13 Apr

The Nightmare Continues
by Tracey Nelson
13 Apr 2004

Just when you think there is light at the end of the tunnel, you suddenly discover that it was only the reflection of your headlights on a glass mirror as the glass lands around you. Such has been the shattering of the illusion that New Zealand rugby is maybe OK and perhaps things are going to get better.

We were lulled into that false sense of security the other week when the Crusaders put together an imposing forward display to beat the Brumbies in round seven of S12 2004. But oh how that dream was rudely awakened in the subsequent round when the Crusaders, who had been almost clinical in their previous two outings, suddenly decided that it might be a good idea to chuck the ball around like the Blues and play high risk rugby in the heat of Durban.

Gone was the control and composure that had so impressed, and instead their play had all the structure of five year olds at a lolly scramble. I struggle with the idea that it was part of a game-plan to hurl the ball about with apparent abandon and for the ball runners to isolate themselves at the breakdown. Admittedly some of Australian referee Matt Goddard’s interpretations at the breakdown were hard to fathom, but that should surely have prompted more care not to get isolated instead of creating even further mayhem amongst the backs.

It was almost as if panic had set in from the opening whistle, with ridiculously long, floated passes being thrown right in the face of the opposition defence, numerous unforced handling errors, lateral running and at times almost an unwillingness to hold onto the ball as a movement broke down. The forwards weren’t much better, and in the second half actually put the nail in the coffin by totally self-destructing on their own lineout throws (what is it with New Zealand hookers that once they throw a dud they go on to completely lose the plot thereafter?).

The Crusaders have never been a team that tosses the ball around relying on individual brilliance to win their games, so it beggars belief that they strayed so far from their strengths this week to play high risk rugby against a team that could have been easily beaten just by continuing on where they’d left off against the Brumbies.

But then isn’t this what we are starting to see consistently from all our New Zealand sides? A propensity for this high-risk running game at the expense of control, and an inability to change the gameplan when it all turns to custard? Each week almost across the board we have the ignominy of watching props flykicking at loose ball instead of securing it on the deck, perilous passing behind our own goal lines, locks who seem loathe to play in the tight, and – in what is now starting to become an all too familiar problem – the failure of our lineouts. It’s probably only a matter of time before our scrums disintegrate too.

Once upon a time New Zealand rugby was all about control – a tight five you could throw a blanket over, good set pieces, the ability to play combative rugby up front using rolling mauls to good effect, clean and quick ruck ball, and backs functioning on the front foot without having to step around tight fowards loitering in the backline. Strangely enough it was a style that used to win games in the past and believe it or not, it can and WILL win games today. So could we please see some more of it?

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