Hurricanes
A T5 that is maturing and will more than hold it’s own,
a 5 star loose trio, a halfback with plenty to prove and plenty of pace
and guile out wide. The only question is over Gopperth, but he combined
well with Ellison in the NPC and if he can finally come up with some
consistency then they are my pick. And they have Nonu as the wild
wildcard. A good draw with local games early and only the Bulls of any
significance in SA

2) Crusaders
A team with a few points to prove this year and questions
to be answered. How will they get on without Jack and Mauger? How will
McCaw and Carter bounce back from the WC disappointment? Will the Deans
coaching clash be an issue? Will Ralph Malph still be selected and is
Prickle past it? But you can’t go past their class. No Jack but Williams
is a more than capable replacement, looking forward to him in the new
environment. Draw irrelevant as they play well everywhere.

3) Waratahs
My big improvers in ’08. Top pack at this level. Beale to
orchestrate things in the backs with the benefit of a season of club and
APC played under the ELV’s and potentially the best back 3 in the comp.
Midfield a worry again but if they can perform at a steady consistent
level the Waratahs will be tough.

4) Bulls
have lost the talismanic Matfield but still have a lot of
strength in the pack, du Preez to run the show, Hougaard to kick goals
and Habana gives you the X-factor. A goodish draw with the opportunity
to gain momentum with early games in SA.

5) Blues
will be hoping to continue the momentum from Aucklands stellar
ANZC of ’07. Have lost depth and class though from last year and whilst
still plenty of very good players will not quite match last years
effort. Short locks and Braids absence early are a problem. If Evans can
get the backline going, and himself firing, they could surprise and get
a top 4 place, can’t see them winning though.

6) Chiefs
Will this be the year they lose their flakiness. They have
plenty of talent across the park, a good mix of youth and experience and
are well lead by Gibbes (him staying fit would be a bonus).

7) Sharks
Have lost the core of their team from last year in Smit,
James and Percy. Still a good team with plenty of stars, some in the
forwards are aging though. Pienaar/Michalak the key. Pienaar is a very
good player, but Michalak will be tested in the hurly burly of this comp
and lacks the directness of Butchie boy which may not be what they want
in terms of having to change their backline style. Not the best draw
either

8) Reds
Will improve on last year for sure, not that that will be
difficult. Are injury free for a change and the addition of Cordingly,
Turinui and Latham behind a hulking forward pack will see them cause
plenty of problems to a lot of teams, especially at home. Barnes has
come on in leaps and bounds. They have a massive T5 and plenty of
experience in the loosies. My outsiders this year.

9) Force
Boy do these guys have a knack for getting in the shit. How
you can reconcile one player breaking another’s jaw in a bar fight and
yet not only retain him in the playing squad but also start him is
beyond me. Good old Mitch at work I reckon. On the playing side they
will be tradesman-like, but rely on a small group of stars to win games
and if you watch those guys (Giteau, Shepherd, Mitchell) then they
struggle. Tough draw early with the SA first up then the Crusaders and
Blues and may be playing catch up most of the season.

10) Brumbies
Have lost too much skill and experience to figure this
year. Along with Mortlock and Chisholm being injured early will battle
all season. And playing a rookies first uop against the Crusaders is
risky. Will win a few at home but they have a pretty tough draw and end
in SA. Couldn’t have them

11) Lions
Caused a few upsets last year, never gave up. But they lack
class and not the best of draws either. Will struggle.

12) Highlanders
Big, young but too dumb. They have no experience and
will struggle without real class. The youngsters will learn a lot though
and there are potential AB’s a plenty.

13) Stormers
Will be the usual struggling Stormers we are used too.
Will win a couple of games when least expected, but will also lose
almost all the games they are expected to win. Crap draw with the Bulls,
Sharls and the Crusaders the 1st 3 games. Lack real bite in the T5 and
outside backs.

14) Cheetahs
Someone has to come last. Average draw and travel early
which will count against them. Have lost players from last year and look
particularly fragile in the backs – and well you could never call a SA
pack fragile could you!

Regards Waj­

12 Jun

You've gotta love it…
by Tracey Nelson
12 Jun 2007

Despite some vacuous wailings coming from certain media circles in the past few weeks, the Air New Zealand Cup provincial rugby competition is not in decline and a boring spectacle, but is alive and kicking. Kicking some serious butt, in actual fact.

Last year saw the launch of the Air New Zealand Cup competition, with the previous NPC revamped from three divisions into just two – ostensibly to distinguish between the professional and amateur levels of the game in our provinces. Fourteen teams now make up the Premier Division, with Hawkes Bay, Counties-Manukau, Manawatu, and Tasman (the amalgamation of Marlborough and Nelson Bays) coming up from Division Two to join the established Division One sides.

In 2006, Manawatu and Tasman certainly struggled with the step up to the Premier Division and despite some brave performances finished at the bottom of the ladder, Manawatu only managing a draw as their best result. Hawkes Bay and Counties-Manakau also battled to be competitive against the bigger guns in their first year back at the top level for some time. The doomsayers shook their heads and predicted that these teams would continue to struggle, and really what was the point in them trying to compete with the Super unions because the gap was too big. It was never going to work.

However, in the space of just one year the worm has well and truly turned and the big guys are being taught a lesson or two in how the game is played out in the provinces. This has been a timely reminder for some top professional players that rugby is not a game for Nancy Boys, and you do have to get your jersey dirty from time to time. Yes, we may not be seeing the sweeping try movements we’re used to on the firm, late summer ground we have in the Super 14, but the ANZC games are no less of a spectacle in my opinion. Given the wet, wintery conditions in many of the games to date, there have been some exceptional performances and honest endeavour to play fifteen man rugby. Good old fashioned rugby at that, you might say.

Hawkes Bay have proven to be giant slayers, first winning a slug-fest against last year’s semi-finalist Wellington in the rain and mud at Blue Chip Stadium (and teaching them a thing or two about scrummaging on the way), then two weeks later producing another home win against Ranfurly Shield holders North Harbour. Tasman managed to topple Hawkes Bay in Blenheim between times, showing the visitors that you can’t assume you’ll win a game on the back of your last performance.

Manawatu topped things off in Round 4 by recording a famous victory at FMG Stadium in Palmerston North – beating Bay of Plenty in their first Premier Divison win for 19 years. And not just by a point or two, but beating them comprehensively with some tremendous backline moves to score four tries and come away with maximum points from the game. This was just reward for a side that has toiled tirelessly without result, yet has a loyal fan base that turn out every game despite the lack of wins.

Barely into the second year of the new provincial competition, suddenly we’re not seeing teams going into games against the minnows confident of coming away with a win. They are having to work hard to score points and in some cases are lucky to come out with the win. Despite Auckland and Canterbury heading the points table, I’m not sure that anyone thought Hawkes Bay would be sitting in third place behind them. Nor that the likes of Northland and Tasman would be in the top half of the table while Wellington, North Harbour and Otago are sitting forlornly below.

There is a new excitement pumping in the veins of the forgotten provinces, the unions who have had to fight hard to keep their heads above the financial waterline as the game went professional with the added crisis of urban drift decimating their rugby playing populations. But they’re back, and although it’s a gradual strengthening it’s a strengthening nonetheless. It’s great to see the familiar face of provincial rugby again, and how refreshing it is to see some traditional props, guys who look like they ate the entire menu at KFC but who can scrummage till the cows come home. Likewise it’s nice to know there are still some skinny chaps that can run like whippets playing out on the wings. As one mate quipped recently – even better than watching is listening to the local radio commentators giving their version of what’s going on. Plenty of Kiwi accents and parochialism, mixed with decidedly non-PC comment.

So by all means try and tell the folk in Napier, Blenheim, Palmerston North and any of our other provincial centres that the ANZC is boring, and nobody is interested in it. I dare say that like their rugby teams, they would be more than capable of taking you on in that argument and coming out on top.

[In the picture above the representatives of the four new teams are: Tasman's Nathan George, Counties Manukau's Ben Meyer, Manawatu's Josh Bradnock and Hawke's Bay's Mutu Ngarimu.]

15 Mar

Sooper Selections for Round 7
by WAJ
15 Mar 2007

What gives with the amount of injuries we see in some teams, yet not in others. The Chiefs, Brumbies, Reds and Waratahs all have shocking injury records this year, yet the other teams have the odd one or two. Is it luck or is there more to it? And if they are not top class players and have a history of injuries should you in fact pick them? We have a real treat in store for us this weekend – no SA refs are in action in the S14. Kappers is fronting in the 6N, but we are blessed over here is Oz in that tourney not being broadcast. And does anybody really rate the 6N teams for the WC, and though I haven’t seen any coverage I have read plenty and they all seem mediocre. France can’t score tries, Ireland very inconsistent, England ditto, with both of the last 2 lacking depth as well. The less said about Wales, Scotland and Italy the better. Finally what does Stephen Brett do in the upcoming years – he will always be 2nd string to Carter – so he will get a few NPC games but not much else, is that the best option for such a talented player – Waikato and Wellington (and their S14 franchises) should be chasing this guy hard.

So where do the 48 points come from this week:

Chiefs v Lions – well this was going to be very straight forward until I saw the Chiefs backs – bloody hell! Flaky Donald, then flaky Lavea (and when was the last time he played 2 5/8) and finally Tu’ipulotu, who is a 2 5/8, at centre! I hope Foster knows what he is doing with a completely untested combo, mind you if these guys can hold on to the ball then all may not be lost. Fortunately he has a very likely looking forward pack to get them on the front foot, might miss the hardworking Bates though and one of Messam or Lauaki will have to play tight, perhaps not either’s strength. The other thing in their favour is that the Lions have turned into pussycats in NZ. They were shocking last week, the Blues should have beaten them by 50 but for their 2nd half snooze, and I don’t see them improving this week. If you shut down Pretorius by crowding his space and limiting his ball they offer very little. So flaky backline and all the Chiefs should still get home reasonably comfortably for the seasons 1st win, they haven’t lost to the Lions in NZ yet either.
Chiefs 13+

Force v Reds – this game is all about the weak getting weaker and a win at last getting the monkey off a back or 2. The Reds injuries keep coming, though admittedly Rodders the Larger could have played if not directed by the ARU to be knifed. The Reds were exposed big-time by a limited Highlanders team and are really battling to get a win. With their playing roster and injuries they are going to struggle for the rest of the season. Now that the Force have finally won at home and get that huge gorilla off their back they go and lose Henjak and Giteau. The former not critical as O’Young is not bad as a replacement, but the loss of Giteau is huge with his game breaking abilities. Again Hilgendorf is no slug, and was very good at times last year, and he may actually run the game better, but Mitch would still be happier with Giteau playing. The confidence gained from the win last week will really boost this side and I would expect the likes of Shepherd, Cross and Mitchell to really open up now.
Force 13+

Crusaders v Bulls – well bugger me! You are on 3 game winning steak, with 2 excellent wins away, winning set pieces with ease, especially your opponents ball at lineout. So let’s rest our key lock, who also happens to be the best lineout jumper in the world, and give a Crusaders lineout, which isn’t a strength let’s be honest, a real chance of breaking even. Deans and co must be laughing nearly as much as Meyer last week when he saw Turunui matched against Habana. This will still be a tough game for the inexperienced Crusaders, especially up front against a big and tough Bulls eight. Again a lot goes on the likes of Flynn, Fillipo and Tuali’I to lead the way, and they have been superb in doing just that this year. Senio has been picked to do a job on du Preez clearly. The Bulls have won only twice in NZ, both times against the Hurricanes (note for round 9) and I expect that poor record to continue against a side who rarely lose at home these days. This may well be the last game, certainly to start, for a lot of Crusaders, and they will want to impress the new 2008 coach. So in the match of the weekend the forwards to win enough ball for the better Crusader backs to win the game.
Crusaders 1 – 12

Waratahs v Stormers – How bad are the Waratahs? Questions need to be asked of McKenzie I reckon on the suicidal team he put on the field last week. I have mentioned Turunui, but he picked a team to counter the Blues up front rather than beat them with their own game and then a lightweight backline totally bereft of any skill. And woe betide mollywoppy, this week he picks an openside flanker and makes 5 changes in the backline, that introduces some guile (Turunui) and strength (Tuqiri – who is definitely not worth the 1.2 mil, and shows how desperate the ARU are to retain any depth in player ranks they can – I mean would he make the AB’s) and pace(Valentine and Turner). I suppose the supporters should be thankful for that at least. The Stormers returned to the sort of form we expect from them last week after the aberration of Palmerston North, utter crap that is, and though they have a 50/50 record in Sydney, the crap will continue against the better structured Waratahs.
Waratahs 13+

Cheetahs v Brumbies – Tough one this. A much better Brumbies got their shit together for the 1st time in a long time last week, the senior players were to the fore and they won comfortably despite a last 30 min slumber. Can they do it 2 times in a row is the question? Mortlock gives them so much direction and guidance that I think they probably will. The Cheetahs hung in bravely last week to be just ahead at half time but the extra class of the Sharks took over in the 2nd half. And that is the problem with the Cheetahs, with all their endeavour they lack that real edge in the backs that the good sides have.
Brumbies 1 – 12

Sharks v Hurricanes – The Sharks had a good win last week and continue to impress in SA. They have good depth in all positions and have players shining all over the place. A solid T5, good mix in loose, some real skill in midfield and 2 young stars in Steyn and Pienaar. They have made Durban a real fortress these days with 8 wins in a row. The Hurricanes are battling at the moment – 6 AB’s down, injuries to Nonu and Umaga, and the lack of a decent 1 5/8 (how would Ellison go there I wonder) see them on a 2 game losing streak, neither of which they should have won either. Some players will be playing for future selection with the 6/22 due back next week so that will be some motivation, but this weeks team just plain aren’t good enough to beat the Sharks at home.
Sharks 13+

13 Aug

NPC Kickoff!
by WAJ
13 Aug 2005

Real Rugby is at last back on the screen for the season. You just can’t beat watching two New Zealand provincial footy teams going at it.

Suddenly the National Rugby Burden is lifted from the shoulders and you find yourself watching a game with your National Pride safely tucked away where it can’t get hurt.

Passions are still fired when your own province is involved, especially with a close rival province but it’s a safe warm and cozy home-fires type of passion, and one which feels as comfy as a well-loved pair of slippers.

Last night we had Waikato vs Taranaki. There was a lot of kicking, and a lot of mistakes from both teams in their first outing of the NPC season together, but it didn’t matter. It was just great stuff to watch on a Friday night.

The only discordant note was the referee’s uniforms.

Who, in their wisdom, decided that it would be a great idea if our referees were made to look like a bunch of faggots on their way to a pyjama party?

Luckily the ref was Lyndon Bray, who is a fairly imposing sort of bloke. Smaller, yappier refs might just get laughed at by the players in future fixtures. The costume just looks bloody stupid, and the NZRFU needs to dump ‘em and get down to the local Canterbury Clothing shop smartly to pick up some shorts, socks and jerseys which look like they’re actually designed to be on a footy field, instead of inside a harem.

Ah well. Even with a pansy in silk drawers wielding the whistle, it was great to be back watching NPC.

Bring it on!

8 Jun

It's 14
by WAJ
8 Jun 2005

There must be some kind of obsessive mathematician at the NZRFU. He or she obviously thinks that because we are going to have a Super 14 competition next season, the NPC must have the same number of teams in it’s re-badged Division 1.

At the outset it was always going to be 12 maximum, and quite possibly less. The idea was to concentrate the talent and hence raise the quality level of ‘the product’.

Thank the Gods, that some sanity and lateral thinking (or whatever) has prevailed. New Zealand rugby has always drawn its strength from the broadness of its base. That means, not just numbers, but a large geographical spread of Unions throughout the country.

Not only does the decision to stick with 14 Unions allow players to work and live in their preferred cities and towns, it allows the game to keep drawing on another of its great strengths – its history and traditions.

Imagine what a body-blow it would have been, for example, to effectively kill off a Union like Manawatu, or Hawkes Bay, or Northland. All that wonderful history more or less swept away in a stroke.

No, the NZRFU have taken a bold step, and in my humble opinion, the right one in not buckling under to the ‘logic’ of shrinkage to bump up the quality. That option is always a last, do-or-die option. In my view it would have been a cop-out and only a temporary fix, because once you start that shrinkage process, then you will probably have to do it again further down the track.

So roll on the National Provicincial Championship in its new form, and good luck to all of our proud Unions who will make up our Premier Division.

28 Nov

Tall Poppies
by Paul Waite
28 Nov 2004

The All Blacks took the field at Stade de France wearing a special commemorative jersey with a single poppy emblazoned on the sleeve. The test match was fought for the Dave Gallagher Trophy, in memory of the great New Zealand rugby player, skipper of The Originals, and war hero who lost his life in Passchendaele in World War 1.

After the test some of what the players were saying in interviews gave us a sneak peek into the psyche of the test-week buildup. They talked of “starting a new legacy for The All Blacks”, and of honouring the New Zealanders who had fought in that massively wasteful war, and died there.

These are powerfully emotive thoughts, and it all came pouring out in a haka led for the very first time by Tana Umaga, of Samoan heritage, who nonetheless tore into it with a ferocity to quicken the heart of any Maori purist.

The post-haka expressions on the faces of the All Blacks, as they waited calmly for the French to kick off belied what lay beneath the surface. By the end of half an hour, the French front row was in disarray, requiring regular medical treatment for the battering they were taking, and looking like they had already played eighty minutes and would rather be anywhere else but on that battlefield in the Stade de France.

As with any genuine test match worthy of the title, it started with the front row, and that old campaigner Anton Oliver led the charge. In behind them the return of Norm Maxwell, with his take-no-prisoners attitude still on full throttle despite a worn body, and his partner Chris Jack were the engine room in a scrum which simply destroyed their opposites. By the end the French had run out of props, or at least said they had – perhaps none were willing to return from the safety of the touchline – and the referee had to visit the final indignity on them of calling for Golden Oldie (no pushing) scrums.

It was nothing less than a total and utter humiliation for a pack reckoned to be the strongest in the Northern Hemisphere.

Given this platform, the All Black loose forwards McCaw, Collins and So’oialo had the chance to outshine their illustrious opposites. Olivier Magne, that superlative No.7, was taken in a thunderous tackle by All Black winger Doug Howlett, and almost folded in half by it. He was never a force in the test after that. Betson was simply out-played by Collins who was tireless both on defence and attack, and never gave an inch.

Based on the soldly planted forward effort the rest of the team joined in with an across-the-board devotion to duty. Nobody missed a single critical tackle, and the French were forced into running sideways, backwards, and then finally to booting the ball downfield.

By the final quarter, the massive crowd were booing their own team as they assembled to watch yet another conversion attempt by the almost flawless Daniel Carter, who is showing he is a natural first-five eighth now that the All Black coaches have given him the chance to shine there [please take note Super-12 and NPC coaches].

It isn’t often these days that we get to watch the All Blacks deliver on the All Black Traditions in the same way that they did in the amateur era of the game. Today they did just that.

Here’s to the start of another All Black legacy.

Congratulations to the All Black coaching staff and all the team.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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13 Nov

Season report cards
by Zand Moloney
13 Nov 2004

Time for the boys to get their end of year reports, it makes pretty good reading but ‘must try harder’ comes to mind as falling at the final hurdle is difficult to stomach.

Shannon Paku – needed a big season and delivered, sound under the high ball and effective when he came into the backline. Should push Brent Ward this year for the Canes. 8.5

Lome Fa’atau – undoutably one of the stars of the season, whenever Wellington scored a great try he had something to do with it. Scared the life out of all defences with his speed and guile and his defence was much improved. 9

Sireli Bobo – strong and fast Bobo was effective whenever he was on attack. Not quite the complete package yet but very exciting to watch. 7

Roy Kinikinilau – This should have been the big man’s year, he showed great skill last year but it was missing this time. Looked disinterested and average and deservedly missed out on the Canes this year to former Chief draftee Fa’atau 3.5

Conrad Smith – Outstanding! Smith showed there is still a place for smaller men in the midfield, making up for in vision, agility and speed what he lacks in sheer size. His combination with Nonu was amazing and suggests that there is life after Umaga. 9.5

Ma’a Nonu – A great return to form for Nonu who reminded us all just what he can do. His ability to break the line and off load in tackles was in evidence every week. Not sure about the mascara though.. 9

Tana Umaga – With a self-emposed lay off he looked back to his old self, hitting the line hard and at speed, and he was absolutely everywhere on defence. He pace may have slowed but he is still one of the best midfielders in the world. 9

Tane Tui’pulotu – No rating for the sadly injury ravaged midfielder, hope to see him back to his best for the Super 12.

David Holwell – In his final season Holwell again showed that although he is not flashy he is still an outstanding pivot. Mr Reliable held this backline together for many years and this season was no different. A sad loss for Wellington and New Zealand rugby. 9

Riki Flutey – Is he a halfback or a five eighth? There is no doubt he has a good running game, and generally has good option taking but really he doesn’t have the kicking game required for a top level fly-half. 6.5

Jimmy Gopperth – No rating, didn’t get enough game time for a comment, hope to see more of him in the Super 12.

Piri Weepu – another good season by the former leaguie. His kicking game was much improved and his sniping runs were telling. Not sure if he is ready for an AB’s tour yet but certainly one for the future. 8

Rodney So’oailo – Like fellow former All Black Nonu he needed to step up to prove himself to be a contender and did so. The captaincy made him think more on the field and he grew into a good leader. Good to see him back to his best. 8.5

Kristian Ormsby – His power and strength was a highlight in the early rounds of the NPC and suggested he should have been given more chances to impress. Great with the ball in hand and good in the air, 8

Thomas Waldrom – Did nothing wrong, like Ormsby unlucky not to get more game time. Rarely used at his favoured no 8 position he did well whenever he played. 7.5

Jerry Collins – again was one of the standouts of the pack. Hit the line hard every time and drove players back in the tackle. Needs to think about his tackling technique, but you can never question his commitment. 8.5

Scott Waldrom – troubled by injuires early in the season Waldrom came back strongly and was a major reason for the demolition of Taranaki. Great pace and an eye for a gap he was a key link-man between backs and forwards. 8.5

Ben Herring – again and again had the dirtiest jersey on the park beause of his rummaging around in the rucks, Herring was a constant thorn in many teams sides. Played himself to a standstill sometimes with scant support (particularily against Otago), the Kronfeld to Waldrom’s Jones 8.5

Ross Filipo – needs to work on discipline, good with the ball in hand and in the air, 6

Ross Kennedy – continues to develop at a startling rate. Great with the ball in hand and dominating in the air he should continue to be the first choice for the Canes. A future All Black, 9

Luke Andrews – another good season for the former Southlander. A good man in the lineout and strong defender, forms a good combination with Kennedy, 8.5

Tim Fairbrother – sadly injury robbed him of a chance to continue on from a good season for the Canes. Very strong scrummager, 7.5

Neemia Tialata – showed just what a talent he is this season, never taking a backward step. Learnt some hard lessons in the scrums sometimes which will serve him well, 8

Joe McDonnell – the rock of the scrum, McDonnell’s experience proved a crucial new ingrediant for the Lions. Showed Fairbrother and Tialata what is required at this level, 9

Mahonri Schwalger – a good new addition to the Lions this season. Scrummaged well and threw in effectively. Unlucky to end up on the draft, 8.5

Luke Mahoney – outshone somewhat by Schwalger, Mahoney did little wrong (apart from the odd misthrow). Needs more time to develop, 6

7 Sep

Getting there..
by Zand Moloney
7 Sep 2004

Another good, but certainly not great performance by Wellington and one that suggests that they can win the important ones. After that dreadful start I was thinking ‘Here we go again..” but thankfully that new character came throught again.
The forwards dominated in the loose and the tight and despite two very soft tries to Bates and Kelleher a half time score of 17-13 must have looked pretty good to Wellington.
The second half was a revelation, the loose trio snaffling huge amounts of loose ball, Rodney So’oailo playing like a number 7. The pick and go worked well, and with the centre combination of Nonu and Smith again to the fore Wellington were rampant in the second half.
Problems? Well, although he didn’t play badly Riki Flutey is not the sort of player we need at first five eighth, his positional and tatical kicking is no existant but he does have a good running game. Sad to say I think he will be a perennial bench player, he is great to have coming off the bench as he covers first five and halfback well but is not specialised enough to start in either position. In my humble opinion Jimmy Gopperth is the man to take over from Holwell when he goes to Leinster with Flutey the perfect backup.
Other than that Wellington really just need to get it together in one game, that hasn’t happened yet, but they are still second on the table, it’s nice to think they still have more left in the tank for the end of the season.
I must also add, putting on my Hurricanes hat, how happy I am with the play of Taranaki. Not only is the forward pack doing the business, but they seemed to have unearthed some very talented backs. Someone should sign up Brock James and Shayne Austin needs to be brought into the ‘Canes for next year. Hopefully the Hurricanes will have two franchise members in the Semi’s!
As for this week, well it is the game I always dread, Wellington always struggle against Auckland, especially when they are playing badly. C’mon boys show a bit of character and composure and we should be alright..