20 Sep

RWC – Stats at the midway point
by Tracey Nelson
20 Sep 2011

Who has the best attack, best defence, has conceded the most penalties? Some quick stats from the tournament at the halfway stage of pool play.

Please note that these stats include the game played between Italy and Russia on Tuesday 20 September, so that all four pools have had five games played to make up the first 20 of the overall 40 games of pool play.

Team Points For Tries Points Against
New Zealand 124 19 17
France 93 10 40
South Africa 66 8 19
Italy 59 9 49
Samoa 59 7 29
England 54 7 19
Fiji 52 6 74
Argentina 52 6 21
Scotland 49 4 30
Canada 44 4 66
Australia 38 4 21
Ireland 37 3 16
Namibia 37 3 98
Wales 33 2 27
Tonga 30 3 66
Romania 29 3 77
Japan 28 3 130
Russia 23 3 66
USA 23 2 28
Georgia 16 1 56

Pool Total points Tries
A 319 39
B 203 21
C 180 21
D 247 27

Pool Penalties Cards
A 115 0
B 115 3
C 102 0
D 106 2

Team Penalties con Cards
Romania 28 1
England 27 2
Australia 27 0
Canada 26 0
Argentina 26 0
New Zealand 25 0
Japan 25 0
Samoa 25 1
Namibia 22 1
Russia 21 0
Fiji 21 0
Tonga 20 0
USA 20 0
France 10 0
Ireland 19 0
South Africa 19 0
Wales 19 0
Georgia 18 0
Scotland 16 0
Itlay 15 1

Referee Penalties awarded Match Av
Alain Rolland 53 26.5
Steve Walsh 51 25.5
Bryce Lawrence 39 24.5
Jonathan Kaplan 47 23.5
Craig Joubert 42 21.0
Nigel Owens 41 20.5
Alan Pearson 41 20.5
George Clancy 36 18.0
Wayne Barnes 33 16.5

14 Sep

Carry On Tinkering
by Paul Waite
14 Sep 2011

After a brief flirt with picking a reasonably consistent team last season, the All Blacks Selectors are back to spinning the bottle once again. Just about the whole of the New Zealand rugby-going public, as well as most media pundits know in their guts that a Top XV must be played together, but it is not a feeling shared by the Three Wise Men.

The team announced to play Japan on Friday is as follows:

All Blacks: Woodcock, Mealamu, O. Franks, Thorn, Whitelock, Kaino, Thomson, Vito, Ellis, Slade, Kahui, Nonu, Smith, Jane, Toeava
Reserves: Hore, Afoa, Williams, Vito, Weepu, Cowan, SB Williams

[Ed: the team above has been changed after various 'minor' injuries occurred in training resulting in Carter, McCaw, Muliaina and Dagg being ruled unavailable. In fact, the resulting team looks a lot more balanced and useful than the original]

Let’s first talk about the specifics of this selection. In the backs we have Andy Ellis starting at halfback. With Jimmy Cowan and Piri Weepu presumably the top pair, and Cowan obviously short of game time this is a missed opportunity to start the Southlander and help his return to form which is lacking currently. Ellis is the third in line and should be just training until needed.

At full-back we have the most predictable change with Mils coming back. Love him as I do, I would simply play Dagg in every game from now on to hone his combinations there. I won’t be betting against Mils being handed another outing simply to make up his 100 either. [Ed: Mils now ruled out due to hamstring strain]

On the bench we have Sonny Bill Williams, which is an illogical choice for replacement cover. It looks to me like the only reason he is there is so Ted can carry on tinkering with combinations in midfield. Expect him to replace Nonu in the final 20 minutes for an outing with Smith perhaps.

In the forwards the tinkering continues. On the bench we have the venerable Ali Williams who, bless him, is fairly obviously a shadow of his former self, and doesn’t look like improving much more during this campaign. Out in the cold, not even selected, is Anthony Boric who badly needs game time after his injury lay-off. On top form Boric offers what we need so why isn’t he either starting or on the bench?

Finally picking Tomson at No.8 is another experiment. Vito did some good things at #8 in the Tongan test, so why not keep him building there whilst Read is out and develop him into his understudy? Against Japan I’m betting McCaw spends time actually doing the #8 job whilst Thomson ranges the field anyway. The only logic behind this selection is to give Thomson a run to prove his arm is ok again. [Ed: Vito now in due to McCaw minor injury in training]

Tinker, Tailor Told-ya, Failure.

So it comes down to this: rugby aficianados throughout New Zealand believe that there is value in a Top XV playing together, or a Top 22 if you like. Ted & Co. don’t.

Why do we think that a Top XV should be picked and played through now? What is it that this would give us?

An All Blacks team which knows itself to be the Top XV undergoes a subtle but powerful shift in mindset.

When it sees itself as such, the Top XV realise that they are The Ones. The buck stop with them and nobody else. It takes a few tests to properly sink in and have its effect as well – you can’t just pick it, and tell it to go out and perform today, it doesn’t work like that.

Identify and play a Top XV in tests one after another, and you get the best that the selected players can produce. Combinations click in to a higher level as players use the almost subconscious knowledge of particular habits which might only exist as a complete thing for a few weeks at a time.

And it’s these small improvements which the All Blacks have been missing out on, and which allow teams to overcome unusually difficult tests, such as those which have ejected them from previous World Cups.

By tinkering and fiddling about, these All Blacks selectors are missing out on this. Presumably they think that it’s good enough for us to play the Top XV from the QF onwards or the last pool game. That is, in my humble opinion, cutting it too fine.

They are on record as saying that this is a long tournament. Well, guys, it isn’t too bloody long if you get knocked out in the Quarter-final, is it?

My Top XV: Woodcock, Mealamu, O. Franks, Thorn, Boric, Kaino, McCaw, Read/Vito, Weepu, Carter, Kahui, Nonu, Smith, Jane, Dagg
Reserves: Hore, B. Franks, Whitelock, Vito/Thomson, Cowan, Slade, Toeava

Paul Waite

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11 Sep

Cup Balls: Heeeeeere's Jonny!
by Paul Waite
11 Sep 2011

England versus Argentina down in sunny Dunnydin turned out to be a corker of a game which took Los Pumas to the verge of victory with 8 minutes to go, before the dastardly Poms stole it 13-9 with a last-gasp try.

To be frank, apart from the final slightly fluky result, bugger-all went well for the English in their opening match of Rugby World Cup 2011. By half-time they were 6-3 down on the scoreboard, hadn’t looked like scoring a try, had watched Jonny Wilkinson miss most of his kicks at goal, had one man in the sin-bin, and all the numbers were peeling off their cheap imitation All Blacks kit.

To make things worse, judging by facial expression and some lip-reading, they thought they were being refereed by an alien life-form which had taken over the body of Bryce Lawrence and had been sent here to Earth for the sole purpose of putting them out of the tournament.

I have news for them, Brycie isn’t an alien, but is definitely a ‘special’ referee and all New Zealanders are thankful that he can never, ever, officiate in a game that the All Blacks are playing.

In a typical incident the whistle would shrill, followed by a polite request for clarification from the English forward penalised. "The fookin’ ‘ell was that fookin’ for??" asked the player, rising from his rightful position on the Argentine side of the ruck and carefully dropping the player he had by the neck. "You can fook right off" he prompted in an attempt to gently guide the referee’s thought processes in the right direction.

"Off your feet, playing the ball on their side of the ruck!" spat Bryce, in an officious and suspiciously metallic tone of voice.

At this the English forward (name omitted to protect the guilty) looks dumbstruck, then turns around and walks back to his mates with an expression of incredulity plastered across his gormless visage "that referee is an alien that’s taken over a human body" he whispers to them, and they nod in somber unison. "Probably a victim of a pod last night, I’ve seen it on’t telly.. it can happen" he adds. His team-mates look embarrassed. The "pods" are obviously a ridiculous notion.

Everywhere you look you can see panic rippling under the surface of the English players’ faces. They are in a nightmare situation. The Argentine forwards are much too strong for them to rumble the ball up-field for Jonny to droppie them out of trouble, they can’t win with penalties because they are the ones conceding most of them, and the ones they do get (horror of HORRORS), Jonny misses!

Yes folks, that nightmare of English rugby is upon them – the only way to win this game is to move the ball wide. Dear God.

Martin Johnson, doing an accurate impression of a mad bison with an angry wasp up its bottom, disappears in a storm of papers and body-parts as he thrashes about like a loony in his cubicle. Never one able to conceal his emotions, the sentence "I am going to rip the arms off everyone in the squad if they don’t win" is writ large across his face. Actually it was writ large in dripping red letters on the inside of his cubicle window, but I digress.

Back on the pitch the Argentinian team was self-destructing. Players were launching themselves into rucks and tackles as if they had spare bodies in pods, waiting for them back in their hotel rooms. Unfortunately this meant that the current bodies were being carted off the paddock in large numbers and eventually this allowed the English, on about their second visit all game into the Argie 22m, to score a try.

So the Poms won, against all the alien forces (referee, the Other Team, Laws of the game) that were arrayed against them.

But well done Argentina – you played all of the rugby!

Paul Waite

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7 Sep

Wanted: An All Blacks First XV
by Paul Waite
7 Sep 2011

The team for the All Blacks first World Cup pool game against Tonga was announced this morning, and contained a few surprises. Have the selectors learned from previous failed World Cups that consistent selection through the pool games is essential?

All Blacks: Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore, Owen Franks, Brad Thorn, Ali Williams, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (c), Victor Vito, Jimmy Cowan, Daniel Carter, Isaia Toeava, Ma’a Nonu, Richard Kahui, Israel Dagg

Reserves: Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Anthony Boric, Sam Whiltelock, Piri Weepu, Colin Slade, Cory Jane

I remember watching Tonga playing the All Blacks in the 1999 World Cup pool game in Bristol, UK and that day the match was remarkable for the number of reckless head-high tackles made by the team in red. One thing that Tonga always bring to a test match, particularly against New Zealand, is physicality, some of it ‘over exuberant’. The men in black were lucky to get away without serious injury in that one.

Looking at the team above, I can see a lot of large midfielder-type artillery in the backs, and some hard bastards in the forwards. Pretty much a perfect team to field against our pacific (or not so pacific) neighbours, in an World Cup opener. The only worries there are Kahui, a notable injury magnet at the best of times, and the precious Dan Carter. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him only completing the first half, if that, and Slade taking over the tiller for a large chunk of this game which would have the double advantage of protecting DC, and getting Slade some valuable match fitness.

Israel Dagg is picked over Mils Muliaina for this game, but I would expect Mils to get a run in the next. Henry has stated that both are ‘in competition’ now, so the fullback selection for the third pool game could be the telling one.

But all of this team tweaking, resting and ‘competition’ taken together with the usual forced changes due to injury has me concerned that the selectors are not focussed closely enough on selecting a consistent XV + bench for at least three games prior to the knock-out phase of the tournament.

If we look back at our best World Cup campaigns, 1987 and 1995, we see that this consistency was used to great effect in sharpening the team as a unit to a peak performance. In our failed campaigns this consistency was lacking and rotation was the name of the game.

I can’t agree with Hansen’s statements implying that playing a core 10-12 together is enough. World Cups are all about peaking, and squeezing that extra 0.5% of performance from the players. You can’t do that, in my opinion, without playing your top XV players and the best bench in 2-3 games prior to the knockout phase.

That knockout phase is where the All Blacks encounter teams which will pull out the extra-ordinary, and will only be beatable if they can reply with the extra-ordinary themselves. This has been the All Blacks’ achilles heel in all World Cups since 1987, except 1995.

Laurie Mains understood the need to peak a top XV, and but for The Incident Which Shall Not Be Named, would have brought back the cup then.

Let’s hope that the All Blacks selectors show us they have learned from 2007, and the rest of our World Cup history, and refine to a consistent team after this opener against Tonga.

Paul Waite

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19 Aug

Bill and Ben Flowerpot Men
by Paul Waite
19 Aug 2011

Count me as one of the surprised when I heard this week that there wasn’t just one Rugby World Cup trophy, but two. But it seems there are also two explanations of how they are used.

Like most I assumed that there was at least one replica of the Cup that the tournament organisers could use for promotional activities without worrying about loss or damage to the real one. However this week the following statement was made (see this NZ Herald article):

"As is common with other major sports tournaments, we have two trophies,
however only one is ever used at any given point in time," said
Tournament director Kit McConnell.

"Both cups are equal in stature. There is no original cup as such, they
are interchangeable and we don’t distinguish between the two. They were
both acquired before the first Tournament so share the same Rugby World
Cup history.

"Both have been used at past Tournaments and both have been in the hands
of winning captains and teams. They both represent the spirit of the
Game."

Well that sounds like bollocks to me. First of all, it’s obviously impossible for them to share the ‘the same Rugby World Cup history’. I didn’t see David Kirk, or any of the subsequent World Cup-winning captains holding up two cups, did you? No. So one of them was used and the other wasn’t, if we are to believe the above statement.

But wait. Tonight’s TV news had another story, also ostensibly emanating from the hallowed halls of Rugby World Cup Officialdom. This story goes differently. It tells us that the older William Webb-Ellis trophy (nick-named Bill) made in 1906 is the one that the skippers hold aloft and the team swigs champagne from, and then the victorious union gets to keep it for two years before it is returned for the final two years to IRB HQ in Dublin. For those last two years the replica (made in 1986) is swapped so the current holders still have ‘the Cup’ gracing their trophy cabinet.

Does it matter? Yes, in my opinion it very much DOES matter. Fans of this great game invest a huge amount of emotion into it, and when those of us fortunate enough to do so get a chance to touch or be photographed with the trophy we want to know that it is the one that Francois Pienaar et al proudly raised to the cheers of the crowd after the World Cup Final. Equally we want to know when we are only holding a replica.

In the immortal words of that classic movie Highlander, There Can Be Only One.

So I’m hoping that the first version of World Cup modus operandum is exactly what it sounds – a load of crap, and the second more plausible (and ethical) methodology is what happens.

So get your act together IRB, and desist with the conflicting stories which make you sound like you’re all smoking Little Weed.

Let the fans know where Bill and Ben really stand.

Paul Waite

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6 May

Super 15 — Round 12
by WAJ
6 May 2011

Another great round coming up. Not a dud amongst the games. Well, perhaps the Lions v Cheetahs but this will still be a good game as they both like to run, and will be anxious to avoid being the bottom SA team.

The Sharks v Brumbies perhaps doesn’t promise anything flash either, but
the Sharks need a big win so could be OK. It is all about the top seven
teams now, with the Bulls maybe an outside chance, and ensuring that
you finish top of your pool and guarantee a home semi.

They have had a feature on Nathan Charles (Force hooker) on Inside Rugby
tonight. Great story – he suffers from Cystic Fibrosis – amazing.

One guy who is slipping under the injury radar is Rocky Elsom, Aus Capt no less!! He is still battling a hamstring injury, and toured at the end of last year with it by all accounts, and his continued absence must be a concern for Dingo. Surely he will need some Soopa rugby before the WC (only126 days to go by the way) otherwise his campaign has to be compromised.

To the games:

Hurricanes v Blues
A bit nervous about this one. The Hurricanes have won 5 of the last 7 match ups and looked very good at times last week.A tad inconsistent though, and they will get no relief from what has become a very consistent Blues side. You feel that the Blues will be too good up front, and have enough inventiveness in the backs for a comfortable win. I would anticipate a strong start from the Blues, with a few early tries too take the heat out of things. Concerns are goal-kicking, well that applies to both sides, and the new combination in the outside backs. I like the move of Ranger to centre as it gives the Blues a line-breaking capability in the middle of the field to offset the loss of Toeava, but here’s hoping he remembers to bloody pass! Big game for Rokocoko up against Gear.
Blues 1 – 12

Rebels v Reds
A near full strength Reds side will cause plenty of problems for the Rebels. The pack especially is strengthened and with the brilliance and accuracy of the inside backs and the pace of the outside backs this could get ugly. I’m really looking forward to seeing the Burglar live. What concerns me about the Mighty Rebels is their lack of pace in the backline, and the inability to make a break, let alone capitilise on it. Phipps (good player but not quick), Mortlock, Gerrard and Huxley are all as slow as awet week. So they need to rumble it up front, and against this combative Reds eight they will have their work cut out. The Burglar is a far superior punter of the ball than his opposite as well – so the Rebels will struggle to apply any pressure I reckon.
Reds 13+

Lions v Cheetahs
Two developing teams, and local rivals, sure to put on a good display. I like the look of the Cheetahs, plenty of youth, a spark in the halves and a good mix of skill and brawn up front. They were very good last week andhave improved a lot during the season. The Lions look to have stalled this year after a bright start. A dead even win loss record in this derby can’t split them. But good recent form and the influence of Brussouw should see the Cheetahs home.
Cheetahs 1 – 12

Chiefs v Highlanders
I can’t believe the Chiefs are the favorites for this, based on what? Results – no way. Form – patchy at best. Condition – just flown back from YarpAfrica. Home ground – record average to say the least. Opposition – the Highlanders have been in great form all year, and beat the Crusaders 2 weeks ago. Do the bookies know something???? Well sure the Chiefs have won 7 of the last 8 matches between these two, but come on, look at who is playing good consistent rugby and who is all over the shop.The Highlanders should win on the back of a superior tight 5, more accurate backs in better formand most importantly, a decent game plan and a coach who knows what he is doing. Thomo v Messam the match up to watch.
Highlanders 1 – 12

Waratahs v Force
Could be an upset here, the Force are fully capable of repeating last years result. With theBlues down on strength and the Force having a few players back from their last meeting, and playing well for the last three weeks I can see a Force win here. The Waratahs without Waugh (leadership) and Mitchell (major strike weapon) are well downin strength, and throw in Palu andThe Flying Dreadsalso and they look very vulnerable to me. Especially against a side that has the ability to score tries that the Force do. The Waratahs will try and grind the Force down up front where they do have a superior scrum but the Force have more options than the Rebels and I doubt that tactic will work twice in a row against the canny Force.
Force 1 – 12

Stormers v Crusaders
The game of the round. Two very good teams needing to win to keep their conference topping ambitions alive. The Stormers were very good last week. There game is based on defence, defence and more defence – but they also have good set pieces to restart with and agreat strike force in the centres,all of which makes them very formidable at home. The Reds beat them a few weeks ago by playing them at their own game, hard to believe when the Burglar is one of the defenders I know, but they were brutal up front and very quick to get the ball down the other end, with a good chase. I don’t know whether the Crusaders have the pack to do this though, hopefully they stick to their usual game plan and we see plenty of ball go through SBWto test the midfield defence and also wide to utilise the excellent form of the back 3- it doesn’t matter who you line up against them, that back 5 are going to cause problems, and the Stormers do look a bit weak defensively in the inside backs, with a rookie at 1 5/8 and de Villiers not always rock solid. A short arse on one wing is also a possible weakness. Equally if the Crusaders can stop any threat from de Villiers and Fourie on attack, and with a question mark over the Stormers goalkicking where are there points going to come from? This game also has fascinating battle amongst the loosies, and with Todd to come off the bench and the returning Read the Crusaders have the edge in skill and nous there. So deal with the bash, scrum well, be clever at lineout time to negate Gigantor, shut down the midfield, and use the backs.
Crusaders1 – 12 (but wouldn’t be surprised if it is 13+)

Sharks v Brumbies
This should be a convincing win for the Sharks, the Brumbies have been horrible this year, struggling up front due to injuries and the inconsistent form of some players and confused in the backs with their triple pivot ploy – to see a class player like AAC struggle the way he has sums it up. The Sharks were well beaten last week in Capetown, and it sort of summed up where they are at. And that is a good side but one that struggles against the top sides (except the Blues of course). They will be too good up front, and defensively,for the Brumbies and win quite easily.
Sharks 13+

Regards Waj

22 Apr

Super 15 – Round 10
by WAJ
22 Apr 2011

A couple of great games on Saturday evening, with match ups all over the place. And three other games, with struggling teams needing to show they still hold out some hope, make for another excellent weekend of rugger.

Blues v Rebels
The Blues finally seem to have found the key to consistent rugby. quite simple I would have thought – front up every week and follow the game plan. The Blues of course have failed to do either for the last 5 or 6 years, why suddenly now?? They should be too strong for a hugely up and down Rebels mob – how ironic. The Rebelstend to bounce back after a bad loss and with MortlockandHuxley back are fielding arguably their strongest line up so far. They are very good when they get on the front foot, well who isn’t, but their tackling has been horrible of late and they are also slow in the backs. This is not a recipe thataugurs well for them in Albany against a Blues that was unbelievable in the first half last week and are arguably stronger this. Strong and accurate up front with a wide range of skills all over the park, the Blues willhave too many options in the backs.
Blues 13+

Crusaders v Highlanders
I can’t believe the two teams that are named for this game – are they trying to takethe piss out of us! Suddenly a lot of the gloss has gone off this game. Was really looking forward to SBW vTreeby and how Thomo would fare. The Highlanders look the more weakened of the two and were always up against it anyway against this phenom they face. The forward battle should still be a highlight with plenty of Highlanders keen to show their wares. But this has perhaps been the unsung strength of the Crusaders. Plenty of accolades have been put the Crusaders backs way, but the big boys have done plenty as well and will be keen to show who is boss and improve further on their 8 and 2 home record. On the back of another strong forward effort the Crusaders will get another bonus point win.
Crusaders 13+

Reds v Waratahs
So this then becomes the game of the round I reckon. Two historical rivals will go hammer and tongs all night. It will probably be atight low scoring affair as these intense derbies inevitably are. But – withCooper aroundthe reds could well look to open it up. Link has been incredibly astute so far this year matching tactics to the opposition perfectly. So will he take anything from last weeks Waratah capitulation, or note the ins of Waugh, Palu and Carter, know they are going to turn it into an arm wrestle andman up accordingly. I fancy a close grinding battle with the Redsat home to just get up.
Reds1 -12

Force v Bulls
Can the Bulls go home on the back of a win. They have been incredibly disappointing on this tour, cracks appearing all over this once indomitable team. They need the big names to really stand up to have a chance, will they finally step forward? The Force are on a high after a battling win in Canberra, not a vintage performance but a win is a win. O’Conner again showed the way, buttoo much is now being left to this guy and the bulls are the sort of team who could well shut him down.The Bulls will turn this into trench warfare in their efforts to win and against a weakened Force pack will give Steyn plenty of chances to kick points.
Bulls 1 – 12

Sharks v Hurricanes
Amazingly these 2 teams have broken even both home and away over the 13 times they have played – yes a draw as well. The Sharks though should be too strong, especially up front, for this strugglingHurricanes outfit. They will play to their strengths, with Lambieback to add a bit of flair, and win comfortably.
Sharks 13+

Lions v Chiefs
The Chiefs were very impressive last week and if they bring that form to this game will win. That of course is the big question, can they turn up again. The Lions will come at them and are capable of scoring plenty of points, but alsogive up plenty as well. The Chiefs won here last year in a 130+ points fest and fancy theu have too much class not too get up again. They will want Sivi to be somewhere near his best and Kahui and Mils to show why they are AB’s – and can Delaney get some consistency in his game?
Chiefs 13+

Regards Waj

18 Apr

RWC Squad – Who Will They Choose?
by Rob Wallace
18 Apr 2011

ABs_coachesI don’t think Henry will move far from his core players, and if there are newbies he’ll need to see them in action in the Tri Nations before naming them in a World Cup squad. I also don’t think he’ll move far from last years End Of Year Tour squad unless there are compelling form changes.

Hookers: Mealamu and Hore
Elliot was chosen for the EOY tour but he hasn’t shown anywhere near that form in 2011, and if you factor in his (rumoured?) personality I wouldn’t be surprised if they go back to Flynn.

Props: Woody, B Franks, O Franks, Afoa
With specialist injury backup from Whopper at loose-head. It’s hard to know who the backup tight-head would be. Tialata isn’t in the starting XV for the Canes currently and would need a personal trainer and a rocket to get him properly aerobically fit while in camp, and none of the others particularly appeal.

Locks: Thorn, Whitelock …
Probably Boric next, with Donnelly and maybe Ali Williams scrapping for the last place. The Blues play the OH twice in the latter half of the season which should help sort things out.

Loosies: McCaw, Kaino, Read, Todd, Messam
I think the selection of Braid last year signals they will take a backup specialist openside. This is where compelling form may lead to some changes and unless Braid plays out of his skin in the next few weeks I can see Matt Todd being included in the TN squad so they can have a closer look at him. What Braid gives that is important is leadership and experience which may be important for the wider squad seeing as the player selected here ain’t going to play much during the tournament. The last loosie place is still open – I’ll stick with Messam (EOYT) for now

Halfbacks: Weepu, Cowan, Ellis/Mathewson
Weepu is the key at HB – if he’s half fit they’ll take him. Cowan also and then a toss up between Ellis and Matthewson.

First Five-eighth: Carter
Carter only at first 5 with backup from McAllister and Weepu.

Centres: Nonu, SB Williams, Smith and McAllister
Nonu and SBW to fight for the starting position, McAllister sneaks in for his kicking game and ability to provide bench cover. I don’t know his exact placekicking stats but he seems to be kicking as well as anyone in the country and that’s whats going to matter in the big games.

Back Three: Mils, Toeava, Gear, Sivi, Jane and Dagg
Mad Peter de Villiers has suggested SA will be playing a forward based kick and territory game at RWC so ability under the high ball, and a kick-return game are going to be must-have skills for the back 3. So I’m leaving Fruen and Maitland out. Rokocoko needs to show stunning running form to make it so he’s out too.

Which interestingly is only 5 changes from the EOYT squad:

Current All Blacks
Forwards
Andrew Hore Anthony Boric
Ben Franks Brad Thorn
Daniel Braid* Hikawera Elliot*
Jerome Kaino John Afoa
Keven Mealamu Kieran Read
Liam Messam Owen Franks
Richie McCaw Samuel Whitelock
Tom Donnelly Tony Woodcock
Backs
Albert Mathewson Andrew Ellis*
Conrad Smith Cory Jane
Dan Carter Hosea Gear
Isaia Toeava Jimmy Cowan
Joe Rokocoko* Ma’a Nonu
Mils Muliaina Sitiveni Sivivatu
Sonny Bill Williams Stephen Donald*

Where ‘*’ denotes a player change.

31 Oct

Duck Soup
by Paul Waite
31 Oct 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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18 Oct

Over-cautious, or over Cruden?
by Tracey Nelson
18 Oct 2010

Have the All Black coaches just wasted a precious four months and nine test matches in re-selecting Stephen Donald ahead of Aaron Cruden, and to a lesser extent Colin Slade? Or is it a case of pre-World Cup jitters?

The All Black touring squad for the Hong Kong Bledisloe test and tour of the UK was announced yesterday, and despite having spent most of 2010 experimenting with new talent at 1st 5 to back up Dan Carter, the All Black coaches appear to have succumbed to nerves and have gone back to the previously discarded Stephen Donald. Having taken a punt at the start of the year in selecting Aaron Cruden, they then proceded to have him ride the pine for the majority of the June-September test matches – giving him one sole start in the dead rubber against the Wallabies in Sydney last month.

Having had limited chances in the Super 14 for the Hurricanes Cruden yet showed enough on-field skill – and more importantly the on-field communication skills – that prompted the All Black coaches to name him in their first squad of the year. The hope was that under the guidance of Wayne Smith and Dan Carter, Cruden would be able to build on his game and gain valuable skills in the All Black environment. But with only 1 start and just 60 minutes played, and a total of 61 minutes off the bench in the other 8 test matches, there were limited chances to gain any significant experience. Playing 121 minutes of rugby over two months is never going to provide form either.

Cruden’s opportunities at All Black level were also partly thwarted by Piri Weepu being first choice back-up goal kicker to Carter this year. You can’t help but feel Cruden’s chances to go on the end of year tour were dealt a death blow by the horrific ankle dislocation and break suffered by Weepu in Wellington’s ITM Cup game against Taranaki on Saturday night.

Suddenly the coaches were faced with their second choice goal kicker being out of all rugby for 6 months, and the additional worry that Dan Carter would not be fit to play the Bledisloe test match in Hong Kong after undergoing ankle surgery in September. With Cruden’s goal kicking stats only sitting around the 70% mark and his lack of starts this year, the need for a proven reliable goal kicker became paramount. Despite having selected Colin Slade as 1st 5 cover for Cruden in Sydney, and he certainly performed in the 20 minutes he had on the field, nerves have obviously won the day and Stephen Donald has been re-called.

There is no doubt Donald has been playing well for Waikato in his come-back from a lengthy injury break, but he has been tried before at All Black level and wasn’t considered the answer. Yes he is a good goal kicker (excluding the one appalling S14 game he had this year), but as we look to the Rugby World Cup next year is he going to be the back-up to Carter? The question that needs to be asked is, if the unthinkable happened and Carter suffered a serious injury that put him out of the World Cup, just who would we want running our backline?

There seems to be a little too much juggling with the options at the moment, and basing current form on the ITM Cup is not really a good measure of how players will perform at international level. Should Donald fail on this end of year tour, we are left with the Super 15 campaign to decide who will be Carter’s back up for the World Cup. The coaches said they toyed with taking three 1st 5s but decided against it as with only 5 tests it would mean one player would not get much game time. Perhaps thinking outside the square and playing Carter off the bench to allow his understudies some desperately required game time may have been an option.

The full squad for the end of year tour is:

Backs: Daniel Carter (Canterbury), Jimmy Cowan (Southland), Stephen Donald (Waikato), Andy Ellis (Canterbury), Hosea Gear (Wellington), Cory Jane (Wellington), Alby Mathewson (Wellington), Mils Muliaina (Waikato), Ma’a Nonu (Wellington), Joe Rokocoko (Auckland), Sitiveni Sivivatu (Waikato), Conrad Smith (Wellington), Isaia Toeava (Auckland), Sonny Bill Williams (Canterbury).

Forwards: John Afoa (Auckland), Anthony Boric (North Harbour), Daniel Braid (Auckland), Tom Donnelly (Auckland), Hikawera Elliott (Hawke’s Bay), Ben Franks (Tasman), Owen Franks (Canterbury), Andrew Hore (Taranaki), Jerome Kaino (Auckland), Richie McCaw (Canterbury, captain), Keven Mealamu (Auckland), Liam Messam (Waikato), Kieran Read (Canterbury), Brad Thorn (Canterbury), Sam Whitelock (Canterbury), Tony Woodcock (North Harbour).