Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
20 July 2015
RANDOM THOUGHTS ON THE ALL BLACKS V ARGENTINA TEST MATCH 18 JULY 2015
BEFORE THE GAME
I turned on my test match viewing ahead of the Argentina test in time to check out the John Campbell story of his week in Samoa before Game #1 of this All Black season.
And I have to say I was a bit disappointed in John's effort.
If you read my report on this website on the SkyTV coverage from Apia you would have seen that I thought the presence of John Campbell added 'class and a new enthusiasm' to Sky's live match presence. He was so animated in his inimitable way about the All Blacks at last playing a test in the islands and it really helped the coverage.
But the longer version of his pre-match video story in Samoa, which aired before the Argentina game, added little more than John being seen in too many 'two-shot' interviews and going all cheezy in them.
He talked to young local blokes, old women, Samoan kids and All Blacks leaning out of the windows of a slow-moving bus. The words 'awesome' and 'special' seemed to be in every sentence - and we learned nothing really new about why this was so. Where were the in-depth interviews with some of the very fine and deep-thinking people in Samoa rugby asking them what were the real issues and problems of the game there? Believe me there are many.
Another thing. Maybe some of the interviews could have been conducted in the Samoan language (and sub-titled into English for us palagi's) as too many of the locals struggled to express themselves beyond 'gee-whiz' with what John was asking of them - in his in-your-face Kiwi interviewing style.
The strangest part of the 30-minute programme was the opening sequence which had a camera focused solely on John and no one else as he sat in a bar in Apia, like Norman No-Mates, watching an out of sight TV screen. It was apparently showing the Hurricanes v Highlanders Super 15 final. Quite what John's mood swings about the fortunes of the Hurricanes had to do with the upcoming test match over there I must have missed.
THE TEST ITSELF
Now to the test versus Argentina in Christchurch. It turned out to be a generally sound performance win by New Zealand against a Pumas team which had a very powerful forward presence mixed with a backline which had no penetration at all but were good 'stoppers.'
One of the first things that caught my eye was the sight of a number of early scrums going down and not collapsing at all. Hallelujah! They were actually worthy of making us all blink in wonderment - we are so attuned to just about every scrum collapsing and having to be re-set.
What could be seen instead was an enormous presence of powerful men testing each other with full muscular scrum thrust. Great to watch it was and long may it continue!
And of course we all watched Waisake Naholo very closely. The brand new test winger with the rat's tail hairdo (a first in All Black history?) showed some early nerves, missing his first tackle and fumbling the first pass thrown his way, but he then did a number of very good things on the field before the cruel quirks of rugby ruined his expectant year. He walked from the field with a leg injury which is so severe he will apparently not now be available for the Rugby World Cup.
This is devastating for the quietly spoken 'New Zealand winger' (Though I note everyone seems to want to call him a 'Fijian' - the same people don't call Jerome Kaino an 'American Samoan' do they? Or Ben Franks 'an Australian' because of the country where they were born.)
Of course the loss of Naholo is tough for All Black coach Steve Hansen but there WILL be more injuries before the World Cup, so get used to it folks. In the tough world of rugby every nation must now 'carry its wounded' like they did in wartime. These days there is absolutely no point in saying 'we lost such-and-such game because we had a lot of injuries' because every professional rugby team, in these days of massive collisions, must be judged on the strength of having about 40 international players of quality on stand-by. It is not 15 players v 15 anymore.
[Postscript; 24 hours later Cory Jane limped off the field with an ankle injury when playing for the Barbarians Club v NZ Maoris in Auckland. There is also some doubt now about his chances of making the World Cup. A question; Should the All Black selectors now put Nehe Milner-Skudder in wraps and keep him for exposure only at the World Cup?]
Another thing too many Kiwi fans say is 'Gee, didn't Richie play well again?' Well, yes against Argentina McCaw did go well; meeting their often formidable forward presence with his own distinctive authority. But dammit, McCaw still gave away too many penalties. On maybe four occasions the arm went up from referee Craig Joubert against New Zealand's star Number 7. I noted 'not rolling away,' 'not releasing, and even 'kicking the ball through the scrum' as some of his indiscretions.
Of course McCaw plays in perhaps the most-watched position for technical rulings in any game but each time there's a penalty against him it crosses my mind that the referees who will do the upcoming World Cup games will be doing so in front of baying hounds in the British grandstands, many of whom have been fuelled for years to scream out loud at every game that the great New Zealand captain is nothing more than a 'bloody cheat!'
Mark my words, they do that over there! All this is going to place enormous pressure on McCaw - and the referees!
Was it my imagination or did New Zealand's other great Canterbury player Daniel Carter not play with his usual full deck against the Argies? At one TV interview a couple of days before the test Steve Hansen made a comment along the lines of 'Dan (Hansen only uses his team's Christian names) won't be making any breaks from now on this season.' I think that's how I heard the essence of the comment. At the time I thought it was strange that the coach was effectively telling his opponents that there was something Carter would not be doing in the upcoming tests.
So I looked out for it in the test and sure enough Carter attempted little or no running rugby of his own in Christchurch. Yes he kicked, in defence and tactically, but the rest of the time he mostly moved the ball on and/or backed up. This is fine Mr Hansen, but don't tell the opposition that you're keeping certain aspects of 'Dan's' play away from the opposition.
On the face of it though Carter played soundly and his goal-kicking came right after a couple of early misses. I am happy he is 'the man' in the first five-eighths role this season. Beauden Barrett, to my way of thinking, is always better as the sub coming off the bench as cover.
Here's another thing that I randomly noted. Did I hear right - the good folk in the crowd actually booed when Argentina took a dropped-goal attempt? To me they definitely did. I ask why would that be so?
In recent weeks we have been reminded of the outright value of the dropped-goal. The Highlanders kicked six of them in their last nine games in the Super 15 competition and they are now the champions - and drop-goals have featured in a couple of Rugby World Cup finals haven't they?. And isn't there a World Cup on the horizon soon?
Here's one more; Didn't the All Blacks need just one 'droppie' to go over in the 1995 final and in the horror show at Cardiff in the quarter-finals in 2007?
Do not boo the dropped-goal people; you never know when we'll need one!
Mind you I might be inclined to join any group of those who want to hoot in derision at those blot-on-the-game 'lineout drives.' And all hail Steve Hansen for saying they are 'boring' because he is bloody-well correct!
The sight of Agustin Creevy the Argies hooker and genial looking captain, scoring twice from two unsightly but excellently organised drives by his mates - and Richie McCaw, his opposing captain, getting one back for the All Blacks kept the scoreboard operators working for their wages . But you wouldn't put any of those tries on a postcard would you?
Soon enough the end came and Coach Hansen, who had been seen looking extremely sober and serious in his viewing box at halftime even fronted up smiling for Melodie Robinson's TV interview at the end. (Mind you it is an All Black coaching tradition for the media; the coach always looks happier when he is interviewed by a female. It's true! A couple of times I recall TVNZ used to tell me to sit tight and instead send April Ieremia out from the newsroom when they heard Laurie Mains was in a gruff mood. Back April would come waving her videotape crowing she had got the coach to answer all of the questions 'we blokes' had wanted asked!)
The newly slim Steve Hansen (is he workin' out?) was pleased at the 39-18 result and said so with a crooked smile - though he fell back into historic grim All Black coach-speak when he added 'yes, but we've still got a few 'work-on's' to attend to' - then adding 'But trust us - we know what we're doing!'.
All in all a good New Zealand win - and now its onto Johannesburg for the All blacks where by my calculations they might have arrived a day ahead of the Springboks who were still in Brisbane waiting 24 hours to play the Wallabies and then had at least 12 more hours of overnight sleeping to do before they could fly out of Australia. Will that make the All Blacks the 'home' team?
The day after the All Black-Argentina match I flew from Wellington to Christchurch to call a very good Land Rover 1st XV match between two unbeaten teams Christchurch Boys High School and St Andrews College. The STAC boys won a 25-24 thriller thus ending a 27-game winning streak in the ChCh Boys High local championship. Good stuff by both teams and the freezing crowd of 3-4000 people.
While I was in Christchurch a keen local bustled up to me and said 'you didn't mention last night that for a while there were four former Christchurch Boys High School boys on the field for the All Blacks in the test.'
'First things first,' I said huffily in reply, 'I didn't commentate the test last night, but yes, I hadn't caught on that Dan Carter, Luke Romano, Brodie Retallick and Colin Slade (when he came off the bench) were all 'School' old boys. Congrats to them all and to the blue and blacks of ChCh BHS.'
But my new friend didn't finish there. He went on 'and what's all this fuss about the town of Levin and Fielding High School claiming Codie Taylor as 'one of theirs' now that he has come into the test rugby arena? What about the Sydenham Rugby Club? Codie's had six seasons with them too! And when Nepo Laulala came on last night he made it two Sydenham RFC boys on the field at the same time.'
Oh well - you can't win 'em all can you?' I didn't dare say 'yea mate, but they are all Crusaders players - who under-performed this season.'
But a good point was raised by the nice Mr Cantab Know-Everything (Pot calling Kettle black here?); has there ever been a time when more than four men from the same alma mater were on the field for the All Blacks at the same time?
Come on now - good readers - help me here! If you know; email at firstname.lastname@example.org
The great Colin Meads plays his last game for his country on this day.
His career as an All Black had lasted 15 seasons inclusive 1957-71. It ended leading NZ to a 14-14 draw again the British and Irish Lions at Eden Park.
These games have become an anachronism in modern rugby. ‘B’ internationals between second – or ‘B’ teams - of countries were played mostly in the second half of the 20th century. The British, Irish and French were the countries that mostly embraced the idea. For a time, some of the hardest games of each European season came in the international ‘B’ matches. The Wales v France ‘B’ teams, in particular, had some robust encounters between 1970 and 1989 when they met annually.
Internationals involving ‘B’ teams were never as popular in South Africa, Australia or New Zealand, though each dabbled with the concept of fielding a ‘second’ national team at some stage.
South Africa actually used to call its ‘second’ selection the ‘Junior’ Springboks. Australia fielded a ‘B’ team for the first time in 1988 when it met New Zealand. In 1991 New Zealand ‘B’ met Australia ‘B’ in Brisbane. New Zealand won an exciting match 21–15.
In 1992 England B toured New Zealand, playing two ‘tests’ against a New Zealand second team that was called the ‘New Zealand XV’.
Modern marketing phased out the concept of ‘B’ games. In the 1990s they were replaced by ‘A’ internationals. The new concept was a marketers way of enticing the paying public to believe they are not seeing second-rate players in action.
So the short history of ‘B’ teams came to an end. Ironically, this was followed by the decision of many countries, led by Wales, for economic reasons, to not even field an ‘A’ team any more.
In 1987 and 2011 the All Blacks were the first rugby nation to win the World Cup twice; but which country was the first to win the World Cup's THIRD place match twice?