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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9 Oct

The Northern Quarters
by Paul Waite
9 Oct 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HT: 10-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HT: 16-0

Paul Waite

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7 Oct

RWC Quarter Finals – what do the numbers tell us?
by Tracey Nelson
7 Oct 2011

Colin_SladeRugby World Cup history tells us that, with the exception of RWC 1987, penalties rather than tries tend to be the main means of scoring once we reach the knock out phases of the tournament.

There has only been one occasion when the team that scored the most points in pool play has gone on to win the cup, and that was back in 1987 in the inaugural tournament when New Zealand won. But since that time all the winners have been within the top five for defence at the end of pool play.

So if history repeats and games will be won on defence and by those who have the best goal kickers, let’s take a look at the numbers and see if that helps predict who may or may not survive the first round of sudden death in the quarter finals.

Points conceded Total Tries conceded
South Africa 24 2
England 34 1
Ireland 34 3
Wales 34 4
Argentina 40 3
Australia 48 4
New Zealand 49 6
France 96 9

Penalties conceded Total Av per game
England 48 12.00
Wales 43 10.75
Argentina 43 10.75
Australia 41 10.25
New Zealand 40 10.00
Ireland 40 10.00
France 37 9.25
South Africa 37 9.25

Average penalties per game by referee
Steve Walsh 22.75
Craig Joubert 21.50
Bryce Lawrence 20.25
Nigel Owens 19.25
Tournament av 21.15

Goal kickers kicking percentages
Weepu (NZ) 100
Parra (Fra) 90
Priestland(Wal) 89
O’Gara (Ire) 84
Steyn (SA) 83
Yachvilli (Fra) 81
O’Connor (Aus) 78
Flood (Eng) 77
Hook (Wal) 67
Slade (NZ) 63
Contemponi (Arg) 50
Cooper (Aus) 50
Sexton (Ire) 50
Wilkinson (Eng) 45

5 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nobody disagreed.

Paul Waite

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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

Paul Waite

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25 Sep

Good Moaning
by Paul Waite
25 Sep 2011

Good MoaningThe ‘French’ gendarme in the Allo’ Allo’ TV series was an amusing impostor and, I have to tell you, there was more to the French team the All Blacks beat 37-17 last night than meets the eye as well.

It was a cold winter afternoon on the 26th June 1999. I and a bunch of friends sat shivering up in the infamous Millard Stand at Athletic Park here in Wellington on the occasion of the last test match that legendary venue was to host before being pulled down.

We had scored ourselves the ultimate seats for this historic test match, right up in the highest row of the Millard. Near to kickoff time Murray Mexted slowly ascended the perilously steep stand steps aided by two sherpas. As he summited and divested himself of his ropes and crampons, he bantered with the crowd, then made the even more perilous climb up a ladder and into the little shed perched on four spindly pillars of rust known, laughably, as the ‘commentary box’.

Looking down from the top of the Millard from just underneath that shed, the view was perfect, but not one for sufferers of vertigo. There it was laid out like a snooker table below you, the stand angle so steep that you felt if you over-balanced forwards, you would end up in a free dive onto the kickoff spot.

To add to the atmosphere, one of Wellington’s famous southerlies was streaming across the ground, freezing the fans, and rattling the questionable latticework of rusty ‘meccano’ which comprised The Park. But we loved it all the same and The Caketin is no replacement. But I digress.

That day the French were paying the All Blacks a visit for a ‘warm-up’ test prior to the 1999 Rugby World Cup which was to kick off later on that year in October. As well as seeing off Athletic Park, I and 38,000 other fans had come to see the All Blacks begin their Cup preparations in style, and they didn’t disappoint, winning emphatically by 54-7 and scoring 7 tries to 1.

After the match we had a great evening, and toasted how good this All Black team were looking, and what a great psychological filip it was to have put them firmly in their place before the tournament.

The next day I was flying back to Auckland and happened to find myself on the very same plane as the French team, with a couple of them sitting next to me. I looked around surrepticiously and listened, taking care not to look too much like a smug All Blacks fan. However it quickly became apparent that, far from being a team smarting from their loss, the French were in great humour. They weren’t bubbly, exactly, they were just calmly enjoying the trip like a bunch of tourists. It became clear that the result mattered not a jot to them. They had come down to New Zealand to have a good time, play some rugby, perhaps gather some intelligence on us, and then return. Nothing more.

It’s a facet of New Zealanders, insofar as rugby is concerned, that we struggle with this concept. We can’t imagine travelling across the World to play an international test match without doing all we can to win, and to agonise over the whys and wherefors if we lose.

History shows that the French rose to the occasion in the semi-final of that World Cup to knock the All Blacks out of the tournament with one of the most fabulous come-from-behind victories in the history of the game. The recollection still hurts like hell, as an All Black fan.

Fast-forward to the Rugby World Cup pool game against France last night.

There was a lot of talk during the week about France fielding a ‘B’ team, and not attempting to win the game.

The only thing I have to say about this is that, although no team goes onto the paddock with a mindset that they want to lose the game, there is an approach (with the French especially) whereby they aren’t going to be in their cups sobbing about a loss in a local bar in the wee hours if they do happen to come second.

This is the case here. The French have obviously looked at the Pool, looked at what lies ahead in the knockout stages, and rightly fixed on the pathway which suits them, and that is to come second in the Pool. They went out with a lower than top-strength team, saving some of their players and strategies for later.

The All Blacks, for their part treated this very much as a full test match, fielding their top XV and going all out to win, as they had to.

For 40 minutes (from the 10th minute to the 50th) they played some sublime rugby, with Dan Carter back to his shimmying best and, apart from goal-kicking, looking every bit the best No.10 in the Cup so far. After initial mistakes the Smith/Nonu midfeld looked strong and penetrating, and Israel Dagg was simply mercurial. In the forwards Richie McCaw, earning his 100th test cap no less, was his usual legendary self, aided and abetted by Jerome Kaino, about whom some French forwards will be having nightmares for days.

But it was far from an 80 minute performance, a fact not lost on Graham Henry who rated it 8 out ot 10. Carter threw an intercept try to the French, there were defensive lapses, and after the 50th minute play became very loose and lost structure. More worryingly the substitution of Hore and Williams on for Mealamu and Whitelock caused the scrum to go from being dominant to being dominated. Woodcock went from damaging his opposite to getting penalised for putting a hand on the ground. This caused the All Blacks to concede ground, penalties and eventually a try.

Seen as a progressive improvement this pool game was excellent, as long as the problems and flaws which were exposed are addressed.

And if it transpires that we meet the French again in the World Cup
Final, forget all about this pool game. They won’t bear any resemblance
to that team, and neither will the test.

All Blacks 32
Israel Dagg 2, Adam Thomson, Cory Jane, Sonny Bill Williams tries
Dan Carter pen, 3 con, drop goal

France 17
Maxime Mermoz, Francois Trinh-Duc tries
Dimitri Yachvili pen, 2 con)

HT: 19-3

Paul Waite

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20 Sep

Cup Balls: Kev & Nev’s View
by Paul Waite
20 Sep 2011

Kev and NevFollowing the surprise announcement of their robot ref, Kev Dagg and Neville Shepherd have been invited back by Haka to share some of their views on the coming week of exciting Rugby World Cup action.

Nev: We’re betting that, if you’re an Aussie fan, you’d be as sick as a dog that fell in the sheep-dip after seeing your team tipped up by Ireland like that.

Kev: Humbled.

Nev: Steady Kev. You ever seen a humble Aussie?

Kev: Good point. Anyway Genia and Cooper got done up like a dinner and a lot of folks this side of the ditch are saying ‘about time’. Looks like our Aussie cousins are going to meet South Africa in the quarters and to be honest I don’t fancy their chances there.

Nev: Could be dog tucker.

Kev: But never write those underarm bowlers off. If they get Pocock back, get the Doc to extract Digby’s thumb from his backside, teach O’Connor to kick, and really put it together they could win that and no mistake. Trouble is, a pack which couldn’t out-scrum Ireland has to get the wood on the Bokke tighties.

Nev: About as much chance of that as England players understanding The Laws. Did you see that rubbish with Georgia – what was that Kaplan joker on, valium? How many ruck penelties did he need before fishing the yellow plastic out?

Kev: Yeah that was slack. You had to admire those Georgia lads though. Hard yakka turning out to play the Poms four days after the Jocks eh? But they got stuck in alright. Some sore Pommie bodies after that one even if they did win.

Nev: So we reckon that, as usual, the Poms will play like the brown stuff on my milking shed floor but win their pool. I see in the papers they’ve already had their traditional crisis meeting where they ask each other what the bloody hell is the go with all the penalties, and then remember it’s because of the intentional cheating.

Kev: And having cleared that up they’ll come out and cheat at international standard instead of club standard and get through to the quarters and then the semis.

Nev: But that’s looking a bit too far ahead. The match of the round this week is going to be Scotland v Argentina without a doubt.

Kev: Yes it’s a do or die game this one. We fancy the Jocks to shade the Argies and put themselves in line for the pool runners up spot there.

Nev: Yeah they’ve banned bagpipes and lumped them in with those.. what’re they called Kev.. vulvazeelas?

Kev: Something like that. That’s like waving a tartan kilt at a jock that is. We think that’ll fire them up enough to get them through, whilst at the same time we do appreciate the absence of strangulated cat noises on the terraces.

Nev: England are facing off against Romania which should knock a few more dents into them. Those Romanian forwards are big units and that’s a fact. A tight first half and a Pom win by 3-4 tries by the end on that one we reckon.

Kev: The boys are playing France but we’re picking the Frogs to play it coy as usual. They’ll keep their powder dry, field a weak team, lose handsomely and not care a jot because they were always aiming to go through second so why get their perms in a tangle.

Nev: What about our lad Zac? Hung out to dry for having a few too many after the win in Auckland and the loss in Brisbane.

Kev: Would never have happened in Pinetree’s day.

Nev: Though I think most of the others might have got dropped for not drinking enough.

Kev: There is that.

Nev: Just to wrap it up, the rest of the games are pretty much business as usual stuff as far as results go, but we’ll be expecting more good footy to be played in all of them.

Kev: Yep, that’s one thing we’ve been served up plenty of this World Cup!

Thanks to Kev and Nev for that interview, and we’ll be back to hear more of their thoughts next week.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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20 Sep

RWC Summary and Predictions
by Paul Waite
20 Sep 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final: New Zealand vs. France

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

Eh bien!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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18 Sep

Cup Balls: Robot Referee At Large
by Paul Waite
18 Sep 2011

gortIn a shock revelation it has come to light that one of the referees at this World Cup is a robot, developed specifically to provide what the makers term ‘a bit of a leg-up’ for the All Blacks.

At their invitation I went to interview South Island farmers Kev Dagg and Neville Shepherd.

PW: ‘Well we’re all quite taken aback by this obviously. What made you do it?’

KD: ‘It was that quarter-final in the last lot – the one that the ref lost for us by missing the forward pass. We decided we’d like a referee in our comp here, who was doing unto others as we got done unto us.’

PW: ‘So you built your own referee?’

NS: ‘Yeah, I had a few old tractor parts and Kev had moved over to dairy and had miles of number eight spare.’

KD: ‘The prototype looked a bit like a tractor tangled up in a fence, but a bit of midnight oil and a visit to the local.. ah.. body-shop got it looking cracker.’

PW: ‘What do you call it?’

NS: We were going to call it ‘R2D2′ but we thought that might give the game away.

KD: ‘We ended up calling it B.R.Y.C.E.’

NS: ‘That stands for ‘Bollocks Ref, You Can’t!’, with an ‘E’ added on the end to make it into a real name.

KD: ‘Yeah the players we tested it on kept on shouting that. Bollocks ref, you can’t.’

NS: ‘At least that’s what it sounded like.’

PW: ‘Yes, I see. Could you explain what it does?’

NS: ‘It referees a footy game, but with a few differences from your normal ref.’

KD: ‘Yeah, we’ve programmed all the footy Laws into it, but added a lot of randomness to how it blows the whistle at rucks and scrums.’

NS: ‘Those were the two areas we thought we could get away with. Not even the players know what the hell is going on there, so nobody would be the wiser.’

KD: ‘We modelled it on the sheep’s brain, which has the bloody thing running in one direction then the other at the drop of a hat depending on whatever sounds it hears or whether lots of its mates are running about.’

NS: ‘That’s right. Bit of a problem stopping it shitting all over the paddock every five minutes. We’ve sorted that out.. probably.’

PW: ‘Fascinating. And you say it’s actually been reffing in the Cup already??’

NS: ‘Yep. Obviously we can’t give away which games or the powers that be would give it an early shower.’

KD: ‘Let’s just say that one of the teams got so hot under the collar their jersey numbers were peeling off, and the other one we targeted was Australia.’

NS: ‘Because of the under-arm bowl.’

KD: ‘We’ll never forgive or forget that.’

PW: ‘Righto. And your robot ref is registered as a New Zealander, so it can’t referee the All Blacks?

KD: ‘Oh god, no mate.’

NS: ‘Bloody oath no. That wouldn’t do at all.’

So there you have it. The Cup is harbouring a robot referee, undercover as it were, and silently undermining the chances of the All Blacks’ opponents. If you can spot which one it is, then please let us know unless your name is Robbie Deans.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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17 Sep

All Blacks Rout Japanese 83-7
by Paul Waite
17 Sep 2011

Though it’s hard to judge individual performances against such a weak opposition, it’s safe to say that this pool game saw the All Blacks step up a gear in their preparations for the knock-out stages, and also gave us slightly more clarity on what their top selection is.

Looking ahead we have to ignore the 13 try to 1 point-scoring festival, and instead focus on what happened out there. For starters we had another ‘experimental’ 22 playing, especially so given the injury withdrawals during the week of Muliaina, McCaw, Dagg, and Carter. Given the makeshift nature of the team which eventually ran out onto Waikato Stadium, the insights it produced were excellent.

Looking at the overall picture it was pleasing that the team kept its discipline and structure for the full 80 minutes, even when subs came on, many playing out of position. Also pleasing was the number of set-piece moves that were practiced on the night, and with a high success rate. And once again we saw the All Blacks honing their mauling skills, something that has been absent from their repertoire for too long.

There were negatives as well of course. Colin Slade had a ‘mare of a game, missing easy kicks from the tee, fumbling the ball and throwing the intercept pass that gave Japan their solitary try. I have some sympathy with him however, given the kicking percentage across the whole Rugby World Cup so far is only about 60% and outstanding kickers such as Jonny Wilkinson are struggling with it. Clearly RWC Ltd. has, once again, allowed some manufacturer to create yet another ‘special’ World Cup Ball, which flies like a bag of dirty washing. You only have to watch the thing wobbling about in flight to see something is very wrong with it. [Ed: new information indicates the ball is the same one used in the 6N and other European comps with no complaints, and if so clearly the kickers are at fault not the ball!]

The early kicking problems seemed to sap Slade’s confidence, and he got into that ‘it’s all going wrong’ mindset. He’s a lot better than he showed, but it would be great if he could find some form, fast!

At halfback Andy Ellis was busy and accurate, and there isn’t anything obvious to separate him from Weepu and Cowan. However given the weakness of the opposition, I’d say that Cowan and Weepu still rate as the top two, with Weepu a shoe-in due to his ability to cover the No.10 jersey.

The wings are also still a bit of a conundrum. Kahui has definitely sewn up left-wing, but Jane on the right was a bit tentative without doing anything wrong. Toeava may get the nod from the selectors here vs. France we shall see.

Finally, I think that this game saw Sonny Bill Williams cement a place on the bench in the selectors’ minds, covering wing and midfield. They have been trying very hard to get him into the frame due to his perceived game-breaking abilities, and I would say that he has done that now. The starting midfield was always going to be the Nonu/Smith partnership, which once again showed its class in this match.

For my part I would prefer a Kahui, Jane, Dagg back three now, persevering with Jane on the right wing due to his quick-silver cleverness in tight situations, and expertise under the high ball. However the selectors might pick Toeava on the right instead.

Looking at the forwards, once again the lack of physical presence from Japan makes it difficult to reach solid conclusions. Plus points were that Thomson proved he has recovered fully from his arm injury, Woodcock got in a good form-building run, and Boric got on the field. It was great to see those trademark burrowing runs from skipper for the night Keven Mealamu too. But the standout forward of the night has to be Jerome Kaino who is building up the kind of unstoppable form that will be hugely valuable in the rounds to come.

Apart from the points above, the other big win on the night was that the All Blacks got through it with no further injuries.

All Blacks 83
Smith, Kahui (2), Kaino, Mealamu, Ellis, Slade, Toeava, Hore, SB Williams (2), Nonu, Thomson tries; Slade 9 con

Japan 7
Onozawa try; Williams Con

Halftime: 38-0

The Haka Top XV:
15 Israel Dagg
14 Richard Kahui
13 Conrad Smith
12 Ma’a Nonu
11 Cory Jane
10 Daniel Carter
9 Piri Weepu
8 Kieran Read
7 Richie McCaw (c)
6 Jerome Kaino
5 Brad Thorn
4 Anthony Boric
3 Owen Franks
2 Keven Mealamu
1 Tony Woodcock

SB Williams, Jimmy Cowan, Colin Slade, Sam Whitelock, Adam Thomson, Ben Franks, Andrew Hore

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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