What’s that Skip? Wendell’s stuck under the table?

It seems like the whole country is suffering from a collective post – Lions hangover. You go to the pub – there’s no-one there. You go to watch the sports news – what’s the point? You can reach out and touch the listlessness with your hand. But hang on… there’s a Tri Nations to play, and while everyone’s trying hard to feign indifference, underneath it all, we can’t wait to see if that magic in Wellington (and Christchurch to a lesser extent) can be recreated against the old enemies.

We were too busy arguing about the flat back line last year to care, and it was one of the more mediocre tournaments in a competition that has more same-ness to it every year (can’t wait for that extra round). After a year together, we’ll get to see what this potentially ‘special’ All Black side is made of.

And it’s great to see the Wallabies responding to the threat of a resugent South Africa and ominous New Zealand by getting on the piss…

Lions tour – in cartoon form!

I sat down one day and made a ‘cartoon’ about Clive Woodward and what a goose he is. Then I sent it to Bart, who put it on his site. I was stoked, so I did a couple more. You can see them here, here and here on thesilverfern.co.nz, or click on the pics for my Flickr site below – there’s a few photos from the rugby there, too.


Ahoy Captain

Richie McCaw is a legend. This interview on the eve of the Lions series see him, as always, being blunt, frank and honest, and contains one ‘shit’ and one ‘piss’ – it’s great to see the All Black tradition of foul language hasn’t been stamped out just yet. It’s also fantastic to hear no talk of ‘visions’, ‘facilitation’ or ‘implementation’. This guy is a breath of fresh air, and so vital, not just to this series, but for New Zealand rugby overall. I was happy to see during the recent trial match the cameraman picked out a group of three non-playing All Blacks watching the game – Tana, Anton, and Richie, the current, a former and the future All Black captains standing around talking shit. Richie is a smart guy, and he’s learning from the guys that have been there before. I hope that if we are to lift the World Cup in 2007 and 2011 that it’s our #7 and captain that gets to lift it first.

All Blacks are back – in the bad books

What a disappointment. The good feeling created after the carisbrook test (or just the first half) has disappeared, and the NZ public is back in a familiar position – on the backs of the coach. The of the backline formation that put Carlos Spencer, the best player in space in the world in the middle of a traffic jam has to be questioned, and the forward power that promised so much has limply disappeared.

We were out-smarted in Sydney and out-muscled in Johannesburg, and we’re calling from changes, but who is going to replace the men we have? There are one or two who may be past their used by date (it really does look like curtains for poor old Justin Marshall), but remember that we have McCaw and Robinson to return, to bolster the pack, and we still have largely the same backline that ran riot through last year’s Tri Nations. The league style backline might have to go, and a long term option at first five found, but remember that now is the time to be experimenting – not in France in three year’s time.


The big show

We can breathe a little easier with the Bledisloe already won, but Saturday night gives the All Blacks the chance to wrap up the Tri Nations, complete the clean sweep over Australia, answer the backline critics, and put on a show at Rugby’s greatest stage.

The team is unbeaten this year, having survived some enourmous pressure in conditions that have not suited the new backline formation, especially in the last two games. If we’re sick to death of talking about the flat formation, I’d guess the team is even more so. They will want to prove that thier tactics are the right ones, and now they have the dry track to show what they can do.

I think the Aussies will struggle to contain the black pack, bolstered by the return of Jonno Gibbes, who have done the hard work this year with style and considerable steel. Let’s hope the backs can match thier efforts, and create some memories of this massive fixture we’ll enjoy remembering for a change.


Flat back line debate? Blame France.

Six tests in 2004, six wins, including two against the world champions, one each over Australia and South Africa, and the Bledisloe cup safely tucked away for another year – all is well in our rugby loving land, right?

No. With a week off while Australia and South Africa played, the debate has raged about the flat back line, and the potential disaster, pestilence and woe we face by persisting with it.

Blame France. A certain world cup semi final played out in 1999 changed rugby watching in New Zealand forever. We got carried away by the painted jet, the flash new Adidas kit, and the master stroke of including Lomu, Cullen, Wilson AND Umaga in the team at once… until ten minutes into the second half. No-one wants to be caught out like that again, so as a nation we prepare for potential soul crushing disappointment by watching the All Blacks like hawks, trying to detect weakness no matter what the results are.

If you’re confused by this, but would like to join in, try slipping these phases into your rugby debates:

1. “We need a few changes in that backline, that’s for bloody sure. Pack of girls”

2. “The Aussies are bloody good. Their backs will run all around us, it’ll be a cricket score if we’re not careful”

3. “Finally we get some mongrel in the pack, and the backs fall to bits – bloody hopeless”

4. “Carlos can’t tackle”

5. “Umaga can’t release his outsides”

6. “Marshall? Don’t even get me started”

7. “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” etc etc etc

Now relax, and smugly start picking the next All Black coach. Helen is just lucky the election has fallen in between world cups this time.


Jonah’s recuperation begins

Jonah arrived as perhaps the ultimate rugby player – big, fast, strong, a mountain of a winger who could just as easily run over the top of you as step you. Then he got worked out, his defensive lapses becoming more and more glaring, and the knockers started on him. Lomu’s copped some of the most heated criticism of any NZ sportsperson in recent years, because he never really lived up to the potential we had him marked out for after the 1995 world cup. Apart from the odd moment of magic (Twickenham 1999, Telstra stadium 2000), he wasn’t really the same.

Jonah speaks frequently of his burning desire to play in black, but surely he would have been smarter to give the game up altogether while getting his health to 100%. His advisors, family, team mates and coaches should never have let him continue while his health wasn’t right, and talk of a comeback is farcical.

Get well Jonah.


All Blacks undefeated but nobody happy

Chris Rattue on the weekend’s test match. Yes the back line was sluggish, and yes they could use a plan B, but we’ve just won 6 in a row, chaps! (Including two close ones, remember we used to always lose those) By my reckoning we haven’t had a pack this good since 1997, and for once it’s the forwards instead of the backs winning matches for us. Once it all comes together we could be looking at something special – and our next two matches are to be played on dry tracks.


NZ Rugby needs our greatest rivals to be great again

I remember sitting up to watch our first game against South Africa after they were re-admitted to international competition, and watching the grainy coverage of the brown grass, the forwards that seemed impossibly huge, and feeling the tension. That green jersey evokes so many memories, from the colossal test series of the 50s and 60s, to the 1981 tour and all that means for us as a young nation, to the 1995 world cup loss. It’s been six years since the Boks have beaten us, and now the foot-shooting is starting all over again. Rivals make each other strong, and we’re missing that all-out confrontation that a traditional ABs v Boks match brings. The fans from this proud rugby nation deserve far better than this.