July 30, 2010
All Blacks will sweep Wallabies aside
Posted by James Marshall on 07/30/2010
The All Blacks' unbeaten 2010 campaign will continue unimpeded with another convincing win against Robbie Deans powder puff Wallabies team at Eithad Stadium in Melbourne on Saturday night.
Dropping an eighth consecutive Test against the All Blacks will see the overrated Deans heading home to Christchurch next week with the Wallabies' worst Bledisloe Cup losing sequence since New Zealand locked down the trophy with nine wins between 1936-47.
So called distractions including doubts about the state of the pitch and the furore over the widely publicised photos of some of the All Blacks moves in the Australian newspapers are nothing more than media hype and will have no impact on the result.
With the sole exception perhaps of Will Genia up against Jimmy Cowan, man for man the All Blacks are better and work more cohesively as a unit - with far too many weapons in their arsenal for the Aussies to handle.
The domination will start up front, Tony Woodcock, Kevin Mealamu and Owen Franks have been in imperious form and with Brad Thorn and Tom Donnelley fresh off top shelf performances against Victor Matfield and company the NZ tight five will abuse, buckle and contort the Wallabies pack for the full 80 minutes.
Joe Rokocoko after missing the last game with a hamstring strain will play his 64th Test to move ahead of John Kirwan and Jonah Lomu as the most capped All Black winger, he has been unfairly maligned in some quarters for not scoring as often as he used to but he is still the fastest player on the pitch and his experience and tactical acumen should not be ignored.
The Wallabies will be looking to play a high tempo game but that is exactly how the All Blacks want the game to be played and they are much better at it.
Richie McCaw and his loosies will control the breakdown, ensuring quick ball for Dan Carter to unleash his outsides to run amok through the light weight Aussie defensive schemes, Nonu, Muliaina, Jane and Smith will attack from anywhere at every opportunity so anything less than another bonus point victory will be disappointing.
Wallabies up against it
Posted by Aleks Krajcer on 07/30/2010
The lead-up to this weekend's opening Bledisloe Cup match has been eventful to say the least.
The Australian media frenzied over the poor standard of the surface at Melbourne's enclosed Etihad Stadium and what influence that would have come Saturday. They questioned the legality of All Blacks' captain Richie McCaw's style of play at the breakdown and a sneaky photographer snapped a photo of New Zealand coach Graham Henry clutching the All Blacks’ game plan!
Meanwhile, Australia's worst fears were realised when Quade Cooper's efforts to have a two match suspension overturned proved fruitless (one Twitter user even opined that the offending spear tackle on Morne Steyn should have resulted in a bonus point win and a letter from The Queen).
These headlines and more detracted from what was a brilliant win over South Africa in Brisbane. What would normally be celebrated heartily was forgotten feebly as the reality of meeting an indomitable New Zealand team set in fast.
The Wallabies have not beaten the All Blacks in their previous seven encounters. Should that Bledisloe Cup drought be broken this year, the engraver will probably need some practice writing Australia.
The suspension of Cooper was disappointing for many reasons. Firstly, he will miss out on taking on the country of his birth and playing his first run-on Bledisloe Cup match.
Secondly, the offending tackle that earned the two match reprieve was in many people's eyes too harsh, considering that similar tackles in this year's Super 14 competition drew lesser suspensions, such asyellow cards and in some instances even went unpunished.
Couple that with the fact that Springbok centre Jaque Fourie's suspension for a similar offence was able to be served by missing South African Currie Cup matches and you can see why the Australian camp were less than impressed with the ruling.
Regardless, the most disappointing aspect of Cooper's forced absence is that it deprives Robbie Deans and the Wallabies of an opportunity to field a consistent team, that is to say an unchanged one, against quality opposition in this critical period little more than one year out from the World Cup.
It's not that a fly-half/inside-centre combination of Matt Giteau and Berrick Barnes is any less competent or threatening than the Cooper/Giteau one. The former may even be superior at this point in time as it has been tried and tested. It does, however, lack one thing that the latter does. The potential to grow, blossom and become the world's best.
Deans isn't necessarily picking the best team now, he's picking (injured players excluded) a team he believes will be the best next year.
To be the best Cooper needs to play every game between now and the World Cup. His relationship with mercurial halfback Will Genia has been likened to that of George Gregan and Stephen Larkham, while the presence of Giteau outside him gives him experience and a more than capable substitute at first receiver should he need support.
That aside, it will be Giteau who will take over in his place and Barnes who will take over from Giteau at 12.
However, Cooper's suspension had positives for some, with Anthony Faingaa, someone who I believe is an excellent player, being promoted to the reserves bench. Anthony will join twin brother Saia, who made way in the starting XV for the returning Stephen Moore. If both play they will be the third set of twin brothers to represent the Wallabies at the same time.
Saturday's game will be close. Both teams dealt with South Africa in a similar fashion and each scored over 30 points. Giteau's kicking may be more assured (statistically at least) than Dan Carter's at the moment but don't expect Carter's waywardness from the kicking tee to continue.
In the forwards the Australian scrum continues to improve but must start strongly to stay in the contest. If questions over the integrity of the surface are to be believed then a number of collapsed scrums may ruin the occasion.
The game seems evenly poised but in terms of preparation and form New Zealand already have Australia beat. Come the end of the match the All Blacks may well be celebrating their 12th straight Test win and eighth against the Wallabies.
July 22, 2010
Only one outcome
Posted by Aleks Krajcer on 07/22/2010
This Saturday the Wallabies will take on South Africa's Springboks in Brisbane with the hope of getting their 2010 Tri-Nations campaign off to a winning start.
The Wallabies face an outfit desperately trying to salvage any chance of defending their title after they were comprehensively beaten by the All Blacks in Auckland and Wellington. Springbok coach Peter De Villiers, who resisted the urge to make any un-enforced changes after their opening match defeat, has made an incredible nine changes in order to avoid a second consecutive defeat in Brisbane.
De Villiers' approach is in stark contrast to his Wallaby counterpart, Robbie Deans, who despite remodelling the squad around direct and abrasive players has named a rather conservative line-up.
Deans' strategy is probably best illustrated by selecting Adam Ashley-Cooper for the job at fullback. Ashley-Cooper's ability to defuse almost everything kicked at him, and return it with interest, made him the preferred option. Expected kicking raids from Morne Steyn and new halfback partner Ruan Pienaar assured him of the position.
Opting for Ashley-Cooper has meant that a pint-sized "veteran" of 18 Tests in the position, James O'Connor, will shift to an unfamiliar wing berth. It does however set up a tantalising encounter between O'Connor and fellow speedster Bryan Habana.
Due to player injury Deans was also forced into naming Drew Mitchell in the starting XV, despite having excluded him from the initial 28-man training squad.
Although he has been recalled, Mitchell will have his hands full trying to contain pipsqueak Stormers flyer Gio Aplon. What one of the smallest players in world rugby lacks in stature, he more than makes up for in speed, agility and a scything sidestep that has left cameramen at games filming thin air when he makes a break. Good luck, Drew.
Reds halfback Will Genia returns from a hand injury to rekindle his partnership with clubmate Quade Cooper, while prop Benn Robinson and lock Nathan Sharpe have all been reinstated in the starting team after absences due to injury. Hooker Stephen Moore will however have to make his return as a substitute with young hooker Saia Faingaa proving with aplomb in the June Tests that he is worthy of a Tri Nations start.
The Wallabies won this corresponding Test last year (21-6) and handed South Africa their only defeat of a campaign that saw them conquer the All Blacks in all three of their fixtures.
After a terrible start to this year's title defence and a swathe of personnel changes South Africa will be an unpredictable team come Saturday evening. The Wallabies on the other hand seem solid without being outstanding. This may not be Deans' preferred line-up for such a crucial encounter, but it isn't bad either.
The Habana/O'Connor and Aplon/Mitchell wing match-ups have the potential to provide a wonderful spectacle should they get the ball.The battle between Nathan Sharpe and Victor Matfield in the line-out will also be one to savour. Look for Australian substitute back Kurtley Beale to provide some excitement late on too.
It would take a brave person to predict three straight losses for any Springbok team, however, two demoralising losses away to New Zealand, a loss at this venue to the Wallabies last year, and losses this year for Super 14 finalists the Bulls and the Stormers (whose players make up the majority of the Springbok team) at the hands of the Queensland Reds at this venue point to only one outcome.
July 16, 2010
All Blacks home and hosed
Posted by James Marshall on 07/16/2010
So, an All Blacks side out for revenge dominated the Springboks from start to finish, winning 32-12 at Eden Park in one of their most convincing performances in many seasons.
Conrad Smith’s opening try was a perfect example of how this approach pays dividends. Mils Muliaina fielded a kick deep in his own territory and instead of just hoisting it back in the direction it came from (as is the way in the northern hemisphere), or looking for touch, his first instinct was to look up, look for space and turn on the afterburners. Richie McCaw timed and angled his supporting run perfectly to keep the play alive before offloading to Smith to score in the corner.
Many pundits (not this one) had questioned the inclusion of Ma’a Nonu so soon after a comeback from injury but he repaid the selectors’ faith in him, demonstrating once again why he is the best 12 in world rugby – busting first tackles with ease, sucking defenders away from the wings and causing havoc every time he got the ball.
Kieran Read played his best game in the black jersey, showing up his more fancied counterpart Pierre Spies. Keven Mealamu was also outstanding in a performance reminiscent of his breakthrough season – and it’s difficult to think of anyone more effective at gaining ground close to rucks than the humble South Auckland family man, with his quick feet and relentless pick and go.
All the so-called experts are saying the Springboks will come back tougher than ever this weekend in Wellington, but they simply don’t have the personnel or the gameplan to match this rejuvenated, rampant and ruthless All Black team.
Injuries to Jimmy Cowan and Joe Rokocoko have seen the inclusion of hometown hero Piri Weepu and the bolter from Northland, Rene Ranger, in the starting line-up, but apart from that the side that was better man for man from one to 15 last week remains unchanged. The All Blacks will soon be savouring a two out of two start to this year’s Tri-Nations campaign and will be well on their way to securing the trophy.
July 14, 2010
Deans should look to Faingaa
Posted by Aleks Krajcer on 07/14/2010
Last week Wallabies coach Robbie Deans unveiled the squad that he, and the fans, hope can claim a first Tri-Nations crown since 2001.
The naming of the 28-man squad turned many heads in Australia given the omission of exciting New South Wales Waratahs wingers Lachie Turner and Drew Mitchell. Their axing comes after a solid Super 14 campaign for the duo. However, Mitchell's perceived defensive frailties, after an indifferent June Test schedule against Fiji, England and Ireland, and Turner's lack of game time, sealed their fate.
Joining them on the sidelines for the winter are halfback Josh Valentine, hooker Huia Edmonds and props Pek Cowan and Laurie Weeks, all unwanted as a result of the return of first choice players in those positions.
Prop Benn Robinson and hooker Stephen Moore will make welcome returns from injury after the Australian scrum struggled in their absence. Unfortunately, Deans was unable to consider rugged hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau, try-scoring prop Ben Alexander and No.8s Stephen Hoiles and Wycliff Palu due to injury. Instead he named debutant Queenslander Scott Higgingbotham in an effort to shore up the rear of the scrum and add an abrasive element to the pack.The other inclusions were promising prop James Slipper, loose forward Ben McCalman and lock Rob Simmons.
For me however, the selection of Queensland Reds inside-centre Anthony Faingaa was the most special and a step in the right direction for a team that has often promised much leading into previous series, only to provide the All Blacks and Springboks with only minor resistance.
Faingaa will join his twin brother Saia, who made his Test debut against the Fijians at hooker in June, in the squad and is on the verge of fulfilling his childhood dream of playing alongside his brother for the Wallabies.
Faingaa's hard running and tenacity in defence are big reasons why fly- half Quade Cooper had such a stellar season for the Reds, resulting in his first choice selection for Australia. Cooper needed only to look to his diminutive midfield accomplice for an easy route forward and a brutal ally in defence - perhaps one area where Cooper's rapidly developing game continues to lag behind.
Faingaa's selection also marks a change in tack from the Wallabies coaching staff. With Cooper, Matt Giteau and Berrick Barnes all figuring for the jobs at 10 and 12 with their similar playmaking and territorial kicking games, Faingaa offers a distinct alternative as he is a player who will take the ball and run with it, almost always making metres. A player from William Webb-Ellis's school of thought if there ever was one.
If given the opportunity and paired with now incumbent outside-centre Rob Horne, they would form a no-nonsense, bootlace tackling, midfield pairing that know how to go forward. Combine that with like-minded wingers Digby Ioane and Adam Ashley-Cooper and you have a backline that wants to run with the ball in hand - something world and Australian rugby has been missing of late.
Hard running centres and wingers could prove a very valuable asset given how easily the All Blacks back three dealt with South African Morne Steyn's kicks for territory in the opening match of this year's competition. A match New Zealand won 32-12 (four tries to nil)! Given this, Giteau and Barnes's playing styles might not be ideal if they are going to kick away possession to the likes of New Zealand's Mils Muliaina, Cory Jane and old foe Joe Rokocoko.
Deans' selection of a 28 man squad (out of a possible 30) will leave many guessing as to who will fill the remaining 2 positions. However, with an already solid squad and many unavailable due to injury, those final two may just be along for the ride anyway.
July 7, 2010
All Blacks will reclaim Tri-Nations crown
Posted by James Marshall on 07/07/2010
The All Blacks’ 2010 Tri-Nations campaign starts at Eden Park on July 10 against defending champions South Africa and I’m picking an All Blacks win that will stretch their unbeaten run in Auckland to 12 years and put them on course to reclaim the southern hemisphere crown.
A Bulls and Stormers laden South Africa won three out of three against the All Blacks in 2009 and will be confident they can maintain their edge a year out from trying to be the only team to win back to back World Cups.
The injury to Fourie du Preez is a big blow for them but Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield, Pierre Spies, Morne Steyn and Bryan Habana have all been in outstanding form the past few seasons regardless of what jersey they put on.
A game plan based on a dominant lineout, almost perfectly executed maul, superior kicking game and efficient counter attack all marshalled under the inspired leadership of captain John Smit has been a template for success both home and away. The biggest challenge for South Africa might just be how do they keep improving and hold it all together for another 18 months?
Will Genia was in outstanding form for the Reds but has been on the sideline with injury so it is uncertain what part he will play in the Wallabies campaign. This will add even more pressure on the burgeoning combination between Quade Cooper and Matt Giteau and young wonder kid James O’Connor who will be key to a turnaround in Aussie fortunes. As always though, the backs will be reliant on good quality front foot ball to allow them room to move.
The retirement of legendary No.7 George Smith will be keenly felt at the breakdown and much is going to rest on the experienced shoulders of Nathan Sharpe, Rocky Elsom and Phil Waugh to deliver a set piece that can match their southern hemisphere counterparts.
The All Blacks showed in their dismantling of Ireland and Wales that they still want to play a high tempo game and the squad selected for this series is proof of that. New Zealand possesses an abundance of game breaking backline talent in Nonu, Smith, Kahui, Muliaina, Rocokoko, Jane and newcomer Rene Ranger. With the imperial Dan Carter back scoring points for fun and a better foundation at the set piece they will look to run the opposition off the park with relentless attack.
Once again the winner could well be decided by bonus points or even points differential and it would not be surprising if it all comes down to the final game when Australia hosts the All Blacks in Sydney on 10 September.
I’m picking the All Blacks to edge out South Africa with Australia a close third.