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.


Old fashioned test match – just add water

Old fashioned wet weather rugby from the All Blacks on Saturday night. Can’t understand the doubt about the performance, though, All Black bashing after a win is both too fashionable and really boring to me – would sir prefer the Warriors? We’re building something here, take a chill pill and enjoy holding the Bledisloe for another year. And think about what that amount of possession would mean on a dry track.


All Black pack ready to tackle the Tri Nations

No matter how flat the All Blacks were against Argentina and the Pacific Islands, the fact remains that we haven’t seen a black pack dominate a quality side when the chips were down like in the first half at Carisbrook in a long time. Our back line has fired because of the take no prisoners approach of the tight five. Waikato’s Keith Robinson and Jonno Gibbes are a throwback to the All Black forwards of yesteryear, shame that they (or Deon Muir. Or Duane Monkley.) have not been given the chance before. The All Blacks could have done with them.


Sent them home tae think again

Clive Woodward’s England left the Southern Hemisphere having lost three tests. Not exactly revenge for the World Cup, but it was great seeing the ABs playing like men possessed for a change, and sets things up nicely for what should be a fascinating Tri-Nations this year.


The (non-hysterical) take on NZ Rugby

Eddie Butler is the UK rugby journalist that shares Stephen Jone’s obsession with NZ rugby – but without the agenda of winding us up. Fair assessment of the new AB coaching trio, and a lament for the lack of foward power in NZ Rugby – yeah, tell us about it!