Tag Archives: All Blacks

Guest Post: Worst Kept Secrets/Best Laid Plans

On Sunday night the All Blacks selectors confirmed what even my Mum could have told you – that league convert Sonny Bill Williams would be taken on the end of year tour, the defacto dress rehearsal for next year’s Rugby World Cup.

I mean, why in God’s name would you bring the guy back from France, pay him what apparently makes him the third highest earning rugby player in the country (after McCaw and Carter), and leave him to languish in the ITM Cup with the RWC less than a year away? Why would you ignore his potential as a brand, with the game increasingly competing for our entertainment dollar against league, and increasingly, soccer? And perhaps most importantly – why would you ignore his awesome, awesome potential as a matchwinning gamebreaker?

Apart from an injury impacted start (and a poor decision concerning a ski trip), SBW has been really quite spectacular forCanterbury. He is phenomenally strong, has an almost unbelievable ability to draw defenders and offload in contact, and perhaps most importantly he has improved with each passing week. He perhaps still struggles a little operating within Union’s defensive patterns, but surely there is no better place or time for him to work on his defense than in the All Black team environment? Continue reading

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Tri Nations Guest Post: I Don't Want to Spoil The Party…

Poor old John Smit. After 77 minutes of brutal, bludgeoning Tri-Nations rugby, in his hundredth test match, his under-the-cosh side were sitting five points clear of their 2010 tormentors, the All Blacks, with the score at 22-17. Finally something was going to go right for him; his loose forwards had performed like recently-deployed exocet missiles, Morne Steyn was a dead-eye Dick with his goalkicking, and new halfback Francois Hougaard had kicked intelligently and made lots of darting runs up round the fringes, a la Fourie du Preez. They had driven the AB’s back in the tackle more often than not, their scrum and line-out had stood up, and it looked for all the world like he was going to receive the ultimate party gift in front of a massive Soweto crowd of 90-odd thousand. His 2010 hoodoo was about to be broken.

And then, after 81 minutes, he was kneeling, his face in his hands, with his team on the wrong side of a 29-22 scoreline. He had the same hollow, dead eyed look that Dan Carter and Anton Oliver sported from the stands in ‘that’ 2007 RWC quarter-final. Good God fearing man that he is, he really must have wondered what the hell happened. Continue reading

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Guest Post: The All Blacks – A Mid-Term Report

DeadBall’s regular guest rugby reporter Jeremy Taylor gives us a mid-term report on the ABs, in his words “a bit like what Marc Hinton has done in [yesterday’s] Sunday Star Times, but I actually started last week, so, fuck him, y’know…”

Mid-term report

With the Bledisloe Cup duly secured, and the Tri-Nations all but in the bag following a tighter victory over a much-improved Wallabies in Christchurch, it seems opportune to take stock of where we are at a little more than a year out from the World Cup. Messrs Henry, Smith and Hansen have made some tough calls about the kind of game they want to play (and who they want to play it) that have, for the most part, come off in spades; the team’s fitness and execution have been phenomenal; and to top it all off, they have had the rub of the green from the match officials. Let’s look at some key areas of strength, as well as a few possible weaknesses that the coaches will be keen to address: Continue reading

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Guest Post: The All Blacks Have Decided To Be Amazing Again

Tell your story walking bokker

Saturday evening saw one of the great All Black performances of recent years, with the team claiming an impressive, important 32-12, bonus point victory over the much fancied Springboks at Eden Park. As far as victories go, this one is right up there with Paris in ’04 and the second Lions test in ’05 in terms of emphatic, defining wins.

From the outset, there was an intensity to the team’s commitment to getting basics right, and to righting the three losses they suffered at the hands the World Cup holders last year. Nowhere was this more evident than in the performances of three of the more contentious selections – fullback Mils Muliaina, second five Ma’a Nonu, and lock Tom Donnelly. All three gave superb accounts of themselves, despite having had precious little game time of late –Donnelly being excellent around the park, as well as reliable in executing his core tasks, and, perhaps most importantly, disrupting the Boks’ lineout ball; Muliaina really stuck it to the critics who suggested that at 30 years of age, he was past it and ripe for replacement by the up and coming Israel Dagg with a staggering performance in defence and linebreaking counter-attack, whilst Nonu was right back to his belligerent best in midfield, in combination with the magnificent Conrad Smith. Continue reading

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Whatever Happened to Our All-Star Game?

The past month has seen one frankly incredible All-Star game (The NBA’s, of which more shortly) and one which, again frankly, I didn’t actually see (the NRL’s). Apparently, according to my source, the Indigenous All Stars vs The NRL All Stars was a thing of true beauty, and as a way to kick off the season it seems like a fine idea. Maybe the promotion was a bit lacking, but baby steps, right? At least it got off the ground.

The NBA’s All-Star game is an established institution, over a half-century old, and appearances in it go a long way toward gauging the relative worth of talents from era to era. The game we saw last weekend was jaw-dropping, groin-tingling sports, with talents allowed to roam free and points piled on from all angles. They played defence and made it a game in the final quarter, so it worked as game too. It was a festival, a celebration of the sport at its most liberated. Then everyone gets back down to business and starts to run at the playoffs (even the Wizards! Three out of four since they gutted their team!).

Anyway, the whole thing got me thinking about our own venerable answer to the All-Star game, the North vs South match. Continue reading

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Guest Post: DeadBall Predicts the All Blacks

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It really hasn’t been as bad as it might have been. Despite being nought from three against the Boks (easily the world’s best side at present), we have retained the Bledisloe, and are 3-zip over the Australians in 09. And, as last week’s virtually flawless victory over the hapless Wallabies at the Cake Tin proved, we really may have made some strides this year in terms of establishing some depth in key positions – if not (at all) in others.

Okay – the good. The 33-6 hammering of Dingo’s Wallababies was clearly the All Blacks’ most complete performance of the year, which means they have ended the season in better shape than they started out (although to be fair, that’s not saying much). Andrew Hore’s first lineout throw sailed over new lock Tom Donnelly’s head (my companion Uncle Pete: speechless with silent fury), but when it was miraculously scooped up by a magnificent Richie McCaw, it seemed like the forwards rallied and the lineout was immaculate for the rest of the match, ensuring a good supply of quality ball that the rejigged backline made fine use of.

The scrums were messy, with Wallabies tighthead Ben Alexander going to ground repeatedly and failing to take the engagement cleanly (Tony Woodcock may or may not have been doing a number on him). The contentious reselection of a trimmer looking Neemia Tialata saw him getting through a solid 45 minutes, even hitting the odd ruck and making some tackles – his selection in this match just may have saved his international career.

Adam Thomson appears to have made some adjustments to his style of play (he no longer always looks like he is playing sevens), and together with converted number 8 Kieran Read and captain McCaw, they were a very impressive and well balanced unit, certainly having it all over their Wallabies counterparts. McCaw was regularly employed as a ball carrier, making 15 or so charges with ball in hand – an unusually high number for a modern day openside. And, yet again, Brad Thorn was immense.

In the backs, Ma’a Nonu looked relieved to be back in his favoured second five role, and even delivered an effective clearing kick from in-goal with Carter tied up, while the stuttering international career of Isaia Toeava took a great leap forward with perhaps his best game in black. But the real star of the show was Wellingtonian Cory Jane.

Overlooked for most of the season in favour of the seriously out-of-form Joe Rokocoko, Jane finally copped a break courtesy of an injury to Sitiveni Sivivatu, and boy, did he seize his chance. A magnificent try on the back of a fine kick-chase, and a consummate all round performance (kicking, defence, support running) would have to make you wonder when he might get a chance in his favoured fullback role, especially with incumbent Mils Muliaina not exactly setting the world on fire.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – as Henry himself pointed out, the Wallabies are still a long way off the pace that the Boks are setting, despite their excellent victory over a weary looking Springbok side in Brisbane, and by and large they looked like a school team. You had to feel a bit for 19 year old fullback James O’Connor, who the AB’s targeted ruthlessly; sending high kicks in his direction with monotonous regularity, delivered with a side order of extra attention from Adam Thomson and Brad Thorn – one hopes that Deans has not done permanent psychological damage to the young man by failing to hook him from the field.

Some tough decisions on some players’ international careers need to be made on this end of year tour, with a view to us being in the best possible shape for 2011. For example, is Rodney So’oialo really going to be a serious contender in two years time? Is Brad Thorn, at 36, still going to be cutting it?

For my money, I would suggest that some of these guys should stay at home over the summer, and give us further opportunity to develop depth. Isaac Ross and Owen Franks have been thrown into the inferno of international rugby against the other two of the three best sides in the world, and have emerged relatively unscathed. Tom Donnelly looks capable, Adam Thomson and Kieran Read have made terrific progress, and let’s not forget we have the likes of Anthony Boric, Richard Kahui, Keven Mealamu, the utterly top drawer Ali Williams, and hopefully Carl Hayman and Nick Evans(!) to come back too.

Stephen Donald, alas, has really never made the grade – goodbye, you are the weakest link. It may be time to look at some alternatives, whilst also accepting that in Carter and McCaw, in particular, we have two players who are utterly irreplaceable – best we just pray for their continued good health through to 2011…

If we assume the selectors will take 36 players on the six match tour, these would be my choices:

THE DEADBALL ‘IDEAL WORLD’ THIRTY SIX

Fullbacks: Cory Jane, Israel Dagg, Mils Muliaina

Wings: Sitiveni Sivivatu, Sean Maitland, Lelia Masaga, Zac Guildford

Midfielders: Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Ryan Crotty, Tim Bateman, Isaia Toeava

First fives: Daniel Carter, Aaron Cruden

Half backs: Piri Weepu, Jimmy Cowan, Andy Ellis

Number 8: Kieran Read, Liam Messam

Opensides: Richie McCaw, George Whitelock

Blindsides: Adam Thompson, Jerome Kaino, Victor Vito

Locks: Tom Donnelly, Isaac Ross, Anthony Boric, Jason Eaton

Props: John Afoa, Neemia Tialata, Wyatt Crockett, Jamie Mackintosh, Owen Franks

Hookers: Aled De Malmanche, Hika Elliot, Andrew Hore

IN & OUT

No So’oialo, no Woodcock, no Rokocoko, no Brad Thorn – nothing to be gained by flogging these trusty old warhorses. No Luke McAlister, who has resolutely failed to impress since his much heralded return from the UK. If Mealamu were fit I wouldn’t take Andrew Hore either, and Mils only goes because he is the incumbent and because of his experience and leadership. Andy Ellis gets my vote as the third halfback over Brendon Leonard, who has never recaptured the form that saw him selected for the 2007 RWC squad – halfback is still perhaps the key area where we are genuinely lacking world class players, with Cowan appearing laboured and predictable by the end of the Tri Nations. Cory Jane also offers an extra wing option, and hard done by Waikato captain Liam Messam absolutely deserves another chance, while Canterbury skipper Whitelock must be groomed as McCaw’s apprentice.

BOLTERS

Manawatu ingénue Aaron Cruden, Hawkes Bay’s well-rounded Israel Dagg, outrageously talented Wellingtonian Victor Vito, and the young Canterbury trio of Maitland, Crotty and Bateman. These are all pretty speculative selections, but then the same could have been said for Owen Franks and Isaac Ross. Some of these guys won’t even play much, but it will do them good to be in the environment, and we need to be prepared for the fact that such a green squad may lose a game or two in the pursuit of developing depth – something everyone is fine with in principle, but only as long as they win…

(I don’t think, by the way, that this will at all be the squad they take – you can, for example, almost guarantee that McAlister and Rokocoko will make the cut, no matter how dreadfully they play).

– Jeremy Taylor

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Guest Post: The Cavalry Arrives (Too Late?)

Big time

It was a win born of necessity, rather than of the All Blacks’ tactical and physical supremacy, but in the context of this year’s Tri-Nations, it will just about do, and the obvious glee with which Graham Henry greeted the victory in Sydney after a bloody battle was plain for all to see.

Despite protestations from Wayne Smith (and the man himself) that Daniel Carter was not the cavalry coming over the hill to save the All Blacks from the worst start to a season in living memory, that in fact was almost exactly what he was – the 14 points he carved off with his boot, coupled with his deft and astute tactical kicking was by and large the difference between the two teams, particularly with his opposite Matt Giteau having a curiously quiet night. It also highlighted just what the AB’s have been lacking in terms of direction and control in their backline. Yep, sorry folks – he really is that good.

The contentious selection of Luke McAlister at second five amounted to very little in the end, particularly after he seemed dead set on showing just how badly knocked about you can get with poor tackling technique, and he was replaced by the man he usurped, Ma’a Nonu. Sitiveni Sivivatu again looked dangerous with ball in hand, while his wing partner and cousin Joe Rokocoko yet again offered precious little that Cory Jane, Hosea Gear or a number others would not have.

The rules again conspired to reduce the spectacle of the match to a one-try affair, and (usually excellent) referee Jonathan Kaplan gave a peculiarly home-team biased display that saw him overruling All Black tries to Jimmy Cowan (obstruction, a 50/50 call at best), and Dan Carter (a very questionable forward pass), as well as being every bit as whistle happy at the breakdown as his Northern Hemisphere contemporaries.

Most curious were some of Robbie Deans’ tactical decisions. Firstly, George Smith is unconvincing as a captain in Stirling Mortlock’s absence – it really seems to affect his ability to do his job at the breakdown, as though he is reluctant to draw the referee’s attention to himself – he also had a quiet match. Perhaps Nathan Sharpe, who has deputized for George Gregan in the past, may have been a better choice.

Secondly, playing Adam Ashley-Cooper at centre to accommodate teen sensation James O’Connor at fullback left the relatively inexperienced Wallaby three-quarters without much by way of direction – he would perhaps have been better left at fullback with league convert Ryan Cross in the midfield. And finally, pulling tighthead prop Al Baxter after just half an hour reeked of desperation – if you were going to pull him for doing exactly what he has done expertly for most of his career (folding in and collapsing when the Wallaby scrum is under pressure), why bother picking him in the first place? This in particular must have had the All Black forwards licking their chops, and the sight of Australian hooker Stephen Moore mopping up gallons of blood from the nose that was spread across his face was hugely symbolic.

The first forty minutes of this match did very little to allay the fears that the clumsy handling and inaccuracy that plagued the All Blacks South African visit were still a problem – they spent most of the game playing catch up rugby, and conceded far too many kickable penalties. That the win was secured, albeit right on the cusp of 80 minutes, and by a solitary point, is a testimony to the steely resolve of a hugely improved second half effort from the tight five, and of returning superstar Carter, particularly after his horribly flubbed drop goal attempt.

Rather than falling apart when he does things wrong (as Donald has, as Carlos Spencer did), Carter has the ability to pick himself up, dust himself down and play the cards he is dealt; in this instance a superbly judged kick into the corner that left the Wallabies scrambling in defense that drew the match winning penalty, which he slotted with clinical precision. His return to the side has had the same effect as McCaw’s did to the 2008 All Blacks, and with the Springboks on the road now, NZ supporters will be willing Deans’ Wallabies to lift themselves from these defeats and do the business against the Africans in either Perth or Brisbane. Or preferably both.

The All Blacks do have some problems of their own though – injuries to both starting midfielders Luke McAlister (broken cheekbone) and Conrad Smith (recurring hamstring injury) means we are in need of a fresh midfield combination for the all important match against the Springboks in Hamilton. It will be interesting to see whether the selectors persist with a kicking option at 12, which could see the much maligned Donald given a chance to prove himself in tandem with Carter, and Nonu moved to centre; or if the fragile confidence of Isaia Toeava is to be given another shot.

One thing is for certain, however – that Carter was more than ready to return to the international stage, and would be the first name you would write on the team sheet so long as he is fit.

– Jeremy Taylor

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