10 Oct

The Southern Quarters
by Paul Waite
10 Oct 2011

Southern_HemisphereThe Sunday quarter-finals bill was headlined as ‘The Clash of the Titans’ starring Australia vs. South Africa, featuring supporting act ‘The 4N Audition’, starring Argentina vs. New Zealand.

A classic sunny Spring afternoon in brilliant sunshine and a full house of noisy fans greeted South Africa as they ran on to the Caketin field to defend their World title against Australia.

What ensued was nothing short of seige warfare, for the most part, but it was begun by Australia at a pace that South Africa couldn’t initially adjust to, and this opened up a 5-0 lead when Horwill crashed over from a ruck in the 12th minute.

From the kickoff Australia looked, as is so often the case with them, as if they had been playing the game for 10 minutes already, they hit the ground running so hard. The South Africans were bamboozled on defence, and bested at the ruck on attack. Genia was buzzing about like an angry bluebottle, and they were finding holes to run through everywhere.

A minute later yet another clean break saw Beale through and the Springboks only managed to stifle it 5m out from their line, and in the end a ruck penalty out in front of the sticks gave Australia an 8-0 lead at the 15 minute mark.

There was only one team out there which looked as if it was playing to a well-drilled gameplan, and that was Australia. South Africa were simply defending like daemons, and on attack just making stuff up as they went along. They were rattled, and looked vulnerable every time Australia ran the ball at them, but held on regardless.

After the half-hour mark the Boks had regrouped somewhat and were managing to hold onto the ball and mount some pressure on the Wallaby line. Towards half-time one of these forays resulted in a penalty, and the teams retired to the sheds with Australia leading 8-3.

The second half saw a reborn South African team. They tore into the rucks and the Aussie defence with redoubled force, hung onto the ball well and mounted wave after wave of attack. By the end of the game the stats showed Australia made 150 tackles, more or less three times the Boks total.

By inches the pressure told, and it started in the 53rd minute with a Steyne penalty for offside at a maul, to make it 8-6.

Pressure on the Australian halves also had first five-eighth Quade Cooper back to his blooper best. He had kicks charged, fluffed clearances, and was generally a liability for the men in Green and Gold.

In the 60th minute the Boks showed how useful a classy No.10 who isn’t panicking is when Morne Steyne slotted a nice drop-goal to put South Africa in the lead for the first time by 9-8.

By this stage South Africa literally owned the ball. Australia were simply defending and hoping for the best. South Africa ran in a try but it was (rightly) disallowed for a forward pass, Lambie narrowly shaded a drop-goal, and all-in-all the Springboks looked the most likely winners of the tie.

In the end it was a penalty which swung the game back in Australia’s favour when Roussouw was judged to have tipped Samo up at a lineout near the Bok 10m line. O’Connor showed nerves of stell to slot the penalty kick making it 11-9 with 10 minutes left on the clock.

History will show that the Boks came close, but by this time they were as tired as the Wallabies, and creating plays when tired is sometimes more difficult than just reacting in defence.

Either side could have won this, but for my money South Africa deserved it more than Australia due to playing most of the attacking rugby. The Wallabies dodged yet another Rugby World CUp bullet, as is their habit.

Australia 11
James Horwill try
James O’Connor 2 pen

South Africa 9
Morne Steyn 2 pen, drop goal

HT: 8-3

The second quarter-final up at Eden Park was expected to be another convincing win for New Zealand over Argentina, but the reality was far different. To be fair, although a win was expected from All Blacks fans, the other main interest was in how Colin Slade would fare as replacement No.10 to Dan Carter, and how the team looks in general, coming to the sharp end of the tournament.

New Zealand started hard and fast, hitting rucks and tackles trying to blow Argentina away in the opening minutes by shear force and speed. But the Argentines were up to the task, rebutting the forays with staunch defence and clever return kicks, sending the New Zealanders back into their own half each time. After 5 minutes you could see from the All Blacks’ faces and body language that they realised they were up against a foe which wasn’t about to be gobbled up as easy-meat, and would have to work for their win.

After 11 minutes Argentina were whistled up for man in front of the kicker, and who should step up for the kicking duty but none other than Piri Weepu, to make it 3-0. In fact Weepu took the restarts, put the ball into touch from penalties, took the place-kicks, and generally performed all the duties of both a halfback and first-five, leaving Slade to shovel the ball on to the outside backs, and make the odd tactical kick.

Sadly Slade still didn’t look at all happy. He behaved as if the weight of the World was on his shoulders, and gave a good imitation of ‘choking’.

He dropped passes cold, made some silly tactical kicks straight to the opposition, and his passing was lack-lustre, slow, pass-it-on stuff. Hardly a viable replacement for Dan Carter.

So when he took a knock in the 17th minute, and was then eventually replaced by Cruden in the 32nd, quite a few fans could be forgiven for silently offering up a prayer of thanks. I was one of them.

In the 18th minute a nice move down the left touchline saw Read in the corner but the try was disallowed due to a foot grazing the chalk briefly before the grounding.

In the meantime the Argentine defence, for all it’s staunchness, was largely founded on ruck, scrum and other infringements to slow the All Blacks ball down to a crawl, and in the 24th minute Piri Weepu knocked over another penalty to make it 6-0.

Then, at the half-hour mark, and somewhat against the run of play a defensive error from Kieran Read saw the Argentine No.8 take a gap off the back of a scrum at halfway, to storm upfield and create a try for No.6 Cabello which was converted by Contemponi to make it 7-6 to Argentina.

With Cruden replacing Slade Weepu still took the goal-kicks and nailed penalties in the 35th and 38th minutes to bring New Zealand to 12-7 at the half-time break.

The second half saw more of the same hard-fought play, but the opening penalty went to Argentina for a ruck infringement making it 12-10 in the 47th minute. Another brace of Weepu penalties took it to 18-10 by the 58th minute and referee Owens also sent an Argentine forward to the sin-bin for his activities defending his line as the All Blacks mounted pressure right on it. McCaw then had a try attempt disallowed by the TMO.

In the 68th minute New Zealand finally got the try they had been searching for and it was Read finishing off in winger’s style down the left again after he received a lovely miss-out pass from Kaino. The move was initially started by a great burst from Ma’a Nonu up the middle. Weepu missed the conversion from out wide, but at 23-10 the match seemed safe.

Three minutes later Weepu made his last kick of the game before being subbed for Cowan, putting another penalty through the sticks bringing it to 26-10.

Finally just before time, a lovely piece of work from Jane on the right wing saw him keep the ball in when everyone though he’d stepped into touch, and then Brad Thorne surged the last 8m to score. Cruden added the extras to make the final score 33-10.

This was a hard-fought but well-deserved victory to the Men in Black. For their part Argentina acquiited themselves well, showing that well-known resolve in defence, and flashes of that famous South American flair in the form of individual skills with the ball in hand. They should be a great addition to the Tri-Nations next year.

For New Zealand the problems still remain for the No.10 jersey. Given the form issues Slade is obviously having, Cruden simply must start against Australia next week, with Weepu the backup option. But the backline is still bound to be disjointed without Carter, and therefore less able to break deadlocks against a determined defence – a fact all too well revealed in this test.

Put baldly, looking at the relative performances this weekend, Australia must go into next week’s semi-final as favourites, since they have a settled team which is hitting peak form just at the right time. The All Blacks, by contrast, are still trying to adjust for the loss of Carter, and so far it isn’t going well.

New Zealand 33
Kieran Read, Brad Thorn tries
Piri Weepu 7 pen, Aaron Cruden con

Argentina 10
Julio Farias Cabello try
Felipe Contepomi con, Marcelo Bosch pen

HT: 12-7

Paul Waite

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2 Oct

Time To Front Up
by Paul Waite
2 Oct 2011

TrenchesWith Dan Carter out of the tournament the All Blacks’ chances now rely on the forwards fronting up in three consecutive World Cup test matches to provide their stand-in No.10 with a winning platform.

To be blunt, Colin Slade isn’t even half the first five-eighth that Dan Carter is. The All Black coaches acknowledge this with statements such as “we may have to simplify the attacking menu” for him. Andrew Hore also showed some of the same kind of thinking in the after-match interview after the final pool game vs. Canada when he told us that it was now up to the forwards to front up and give the No.10 the support he needs.

The old saying that it’s the forwards that determine the result and the backs by how much, has never rung truer for New Zealand than right now in this World Cup.

It’s going to be hard yakka from here on in, starting with a gritty Argentina, adept at muscling up in the bruising close quarter contact situations. The All Blacks need to treat the remainder of the World Cup as a series of battles in a war. The forwards have to fight the enemy to a standstill, and then dominate them, completely. There are no magical game-breaking options at No.10 anymore, and none of the subtle tactical kicking that Carter provided so effortlessly either.

Looking at the test match against Canada, and taking into account the second-tier nature of that opposition, Slade is evidently still short on form. His distribution to the backs was laboured, and his goal-kicking is still too patchy. Graham Henry admitted as much when he told us “he needs more rugby”.

Star-in the-making Aaron Cruden has been brought into the squad as the bench cover, and may get some game time to aid bringing him up to speed in this quarter-final, depending on how it goes, but it is a big learning curve to step into the All Blacks in the knock-out stages, when you haven’t even been involved with the squad for the Tri-Nations. That said Cruden is gifted enough to be a potential magic bullet for the team, albeit from a long-shot.

Piri Weepu also got some time against Canada at No.10, and his goal-kicking is better, however starting him there smacks of the same out-of-position selections which have bitten the All Blacks in the arse in several World Cups previously. Hopefully Henry & Co. will NOT go down that same road again.

Aside from the Carter-replacement issue, the All Blacks also looked disjointed in this test. A lot of that was the unfamiliarity evident in the Cowan-Slade-Sonny Bill Williams back-line. The ball was moved in the awkward, stilted manner you always see with backs which haven’t played much together in a test environment.

In the forwards Ali Williams also continues to underwhelm. His fumbles of the ball and general lack of work-rate around the field have us wondering what Boric needs to do to get more game-time than a quick cameo off the bench in the dying minutes.

The test also saw Mils Muliaina at fullback, where he did nothing more than show us he is a class act, but a fading one. But given the ‘brittleness’ of Israel Dagg it’s great to know he is there in squad ready if needed, and we wouldn’t bet against him getting his 100th test cap in this tournament.

On the left wing Zac Guildford had a blinder, redeeming himself and show-casing his speed and ability to finish. That said, he was allowed a great amount of space by Canada, space which won’t ever be available in the tight tests coming up.

The first choice back-three from now on still has to be Jane, Kahui and Dagg, fitness allowing.

In the forwards, we had Victor Vito at openside, and he played extremely well against a modest opposition. His ball-carries were excellent, and defence solid. Kaino made a much better fill-in at No.8 than Richie McCaw did recently and capped it with a push-over try from a 5m scrum, something hardly ever seen these days with scrum resets always pushed back to the 5m mark. Aside from that Kaino remains in awesome form both carrying the ball and on defence.

Perhaps the most satisfying performance was Keiran Read’s return from serious ankle injury. He played 60 minutes with no problems, which will give him the confidence needed for the knock-outs.

The All Blacks chances of winning this Rugby World Cup have undoubtedly taken a huge blow with Dan Carter being ruled out of the tournament.

But if they refocus, strip their game back a little to the basics revolving around forward dominance, and provide Slade with a solid platform then they are still able to beat any team in the World.

All that’s required is Three Big Tests.

Give it everything boys.

Paul Waite

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10 Jul

New kid on the block
by Tracey Nelson
10 Jul 2011

EnglandThere was just one new cap when the first All Blacks squad of 2011 was named today, and that was Taranaki’s Jarrad Hoeata. So did he deserve his place in the squad? Check out his Super stats against the other All Black locks.

here.

With Anthony Boric out with injury until after the conclusion of the Tri-Nations the All Black selectors looked for another lock to go with their trust trio of Brad Thorn, Ali Williams (back from a 32 month absence with injuries) and Sam Whitelock. Here is how Hoeata stacked up against the other All Black locks over the round robin stages of the 2011 Super competition.

Lineouts Percent won on throw Steals off opp
Brad Thorn 90% 3
Ali Williams 78% 8
Sam Whitelock 94% 0
Anthony Boric 88% 5
Jarrad Hoeata 87% 3

Ball carries Average per game Av metres gained
Brad Thorn 5.18 24.82m
Ali Williams 5.30 25.00m
Sam Whitelock 5.00 32.57m
Anthony Boric 5.62 21.54m
Jarrad Hoeata 5.63 26.88

Tackles made Average per game Tackle success
Brad Thorn 7.91 85%
Ali Williams 8.30 87%
Sam Whitelock 9.29 98%
Anthony Boric 10.85 95%
Jarrad Hoeata 13.5 88%

Penalties conceded per game
Brad Thorn 0.36
Ali Williams 1.00
Sam Whitelock 0.43
Anthony Boric 0.63
Jarrad Hoeata 0.94

20 Apr

Who's Super in the Super Comp?
by Tracey Nelson
20 Apr 2011

We’re halfway through the 2011 Super Rugby competition, so which NZ players are putting their hands up as we start to think about the All Black squad for the Tri-Nations and further ahead to the Rugby World Cup?

With Colin Slade out with his second broken jaw before he had a chance to even generate us some decent stats and Stephen Donald also on the injured list, the race is wide open as to who will be Dan Carter’s back up this year. Do we pick a goal kicker, a line breaker or a combination of the two? Which backs have made the most linebreaks? Who is off-loading the most in the tackle? Who are the leading locks? Which flanker is heading the count for breakdown steals? All is revealed here.

Goal Kicking % Success Total attempts
Aaron Cruden 80% 10
Dan Carter 79% 39
Stephen Donald 75% 16
Luke McAlister 71% 35
Dan Kirkpatrick 63% 32
Mike Delany 62% 26
Stephen Brett 56% 16
Robbie Robinson 46% 26

1st 5 linebreaks
Stephen Brett 5
Dan Kirkpatrick 3
Dan Carter 2
Luke McAlister 2
Aaron Cruden 2
Mike Delany 2
Robbie Robinson 2
Stephen Donald 1

Top linebreakers (backs)
Isaia Toeava 10
Kade Poki 8
Sean Maitland 7
Andre Taylor 7
Leilia Masaga 6
Jared Payne 6
Ben Smith 6
Joe Rokocoko 6
Stephen Brett 5
Robbie Fruean 5
Tim Nanai-Williams 5
Shaun Treeby 5
Andy Ellis 4
Hosea Gear 4
Zac Guildford 4
Julian Savea 4
Sitiveni Sivivatu 4
Ma’a Nonu, Rene Ranger, Sonny Bill Williams 3
Conrad Smith 4

Top tackle offloaders
Sonny Bill Williams 29
Adam Thomson 14
Dan Carter 12  
Rene Ranger 11  
Israel Dagg 10
Stitveni Sivivatu 10
Brendon Leonard 9

Lineout jumpers – wins
Whitelock 14/14
Donnelly 9/9
Thorn 12/14  
Ross 11/13
Bekuis 10/12  
Boric 24/29  
Thrush 10/13
Jack 5/7
Williams 7/11
Eaton 7/11

Lineout jumpers – steals
Ross 6
Boric 3  
Thrush 1  
Jack 1

Lineout throwers Not straight Overthrows
Keven Mealamau 1 0
Dane Coles 2 1
Jason Rutledge 2 2
Andrew Hore 1 3
Aled de Malmanche 0 4
Cory Flynn 6 0
Hika Elliot 5 1

Flankers breakdown wins
Matt Todd 10
Adam Thomson 8  
George Whitelock 4  
Scott Waldrom 3
Jerome Kaino 2
Kieran Read 2
Daniel Braid 1

31 Oct

Duck Soup
by Paul Waite
31 Oct 2010

marxbrosThe basic story of the test reads: Rusty All Blacks concede 12 points, then right the boat, run in some tries and go in 17-12 at half-time. In the second half they get on top with the Aussies whipped and stuffed into a bag, but then Henry subs Stephen Donald (aka The Duck) for Dan Carter and he single-handedly loses a 12 point lead, and the game.

Let’s not beat about the bush, there was a lot wrong with this All Black performance apart from the end-game debacle brought about by the substitutions. In 2007 Graham Henry’s ideas about resting players from rugby back-fired on him big-time when they turned up to the World Cup way off the pace. It seems that nothing has been learned, and resting players after the recent Tri-Nations garnered us a similar result, if less important in the scheme of things.

The All Blacks took the field looking more or less the same as they did at the start of the season’s international campaign, playing in a loose disjointed fashion. All the usual culprits were there in their game, players getting isolated going to ground too fast providing easy pickings for the likes of Pocock, fumbled passes, poor passing in general, shonky lineout and so forth.

This reaped the reward of a 12-0 deficit in the first quarter, before they finally managed to get their systems firing on all eight cylinders again, and replied with a creditable 17 unanswered points to go in 17-12 at half-time. After the restart, the team started really putting it together. The forwards were doing some excellent work, especially Kaino and Read, aided by the ever-present McCaw. At scrum time the Aussies were also in disarray, the looks on their front row priceless as the referee was forced to penalise them several times. In the backs Dan Carter had the team humming and probing for gaps.

In this phase of the test the Aussies were a whipped force. The television cameras showed pained, beaten faces. Then, with twenty minutes or so to go Henry made some key replacements which were to lose us the test, just like that.

On came Toeava for an injured Cory Jane on came Stephen Donald for Dan Carter. John Afoa also came on in the front row. On the plus side Whitelock’s replacement of an out-of-sorts Donnelly at lock was a win.

Right away the subs had an effect, but overall it wasn’t the one Henry was looking for. From a scrum Genia spun the ball wide with a miss-out pass and Toeava, who was standing well out of position too far in-field was suddenly out-flanked. Turning he slipped, and a track the width of two bus lanes opened up down the Aussie left wing. Goodnight nurse. The seven-pointer brought the Wallabies within 5 points. A resurgent Australian outfit was sniffing a change in the wind.

They didn’t have to sniff very hard to catch that scent. The All Blacks were full of fight on defence, but there was one piece of the machinery which was misfiring. A foray up-field from some hard forward driving resulted in an Australian penalty infringment. A kickable penalty to take the points-margin to eight.

Now, many of us on these Aotearoan shores have despised the selection of Stephen Donald for this tour, ahead of up-and-coming Canterbury first-five Colin Slade. More on the whys and wherefors of that later, but one point his supporters were certain of was his goal-kicking. He might run an appallingly stilted backline, he might opt to do badly-executed grubbers and chip-kicks at inappropriate moments, but at least he can nail the goals.

Well he couldn’t even do that. A nice, kickable penalty which would have relieved the pressure and more or less assured the win was missed. Still a 5-point margin.

Fired up by their good fortune the Aussies fetched the sink from their changing shed and hurled it at the All Black lines. The men in black toiled on defence. We were treated to more bad signs from Donald however. Let’s dwell on one of these, because it is instructive to study his methods. The All Blacks were defending in their 22m and got possession of the ball. With the Aussies all packed between the half-way and the 22m Donald looked up and had a decision to make.

Now, as an aspiring All Black test player what would you have done? Would you have hoofed it out into touch perhaps? Or maybe you would have gone to your support and taken it up into contact, to retain possession? Either of those options would have been sane. What did Donald do? Well, all things considered, he thought it would be best to stab a grubber out from the 22m so that the Australians could just pick it up and bring it right back at us. Unbelievable, but more was to come.

A similar situation arose a few minutes later. This time, presumably learning from his last mistake, Donald decided to hoof the ball. Only he kicked it right to a man wearing yellow who didn’t even have to move to catch it just inside his half and run it right back.

But these were just minor points. Indicators of something badly wrong. This all came to a head in the pivotal moment of the test. Once again the All Blacks were encamped on defence in their own 22m, right where Donald seemed to want them, and the Australians were slavering like a pack of rabid Dobermans trying to get the ball over the line. Heroic defence drove them back, and the pressure forced a turnover. It was the 79th minute, possession had been regained at a critical moment, and the ball was in Donald’s hands.

All he needed to do was hoof it into the stands out beyond the 22m.

But Donald’s brain seems to work on a frequency different from the rest of us. It’s the same band as Radio BOZO, which I’ve heard, plays nothing but static.

Instead of kicking a safe touch he kicked it upfield straight to an Australian who, surprise surprise, ran it back in what was the final wave of attacks which unsurprisingly brought a try which O’Connor converted for a two point victory.

Why all the Donald-bashing? The reason is simple – he shouldn’t be in the squad.

When Dan Carter was out last season recovering from his achilles rupture, we went through this process of trying Stephen Donald as All Black first-five replacement. He showed then that although he’s not a bad player at Super Rugby level, and might look godly to some at Provincial level, he has neither the skillset nor temperament for test rugby. He simply can’t think and execute in the timeframes that test rugby demands. I thought we’d asked those questions, and got the answers already.

But instead, as with poor lumbering Sione Lauaki who also kept being selected despite numerous games showing he simply wasn’t a test player, we are stuck with The Duck for a whole Grand Slam Tour.

To add insult to injury the lad who should be touring, Colin Slade, who came on for Aaron Cruden and did the business under severe pressure in the recent Bledisloe Cup winning test match and showed that maybe he does have what it takes to play test rugby, is languishing back at home playing in a Provincial competition.

What a waste. Slade is missing out on a key development tour which may have seen him rise to be the obvious backup for Dan Carter for 2011.

With Sitiveni Sivivatu out with injury there is a spare squad place. If Henry had any sense he would be giving Slade the call right now, swallowing his pride and admitting he and his other selectors got it wrong. With Cory Jane under an injury cloud he can even justify Slade’s call-up on utility value as he covers full-back and wing.

I’d rather watch a Marx Brothers movie than watch Stephen Donald trying to play test rugby again for the All Blacks. At least I’d be able to laugh at a parade of stupidity and ineptitude and feel good about it.

New Zealand 24 (Jimmy Cowan, Cory Jane, Ma’a Nonu tries; Dan Carter 3 cons, 1 pen)

Australia 26 (Quade Cooper, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Drew Mitchell, James O’Connor tries; Matt Giteau con; O’Connor 1 con)

Paul Waite

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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

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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

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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

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5 May

Headlines
by Tracey Nelson
5 May 2010

Headlines for the week May 4th, 2009

MacDonald farewells NZ rugby

Crusaders fullback Leon MacDonald will return to Japan to play his rugby for the Kintetsu club at the end of this year’s Super 14, which will end an All Black career that started back in 2000. MacDonald spent a season with the Japanese club side Yamaha back in 2004, but returned to Crusaders and All Black rugby at year later. A serious concussion suffered when playing the Springboks in Dunedin cut his international season short last year, and injuries also sidelined at times during this year’s Super 14. MacDonald has played 56 tests for the All Blacks, 116 Super games (Crusaders and Chiefs), and 69 provincial games (Canterbury and Malborough).

Key All Blacks re-sign with NZRU

Mils Muliaina has re-signed with the NZRU and the Waikato Rugby Union through until 2011, while Ali Williams and Tony Woodcock have both re-signed with the NZRU through until 2012. Williams’ contract also contains a "sabbatical" clause allowing him time away from NZ next year. The three join join 2008 All Blacks Richie McCaw, Rodney So’oialo, Keven Mealamu, Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Brad Thorn, Andrew Hore, Neemia Tialata, John Afoa, Andy Ellis, Richard Kahui, Brendon Leonard, Jamie Mackintosh, Rudi Wulf and Liam Messam, who are all signed with New Zealand rugby through to 2011 or beyond.

Latest Playing Apparel Revealed for All Blacks

At a launch in Auckland this week adidas revealed the two new All Black jerseys for 2009. Both jerseys feature a fern pattern across the front. A new all-white All Blacks jersey will be used as a second kit to complement the traditional, famous black apparel. The white jersey includes a white collar and New Zealand’s national symbol, the silver fern, on the left breast in black. It will be worn with the traditional black shorts and black sock with white stripes. The white jersey will only be worn when the All Blacks are playing outside of New Zealand when required in line with the IRB’s revised policy of the away team needing to change jerseys in the event of a clash. The first outing of the white jersey will be against France in Marseille, November this year.

New referees secure Test appointments

Bryce Lawrence has been appointment to control the opening Test between South Africa and the British & Irish Lions this June. In addition to the first Lions Test, Lawrence has also been named as Assistant Referee for the second Test and as Television Match Official for the third Test. He will also control a Tri-Nations match between Australia and South Africa in Perth in August.

Vinnie Munro joins Lawrence in all three Lions Tests as an Assistant Referee, while Chris Pollock and Keith Brown will both referee a Rugby World Cup qualifier each in June as well as officiate games at the IRB Junior World Championship in Japan in the same month.

Heartland Championship teams to trial Player of Origin

Heartland Provincial Rugby Unions will get the opportunity to have a Player of Origin in their 22-man Heartland Championship squads this year as part of a trial undertaken by the New Zealand Rugby Union. The Player of Origin will be in addition to the three loan players unions are entitled to have in their teams under current regulations. A Player of Origin will be defined as a person who from the age of 12-18 played rugby in the relevant Heartland Provincial Union (either for a club or school) for at least three years who is now playing club rugby outside the province.

SANZAR

The NZRU and Australian Rugby Union will continue to work towards expanding Super Rugby from 2011 in partnership with South Africa despite the current impasse in negotiations with SA Rugby. NZRU CEO Steve Tew and ARU Managing Director and CEO John O’Neill said this week that a continuation of the SANZAR alliance at provincial level remains the preferred option for both national unions.

Both New Zealand and Australia are determined to deliver a competition of the highest integrity to supporters and broadcasters and believe South African calls for further compromise will impact on that commitment. Talks will therefore continue on an alternative plan – an Asia-Pacific competition – to ensure a valuable and viable tournament is ready for implementation should resolution not be reached with South Africa on Super Rugby expansion plans.

6 Nov

All Blacks End of Year Tour Preview
by Tracey Nelson
6 Nov 2009

The All Blacks boast an impressive record of not having lost an end of year tour match since 2002, having racked up 16 wins since the loss against England that year. So what are the chances of keeping that record intact over the next few weeks?

In past few years the All Blacks have headed off on the end of year tour after very successful Tri-Nations campaigns. But 2009 has not been asuccesful year so far for the All Blacks, with a June loss to France and 0/3 aginst the Springboks during the Tri-Nations. For a side that under Henry’s coaching regime has wonmore than 85% of their games, the current 60% win percentage (after the win against Australia in Tokyo) desperately needs boosting. With five matches to play, anything less than a clean sweep will see that All Blacks finish 2009 with a win percentage less than 65% – well less than the All Blacks’ all time average of 74%.

So in many ways it wasn’t surprising when Graham Henry announced that the coaching roles the three have assumed over the past six years were to be changed. Henry, previously the defensive coach, has taken over coaching the forwards – a role up until now held by Steve Hansen, but one that has been fraught with difficulties andin 2009 particularly there has beenmuch acrimony over the failure of the All Blacks to master their set pieces and provide the dominance up front required to win test matches. From what we saw in Tokyo, under Henry’s coaching the forwards have not gone backwards, and encouragingly were seen to contest the opposition’s throws to the lineout which had not been a consistent feature under Hansen.

Hansen will assume Wayne Smith’s role of attack coach, with Smith slotting into the defence job. Few people had any gripes about Henry’s defensive coaching abilities, and it is unlikely Smith will meddle too much with the very effective system Henry has put in place.

Quite how the backs will perform under Hansen remains to be seen, but the coaching trio have reiterated that they wish to play open, flowing rugby so overall blueprint isn’t likely to change – but just what Hansen can do to rejuvenate a strangely impotent backline this season will certainly be under the microscope. With players such as newcap wingers Zac Guildford and Ben Smith, along with the in-form Cory Jane, there is considerable strike-power in the three-quarters. The job for Hansen will be to find a way to unleash that attack not just from the counterattack but more importantly from set piece.

After such a poor showing against the 10-man game of South Africa, the northern hemisphere sides will be keen to follow in the steps of the Springboks and suffocate the All Blacks out of the game. This end of year tour is important not just as a means of the All Blacks increasing their winning percentage, but to prove that the modern game can and should involve all fifteen players in the side and not solely revolve around a kicking game. To do that the coaches will have to ensure the following:

Forwards
- dominance in set piece, win own lineouts, good scrum
- committment of numbers and aggression at the breakdown, including the ability to counter-ruck
- awareness and adjusting quickly to each referee’s law interpretations at the breakdown

Backs:
- good execution under the high ball
- reforming quickly on the counter attack
- catching/passing skills must improve
- better kicking game, numbers and pace with the kick-chase

Should these basics not be realised, then there is every chance the All Blacks will face their first end of year test loss in seven years and with it potentially risk losing the all ready fading aura of invincibility generations of All Blacks have built up over the years. So the importance of a win against Wales this weekend, a side that has not beaten the All Blacks in 56 years, is possibly the biggest game of the tour.