Wasting the Aussies is fun and I would like more please

This is great. Brilliant.

This is great. Brilliant.

The Chappell-Hadlee is basically Game Of Thrones at this stage. Two families. Leaders of men. Saying ‘who the fuck is that?’ a lot (about Australia). Arse grabbing.

This year’s edition over three battles had everything – monstering the Ockers at Eden Park was as cathartic at punching an annoying sparrow who woke you up too early. In the nation’s offices there was less work done than a Saturday before we all rushed home to catch Santner take the final wickets, leaving us with an evening to sit around and feel awesome.

Wellington was a decent reminder not to get ahead of ourselves. This Australian team may have less names than a sign up sheet for An Evening With Aaron Gilmore but they’re still Australia and know how to win.

Hamilton, o Hamilton. So much beauty on the banks of the Waikato, but so much aggro. It’s the same for cricket. I listened to the first innings on the radio, and watched the second in a Mount Maunganui bar. It was… relaxing to watch the Australian wickets tumble, and as we were watching with with the sound off, I was perfectly placed to lip read. Thoroughly enjoyed that aspect, not to mention the scramble for the outraged high ground over Marsh’s wicket afterwards.

After the World Cup final unpleasantness we owed them big time and taking them down, with the combination of replacements, youngsters and, erm, olders is just another testament to the depth and strength we have now. Remember we just won our biggest ODI series without our senior batsman and bowler. When’s that happened before?

This team just keeps building, starting from zero against South Africa, and making perfectly timed runs through each of the last three summers to take on the big Tests at the end of each summer, be it India, the World Cup or Australia.

And so, this Test series is arguably the biggest of them all, World Cup included, in the roughest toughest format knowing that it’s the last under Baz. Here’s what you can expect:

  • We will mount a big comeback. Remember, the 302 innings all started when we were deep in the shit, and late on day five, we were bowling for the win. Same goes for the 2014 Basin Test, when Williamson matched Sangakkara’s double hundred, and thanks to some wicked seam bowling, we took the lollies and the series
  • The Australians will get very, very annoyed at us. They’re not handling our team culture and the way it’s lapped up at all well. Seasoned mind games exponents Steve Waugh and Ian Chappell will be giving their jandals a severe beating at the way our captain is waltzing around theirs
  • David Warner will score heavily at some stage. Unfortunately
  • We will get a very big score. We have the players to do it at the top and bottom of the order, there’s no reason we can’t really, really cash in Wellington or Christchurch and give our bowlers a few days to pick the tourists off
  • Australian ex-players will get involved through the media. Which is brilliant, as it has a duel effect of firing up the NZers and demotivating their own team, as they’re forced to comment on the daily brain fart in press conferences

Above all, we will see the skipper off in style. One of the chief architects is about to walk off-site, but he’s left it looking really, really good and the ones who’ll carry on look like they know what they’re doing.

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Hayden: In my day, we got punched in the dick

Aussie great Matthew Hayden: Lifting the lid on dick punching

Aussie great Matthew Hayden: No problem with pre-match backside situation.

OPINION: Former Australia and World XI opening bat Matthew Hayden.

“There’s been a lot of of talk on social media about Usman’s backside burrow on young Adam Zampa before his debut.

Can’t see the issue. Nothing says ‘you’ve made it champ’ like a friendly fondle of the bottle and glass during Advance Australia Fair.

Besides. Back in my day, we just got punched in the dick.

I’ll never forget getting the call to say I was going to England to play for Australia. It’s every young cricketer’s dream, but I knew my wedding tackle was in for a Barry Crocker.

Merv Hughes did the honours off a terrifying long run in the hotel lobby before my debut at Old Trafford. I went on to make 29 from 55 balls, a decent return considering the tears of pride and pain in my eyes.

Behind every baggy green, there’s a dick punching story. It was a proud day in the Waugh household when Steve welcomed younger brother Mark to the national team with a typically efficient and uncompromising blow to the trouser snake in Adelaide.

And you bet your stubbie cooler Trevor got the full Chappy-slap from Ian and Greg.

Everyone remembers Boony drinking 52 beers on the plane to England, but not many people know young Tubby Taylor had to punch himself in the rainmaker for every empty can.

While I’m sad to see dick punching go – sharp pain that starts deep in your stomach before spreading throughout your body can bring a team together better than any of John Buc’s freaky ideas – times change. Guys spend a lot more time in the gym these days and a big bash to the balls could cost a youngster a lucrative contract in the IPL.

Anyway – you don’t want to know what it takes to become a Channel 9 commentator.”

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Big Bay out

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BLACKCAPS v Sri Lanka, Bay Oval @ Mount Maunganui, 5 January 2016

The boutique grounds just keep coming. There was near as dammit a full house at Bay Oval, and it was brilliant. Despite looking a little low toward the end, the pitch yielded almost 600 runs and the pace bowlers were still able to get wickets – that’s pretty good these days innit? The setting is magnificent and the boundaries are a decent size. For a new international ground, the logistics were pretty good, a lack of EFTPOS terminals at the bar to start aside. 

The big crowd stayed ’til the end before wandering off to the bach or the beach happy and full of sun. BOP cricket have built it and the people came. It’ll be chocka for the T20. 

Martin Guptill was in fine touch without really cutting loose, and there were great hands from Kane Williamson and encouragingly, Ross Taylor and Luke Ronchi. The pitch took turn, with Ish Sodhi in particular getting a couple to go very sideways. Sri Lanka possibly missed out by not bringing in an extra specialist spinner.

The speed gun at the ground didn’t seem to be working second innings, but Trent Boult looked fast and dangerous to me, while Matt Henry well deserved his five wickets – he has a knack for getting batsmen to chop on, doesn’t he?

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Bay Oval is BYC for Kane and Trent

The BLACKCAPS are very, very committed in the field, with full length dives on the boundary, great leaps in the infield and superb catching,  Williamson, Sodhi, Henry Nicholls and Adam Milne all took theirs very well in a swirling sea breeze late in the day. This was lead by Williamson, with his busy, focused style of captaincy – he played his hand and his bowling changes very well.

A bouquet – the NZ boundary fielders make every effort to get all the youngsters’ (and the occasional adult’s) signature bats signed between balls. It’s heartwarming stuff, those kids will be back.

A brickbat – much work goes into the game presentation, but of your five senses, your ears are entirely hostage to the ground DJ these days. Fans are either having their ears pinned back by music or in a state of stunned silence, with precious little room for chanting or banter inbetween. Seated directly in front of a speaker, as most people seem to be, I tried to conduct a logistics phone conversation with home during the last drinks break with this shit in one ear for the duration – difficult and annoying.

It’s rare to see people engaging with the music at ground in its current format – if we must have music can we have less, at a lower volume please?

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Still enjoying the novelty of a beer while watching cricket again.

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We can be heroes – 2015 in review

2015 was all about heroes, wasn’t it. The cricket! The rugby! Bloody hell we are spoiled. Kiss my arse 2007, here’s sportreview.net.nz’s year in review.

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The BLACKCAPS watch the RWC final, Trent Boult with the blankie there. Photo: @BLACKCAPS.

The rugby
At half time in the final, I caught myself thinking ‘so this is what it’s like to feel comfortable in a RWC final. That was obviously a total amateur move as Australia roared back at us, as they were always going to do, but it worked out OK. It only took about three weeks before I got Grant Nisbett screaming ‘BEAUDEN BARRETT’ out of my head.

After the slow start, the tournament was an absolute ripper, with France (casual, stylish demolition), South Africa (three-weeks-on-an-all-burrito-diet-level-squeaky-bum-time) and Australia (DAN CARTER REDEMPTION) beaten and now becoming one warm memory of nerves, early starts and triumph. New Zealand was great, generally with everyone good-naturedly panicking together in our lounges, the pubs and on Twitter.

With all those greats retiring there’s a lot of holes to fill, and next year’s Super Rugby will be loads of fun as Twitter attempts to find replacements. Of course all this year’s feel-goodery will be gone pretty much 15 minutes into a scratchy start against Wales, but that’s all part of the fun innit.

Elsewhere, the Highlanders took the Super Rugby title in style, denying the poor old Hurricanes a title – this was as brilliant for the southerners as it was devastating for the ‘canes fans, who must take a fair amount of gut wrenching anguish with their razzle dazzle.

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And we lost Jonah and Jerry and Norm. While not technically immortal, All Blacks are meant to live to ripe old ages in this country, so this didn’t seem possible, or indeed fair.

The cricket 

Like Sanjay said on Twitter the other day, most days this year I’ve been dreaming of Grant Elliott hitting that six and berserk-ing his bat around so violently I was afraid Dan Vettori would be injured before the final.

The achievement is no less remarkable a few months later. I mean shit, we had:

  • A double century in a quarter final
  • The top wicket taker in the tournament, a guy who everyone thought was too Test-orientated to be picked a few months out
  • The best captain, who broke the world’s scariest bowler in the semi final
  • A bowling spell of 7 wickets that dismantled the game’s inventors and had everyone annoyed we even had to have a tea break
  • Nerves of steel at crunch time, against Australia and South Africa in particular

This was the year when 400 became the new 300 and while we lost the series to England, I don’t think ODI cricket is ever going to be the same. Stephen Fleming used to talk about advancing a Test, we have just advanced the sport. And done it without being dicks.

OK, so we missed the chance to win at Lord’s this year and went down to Australia in the long anticipated series, showing how hard it is to keep getting results in international cricket, especially away from home. The consistent thing is the tremendous fight and ability to claw ourselves back into games we showed against India last year and Sri Lanka earlier this year, as we fought back into the Australian series. Of course we’re going to have to do it without B Mac from next year, but all the pieces are in place to succeed – we’ve given ourselves every chance to keep doing things no other NZ team has done before.

Balls, inspector
I liked the pink ball Test, but there’s a few things to fix, the main one being the lolly hour in the last session where a side slogging in the field all day suddenly gets a rocket up their bum and wickets start tumbling. In the big bat era, anything that gives the bowlers a boost is welcome, but it needs to be available throughout the day/s, not just the last hour.

Still, the big crowds and TV audiences will be what counts most for those making the decisions, so expect pink balls on show at Seddon Park or Hagley sometime soon.

Hug it out
You can draw many parallels between the BLACKCAPS and the All Blacks’ cultures. Basically, the winning formula seems to be:

  • A derring-do captain that people listen to when they speak
  • A coach who lets players get on with it and backs players with extended runs in the team. But can be steely when required. And top support staff
  • A desire to win, and in style
  • Team culture that’s a open, supportive and even a little bit new age-y, for New Zealand

You can do a lot if you’re free to do what you do best. This game, when Luke Ronchi and Grant Elliott came together at 93-5 and walked off with a total of 360 sticks in the mind – you’d expect a limp to 170 from there, but instead we got a punishing, giddy counter attack. Same for That Cardiff Quarterfinal, history be damned, we wasted them.

The potential common thread here is the High Performance Sport NZ accelerator coaching course Mike Hesson and Steve Hansen took together in 2009 – this is some super work from HPSNZ, hopefully fellow course attendee Janine Southby can work the same trick.

Playing again
I am a cricket player again, for the first time in roughly twelve years. Our team, Mairangi Vice, is not troubling the upper reaches of the Bays Big Bash but geez it’s a lot of fun. It’s fair to say the spirit is more willing than the flesh  with more injuries than Darren Anderton among the team, but that old feeling of the ball coming out of the middle or getting one to shape away is familiar, welcome and hard to beat. The body will get a good rest over the break (ahem) and we’ll be back into it next year.
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Buying all the gear was fun too.

The football
Tottenham fans are in that ‘can we actually get excited now?’ phase – yes we have a manager with vision, all these young players looking right at home and we’re getting results, but we’ve been burned before. Personally I wouldn’t be too upset about a Europa League exit to give us a decent run at the champions league spots / the league. The Internet came up with the too-clever insult ‘Spursy’ this year, which I found kind of devastating. Let’s hope we’re not Spursy for once.

sportreview most read posts

  1. Welcome to worry week, brought to you by France
  2. Rugby’s coming home and potentially leaving again quite quickly
  3. Who ruled the world?
  4. FIFA scandal who’s who
  5. The summer ODIs went bat shit

Elsewhere
This year I enjoyed spending more family time, had a career change and didn’t write on this blog very much. Ahem. The book I enjoyed the most was The Goldfinch, and I’m astonished by the quality and quantity coming from Duncan’s The Spinoff. The songs I listened to the most were (Dad rock alert!) Steely Dan’s Dirty Work and Reelin’ In The Years (the solo!) and Over And Over by Fleetwood Mac, whose concert was ace.

Promise to write more next year team, hope you enjoyed what there was and thanks for reading. Hope you get a nice break and all your eating, drinking and doing feck-all needs are well fulfilled.

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Three things Jonah did at 18 you’ll never do

Having Jonah Lomu and Christian Cullen in one sevens team seems slightly unfair, but that’s what we put on the field in Hong Kong in 1994 .

This clip crams more jaw-dropping moments into its one minute and twenty one seconds than spending three weeks in a Led Zep private jet. Here’s three things  you’ll never be able to do, ever. 

One – 00’14”
Under (admittedly English) pressure on the sideline,  Lomu spots Cullen unmarked about 40 metres away – and picks him out with a gridiron-style overarm pass. My good-for-nothing-but-working-a-mouse hands can’t even hold a rugby ball like that. Cullen scores.

Two – 00’38”
In the middle of flying down the wing, Lomu screeches to a complete halt – then two steps later is back up to full tilt. Would-be English tacklers are not just physically unable to compete, they’re also very confused. Campese’s goose step is, immediately consigned to the wheelie bin of history.  Cullen scores.

Three – 01’01”
Lomu runs around two hapless Irish tackers and goes to swerve inside another. Peskily, he doesn’t go away, so he gets that stooping, dump truck fend Mike Catt’s so familiar with. Cullen’s there, but Lomu scores.

Anyway. We’ve heard the old stories a lot the last couple of days. After Hong Kong he became the youngest All Black ever, then came 1995 and South Africa and becoming the biggest name in the game at 20.

Despite Jonah’s record, there was always someone willing to argue he shouldn’t be in the team after that initial 1995 run died down. That was stupid. He could do things other people couldn’t – if he wasn’t in a position to swerve around you or step you, he had simply running over you up his sleeve.

To me, he seemed most at home in cosmopolitan Wellington, playing in that outrageous Lomu / Cullen / Umunga / erm, O’Halloran backline in front of all those crazy fans, when the cake tin was still a novelty. They should have won a title.

You never imagine brick shithouses need much looking after, but seeing him crying on the Homes show and having a succession of people around him with questionable motives, you always felt a bit protective of Jonah. Despite his all consuming love for competing, it was a relief to see the end of the rugby and boxing comeback attempts, for the worry of what he might do to himself in the process.

On one level it seems a shame his last few weeks were spent on sponsors duties, but he had his family with him, and getting out and meeting people was something he seemed to love doing. And who are we to judge? Everyone that had the pleasure talked about his genuine, open manner, and there are untold stories of his generosity.

We were lucky to have him, and that mid-career tall-poppy carry on is well and truly in the past. We won’t know how he’d have played fully fit, nor what he’d have gone on to do with his immense mana the world over as a rugby or UNICEF figurehead, or a dad. What ever he did, it would have been big and hard to stop, I’m sure.

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Finals fever, or just fever

My semi final experience was like this, only without the company or the joy.

My semi final experience was like this, only without the company or joy.

Do you ever really enjoy an All Blacks RWC cup semi final? In fairness, alone in the dark of night is no way to enjoy a match of this magnitude. “What did you do at half-time?” asked partner-of-sportreview, when daylight emerged. “Just sat there and worried.”

The match had a touch of the 2011 final about it, with  pleading ‘this isn’t how it’s supposed to end’ thoughts hard up against the reality of a one or two point cushion.

Twitter didn’t help. Basically everyone that was up was having a meltdown of one form or another on their phones, the little kicks in behind mystifying armchair Steve Hansens up and down the land.

I watched it again when the family got up. Second time around was much, much more enjoyable, without the furious brainstorming about all the ways we’d lose. There was no nice-guy-Heyneke about the Boks’ tactics and they showed less enthusiasm for playing actual rugby than a house cat, but still pushed us right to the brink. It would have been a bloody travesty if they’d won it, but.

Diego Maradona reacts to Argentina's tournament exit.

Diego Maradona reacts to Argentina’s tournament exit.

Those crazy Aussies
Anyway. Here we are in Big Week, lining up against the jandal lickers. They got a black mark from the neutrals by making Argentina’s magnificent coach Daniel Hourcade shed tears all over his fetching knitwear at full time. Us taking on the Aussies  at Twickenham is a dream final, with the added bonus of offering an Antipodean up-yours to the Brit establishment, the rugby equivalent of Crowded House doing a jug skull at a Buckingham Palace cocktail function.

So, what have they got? Not many Australians would make the All Blacks’ run-on side, and the AB bench would probably make an actual bench of the Ocker’s substitutes without even having to duck into Bunnings. But – they’re the last ones to beat us, and they’ll cost New Zealand a lot of sleep this week.

Michael Cheika is being talked up as a combination of a chess grand master and  Bobby Heenan. This year’s Sydney defeat and the Eden Park wasting have been analysed to death, with mind games and conspiracy theories dominating talk back like a Grant Dalton interview. But it will be David Pocock with his Popeye biceps and willingness to put his head where it will be kicked off that’s the big worry. All the talk is of taking him out of the breakdown, but no-one’s talking up the sportreview method of sneaking a vodka into his Guinness when he’s in the bogs. Leave no stone un-turned fellas.

It’s like this – we should beat them. Ex-players and pundits alike are lining up to award us the cup already, but knockout rugby, kind of like inviting the First XV over to your parents place for a few quiets, never turns out how you expect.

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The All Black training base, as reported by NZ media.

All Black fan panic levels
Pretty bad. This isn’t a white-light-France-level panic, but a more nuanced panic, one you can savour like a Wellington craft beer fan taking on a steak and kidney and coriander stout. Superstitions and deals with the devil are being consummated around the land. We may have the Greatest Team Of All Time on our hands here, but no-one’s allowed to say it, lest Pocock and Cheika come storming up the Waitemata Harbour on the back of a winged Peter FitzSimons to break New Zealand hearts.

At least the build up will be over soon – the nature of a rugby tournament means there’s a whole lot of time to fill between the big matches. Craig Dowd, who broke the sacred ex-player fawning code  to predict an Australian win. Let’s hope that goes as well as Zinzan’s prediction. Much has been made of the Australians’ apparent refusal to mention the words ‘All Blacks’, while our policy of referring to the Wallabies only as ‘those fuckwits’ got nothing.

Roll on 7am Sunday morning, when we might actually start to enjoy this tournament.

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Welcome to Worry Week, brought to you by France

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Now we have an angst main to go with a selection of angsty sides for the table. If  the All Blacks’ form being shakier than Clive Woodward’s grasp on reality wasn’t bad enough, now we’ve got you-know-who, you-know-where in the first knockout.

New Zealanders are jittery enough during rugby world cups without this kind of shit. Otherwise fully functional adults, many with gainful employment in the news media, cranked into talk of ‘omens’ and ‘Utu’ even before Ireland and France actually played each other. As if we needed more excuses to go on and on about our 2007 tournament exit, the action replay will send the not-getting-over-it into over-aroused overdrive with no-one likely to emerge from this week’s build up with much credit.

Meanwhile, France will sleep like babies. They know that someone has to play the villain, and will spend the week twirling their mustaches, shrugging and listening to Daft Punk. Probably. They’re happy for all the pressure to be with us, while masterminding putting us through torture for 80 minutes.

All Black mood board

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We probably didn’t need the panic button just yet, but it’s been firmly pushed none the less.

We appear to have the talent and experience to win it, but the question is, do we have the form? Take the BLACKCAPS, who didn’t have the strongest squad in CWC15, but had everyone firing before the tournament and through the pool matches. Painful as it is, remember who took that trophy home, the experienced old Aussies.

We have to hope this is a similar scenario, all those centurions and the coaching panel dream team have the know-how to get themselves through. I don’t buy the ‘holding back’ thingo, I reckon the chips just aren’t down yet. It’s inexplicable that this great team has simply forgotten how to play between wasting the Aussies at Eden Park and this tournament. Gregor Paul reckons we should just chill, and I largely agree.

Anyway team, Sunday morning, it won’t matter who kept the faith, who wrote who off, who pointed out you can never tell which French team will turn up on the day the most or who said ‘bring it on!’ in the most chipper manner. We’ll either be still in the tournament, or impatiently waiting to get through to Tony Veitch to demand Robbie Deans gets the top job.

Fuck. Fuck! I can’t handle it already.

Your sportreview.net.nz quarter final predictions, bearing in mind sportreview.net.nz is a notoriously poor tipster

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Welsh injury toll mounts by the hour.

South Africa v Wales – South Africa. They’ve sorted themselves out from being on the receiving end of a Japanese fairy tale to be among the favourites, while Wales are being forced to play Charlotte Church in the front row.

Ireland v Argentina – Argentina. Too big and too strong for the Irish, who have similar injury issues to Wales along with a long history of world cup quarter final heartbreak.

Australia v Scotland – Scotland. Just jokes! Australia’s challenge will be maintaining their momentum. There’s the odd chink, like their discipline, and their coach, who is overdue to do something flaky.

New Zealand v France – Us. I think we’re going to waste them.

Enduring images of the World Cup thus far
Teams desperately defending their lines. Australia did it for about three quarters of an hour against Wales, while the All Blacks did well to repel Tonga on a St James surface that was parting like the Red Sea. There’s been bugger all free-flowing back play to speak of.

Reporters haranguing fans outside stadiums. My favourite was the really, really shitfaced young New Zealander struggling manfully to articulate all the ways his national team had disappointed him by beating Namibia by only 44 points. People with cameras thrust in their faces are unlikely to offer much in the way of useable insight or even joined up sentences, so instead we get ‘colour’ by way of yelling, outlandish wigs and borderline xenophobic banter. It’s rubbish and I would like to see less of it please.

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Dead set priceless banter™.

The royal bloody family. You can’t turn on the telly without seeing Wills looking smug, Harry looking sick as a parrot and the Queen having everyone over for a pimms and a backslap when the national team should be in a Cardiff hotel room shitting their pants.

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This is Hipster

Liverpool have their man, the unicorn  hero of football hipsters everywhere, all glasses and fist pumps that are even more awkward than Wenger.

This geeky great white hope could have had pretty much any job he wanted, and to choose Liverpool, the quintessential under-achievers with over-expectations, says both ‘I was into football before it was cool’ and ‘I am a bit mad’. Fair play to him.

And so – Graeme Sportsfreak commissioned this tribute. movies-i-give-it-a-year-character-posters-2_1II

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Rugby’s coming home, and potentially leaving again quite quickly

RWC15 is a mass of contradictions so far – we passed a law allowing the nation to chop piss in front of the rugby, then everyone went to the pub to drink flat whites. Man Of Few Words Steve Hansen is suddenly lighting up a press conferences with more one-liners than a night out with Stevie Nicks in the ’70s. The hosts have rolled out the welcome mat, then rolled over.

Everyone can enjoy this.

Everyone can enjoy this.

The early weeks of a world cup are like a Monkees album. There’s some classics all right, but plenty of filler too. Before it gets better, here’s what’s happened in the first fortnight:

Best game I
Wales v England. This was a six nations epic that had blood, guts, seventeen half backs on the field, and it will actually affect the outcome of the tournament. The hosts are as tentative as an Englishman trying to get a French waiters’ attention and have been about as successful. Wales had Gaelic fire and brimstone up their backsides and got the lollies – they will do well to repeat the trick with all their injuries, but having taken down their nemesis, they probably won’t care.

Hazza regretting bringing a security camera on a double date.

Hazza regretting bringing a security camera on a double date.

Best game II
Japan v South Africa, obviously. Eddie Jones is as popular in South Africa as Braai made of toejam, and his team’s late winner is one of the world cup’s greatest moments ever, obviously. The cherry blossoms performed a pretty credible Brumbies-circa-2004 impression to get home while South Africa, who looked as organised as Alan Donald running a quick single. They need to de-shambles themselves and fast.

Japan are proof that the top tier isn’t impregnable, and any country with massive corporations willing to chuck shedloads of wonga at a coach, foreign player dominated professional league and a world cup hosting gig coming up can play with the big boys. Those Pacific islands should get into that.

'Just promise me Eddie you won't come back and beat us with Japan one day.' 'Sure.'

‘Promise me Eddie you won’t come back and beat us with Japan one day.’ ‘Sure.’

Pool of Death update

England have a distinct whiff of dead meat about them, but I would keep an eye on Australia. They come into their big games looking as competent as Kevin Rudd, but have the chance to knock England out this weekend, promoting all those entertaining ‘who do you least like’ debates up and down NZ. Here’s a quick guide:

England – would be pretty funny if the hosts went out, their fans are unbearable, they’re tough at home so could hurt the All Blacks chances later in the tournament

Australia – they’re Australian

Wales are top, but Warren Gatland’s squad is so bare he’s is sizing up getting out the ear tape and running on himself, if he ever gets over his voice back after his post-England karaoke bender. With all the Big Clashes to come, there’s more late drama than an Earthquake Recovery minister trying to make a flight and a bigger fall out to come, team.

All Black panic level
Ooooooookay. So far. Beating Argentina comfortably in a tight-ish, physical world cup opener was a great result, but measured against our propensity to PANIC whenever we don’t WASTE TEAMS BY FIFTY POINTS, it was an utter failure.

When you play against minnows Namibia with a team with 13 changes in it, you shouldn’t read too much into it. So of course we all read too much into it. With  talk of injuries in the camp, the nation is lovingly running their finger all around the panic button, but hasn’t *quite* pushed it. Yet.

The Official Panic Button of the All Blacks.

The Official Panic Button of the All Blacks.

There’s some bright points – Sonny Bill is all of a sudden our form back, and Waisake Naholo is down to play Georgia, and could provide some much-needed X factor, among a back three that’s worryingly quiet. Even that’s OK, as long as they can start catching high balls at knockout time.

Richie and Dan, who we’ve put a lot of chips on, look the goods so far and our strength in depth looks, erm, deeper than most as long as everyone gets and stays fit. Playing this weird group with Argentina and not a lot else makes it harder to gauge where we’re at than plugging in a phone charger in the dark.

Can we win it, though? Shit yes. Even if NZ isn’t relaxed, the All Blacks seem to be. We should learn from those guys.

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Cupping the cup – RWC 15 preview

We’re almost there – rugby fans who’ve not put a boot through the 40″ in frustration at a build up more dreary than a family holiday to Stationery Warehouse will have actual rugby to digest in less that 24 hours time.

Fans of ‘stats’ and ‘facts’ have had plenty of chances to scratch that itch elsewhere. sportreview.net.nz presents a RWC 15 guide to the All Blacks’ opposition, and a pointer to the potential pain the nation’s about to experience together.

Australia

It's the World in Union - everyone enjoys Australian defeat.

It’s the World in Union – everyone enjoys Australian defeat.

World cup history
Twice winners, but the last time was ’99 and it’s been more barren than a post-Matt Dunning Koru lounge buffet since. The golden generation of Eales, Gregan, Larkham, Horan etc are long since retired, the recent coaching change circus and playing roster rabble are having a hard time measuring up.

Can they win it?
Technically yes, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that the Cheika era is flattering to deceive. He’s developed a big old forward pack and some fair backline talent, but their ability to actually win when it counts seems as likely as a Tony Abbott comeback.

How bad would they be to lose to?
Four more years bad. They’ll be tough all right, but on current form and depth, we should smash them like a kebab on the way home from the pub.

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Four Gregans.

Four Gregans.

 

England

CARPARK_3110738b

England fans. What a pack of dorks.

World cup history
Winners in 2003 with a forward pack carved from granite, the complicated Johnny Wilkinson and not a lot else. Bit of a mixed bag apart from that, best known for providing comedy opposition to Jonah Lomu’s early start to the ‘get the Union Jack off our flag’ movement in 1995.

Can they win it? 
Bloody probably. Twickers with its hooray Henrys and indomitable bloody roar is their Eden Park, and they get to play all their tough matches there. Everyone’s openly hoping they don’t make it out of the Group Of Death, but that seems unlikely.

How bad would they be to lose to?
Awful. With fans and sponsors starting the usual / irritating ‘bantz’ about the Haka early doors, by the time we actually get to play them in a knock out match in about nine weeks time the tension will be unbearable. Every All Blacks fan takes each loss to England during their life time as an extremely personal insult. To do so in the world cup would basically End Of Days.

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Woodward

Two youthful Clive Woodwards.

France

French rugby fans all look like this and are extremely annoying.

French rugby fans all look like this and are extremely annoying.

World cup history
Thrice finalists, never won it. All Blacks fans who’ve sucessfully repressed the memories will be interested to learn the French knocked us out of the tournament gloriously in ’99, and in treacherous fashion in ’07.

Can they win it? 
They’re as crazy as a crocodile locked in your desk drawer, and you wouldn’t want to open it to find out. Look, people around the country will spend the next month telling each other that the French are unpredictable, so sportreview.net.nz is unlikely to figure it out here and now.

How bad would they be to lose to?
The absolute worst. Mike Hosking long form interview on scout.co.nz bad.

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Laporte

Six Bernard Laportes.

South Africa

South Africa - famous the world over for its rugby passion.

South Africa – famous the world over for its rugby passion.

World cup history
Twice winners, they’re always tough and more than happy to run through brick walls to get through. Then again, they’ve had their fair share of quarter final exits and look best when they stick to grinding it out and relying on a deadly kicker to get the lollies.

Can they win it? 
Yes. But it seems unlikely. They’ll be at the business end like a japanese executive ignoring the last drinks call in a karaoke bar, but it seems there’s more likely options elsewhere this time around.

How bad would they be to lose to?
They’re arguably our greatest rivals and encounters tend more fiery than Gareth Morgan versus a cat. It could be worse, much worse.

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Os

One Os du Rant.

Everyone else

An old codger talks to his pint and his imaginary dragon. Bless.

An old codger talks to his pint and his imaginary dragon.

World cup history
 Some of the most memorable games involve those outside the big teams above, like Samoa’s defeats of Wales and Ireland taking down Australia at Eden Park last time, but there’s been some match ups more one sided than hamburger v tofu along the way.

Can they win it?
No. Wales and Ireland seem the most likely to spring surprises and will be tough quarter finals opponents, but most teams outside the ones above will be very happy to get out of the group. Rugby, which is run by old boys clubs, is a game where the old boys clubs are most likely to achieve, unsurprisingly.

How bad would they be to lose to?
A small part of every New Zealander would not begrudge Wales a world cup win. Same goes for Ireland, but seeing as we’ve never lost to them and this is the world bloody cup, it would be bad. Really bad. If the All Blacks are eliminated by anyone else, expect our national sport to be Lacrosse when 2019 rolls around.

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Tualigi

Five Alesana Tuilagis.

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