20 Sep

RWC Game Stats: All Blacks v Argentina, Wembley Stadium
by Tracey Nelson
20 Sep 2015

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

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

Completed Tackles means that the player actually brought the ball carrier to ground (ie. as the Laws of the Game actually described the tackler), not assists in the tackle situation which are tallied separately. Missed tackles also includes slipped tackles where the ball runner gets away. Most importantly, I do NOT included slipped tackles in the Tackles Made stats, it gets noted as a missed tackle. Either you’ve made the tackle or you’ve missed it. Numbers in brackets are the first half/second half breakdown for each TOTAL. An asterisk denotes a player who came on as a substitute.

This week:

Team: Tony Woodcock, Dane Coles, Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (c), Kieran Read, Aaron Smith, Dan Carter, Julian Savea, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Ben Smith
Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Victor Vito, Sam Cane, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Sonny Bill Williams

Points scored NZ Argentina
Tries 2 1
Conversions 2 1
Penalties 4/4 3/3
TOTAL 26 16

Goal Kicking Penalties Conversions
Carter 4/4 2/2
Sanchez 3/3 1/1

Restarts won NZ Argentina
Own kick-off 0 0
Opposition kick-off 5 4
TOTAL 5 4

Kicks in play NZ Argentina
Own 22 7 11
Rest of field 15 13
TOTAL 22 24

Penalties/Free Kicks Conceded Penalties Free kicks
NZ 9 0
Argentina 12 1
TOTAL 21 1

NZ Penalty Offences
Offside general play Franks 1
Offside ruck McCaw 1
Ruck not supporting weight McCaw 1
Ruck hands C Smith (YC) 1
Ruck playing ball on ground Cane* 1
Scrum Front row, Second row 2
Taking player in air C Smith 1
Foot trip McCaw (YC) 1
TOTAL 9

Argentina Penalty Offences
Tackled player 1
Tackler 5
Ruck offside 3
Not 10m for penalty 1 (YC)
Ruck off feet 2
Scrum 1
TOTAL 12

Turnovers Conceded by NZ
Knock-ons Retallick(2), Read, Milner-Skudder, Franks, Coles, Barrett*(2), Cane*, C Smith 10
Pass Milner-Skudder, Coles, C Smith, Read, Kaino, Perenara* 6
Forward pass Read 1
Tackle Faumuina*, B Smith 1
Lineout Read 1
TOTAL 19

Turnovers Conceded by Argentina
Knock-ons 8
Tackle 1
Ruck 2
Maul 1
Lineout 1
Touch on full 1
TOTAL 14

Breakdown turnovers won by NZ
Tackle Read, Kaino 2
Ruck McCaw, counter ruck 2
TOTAL 4

First 3 to Breakdown Total Per half
McCaw 44 15+29
Whitelock 32 12+20
Retallick 26 12+14
Franks 24 18+6
Kaino 18 12+6
Woodcock 16 15+1
Crockett* 16
C Smith 16 8+8
Read 15 6+9
B Smith 13 6+7
Coles 11 7+4
Cane* 10
Mealamu* 8
Carter 7 3+4
Faumuina* 6
Savea 6 4+2
Barrett* 4
Nonu 3 3+0
Milner-Skudder 3 1+2
Vito* 1
Williams* 1

Forward ball carries Carries
Read 13
Retallick 8
Kaino 8
Faumuina* 6
McCaw 6
Whitelock 6
Crockett* 4
Coles 4
Vito* 3
Franks 3
Woodcock 1
Cane* 1
TOTAL 63

Completed Tackles and Assists Tackles Assists
McCaw 13 (10+3) 2 (1+1)
Read 13 (8+5) 0
A Smith 10 (7+3) 1 (1+0)
Carter 9 (3+6) 1 (0+1)
Whitelock 7 (6+1) 2 (2+0)
Kaino 7 (5+2) 2 (2+1)
Retallick 5 (3+2) 1 (1+0)
Woodcock 4 (4+0) 6 (6+0)
Franks 4 (3+1) 3 (3+0)
Coles 4 (2+2) 0
Nonu 4 (3+1) 0
B Smith 4 (1+3) 0
Cane* 3 1
C Smith 3 (1+2) 3 (3+0)
Savea 3 (0+3) 0
Williams* 2 1
Vito* 2 1
Crockett* 2 0
Perenara* 2 0
Mealamu* 1 1
Faumuina* 1 1
Milner-Skudder 1 (1+0) 0
Barrett* 0 1
TOTAL 104 27

Missed and Slipped Tackles
Franks 3
McCaw 2
Read 2
Retallick 2
Whitelock 1
Kaino 1
Carter 1
Nonu 1
Coles 1
Milner-Skudder 1
TOTAL 15

NZ Line-outs Won From
First half 9 10
Second half 9 9
TOTAL 18 19

NZ Line-out Jumpers Won From
Read 6 7
Whitelock 4 4
Retallick 2 2
Kaino 2 2
Not shown 1 1
Carter 1 1
McCaw 1 1
Cane* 1 1

Argentina Line-outs Won From
First half 5 5
Second half 5 6
TOTAL 10 11

NZ Scrums Won From
First half 5 5
Second half 1 1
TOTAL 6 6

Argentina Scrums Won From
First half 2 2
Second half 5 5
TOTAL 7 7

20 Sep

Commemorative Mugs
by Paul Waite
20 Sep 2015

south_africa_mugsA spokesman for the South African team at the Rugby World Cup has announced a minor change to the team’s promotional merchandising in the aftermath of the recent loss to Japan 34-32.

“In light of recent results we have withdrawn the range of commemorative mugs (shown right) and we will be replacing these with a new set of mugs.”

When pushed to elaborate on what the new set would look like, Hennie van de Merwe scowled for a little under twenty minutes before replying “the original set will be replaced by the starting XV which lost to Japan”.

“Each of them will be put up on eBay for a special price of only 10 rand each. Collect the set and you would have the ideal training opposition for your local school, as long as you don’t copy the way they tackle, or run with the ball.”

Asked whether he felt that the Bok management was over-reacting and being too harsh, Van de Merwe only replied “No.”

So there you have it, what an exciting Rugby World Cup this is looking to be!

Addendum: the above real mugs can still be had direct-from-factory in Japan.

Paul Waite

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7 Jun

Super 15 — Round 17 Preview
by WAJ
7 Jun 2013

Probably not a lot of interest on the NZ side of the ditch in this round, but the Mighty Rebels are up tonight so here we go with round 17. A bit bizarre though that after this weekend the Aus sides will have played two more rounds than anyone else? But then the structure of this season is even more bizarre than ever – wonder what it will look like in Rugby World Cup year?

Brumbies v Rebels – Both teams have a lot of changes, unfortunately for theMR notall arebecause ofthe Wallaby training camp, with Saffy andGomer also injured. So who is the worst affected by the absences? Probably straight down the middle. The Brumbies havesome quality replacements with the likes of McCabe, Rathbone and Palmer all Wallabies. This depth may be a bit much for a very inexperienced Rebels line up. The halves especially are a total contrast. Can the improving Rebels get up here – playing lists, location and momentum are all against them. Not feeling the love for the Rebels here!
Brumbies 13+

Force v Waratahs – So the Waratahs havelost all eight of their starting pack and 4 backs on top of that! That contrasts to two Force players absent on Wallabies dutiesplus about half their first choice team backing up after the farce against the Lion s on Wednesday. Did anyone see that game BTW. Totally new and raw Force back fivemeant the Lions backs and loosies were always going to have a field day. So I reckon the Waratahs will brave, but inexperience and lack of combinations will mean they battle against a much more settled side who have caused more than a problem or two against the Waratahs in the past.
Force 1 – 12

Reds v Lions – The Reds are fielding their strongest available team, and it is more than capable of providing a few concerns for the Lions. Genia will of course be hugely missed, but they have a couple of experienced campaigners at lock to replace Horwill and Simmons, and 12 other Wallabies in the 23 hints at a team that will push the Lions all the way. A blinder might also see a Wallaby call up.The Lions have named a bit of a mix and match outfit. The loosies look strong with an all Welsh combo, but a T5 blend from Wales, England and Scotland could be problematical as was shown at lineout time midweek. The Reds will be targeting Farrell as he can blow up and thus reduce his effectiveness, and I fancy will try and get amongst the Lions in general and disrupt them – the likes of Robinson to to cause the odd distraction perhaps! Should be a great spectacle.
Lions 1- 12

All Blacks v France – how could you ever preview a game with France as one of the sides – you do not know what you are going to get. The All Blacks will be all about set piece accuracy, renewing combinations and hoping some players find form blah blah blah. So this game is probably more about where the French are. They look to have a strong pack and there will be little given at set piece time by either side. And the French are blessed with some genius in the backs with Fofana especially a player of rare talent. But they have an inexperienced halves pairing and the AB’s will look to get amongst these two. I wish Smith was at fullback and we had another gas man on the wing, as Smith is everything a fullback should be but lacks the extra yard of pace to be truly effective as a winger. A comfortable win for the All Blacks.
AB’s 13+

Regards Waj

9 Mar

Super 15: Round 3 Preview
by WAJ
9 Mar 2012

The atrocious rugby played by a certain team based in the northern region of NZ has seemingly had a huge impact on my luck, disturbed my aura, rotated my dartboard the wrong way and cracked my crystal ball. Never the pragmatist when it comes to tipping, my heart is too severely affected by the Blue malaise for me too be truly effective.

Crusaders v Chiefs – It is time for the real Crusaders to stand up! A bit more heavy artillery in this week, though can’t for the life of me work out why Fred is on the wing and Maitland at FB. Still far greater minds are in control than my pea brain. To me the Crusaders seem to lack their usual rhythm, and seem to have lost some some ruthlessness as well. World Cup hangover perhaps? The Chiefs have now laid down their benchmark and anything less than that will see them undone again you feel. There is a good mix of youth and experience in the Chiefs team and if the coaches can continue to bolster that youthful confidence well…. dark horses I tell you dark horses. Played in neutral territory, which will have a decidedly Chiefs bent, I expect another close NZ derby, with much depending on how the Chiefs front row fares?
Crusaders 1 – 12

Force v Hurricanes – Another young NZ halfback is picked to start his first game. It is amazing the amount of young players in arguably the 2 most controlling positions on the fielld that NZ is producing. Cruden looks like a grizzled veteran. Tough game for the Hurricanes this though, they may have won 5 of the 6 games played between these 2, but the travel and varying conditions is bound to take some sort of toll. They have made a few changes clearly with this in mind and will be boyed by last weeks win. But a stubborn Force team will be extremely tough – their 1st game at home andSharp’s 150th, and well they aren’t the worst team going around (that is a draw between the Blues and Cheetahs). With the Hurricanes still very much a work in progress I think the Force will be too strong. If you haven’t seen Barrett play at this level watch this game – he is very good.
Force 1 – 12

Brumbies v Cheetahs – far too early for a ‘WCG’. The most interesting thing in Canberrais whether the coach is staying or going.
Brumbies 1 – 12

Highlanders v Waratahs – Not far off being the match of the round this game. Love the way the Highlanders are playing -great intensity, hard running and a simple game plan – no faffing around for this lot (LamB watch them and learn you numb nuts). But equally the Waratahs seem to have a bit more about them this year as well. The likes of The Flying Affro, Gentle Benn and Palu are in terrific form, and with Barnes back to give them more options they will be tough to beat. I think experience will win through.
Waratahs 1 – 12

Reds v Rebels – No I am not hoping for a miracle, but to stay within 15 points would be pretty pleasing. I am hoping for some backline fluency with Kurtleys debut, and no soft tries conceded. Yeah I know!!!!
Reds 13+

Sharks v Lions – Can’t get too enthused about this game either. The Sharks have to win, otherwise season bye bye. And they should be far too strong at home against a middle of the road Lions team.
Sharks 13+

Bulls v Blues – We are moving from bad to worse it seems. Now injuries galore have struck – so between one thing and another we are without Woody, Kaino, Wulf and Toeava, that is a lot of class not fronting, and throw in a few other changes and only 7 players remain from last weeks starting XV. Not that that is maybe a bad thing after last weeks debacle! So LamB has made some changes as best he has available and the likes of Weepu, Nonu and even Kuke Braid are all good ins and the team looks Ok on paper. But jeez this is a pretty ruthless Bulls team and LAmB had better have the top 2 ‘ switched on or it could get ugly. But there stills remain an outside chance the Blues could pull one off here, certainly the talent is there, can LamB do something with that talent?
Bulls 1 – 12

Regards Waj

25 Oct

Four More Minutes Boys
by Paul Waite
25 Oct 2011

mccaw-at-ruckThat’s what Richie McCaw might have been thinking as he got to his feet after effecting the final turnover in the Rugby World Cup Final. Four more minutes to suck out of the time-keeper’s clock. Four more minutes to hang onto that ball. Four more minutes to win the World Cup.

The image of the New Zealand captain crouched at a ruck with hands poised, deftly pushing the referee’s patience with the pick-up, will stay with me forever. It epitomised both the man and the moment. There was no panic or worry on his face, just an expression of complete concentration and faith in what he and his team needed to do. A certainty that he had the William Webb-Ellis trophy as firmly within his grasp as he did the ball.

For their part, the French had just spent a full five minutes in possession throwing everything they had at the New Zealand defence. The Black Wall had hurled them back, keeping them between half-way and the 10m line and denying them the territory they needed for drop-kick or penalty.

Rightly loath to kick the ball, they flung it wide from a scrum with a miss-out pass to Rougerie who waded through a Conrad Smith missile attack, and shrugged off Sonny Bill Williams for good measure, before the Black wave crashed down once again and McCaw drove through the final ruck with such force he caused replacement halfback Doussain to fumble.

That final turnover, to a New Zealand scrum four minutes from time was the last that the French saw of the ball.

The story of the final up to that key point was a much different tale than many fans had expected.

A lovely Woodcock try in the 14th minute, from the same lineout move they pulled on Australia a couple of seasons ago seemed to be just reward for All Blacks pressure and control of the game, but three misses with the boot by half-time from the normally reliable Piri Weepu had the worm of doubt working on the home fans.

That anxiety was only heightened at the half-hour mark when Aaron Cruden went down awkwardly in a tackle as he took on the French defensive line and limped off the field to be replaced by Stephen Donald.

For those unfamiliar with Donald’s history with the All Blacks suffice to say he has never impressed, and his appearance on the field with 50 minutes still to play in a World Cup final was probably not greeted with uniform optimism by the fans.

With both teams running off at halftime with only 5 points between them, it was still all to play for in the second half.

After two minutes of play France got the chance to get on the board with a penalty shot from wide, but Yachvili narrowly put it outside the right post. Two minutes later they conceded a much simpler chance to the All Blacks, and Stephen Donald strode forward to claim to ball. The TV cameras caught a rather huffy look on Piri Weepu’s face as he did so, but he had had his chances and time had run out. Donald wasted no time in knocking the ball through the sticks, and the fans breathed a little easier though nobody was relaxing at only 8-0 up, and of course nobody knew that those three precious points would win the World Cup for New Zealand.

A darting run by Dagg floundered badly as All Blacks all left their feet at the ruck, allowing Rougerie to step through and hack the ball loose. Weepu then favoured the French attack by stabbing a toe and deftly chipping it right into Trinh-Duc’s arms, whereupon he set sail for the All Blacks line. A few rucks later the All Blacks were all behind the ball and seemed to have regained their composure but unfortunately Donald’s lack of time with the team told as he came up out of the line and marked the wrong Frenchman, leaving a large hole for outstanding French No.6 and captain Thierry Dusautoir to surge over the line and force by the foot of the right-hand post.

The conversion made the scoreline 8-7 to the All Blacks, with a further 31 minutes to play. With a one-point lead, and a French opponent now pumped and ready, everybody knew the All Blacks had a fight on their hands.

Obviously Graham Henry thought the same, and he sent in reinforcements, substituting Ali Williams on for Whitelock, and Andrew Hore for Mealamu. Piri Weepu took the restart, kicked it out on the full, and was immediately replaced by Andy Ellis. Although the two things were probably not linked it seemed that way, and marked the end of a poor game by Piri’s usual standards. After the game it was reported that he had suffered a troubling groin injury in his warm-up, which may go some way to explaining the lack of form.

The game turned into a gigantic arm-wrestling contest from that point onward, but the only real scoring chance that France had from there until the end of the game was a 45m penalty attempt in the 64th minute from right out in front, which Trinh-Duc missed handsomely.

From there the All Blacks simply backed their defence, as the French had a long period of posession and hung onto it greedily. There is always talk of how tiring it is to defend for long periods, as if the attacking team expend little or no energy themselves. That isn’t the case, and a well-drilled defence can sap the will of an attack if it can knock it backwards consistently. This happened to the French, as they tried everything to break though.

This final underlined what we always learn when we watch these Rugby World Cup Finals every four years. They stand apart, even from semi-finals, in terms of the level of mind-altering pressures brought to bear. Apart from 1987 when nobody really understood what a World Cup was, every final has produced this kind of concentrated grimly-fought rugby contest, and so it will probably always be.

The All Blacks deserved to win this World Cup, make no mistake about that. The single point of difference on the scoreboard was a fair reflection of the teams as they played on the day, the All Blacks were just that tiny bit better in defence and it gave them a win.

Only those teams strong enough in mind as well as body can win these contests, and in seeing it done by your own team, it gives you a new appreciation of the achievements of the Australian, South African and English teams which have won it in earlier years.

Congratulations to Richie McCaw, his All Blacks, and the coaching staff for bringing the Cup home!

All Blacks: 8
T Woodcock try, S Donald pen

France: 7
T Dusautoir try, F Trinh-Duc con

HT: 5-0

Paul Waite

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21 Oct

Head to Head: All Blacks vs. France
by Paul Waite
21 Oct 2011

rhinosYou often see those player-to-player comparisons in the newspapers, where they compare each player with the player wearing the same jersey number on the opposition team. These are misleading because the game isn’t a simplistic man against man competition.

This ia an attempt to do a better job by comparing the two teams in terms of each player’s contribution to their areas of play, and the value of each combination. The assessment has been made on current World Cup form as observed in pool play, quarter-finals, and semi-finals, with most importance attributed to the semis.

The areas of play are kicked off with the tight-five forwards who, together with the loose-forwards, generally determine the outcome of the game. The scoring here involves players value at the set-pieces such as scum and lineout, plus their contribution around the field in the maul, at the ruck, on defence, and on attack.

The loose-forwards are the second most critical ‘pod’ of players in a team, and the scoring here is determined by how they perform at the breakdown, carrying the ball, at set-pieces, and in general play supporting on attack, and tackling on defence.

Moving to the backs we have the play-makers, or ‘halves’ at Nos. 9 and 10 respectively. These are scored on their abilities to use the ball the forwards provide to create plays and chances to score, and on their defensive qualities.

The mid-field pair are a critical element in the team’s defence and attack out wide. These guys essentially control traffic up and down the sides of the rugby field. They must be strong defensively, with an ability to organise both halve and back-three, and they must be able to challenge the opposition midfield on attack.

Finally the back three are the fullback and two wing three-quarters. All must be good in the air, and each wing should be able to read the game well, kick well, and chase attacking kicks. The fullback has to be a great last line of defence, as well as chiming into the back-line on attack.

In all of these areas, there is a high element of combination involved, where the old adage ‘a team is greater than the sum of its parts’ holds true. The scoring here is a judgement on how the various groups of players gel to make that happen, and to produce an effect which is something more than just individualistic play.

All Blacks France
Tight-five
Tony Woodcock 10 Jean-Baptiste Poux 8
Keven Mealamu 10 William Servat 8
Owen Franks 10 Nicolas Mas 8
Brad Thorn 9 Pascal Pape 9
Sam Whitelock 8 Lionel Nallet 9
Combination 9 7
Loose forwards
Jerome Kaino 10 Thierry Dusautoir 9
Richie McCaw 10 Julien Bonnaire 9
Kieran Read 10 Imanol Harinordoquy 9
Combination 10 8
Halves
Piri Weepu 10 Dimitri Yachvili 10
Aaron Cruden 7 Morgan Parra 7
Combination 8 7
Midfield
Ma’a Nonu 10 Maxime Mermoz 9
Conrad Smith 10 Aurelien Rougerie 9
Combination 10 9
Back three
Richard Kahui 9 Alexis Palisson 9
Cory Jane 10 Vincent Clerc 9
Israel Dagg 10 Maxime Medard 9
Combination 10 8
TOTAL 190 170

In the tight-five the New Zealand front row of Woodcock, Mealamu and Franks has shown us that it is peaking perfectly. Against Australia they seemed to be able to destroy their scrum at will. In their semi against a good Welsh scrum the French held their own, but it was even. Looking at value around the field, Owen Franks is currently besting Richie McCaw in presence at the ruck, Mealamu’s ball-carrying is as superlative as ever, and Woodcock’s work-rate is also getting up there. All in all this front row is, in our opinion, the best in the World, with the French sitting at a good 80% of that.

At lock the Thorn/Whitelock combination seems to be rock solid at the lineout. Whitelock is also adept at the occasional steal. However the French are very good in this phase of the game, and Whitelock is still relatively inexperienced, hence the French shade this area, though not by much because Thorn and Whitelock are possibly a little more value in general play.

The combined value of the tight-fives is in the All Blacks favour on the back of their awesome display of forward power against Australia. The ‘Black Tide’ was evident as the tighties worked as a unit for the full 80 minutes, and we haven’t seen the same kind of thing from the French.

The loose-forwards are very close, but the trio of Kaino, McCaw and Read are the best in the World right now. Kaino’s form is simply stellar. Even so the trio they are up against is also World class, and this tussle will be the most fascinating and possibly decisive one.

In the halves both teams have selected pairings that would not have been foreseen before the tournament. France have picked two halfbacks, whereas New Zealand have lost two first-choice No.10s to injury, bringing in Aaron Cruden for the semi-final. Both halfbacks are World class, and equally influential to the way their teams play and create chances. Each of them kicks goals well. At No.10 the scores are low-ish and again equal. Cruden is better on defence than Parra however this is offset by Cruden’s inexperience of test rugby. The combination goes in New Zealand’s favour because Cruden has had more time playing outside Pirir Weepu than Parra has had outside Yachvili.

In mid-field we have the World’s best pairing in Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith. The threat these two pose on attack is an immense worry for any team. On defence they are rock solid, so they get solid 10s. For the French we also have a World class pair in Mermoz and Rougerie, but they lose out to the long-standing combination of Nonu/Smith.

The back three are fairly evenly matched. France’s Palisson, Clerc and Medard have shown they can open up defences in that inimitable French style, and they are solid on defence. For the All Blacks however, we see the development of something special, with Jane and Kahui both possessed of an innate cunning when running the ball at defences. Israel Dagg is simply a nightmare to defend against, as he showed against Australia, and all three are commanding under the high-ball. Taken together this trio are hard to keep out, and very hard to get past.

The above overall advantage, on paper, to the All Blacks is a confirmation of why the betting agencies are all already giving the trophy to New Zealand.

Unfortunately for All Blacks fans, there is the small matter of having to actually win the game first. France will not be rolling up and running onto Eden Park to make up the numbers at a New Zealand Wins The Cup party.

A test of this magnitude only comes along for a player once in a lifetime, if that. Also, France live to play the All Blacks and beat them, and have done so on Eden Park itself before now. They always raise their game massively for the All Blacks, no matter what their form has been in previous matches.

With that in mind, literally anything can happen on Sunday. The above score-sheet indicates what shoould happen, but there is no way that any All Black will be thinking along those lines.

Here’s to the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final being the show-piece of rugby that it deserves to be and may the best team on the day win the trophy.

(That’s the All Blacks, in case you were wondering)

Paul Waite

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19 Oct

How To Beat The French
by Paul Waite
19 Oct 2011

The All Blacks have ample experience of losing to the French in test matches, especially those of the crucial World Cup variety, so they should be in a great position to know how to beat them. Let’s explore that here, ourselves.

The "unpredictable French" cliché, predictably, has been done to death and then some in the media this week. Sadly it isn’t a cliché, it’s just a fact. France might turn up on Sunday and simply not fire a shot, or they could suddenly go apeshit and run in 5 tries in 15 minutes.

But looking back at those painful test losses against our World Cup nemesis, there has always been a trigger point of reward, in the form of a points-scoring foray, which has fired the French side up into one of those performance frenzies only they are capable of.

So the real key to beating the French lies in defence, both up front and in the backs, to prevent that trigger point occurring. And given France are probably the only nation I would say could win a test through their backs even if we were shading them up front, that defence has to be water-tight out wide as well.

The All Blacks have to at least duplicate the passion and shear workrate across the XV that they brought to the semi-final against Australia, and once again for the full 80 minutes. The difference this time is that they have to breach the French lines, open them up and score tries early on. The small margin we saw against Australia won’t be enough.

Key areas we need to target in the backs are of course the halves Yachvili and Parra. We need to shut down their space and stop them firing up their backline.

Linked to that area is the ever-important loose-forward battle. There the French are very strong with skipper Dusautoir leading the powerful Harinordoquy, and the electric openside Bonnaire. But in Kaino, McCaw, and Read the All Blacks have what I believe to be the World’s best loose-forward trio. It should be a fascinating, and bruising battle at the breakdown, and in general play.

The scrum is another area where I expect dominance from the men in Black. The French outfit is not weak by any means, but our unit is hitting its straps at the right time. Woodcock is back to full fitness, Owen Franks is getting better and better, and both our hookers are World class. Behind them with Brad Thorn providing the grunt of a locomotive, and Whitlock we don’t lack for power. Add in the Mike Cron factor and you have a unit which is drilled better than any other.

A key test to look at with regard to tackling the French side is the quarter-final against Wales, who showed that they are by no means supermen. The way they took them on is similar to the way we will. It essentially boils down to doing the basics, moving the ball accurately through the phases probing for space and gaps. And on defence bringing them to deck hard.

The only caveat with the Welsh game is the sending off. As Thierry Lacroix mentioned on a TV show yesterday, the red carding of Sam Warburton for Wales actually messed up the French as well as Wales. They went from being fired up to take Wales on and beat them, to a mindset of making sure they didn’t blow the advantage and lose. It sounds screwy, but I take it from him (he talked to the team) that this is the way they thought.

If so then we will see a much more positive and challenging French team hitting the All Blacks with all they have got this Sunday. They will attempt to come out and knock them off their stride. A reward at this point in the form of a try or so will only let them gather confidence. That simply can’t be allowed to happen.

The All Blacks have to hit the French hard back, not leak any points whilst putting their own on the board. It’s not exactly rocket science, but in this particular test match it is essential the All Black establish not only dominance, but a decent lead by half-time.

And even with a 20 point lead, no New Zealander should feel safe until they are counting down that final minute.

Oh, and if the All Blacks win by the same scoreline of 29 – 9 as they did in 1987, then I’m going down to the video shop and rent out the complete series of The Twilight Zone.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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18 Oct

One Monkey Down, One To Go
by Paul Waite
18 Oct 2011

When the All Blacks defeated the Wallabies in the World Cup semi-final this Sunday just past, they ripped one monkey off their backs. This coming Saturday, in the Final, they have the opportunity to do the same with the other one.

Beginning with that humbling loss as defending World Champions in the 1991 semi-final to Australia New Zealand have built an unenviable reputation as ‘chokers’ in World Cups. In 1995 they choked again, poisoning rumours notwithstanding, against hosts South Africa in the final.

Come 1999 and they again looked to be the team to beat with some nice momentum going into the semi-final only to be dumped out of the competition by a fired-up French side which flicked that imponderable Gallic switch at half-time, and left the Blacks eating their dust.

Forward to 2003 and Australia once again were their nemesis as they out-thought the All Blacks by cleverly targeting their ball-carriers and half-back. Once again the form team going into the tournament they were kicked to touch by the host nation.

In 2007 the hosts, France, were again the All Blacks executioner in a controversial 18-20 loss in the quarter-final in which referee, Wayne Barnes made a series of questionable but crucial decisions against the men in black. Whether or not he was to blame for the All Blacks earliest ever World Cup exit is still hotly debated, but the record books stand.

Here in 2011, the planets seem to have moved into an alignment which is eerily similar to 1987. Once again we have a final in New Zealand between the All Blacks and France. Again the All Blacks campaign has been disrupted by injury to a key player, skipper Andy Dalton in 1987, No.10 Dan Carter in 2011. As a direct result of that in 1987 we saw the rise of David Kirk at halfback to lead the All Blacks to victory as skipper. In 2011 we have Piri Weepu at halfback stepping up to perform a similarly crucial leadership role.

Leaving aside all the touchy-feely astrological musings, the All Blacks undoubtedly have genuine World Cup momentum on their side. In contrast to the faux-momentum of all previous tournaments barring 1995. The strength and accuracy of the display from the forwards against Australia in the semi-final is emphatic proof.

This was no questionable victory based on some quirky refereeing decision. It was hard-as-nails rugby and as visceral as it gets. The All Black pack served up a peformance which was in keeping with the very best that the team has put together in its history. The way they stamped their control over the physical exchanges, took the Wallabies in a vise-like grip and never let go would have brought a smile to All Black greats such as Meads and Lochore. Sitting next to the latter in this test, I suspect even Fred Allen, perfectionist and most successful All Black coach ever, would have admired the way they went about their work.

Add to that a smattering of genius from Dagg setting up that early try to Ma’a Nonu, and you have the perfect recipe for Wallaby a la Creme (Creamed Wallaby).

There were so many areas in which the All Blacks improved as compared with the last few months, that you would almost suspect them of hiding their light under a bushell. Take the aerial dominace as an example. Cory Jane and Israel Dagg were imperious at the back fielding the high kick. At the breakdown the numbers were tremendous, whereas previously they had been light. You can always tell when the All Blacks are on song by watching that Black Wave crashing over the opposition like a tsunami and continually blowing them off the ball.

Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith are also due a lot of praise for their strategies in this campaign. Watching the semi-final unfold one of the most telling stories was the way the All Blacks continually targetted David Pocock, running the ball at him thereby involving him in tackles rather than leaving him free to forage for turnover ball. As well as that the general tactical approach, keeping the Wallabies pinned in their own half, using the forwards to drive the ball rather than fling it wide too often, go for the odd drop-kick, and force penalties. The whole package was designed to beat Australia in this one-off test, and it worked perfectly.

The monkey on the backs of the All Blacks placed there by two semi-final losses to the Wallabies in World Cups is now gone.

The remaining monkey is the one which comes from the two defeats by France in the World Cup knock-out stages.

To use a quotation from that most famous of all New Zealanders, Sir Edmund Hilary, let’s hope the All Blacks can knock the bastard off!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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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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11 Oct

Cup Balls: A Case of The First Five Groins
by Paul Waite
11 Oct 2011

SherlockAs a wave of disturbing misfortune sweeps over the All Blacks camp, seeing first five-eighth after first five-eighth fall victim to the same debillitating ‘groin injury’, Steve Pugh of the New Zealand Rugby Union visits 221b Baker Street to seek the services of the famous Sherlock Holmes in the hope of discovering an answer to the mystery.

Sherlock Holmes (for it is he): Ah, Watson by the sound of the loose tread on the fifth step from the head of the stair, we have a client. If I’m not very much mistaken, he is of the rugby union fraternity, and has a companion.

Dr. Watson: You amaze me Holmes! Did you deduce that from the heaviness of the step perchance?

SH: No, he just texted me to say he was arriving.

DW: Ah, thankyou Mrs. Hudson. Lestrade, please come in and bring our guest with you.

Lestrade: Greetings gentlemen. It’s a fine mystery and no mistake Mr. Holmes. Mr. Pugh here will enlighten you as to the details.

Pugh: Good morning gentlemen. Let me begin by saying that the very existence of a Nation is at stake here. If we can’t resolve this crisis, my country might well disappear, as we say, down the dunny.

SH: Come, come Mr. Pugh. I can see at a glance that you are here on a matter to do with groins and injury thereto, petaining to the sport of rugby in particular.

DW: Marvellous Holmes! How did you deduce that? In fact, how did you even say that sentence?

SH: You know my methods Watson. Mr. Pugh, is not that bulge in your trousers indicative of a truss? And I would hazard a guess, judging by the maladjustment and excessive frontal protuberance of same that you are simply testing it, to see if it might aid your ailing sportsmen? Watson, I refer you to a short monograph I have written on the instructive characteristics of the trouser bulge, published only last month in Ladyboy Magazine. Tell me Pugh, have I not hit the mark?

Pugh: Actually that’s just my iPhone. Please Mr. Holmes. Let me explain our predicament!

SH: As you wish. Watson, tighten this rubber tubing around my arm would you, I’ll have to administer some more drugs if I’m to get through this.

Lestrade: Time is of the essence Mr. Holmes! All Black No.10s are falling like flies, as we speak.

SH: Chill dude… uh what’s that about black No.2s? Watson that’s more your line isn’t it?

DW: Sorry gentlemen, my thumb slipped and I administered too much of this. Here, let me inject some tincture of coffee bean and napalm to rouse him.

SH: Wow. That was some trip. Fuck me with a Stradivarius, I just dreamt I had sex with Professor Moriarty!

DW: How are you feeling now?

SH: Well if you must know, a tad horny. Where’s that copy of Ladyboy..

Pugh: Really! May I continue? Good. At first we thought that the first-five eighth groin tears were accidents, however close examination by one of the ground-staff revealed a concealed tunnel.

DW: In my capacity as medical expert, I would just interject to say that a ‘tunnel’ is quite normal in the groin area though we have a more scientific term for it of course.

Pugh: Arsehole!

DW: That’s right.

Pugh: No! The tunnel was in the Eden Park pitch. With a trap-door leading down to a network of subterranean caverns and a large cave with all kinds of sparking electrical machinery and other bubbling mad-scientist gear in it. Oh and a discarded carboard box labelled Acme Groin Destroyers Inc, but that’s probably irrelevant.

SH: Hmmm. Watson I think this sounds like it will be a three-pipe problem. Get me a good shag will you?

Watson: Realy Holmes I hardly think this is the time… oh right, I’ll fetch the tobacco tin.

SH: Tell me Pugh, what else did you see, nearer to the trap-door for instance? Let me hazard that there was a long hollow bamboo tube, and a box of poison-tipped darts with two missing, labeled ‘Viagra For Elephants’?

Pugh: Astonishing! How did you know that? Yes, we saw it there, but obviously ignored it because we weren’t interested in elephants.

SH: Tish, my dear fellow. What do you imagine happens when a fit young rugby player is injected with enough Viagra to arouse an elephant’s naughty parts?

Pugh: He goes out to Dwarf Night at a bar in Queenstown and gets caught on camera with a blonde?

SH: Getting warm.. Watson?

DW: Aha it all makes sense Holmes. He would either have to immediately find himself a hole strong enough to contain his erection, for example in a block of depleted Uranium, or he would fall to the ground as his wedding tackle exploded.

SH: Exactly so Watson. Mr. Pugh The man you are seeking is a one-legged dwarf who is a member of the Jibuti tribe with a distinctive ‘Z’-shaped scar running down his left cheek.

Pugh: Amazing Holmes! Who is he?

SH: How the fuck would I know? How many one-legged, scarred, blow-darting dwarves with a mad-scientist complex and an interest in rugby can there be?

Lestrade: I’ll put out an APB.

DW: APB??

Lestrade: I heard it on the telly. It means I’m going to send a constable out to look for this blighter.

Pugh: But what about the All Blacks chances? What can we do to win the World Cup?

SH: Easily solved Pugh. Just pick Aaron Cruden. He’s the Dog’s Bollocks and therefore naturally immune.

Pugh: Marvellous, you’ve cracked it again Holmes!

SH: I believe the appropriate rejoinder at this juncture is ‘No shit Sherlock’.

DW: Please see yourselves out gentlemen.

SH: Now Watson I feel the urge for some gun play. Lay out my duelling pistols and take the towel off that wax bust of Quade Cooper for me would you?

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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