Tag Archives: Brad Thorn

Guest Post: Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On

After a week in which a massive earthquake slammed the Canterbury region, causing massive damage to Christchurch’s brick and stone buildings (including the home of All Blacks’ assistant coach Steve Hansen), and aftershocks continued to jangle the nerves, nobody will be thanking the AB’s for leaving their winning run quite so late, even if the victory itself will be some sort of salve.

With Daniel Carter undergoing surgery on his troublesome right ankle (which may, in part, explain his poor 2010 goalkicking form), coach Graham Henry took the chance to blood Carter’s understudy, 21 year old Aaron Cruden at five-eighth, together with run on starts for blindside Victor Vito and wing/ fullback (they’re all doing it these days) Israel Dagg. They encountered a Wallabies outfit returning from the Republic who could have reasonably been expected to be weary, but still fired up from their win in Bloemfontein, their first on the high veldt in 46 years. Despite the fact that the match was a dead rubber where the Tri-Nations and Bledisloe were concerned, this was still a game that both teams very much wanted to win – the Wallabies to carry on from last week’s victory, and to gain some momentum leading into next year’s World Cup, the All Blacks seeking to hammer home their dominance over the Wallabies (ten in a row), and to continue a fifteen test match winning streak. 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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DeadCast: Balls 024 / The Bledisloe’s back (Alright), Warriors Revert to Type and the return of the DeadBall liveblog

Aaron and Duncan spoke on Radio One in Dunedin, live-to-air with no preparation about the week in sport. This included talk about the revival of the Bledisloe Cup after a period of dormancy, whether the Warriors’ weekend hiccup might actually be the start of a coughing fit and got a little off topic to discuss DeadBall’s upcoming liveblog of the Auckland Supercity mayoralty debate (TV One 9am Sunday August 1). Come join us here to revel in the idiocy of the latter – LIVE!

http://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fsoundcloud.com%2Fdeadball%2Fballs-024Balls 024 by Deadball

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Guest Post: Thinking Outside the Boks

There was always going to be the faint whiff of anticlimax about the All Blacks beating the Springboks in Wellington this week, after the heady high of their crushing win in Auckland the previous week; what Richie McCaw’s men essentially delivered was Part II against a Boks side who look like they can’t wait to get out of Godzone.

With the southerly blowing sheets of rain in from the Strait, what I was hoping for was some smart wet weather rugby – keeping the ball tight in the forwards, playing low risk rugby with a focus on retaining possession and dominating the set piece, and grinding out the win through a war of attrition. But from my warm, dry vantage point at the southern end of the ground, it was possible to see clearly the width and confidence these AB’s are playing with, the sweeping lines of their attack, and the way they number up dutifully on defense. When after only a dozen minutes two of last week’s star performers Ma’a Nonu and Mils Muliaina had dotted down, punishing a Springbok defense that looked shabby in its organisation and execution, this was looking like another romp. Continue reading

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Guest Post: Worth a Crack, Nigel

Springbok Champions

Worth a crack, Nigel…

For a town as infamously dull as Hamiltron, this was a thrilling game of football.

Needing to win and prevent the Boks from scoring a bonus point to keep the Tri Nations alive, and preferably gain a four try bonus point, the All Blacks threw everything at this one in the last 15 minutes and came up just a flattering three points short of stopping the Boks gaining a clean sweep over the AB’s to claim the title in 2009.

The line out was, once again, atrocious. After 30 minutes we had lost five of our own throws, with Victor Matfield using his glowering presence and masterful reading of play to turn Andrew Hore and his jumpers into gibbering wrecks. There was a distinct lack of urgency in this phase of the All Black game – we still take far too long to get into position and get the ball back into play, giving Big Vic ample opportunity to exert his influence. As the missus’ ‘colourful’ Uncle Pete summed it up – “I’d rather chew dogshit than watch this…”.

Breakdown penalties conceded in the first half were punished three times in a row from within the Boks own half by the monster boot of Francois Steyn, again confirming that possession is not necessarily of paramount importance in the game’s current incarnation. The Boks much touted scrum weakness was not in evidence, with under-fire skipper and makeshift tighthead prop John Smit more than holding his own against a decidedly weary looking Tony Woodcock.

Brad Thorn, too, looked a shadow of his former swashbuckling self, having shouldered a huge workload this year, and must now be deemed unlikely to still be around in 2011, at the ripe old age of 36. Fortunately, the investment made in youngsters like the impressive Isaac Ross, and the returning-from-injury Anthony Boric should reap rewards come World Cup year. Ditto young front rower Owen Franks, who still has a way to go, but should provide solid cover for Carl Hayman upon his (much needed) return from the UK.

The fact that Stephen Donald was yanked around the 50 minute mark suggested that the double pivot experiment had not been a success (with Henry admitting as much at the aftermatch press conference), Carter looking much more assured running the show on his own, with the more conventional line up of Nonu and Isaia Toeava outside him. And while the erratic Toeava was electric after coming on, making the decisive line break that set up Sitiveni’s try, Nonu had a terrible case of the dropsies – ball retention in contact is still a significant problem in his game (Uncle Pete: “He must have a photo of Henry f***ing a pig to still be in this side”). Carter’s restart kicking was perhaps a little patchy, but his tactical and defensive kicks were top notch, as was his goalkicking – in fact, none of the goalkickers (Carter, and those pesky Steyns) missed a shot all night.

A soft intercept try to Jean De Villiers (Carter, alas) gave the Boks a comfortable lead, before a baffling All Black decision not to take a gift three points when the Boks infringed in front of their posts; then an equally baffling one to goal the next penalty from a similar position – had the hope for that magical bonus point try win (presumably why they took the scrum on the first) evaporated in a couple of minutes?

Adam Thomson and Cory Jane’s (not before time) arrival off the bench seemed to really pick up the tempo against a Bok side visibly wilting in their third game in as many weeks, and when Carter picked out Richie McCaw with a pinpoint crossfield kick, there was a faint glimmer of hope that the AB’s might be able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat – suddenly they looked more alive, electric and dangerous than they have all season. Carter nailed the conversion in seconds flat, and the All Blacks regathered from the kickoff and continued the assault on the Springbok line, and with time up on the clock Carter attempted another audacious cross field kick to the left hand flank – this time nudging it too far and sending the ball into touch, probably a fitting and symbolic end to a frustrating season.

All is not lost, however (although it sort of will be if we can’t beat the Wallabies in Wellington next week, and end up finishing last…) As we surmised at the start of the Tri-Nations, this was always going to be the Boks year, and man for man they are currently, on the whole, stronger than the AB’s. It’s not even entirely fair to claim our tactics have been inept – mostly it has been a case of poor execution of often basic skills (catch, kick, pass, tackle) that have let us down, and while these things may be easy to do on the training field, they are a damn sight more difficult with (Justice For) Bakkies and the boys bearing down on you.

You could argue that flawed selections have played their role in the ’09 AB’s demise, and certainly the retention of the woefully out of form Joe Rokocoko is frankly baffling. But then the same could be said for so many of our players that if you were to start culling, you could end up with me and Uncle Pete on the field. The lineout is still an A-grade cock up, and forwards coach Steve Hansen must shoulder much of the blame here, given that Mike Cron takes care of the scrum – fortunately, the return of Ali Williams should shore this up. Fading old warriors who have served us well cannot be retained simply out of loyalty, although neither should their experience be cut adrift too hastily. Kieran Read has come on in leaps and bounds, but retaining Rodney So’oialo on the bench is like having some insurance, and also gives Rodders the chance to press his claims for a return to the starting line up.

Luke McAlister’s much touted return to the international arena has been disastrously managed – there are perfectly valid reasons why players have previously been required to play in either the Super 14 or Air New Zealand Cup to gain selection, and McAlister (clearly not the sharpest knife in the drawer) has looked woefully out of his depth in a selection that reeked of desperation, and a desire to recoup on what has obviously been a costly investment.

Unfortunately, we have to concede a horrible, horrible thing – that the Springboks of 2009 are a better side than this year’s All Blacks line up, and that three defeats this year at their hands and two consecutive home losses present a pretty compelling argument for their credentials. Congratulations to the Springboks – worthy champions indeed.

– Jeremy Taylor

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Guest post: None Step Up – Two Steps Back

All Blacks lame dog

From bad to worse, the All Blacks contrived to concede two out of two to South Africa at home, with the chief culprits being a lack of discipline, poor execution of basic skills, and poor option taking under pressure from what is admittedly a very, very good Springbok side.

When rangy, athletic young Cantab lock Isaac Ross finished off a superb sequence of All Black attack early in the first half, there was a faint glimmer of hope that the poor starts that have dogged the 2009 AB’s were history. What followed, however, was 60 minutes of bungled kick receptions, shoddy passing, and inexplicable individual brain explosions.

With Bulls marksman Morne Steyn punishing any and all All Black transgressions within 60 metres of their goal line, and Welsh ref Nigel Owens whistling up a storm, this was the wrong match in which to serially infringe, even if Ross was dreadfully unlucky to be yellow carded for offside play at the end of the first half. McCaw’s usually impeccable timing and execution in pilfering possession at the breakdown showed ring rust, particularly when compared with his young Bok opponent, the increasingly impressive Heinrich Broussouw, and he too was caught out on several occasions.

If there is a concern that the forwards are being outmuscled, not to mention outsmarted, the lack of fluidity in the backline has reached epidemic proportions. The return of halfback Jimmy Cowan made no difference whatsoever, while Stephen Donald once again looked jittery and inept. Joe Rokocoko’s singular brain explosion in failing to touch down behind his own goal-line put his side under immense pressure, which was ultimately converted to points by Steyn’s tediously reliable boot.

Given that he now seems incapable of even making, let alone breaking the gain line, and has difficulty with even basic skills like catching and passing, the Rocket Man (think ‘Challenger’ – ten successful missions before crashing and burning and killing everyone on board…) must make way for the more reliable Cory Jane. It seems cruelly ironic (like rain on your wedding day, like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife etc) that Chiefs speedster Lelia Masaga was jettisoned in favour of giving Joe the chance to get back up to speed at test level, when surely the kindest thing to do for a former thoroughbred like Joe is to let him get his confidence back in the provincial competition.

Even a reliable workhorse like Brad Thorn is showing signs of the immense workload he has shouldered this year. He looks worn out. Tony Woodcock was lucky not to be penalized for continually dropping his bind at scrum time, while young tighthead Owen Franks was one of few bright spots in what was an overwhelmingly poor All Black performance, and looks to offer a lot more across the park than Neemia Tialata. It was also good to see Mils Muliaina looking hungrier than he has in the black jersey this year.

Our overall game plan does not appear to have taken into account changes in the ELV’s, and just as we looked all sea in last year’s Tri Nations loss to the Wallabies in Sydney (the last time the AB’s got absolutely hammered), this was a glaring example of a tactically flawed game plan made worse by feeble execution. Quite aside from the lineout problems resurfacing, we seem to lack the ability to use the rolling maul (executed to great effect by both the French and the Boks in their wins over the AB’s this year), or indeed to defend against it – the style of rugby the All Blacks are playing is in danger of looking as out of date as the kids in their skinny jeans and baggy cardies will in 12 months time. When the AB’s lose they invariably resemble the Hurricanes playing harem scarem rugby against a more structured side like the Crusaders. If we maybe didn’t deserve to lose in Bloemfontein any more than we deserved to win in Auckland the previous week, the match in Durban was depressing for the fact that there could be no excuses whatsoever for the loss.

So, where to now for Henry’s band of now not-so-merry men? Firstly – some personnel changes clearly need to be made. Despite some poor decision making at crunch time, Piri Weepu must be at least tried as the starting half back, and if it is that the selectors have concerns about his fitness, maybe Brendon Leonard is to add his zip and spark at the 50 minute mark. Brad Thorn clearly needs a break, so should be monitored closely in the three weeks until the AB’s meet the Wallabies in Sydney – aside from Jerome Kaino he is the only real tough nut in the pack, and as such is absolutely crucial to our slim remaining hopes in this competition. Rodney So’oialo might be better served coming off the bench (for now) with the more dynamic Kieran Read taking his place at the back of the scrum.

Which brings us to the 700,000 Euro question – is it to soon to rush Daniel Carter back into the black jersey? I say no – HELL, no! He looked comfortable enough in Canterbury’s surprise loss to North Harbour at Albany, and his class, poise and tactical kicking could be just the ticket to reignite a backline that has been stuttering and struggling for continuity, so let’s bring him back, post-haste. If you consider that the current All Black side is really only missing two of its lynchpins – Carter and experienced second rower Ali Williams – and is playing this poorly, you start to see just how crucial Carter is. Given another three weeks, a player of Carter’s undoubted quality should be more than capable of transitioning back into test match football, especially against a Wallabies side who I reckon will be at least competitive against the Boks in Cape Town this week.

Aside from some rejigging of the squad (and at the risk of sounding like one of Murray Deaker’s talkback radio morons), the team needs to work on basics – in particular, passing and catching, and protecting possession at the breakdown. Granted, this is easier said than done when you have 15 green clad, firebreathing Bokke Orcs trying to stop you from adequately performing these core tasks, but their execution has been so poor there simply must be room for improvement. Defensively the AB’s have been fairly sound, but whilst that means you can play like chumps and still beat Italy (just), it won’t cut it against teams that can punish errors like the Boks or the Wallabies , or, indeed, later in the year against the French again, or against Warren Gatland’s fine Welsh side, or… you get my drift.

It’s time to shape up or shut down altogether. Forget the talk of ‘at least we’re not peaking between World Cups’ – at this rate we’re in serious danger of not even being in the hunt come 2011.

– Jeremy Taylor

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Tr-Nations 2009: Only McCaw Can Save Us Now

Richie McCaw 3

The Iveco series came and went with much gnashing of teeth from the Great New Zealand Rugby Public. Stephen Donald was hung, drawn and quartered for the grievous sin of not being Dan Carter (one wonders how his Mum might have felt upon seeing her son on the cover of this month’s NZ Rugby World mag atop the headline “The Weakest Link – should we say goodbye to Stephen Donald?”); likewise, Luke McAlister for failing to hit the ground running after three months out injured, having not played test football for a couple of years. They are the All Blacks, after all, and defeat is not an option.

The scrum, once a symbol of our obvious masculine superiority to those puny Australians and soft Northern Hemisphere teams, is now a source of some consternation. Liam Messam has been talked up, and just as comprehensively talked back down again by recently re-signed coach Graham Henry; never mind the fact that his criticisms could just as easily been directed at underachieving wunderkind Isaia Toeava, or faded superstar wing Joe Rokocoko. The ‘back in the day’ crowd – David Kirk, Robin Brooke, Taine Randell et al have been wheeled out to offer variations on the ‘they need to harden the f*** up’ theme. So where does all this leave us, ahead of a Tri-Nations that offers no certainties for any of the three competing southern hemisphere sides?

Well, for starters, let’s take the Boks. Whilst they were good enough to defeat the touring British and Irish Lions 2 to 1, there is no ignoring the fact that the Boks actually played progressively worse with each 40 minutes of the three tests. A friend suggested that this may be due to the players starting out with formations and patterns they had used over the Super 14 (especially those of the champion Bulls), and then rapidly losing this structure under the influence of their half-witted coach, Peter de Villiers. His comments in the wake of the Schalk Burger gouging incident were nothing short of appalling, while the players demonstrated clearly that they are equally capable of misplaced team loyalty with their ‘Justice 4 Bakkies’ armbands – when you have gotten away with as much as Bakkies has over the years, I reckon you need to take the crunchy with the smooth…

The Boks clearly lack depth just as badly as the All Blacks do – clearing the bench in the first test nearly cost them the game, and PdV’s arrogance in naming of a second-string side in the third test probably cost them the clean sweep that the AB’s achieved over the Lions in ’05. Now that Burger is out for most of the Tri-Nations, young Cheetah (yes, that was a pun) Heinrich Broussow will most likely start on the openside, giving the Boks strength in an area they have not traditionally concentrated on, but weakening one of their strongest plays, the lineouts. Habana still looks short of a gallop, while inspirational skipper John Smit is clearly marking time on the tighthead, making way for superior rake Bismarck du Plessis. Plus their head coach, who could euphemistically be described as a ‘political’ appointment, is clearly an imbecile. This is not a team without its problems.

The Wallabies, on the other hand, look to be a fairly settled unit. They too have had a little controversy in the form of the Lote Tuquiri debacle – if rumour is to be believed, he was threatening a return to League in an effort to drive up the value of his contract with the ARU. Unfortunately for him, Robbie Deans is an excellent coach and selector whose succession planning has given the Wallabies a plethora of wing options – Drew Mitchell, Lachie Turner, Adam Ashley-Cooper and teen sensation James O’Connor – and is able to ditch a player whose ego had outgrown his value to the team. He has the luxury of having the world’s best first five (at least while Dan Carter is out of commission) in Matt Giteau, and another quality pivot in second five Berrick Barnes (who, together with fellow Reds midfielder Quade Cooper, has the silliest name in world rugby). He also has a steadily improving tight five – especially hooker Stephen Moore and hard-edged second rower James Horwill.

Lookng at it purely objectively, the Wallabies would seem to have the most going for them on a number of levels. However, the suspicion that they may have flattered to deceive with two wins over Italy that were no more convincing than the AB’s scratchy victory, and a win over a French side who were still congratulating themselves on their win over the AB’s in Dunedin hint that they may not yet have the wherewithal and self-belief it takes to win what is still a grueling competition that generally requires wins away from home to secure the title, wins they may not be equipped to effect. Not yet, anyway.

And then there’s the All Blacks. The return of the peerless Richie McCaw as both captain and number 7, and his trusty cohort Rodney So’oialo on the back of the scrum will add starch, workrate, and much needed experience to a green-ish forward pack; Sitiveni Sivivatu’s dazzling broken field running, and returning-from-injury first choice centre Conrad Smith’s excellent defence and positional nous should settle down what has been a terribly skittish 2009 effort from the All Black backs.

Other problem areas include the aforementioned scrum, where the inclusion of young Crusaders tighthead Owen Franks hardly bespeaks the selectors’ faith in either Neemia Tialata or John Afoa, and similarly at ruck and maul time, where only veteran Brad Thorn’s superhuman effort in Wellington kept the AB’s in the hunt – the lack of assistance he received was truly terrifying. Curiously, the lineout – our Achilles heel for a decde or more – seems to have improved in inverse proportion to other aspects of our forward play.

And then there’s the massive, gaping chasm that lies between the absent Dan Carter and his would-be replacements, Stephen Donald and Luke McAlister. Given that both of them are presently injured, leaving the possibility that Piri Weepu (our best halfback) or even featherweight rookie Stephen Brett may be tried at 10 in the opening match in Auckland against Australia, this is far and away the All Blacks’ biggest hurdle in 2009. If this hurdle is overcome, however, it could be very timely for RWC 2011 in terms of developing depth in this most crucial position.

So, it’s really anybody’s contest. My money would still be on the Boks – they have the most experienced side and are just too strong in many key areas. If the Boks don’t win this year, de Villiers is history (which may actually be some incentive for the team to lose…) On the other hand entirely, Robbie Deans is very astute, and Australian rugby sides are often just too smart – and this is perhaps shaping up to be the strongest, canniest Wallabies side since ’99. As for the All Blacks, they know only too well how unacceptable defeat is.

If the 2009 Tri-Nations were New Zealand’s Next Top Model 2009, the Boks would be talented, charming Christobelle, the Wallabies the crafty, hard-grafting Hosanna, and the All Blacks the slightly plain-Jane Laura. Just like NZNTM, this is shaping up to be a very interesting competition.

– Jeremy Taylor

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