28 Jun

Super 15 — Round 18 Preview
by WAJ
28 Jun 2013

Chiefs v Hurricanes – And not a bad game to start with either. Both sides relatively unaffected by AB duties. In fact there are no starting Chiefs who started for the AB’s and only TKB got game time. Rennie and Hansen must be tight. So it is all in front of the Hurricanes – literally. A well rested Chiefs pack will be up for this with plenty wanting to show why they should have been playing last week. I think the Chiefs will be too good up front and provide the better ball for Cruden and co to run with. And some great match-ups for Hansen. And who would have thought Bundee Aki and Reynold Lee-Lo would be going head to head – love this side of the game.
Chiefs 1 – 12

Highlanders v Crusaders – I know that they probably need a break after the test series but it is a risk leaving Read, Romano and Davey all on the bench as well as Frank’s illness. If the Highlanders put on another performance like the last time they played then look out. Big question mark of course that!! But the Highlanders then bench Nonu and Smith – go figure?? Their last displayed form was outstanding – but then Tanaka did help Japan beat Wales B – so probably fair enough??? Anyway this is a hard game to pick, below strength Crusaders, who were only just winning at full strength before the break, against a resurgent Highlanders with nothing to lose. Might have to go with the Highlanders, with B Smith to make Fred look 2nd rate. The last 20 should be good when all the AB’s are on the park!
Highlanders 1 – 12

Sharks v Blues – Not overly confident here. Think this young Blues team will struggle with the intensity of South Africa. Though with nothing to lose they will throw everything at this game. They have to as a loss will make it nigh impossible to qualify for the play-offs. They will be fresher than their opposition as the Sharks had a few forwards in the Boks. If we can get parity at the set pieces, defend effectively at line-out time, and take advantage of any breaks from the likes of Saili and Piutau then we can get up. Though I am a bit non-plussed seeing Ranger on the bench. You know what the Sharks are going to serve – pressure rugby, they have become very conservative this year, so there should be no surprises – it is about the ability to counter this style. The other factor of course is Plumtree getting the arse, this has to be in the Blues favour.
Blues 1 – 12

Bulls v Kings – Even though the Bulls are resting a lot of Boks they will still win this easily at home.
Bulls 13+

Stormers v Cheetahs – Will probably turn into a tight grind, though no JDV for the Stormers might leave a few gaps for the Cheetahs backs.
Cheetahs 1 – 12

Wallabies v Lions – Managed to score a ticket to this and really looking forward to it. Changes in both sides make it interesting, with both sides probably stronger as a result. Kurtley at fullback adds real spark to the Wallabies and if they can get more out of their loosies and start well they are a real chance. Gatland has the luxury of being able to replace out of touch test class players with in form test class players. Thus Phillips and Croft are out and Youngs and Lydiate are in. The Lions will miss O’Connell, but Parling has been playing well. Probably the biggest risk for the Lions is the selection of that born, bred and named Englishman Mako Vunipola at loosehead. He needs a big scrummaging game as the Wallabies came at them hard in this area and the Lions will be disappointed they fell away. I can’t see the Lions fading as badly this week and think they will sneak this again for a series victory.
Lions 1 – 12

7 Jun

Super 15 — Round 17 Preview
by WAJ
7 Jun 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Regards Waj

26 Nov

Game Stats: Wales v All Blacks, Millenium Stadium Cardiff, 25 November 2012
by Tracey Nelson
26 Nov 2012

The usual analysis of the All Blacks’ game, being the First 3 to the Breakdown, ball carries, tackle stats, penalties conceded, turnovers, the lineouts, and scrums. Some notes on these stats follow throughout the article.

Numbers in brackets are the first half/second half breakdown for each TOTAL. An asterisk denotes a player that came on as a substitute. This week:

Team: Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore, Owen Franks, Luke Romano, Sam Whitelock, Liam Messam. Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Aaron Smith, Aaron Cruden, Julian Savea, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Cory Jane, Israel Dagg
Reserves: Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Faumuina, Brodie Retallick, Victor Vito, Piri Weepu, Beauden Barrett, Ben Smith

Subs: Crockett for Woodcock, Retallick for Romano, and Weepu for A Smith at 50 min, Coles for Hore at 54 min, Faumuina for Franks at 60 min, Barrett for Cruden at 68 min, Vito for Messam at 70 min, B Smith for Dagg at 76 min.

Points Scored NZ Wales
Tries 3 2  
Conversions 3 0
Penalties 4 from 4 0
TOTAL 33 10

Penalties/Free Kicks Conceded Pen FKs
NZ 12 1
Wales 10 2
TOTAL 22 3

NZ Penalty Offences
Tackled player Franks, Barrett, Dagg 3
Tackler not rolling Nonu, Hore 2
Ruck off feet Retallick 1
Ruck entry Nonu 1
Ruck offside Woodcock/Nonu, McCaw 2
Offside general play ? 1
Scrum bind Woodcock 1
Foul play (YC) Jane 1
TOTAL   12

Wales Penalty Offences
Tackled player 1
Tackler 1
Playing ball off feet 1
Ruck off feet 2
Ruck slowing ball 1
Ruck entry 1
Scrum 2
Offside at kick 1
TOTAL 10

Turnovers Conceded by NZ
Knock-ons Savea(2), Dagg, Nonu, Jane, Cruden, Barrett, Retallick 9
Forward pass Dagg 1
Tackle Franks, McCaw 2
Scrum   1
TOTAL   13

Turnovers Conceded by Wales
Knock-ons 11
Tackle 2
Ruck spill 1
Maul 3
Crossing 1
Lineout 1
Scrum 1
Kick touch in goal 2
TOTAL 22

First Three to the Breakdown stats are looking for those players who are getting to the tackle/breakdown quickly and are also being useful by either cleaning out opposition players or setting up ruck ball. Anyone arriving and just leaning pointlessly on the side of a ruck isn’t included in these numbers.

First 3 to Breakdown Total Per half
McCaw 23 16+7
Franks 20 17+3
Whitelock 17 8+9
Messam 16 9+7
Romano 14 12+2
Woodcock 12 11+1
Read 10 6+4
Nonu 8 7+1
Savea 7 4+3
Faumuina* 6  
Retallick* 6  
Crockett* 5  
C Smith 5 2+3
Coles* 4  
Jane 4 3+1
Dagg 3 2+1
Cruden 2 2+0
Vito* 1  
B Smith* 1  
A Smith 1 1+0

Forward ball carries and metres gained No of carries Metres
Read 7 20
Whitelock 6 20
McCaw 5 45
Romano 5 32
Messam 4 27
Woodcock 2 8
Coles 2 7
Hore 2 3
Crockett* 1 1
Faumuina* 1 1
Franks 1 1

Completed Tackles means that player actually brought the ball carrier to ground (ie. as the Laws of the Game actually described the tackler), not assists in the tackle situation which are tallied separately.

Completed Tackles and Assists Tackles Assists
McCaw 21 (6+14) 2 (2+0)
Whitelock 12 (4+8) 3 (0+3)
Nonu 11 (1+10) 5 (0+5)
Read 9 (2+7) 4 (0+4)
C Smith 10 (2+8) 0
Cruden 9 (2+7) 0
Messam 7 (4+3) 7 (2+5)
Crockett* 7 2
Romano 7 (7+0) 0
Retallick* 6 1
Coles* 6 0
O Franks 6 (2+4) 2 (2+0)
Dagg 5 (2+3) 1 (0+1)
Woodcock 5 (2+3) 1 (0+1)
Hore 4 (1+3) 1 (0+1)
Faumuina* 3 0
Weepu* 3 1
A Smith 3 (3+0) 0
Vito* 2 0
Savea 1 (0+2) 0
Jane 2 (2+0) 0
B Smith* 1 0
Barrett* 0 1
TOTAL 138 31

Missed tackles also includes slipped tackles where the ball runner gets away. Most importantly, I do NOT included slipped tackles in the Tackles Made stats, it gets noted as a missed tackle. Either you’ve made the tackle or you’ve missed it.

Missed and Slipped Tackles
Read 6
Cruden 2
Woodcock 1
Romano 1
Whitelock 1
McCaw 1
Nonu 1
Coles* 1
Retallick* 1
Faumuina* 1
TOTAL 16

NZ Line-outs Won From
First half 8 9
Second half 2 2
TOTAL 10 11

NZ Line-out Jumpers Won From
Romano 4 4
Whitelock 4 4
Retallick 1 1
Quick throw 1 2
TOTAL 10 11

Wales Line-outs Won From
First half 1 3
Second half 9 12
TOTAL 10 15

NZ Scrums Won From
First half 5 5
Second half 9 10
TOTAL 14 15

Wales Scrums Won From
First half 2 3
Second half 2 2
TOTAL 4 5

8 Jun

Test Season Starters: Review of Games
by WAJ
8 Jun 2012

Whilst the the motivation for the scheduling of the various tests throughout the Southern Hemisphere this weekend is the money, I admit to quite looking forward to test rugby, especially the AB/Wallaby/Bok games (Argentina are also playing Italy and Scotland must be lurking somewhere as well). It also gives the Blues players a chance to find form, the Chiefs and Crusaders to gather injuries, the Wallabies every chance to suffer further embarrassment and the Boks to start a total rebuild.

All Blacks v Ireland – I like the look of this AB XV – every one of them is in good form, with a question mark over Fred, but he is such a big match player that he will surly play a blinder. There are plenty of combos carried over from Soopa teams – C Smith and Savea, Fred, Guildford and Carter, 4 Crusaders forwards – as well as 6 of the 8 WC winning pack that the hope is this team should settle reasonably quickly. There is a question mark over Read/A Smith/Carter axis because they have not played together before, but hopefully we will see Smith focus on passing to Crter or the next forward up , just do the basics as he familiarises himself with test rugby. We should be fartoo strong for this Irish side which will be under huge pressure at scrum time where they have a pretty inexperienced tight 5 and we will have too many weapons out back against a set of Irish backs which would be classified as solid and nothing more. With weapons in Carter, SBW, Savea and Fred, the finishing ability of Guildford and the guile and organisation of C Smith this has the potential to be a night of great promise for the AB’s. They would expect plenty of high kicks to test Guildford and Savea, and yes there may be a question mark in that area, but then the counterattacking from Fred can equally bring huge rewards. So a typically tight first 20 – 30 minutes, and then it will probably open up.
All Blacks 13+

Wallabies v Wales – Deans is under huge pressure to get some wins on the board, a couple of losses in this series and it would be hard to see him keeping his job, even with O’Neill firmly in his corner. The Wallabies do not have a lot of time to put Tuesday behind them and get this XV gelling. The makeup of the XV is interesting with 7 starters from the Waratahs, the least successful of the Aus Soopa teams over the last 6 weeks!! How 7 of the worst team can make the team of the best players is puzzling to say the least. Wales have selected a very strong side – they are well rested and full of class, have a strong scrum, 3 good loosies and outside backs with size and pace. They won the Six Nations on the back of some really gutsy play, and never say die attitude and will really test this nervous Wallaby team. I find it very difficult to split them and can see a welsh victory 1st up.
Wales 1 – 12

Springboks v England – This is a very hard game to predict. A new Bok coach has picked a side with plenty of changes from the side that played in that WC quarterfinal, only 6 back up from the starting XV v Aus. And then only 2 forwards. The Boks will want to make a statement here and this game will be as ferocious in the opening 30 minutes as any for a while as this new set of Bok forwards endeavours to make its mark. How will the Poms respond – they have a few hard heads in the forwards themselves and won’t be taking a backward step. With Steyn Inc, Kirchner, even Capt de Villiers the Boks don’t come across as a team that is looking to play free flowing rugby,well when have the Boks ever done that of late anyway? So the Bok halves will be putting in frontof the forwards, use the likes of the Flash to chase the kicks down and dominate at set piece – yada yada yada. How the Poms get around, over or through this is their big question? They do have a more adventurous looking backline, plenty of pace and a big guy at centre who will need watching. Still a lot of unknowns on both sides and will be a game worth watching just to see how it unfolds.
Springboks 1 – 12

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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19 Oct

How To Beat The French
by Paul Waite
19 Oct 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Waite

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9 Oct

The Northern Quarters
by Paul Waite
9 Oct 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HT: 10-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HT: 16-0

Paul Waite

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

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

20 Sep

RWC Summary and Predictions
by Paul Waite
20 Sep 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final: New Zealand vs. France

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

Eh bien!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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