1 Mar

Super 15 – Round 3 Preview
by WAJ
1 Mar 2013

Blues v Crusaders
Can’t wait for this. Ithink it might be a bit of a wake up call for the Blues, but they surprised everyone last week and at home, hopefully in front of a big crowd, they will be keen to prove they really have turned things around. Last weeks win has been well documented, but the Blues are still a very young team and were exposed in areas the Crusaders will have noted, and with the master manipulator controlling things that makes me a little afraid. I reckon the Crusaders will look to dominate up front early, expecting some real niggle in the forwards, Carter to exploit the defensive issues exposed last week – the Blues can’t wait for the Crusaders to come to them, you can’t be on the back foot with Carter, Readand co running at you!!! And despite all the noise coming out of Chch about a wider, more expansive game plan, they will do whatever it takes to win. Though I would have though they were always a pretty good attacking side, a little down defensively compared to the noughties maybe. But then Prickle retiring will do that.The Blues have to hang in there, kick their goals and try and stay in touch in what will be a fairly torrid opening half hour. They won’t get as many counter attacking opportunities, but need to be as accurate and look to support the ball carrier when they do run. Really looking to the clash of the mid-fields and hope the Blues can use their greater speed out wide. A bonus point, even 2 would be nice, but not very optimistic! As usual I will pick the Blues but………..
Blues 1 -12

Waratahs v Rebels
So can the Waratahs end their 9 game losing streak? I can just imagine the shit flying if they were to lose this one. But they will need to step it up from last week, where they didn’t do enough in the first half. Izzy needs to be switched on, he has a league habit of drifting behind play once his part in a move is over – he needs to get back into position to contribute in the next phases – that is when he will cause real damage. And I wonder whether Carter is the right guy to have in that back=line, too much of a roadblock to those outside him. The Rebels look to be still a little off the pace required to really challenge. A solid T5 works very hard, but struggles to dominate, the loosies tend to get sucked into help out, and the backs lack depth. Defensively they struggle as well and can be too easily manoeuvred out of position to create gaps. I hope they can get themselves right but think the Waratahs will be too strong up front and that will get them home
Waratahs 1 – 12

Reds v Hurricanes
The last game of three for a big Friday night. The Reds looked very good at times last week and will improve further with the run. Their loosies were the key, 3 relative unknowns who were everywhere whether on defence or attack. Rocky looked more settled and brought his backs into the game more, and they have benched the donkey and brought some real pace in at fullback. And against a Hurricanes team who got worse as the game went on last week they will win easily enough. The Hurricanes were average, too many down on form, no attention to detail and I bet the tackling bags got a work out at practice this week. Can’t see them winning (so but your life savings on them quick, because this is the one game I could see a real upset).
Reds 1 – 12

Chiefs v Cheetahs
It must be great to be able to make 4 changes to a winning team, and a convincing win at that, and improve tha team. Certainly the addition of Elliot and Masaga will improve the Chiefs, and IMHO so will Pulu – better service to those outside wins every time. The Chiefs looked uncommonly good last week – the feature was the quick consistent ball the forwards delivered, and with the scrum a bit of a work on still they can get better – scarey!! The backs need to tighten up defensively, but have such an array of runners they are going to be hard to keep in check themselves. And with the whole thing orchestrated by the like of the very classy Cruden and Messam – look out Cheetahs. The Cheetahs do tour well though and are the one SA team who really give the ball an airing. But class wins out here.
Chiefs 13+

Bulls v Force

The way the Force are going so far this should be a good old fashioned dicking. The Bulls are such good points accumulators at home with there tried and true methods it is hard to see the Force getting within 20
Bulls 13+

Sharks v Stormers
Will be a close one for sure. The Sharks only did what they needed to last week and looked like they needed the run. The Stormers were disappointing last week, failing to get anything going and looked out of sorts. Jantjies was below his best for sure, but they looked too reactive. Why they don’t throw caution to the wind a bit and use the class of the Flash, Aplon and de Villiers more is a puzzle – the South African conservatism at work perhaps. But they won’t win this comp unless they use their best players to their full capabilities!!
Sharks 1 – 12

6 Jul

Super 15: Round 20 Preview
by WAJ
6 Jul 2012

So how is any self respecting sports fanatic supposed to get through the next 5 or so weeks without 1) life threatening sleep deprivation, 2) loss of job, 3) divorce!! Wimbledon, Tour de France, Olympics, cricket (yeah I know we are crap but still it is on and – OK fair enough we could miss that)- and then there are the oval ball codes…. It is enough to drive anyone to upgrade their plasma to a bigger size!!!

Some great games this weekend – well the first 3 are, then it pretty much turns to crap – so enjoy tonight then watch replays of Federer v Djokovic (probably the match of the weekend between guys who aren’t overly fond of each other).

Chiefs v Crusaders – Oh the hype for this game, hope it lives up to it. Should be a beauty. Lots of great match ups, the need for points from both sides and their earlier encounter all bring a great edge to this. The keys for me – will the Chiefs scrum hold up this time, the midfield defences of both teams and the form of Dan Carter. The Crusaders will no doubt attack the Chiefs scrum, and with the Crusaders scrum wanting to prove a point but more importantly gain an edge in this game it is crucial the Chiefs hold up. I thought the Crusaders failed to use their scrum advantage as much as they could have last week and need to get that right, Read will of course help that as McCaw seemed to struggle at times with his timing last week. Then the Crusaders need to hold SBW, but equally the debutante centre in Horrell will be tested by Fruean and Fred – tackle drop offs here could well mean points. The match up of Carter and Cruden is of course critical to edge sides fortunes. Cruden is playing great rugby, consistent, inventive and accurate, he has arguably been the player of the year so far for the Chiefs. Carter will need to be at his best for the Crusaders to get a win here – the Chiefs defence is up there with the best and there is none better that Carter at breaching defences, whether by hand or foot. And I’m just looking forward to seeing the front rows square off, Romano v Retallick, Cane v McCAw, TKB v Ellis, Carter v Cruden and on it goes. Weather looks good – can’t wait. And I just think the little extra class will come through in the end.
Crusaders 1 – 12

Reds v Highlanders – What a great follow up. So two teams here that are hanging on to play off hopes by the skin of their teeth and really need a bonus point win to stay in the hunt. This brings a different pressure to bearof course and I wonder if the Highlanders have it in them to score those 4 tries, especially away and having Ellison out also a handicap. Still they will give it their all as usual and cause problems with their disruptive game plan. But the Reds are looking batter and better and turned in some quality play last week to have the Rebels done and dusted quite early on. Diggers is a big out, but they still have plenty of speed out wide and with the Burglar geting more match fit each week they will ask plenty of questions.Expect the forwards to break even with the more stable and creativeaxis of the Reds to steer them to a win.
Reds 13+

Sharks v Bulls – And then we get this beauty. The Bulls were fantastic last week. They switched off late, but prior to that were almost scoring at will, including an absolute cracker from Basson (arguably the individual try of the season). On that form they will be very very hard to beat. The Sharks had a bye last week and whilst that will freshen up their test players nicely, the changes they have made may well offset that in terms of stable combinations. The bus that is Frans Steyn is a great in for the Sharks,but his combination with Freddie is uncertain, and a new 8, 9, 10 in itself could be problematic though they are all experienced players. I think the more settled Bulls team in great form will shade this one.
Bulls 1 – 12

Blues v Force – hard to get enthused about this. Crowd numbers could be a worry. The Blues should get up. The Force have been as horrible as the Blues and with some key players missing will struggle. The Blues have a good blend of youth and experience and should have too many options for the Force.
Blues 13+

Waratahs v Brumbies – this is an intriguing game. The Waratahs have been horrible this year, shocking tactics, woeful execution and just plain dumb. So what do they now the season has gone, pull a selection rabbit out of the hat and go with a new halfback ( Grayson Hart no less) and a rookie 1 5/8. The rest of the back-line are all tried and tested Wallabies, some in good form and they will be up for this. Apart from Queensland this is the game they really set themselves for. The Brumbies need to keep winning to ensure themseleves a play off spot, any slip ups and the Reds could well take that one spot that seems likely for the Australian conference. There consistency has beenthe key, but they looked a little shaky last week and will need to tighten their defence.
Waratahs 1 – 12

Cheetahs v Stormers – The Cheetahs were horrible last week, the Stormers weren’t that flash themselves though they have that defence. And how does a side with that much talent in the backline score so few tries?
Stormers 13+

Lions v Rebels – Mmmmm. The mighty Rebels have too many outs for me.
Lions 13+

Regards
Waj

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

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

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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

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

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

Paul Waite

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