16 Nov

Time for a new destination for "the journey"
by Rick Boyd
16 Nov 2003

Congratulations to the Wallabies on their World Cup semi-final win over the All Blacks, 22-10.

It is a geat pity that everyone is so obsessed by this knock-out tournament that this loss will overshadow many of the good things the All Blacks have achieved this year. The Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations are not minor achievements, and it should not be overlooked that New Zealand remains 2-1 up over Australia in 2003. If it was an old-fashioned series, the All Blacks would have left the ground disappointed but with the consolation that it was a meaningless loss in a dead rubber.

As it is, I can only hope there will be some good come out of this in that people, particularly in New Zealand, start to realise the flaws of this admirable but limited tournament, which basically sets up a top eight lottery. One team emerges to win disproportionate glory, while others who may be more deserving over the longer distance, will feel failure at not stringing together three wins that combine the right game with the right opponent at the right time. It is to be hoped that John Mitchell will not be thrown on the scrap heap, as he has achieved much and could do more. Still, he asked to be judged on his world cup, and that must be seen as a failure. Perhaps future coaches will set goals of greater depth.

No country in the world should go into the world cup “expecting’ to win it. The competition is a lottery and winning it is no guarantee of any greatness outside the cup itself. New Zealanders must stop thinking they have a right to win the world cup. They should focus on more consistent goals.

The All Blacks have only one black mark against them in 2003 in terms of real performance, and that is the loss to England, distorted though that was by John Mitchell’s “journey”. I expect to see England in that most pointless and futile of exercises, the play-off for third. There is one small triumph still left to achieve.

As to the game itself, my “could” prediction came true rather than my “should”, and this perenially inconsistent All Black team chose this match to display their very worst of forward invisibility and backs errors. They were lethargic, wooden, slow and lacklustre, as well as atrociously error-prone and confoundingly directionless.

They lost the game from the moment Mortlock scored his intercept try. Their confidence, always a fragile thing, disappeared and they played the most aimless variety of catch-up rugby for the remainder of the match.

But it wasn’t just New Zealand v New Zealand. The Wallabies were 15 different players from the awkward team that lost the Bledisloe Cup. They were hungry, committed, and put unbelievable pressure on the All Blacks right from the start. Their error count was kept to manageable proportions, their defence was solid and they had a goal kicker who could actually kick goals. Apparently an optional extra for Mitchell’s All Blacks. The Wallaby forwards weren’t outstanding, and their scrum was shaky, but they didn’t need to be anything special as the All Blacks fumbled and bumbled their way though the game with increasing desperation. The Wallaby backs made repeated half breaks without ever manufacturing a try apart from Mortlock’s fluke intercept (yes, look I’m sorry, but intercepts are always flukes). It was just a whole team effort, always bustling, always harrying, never giving the All Blacks an inch of breathing space.

As for the All Blacks, they just imploded with spectacular apathy, if there is such a thing. They had only scraps of possession to play with, not because they aimed for a low-possesion game as they did in Auckland, but simply because they coughed up the ball at every opportunity, lost their lineouts yet again and kicked without direction. When they did have the ball, they never looked like scoring anyway — well, apart from Muliana’s non-try.

The better team won on the day, the All Blacks demonstrated their infuriating inconsistency at exactly the wrong time. And now it’s over to the Australian fans and media for the usual graceless crowing.

Two of three, boys, two out of three. You can keep the icing but we’ve got the cake.

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